A Travellerspoint blog

Pssst! 'Ello, 'ello! Amigo!

3 weeks in the Caribbean Rum capital- the Dominican Republic!

Dominican Republic
( June 7th - June 25th (ish....can't find the diary with the dates!!)

G'day, g'day from Mollymook, Oz! Yes, Ben and I are home now and have spent the last 3 weeks trying to catch up with family and friends (in between a serious dose of the flu for both of us....not the best way to experience Summer in Sydney!), and we find ourselves constantly being asked why our world trip blog only made it to Bolivia ( where we were 6 months ago!). The answer to that is WE WERE HAVING TOO MUCH FUN to stop and write our blog!!! Too many new friends to make, adventures to take, cooking classes to wreak havoc in, borders to cross and of course, a wedding to plan online!

So, this is our Dominican Republic blog which was actually written months ago but never published. We will try to update the blog as much as possible over the coming weeks as we would love to have it as a permanent record of our year away.

.............. taking a step back in time to June 2010 in the Dominican.............

“Psst! ‘ello,’ ello! Amigo, over here!”. This was the usual street greeting that Ben and I heard for the 3 weeks we were in the Dominican Republic visiting old friends, making new friends, enjoying the beaches and partying in true Caribbean style-Cuba libres,Pina coladas and dancing the Salsa!

The Dominican Republic is located in the Caribbean and shares the island with Haiti (It is not in Africa as I initially thought!). It is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, and at the time of our visit was coping with the additional pressure of Haitian refugees following the devastating earth quake there earlier in 2010. Despite its poverty it is probably the happiest and loudest country that we have travelled in so far, with a strong sense of community and a contagious vibrancy expressed through dance, church and of course Caribbean parties!

Downtown Santo Domingo

Downtown Santo Domingo


All over South and Central America it is the same.... men playing chess under trees in the main square...... and Ben looking on!

All over South and Central America it is the same.... men playing chess under trees in the main square...... and Ben looking on!


Helado anyone? Ice-cream stalls are common on the hot and humid streets of Santo Domingo

Helado anyone? Ice-cream stalls are common on the hot and humid streets of Santo Domingo


The main square in the colonial district of Santo Domingo. A statue of Christopher Columbus stands proudly in the center.

The main square in the colonial district of Santo Domingo. A statue of Christopher Columbus stands proudly in the center.


Juan Dolio beach. A beach just outside of the capital city

Juan Dolio beach. A beach just outside of the capital city

I had lived and worked with an inspirational Aussie Audiologist, Donna Carkeet, on a Deaf project in the DR 5 years earlier for about 4 months. We had met in community Spanish language classes in Sydney a few years earlier and had stayed in touch. She knew that I wanted to volunteer overseas, using my Speech Therapy skills, and after a bit of a rough patch in my life I received an email from her asking me when I was going to get myself organised and come over and help her out with her project. I had my bags packed 2 weeks later!! I spent a wonderful, life-changing 4 months working with her, and since then the DR has always been a special part of my life, and more importantly the friends I left behind there have always been in my thoughts. I had hoped to return to the DR much sooner, however life happens and before I knew it almost 5 years had passed. (The organisation that supports Donna is a registered Australian based NGO called EARS:http://www.earsinc.org. EARS has projects in PNG, Cambodia, Philippines and India, as well as their Dominican Project.)

Donna and her gang of audiologists and support workers

Donna and her gang of audiologists and support workers


Don and Chelle

Don and Chelle


Back with my wonderful DR colleagues in the kitchen of never ending coffee shots! Dominican coffee is strong, black and sugared with about 4 heaped tea-spoons of sugar!

Back with my wonderful DR colleagues in the kitchen of never ending coffee shots! Dominican coffee is strong, black and sugared with about 4 heaped tea-spoons of sugar!


Ben's first hearing test could have gone better!

Ben's first hearing test could have gone better!

We stayed for the first week with Donna, in Satellite City, about 45 minutes out of the capital Santo Domingo. The week flew by in a whirlwind of reunions, tears, hugs, and of course greasy, fried Dominican food!

Donna's street and our home in the Dominican. Satellite City, DR

Donna's street and our home in the Dominican. Satellite City, DR


The local corner store. It was visited frequently for supplies of the local "Presidente" beer

The local corner store. It was visited frequently for supplies of the local "Presidente" beer


Catching up with old friends at Donna's place.

Catching up with old friends at Donna's place.


More friends! Timmy and his beautiful wife Paola, with their cute little baby girl.

More friends! Timmy and his beautiful wife Paola, with their cute little baby girl.


Millie- the budding journalist. She interviewed me about our trip over a pizza and coke!

Millie- the budding journalist. She interviewed me about our trip over a pizza and coke!


The old gang together again! Pammy, Mads, Senata andTuks ( Don must have taken the photo) at a much loved kareoke bar!

The old gang together again! Pammy, Mads, Senata andTuks ( Don must have taken the photo) at a much loved kareoke bar!


The Boys! Ben, Mads and Tuks.

The Boys! Ben, Mads and Tuks.


Hanging out at Senata and Tuks house

Hanging out at Senata and Tuks house


Little Joe and Ben sound alseep at the end of another long, Dominican night!

Little Joe and Ben sound alseep at the end of another long, Dominican night!


Tuks and Ben at Juan Dolio beach

Tuks and Ben at Juan Dolio beach

Everyone loved Ben and thought he was “muy guapo” (very handsome!). Ben landed on his feet in this chaotic country, and was immediately part of the gang, just as if he had always been there. He learnt more Spanish in the 3 weeks in the Dominican than in the preceding 5 months of travel, as we spent nights at local friends’ homes who didn’t speak a word of English. I loved that he wasn’t fazed by it at all, and was entertaining everyone with “Waltzing Matilda” on the guitar, and making the kids scream with delight as he challenged them to games of “Hop Scotch”. I can’t think of many other people who would go into such an intense country surrounded by poverty, sitting in homes built in shanty towns, making everyone laugh and speaking “Spanglish” with gestures to communicate!

Cielo's new house. When I first visited in 2005, Cielo was a community volunteer working with children with a disability. She was, and still is, passionately dedicated to kids in her local community with a disability. She would walk from home to home in the unbearable heat, armed with an old children's book and some bubbles, and play with those children, working on their cognitive, language, emotional and physical development. I worked with her on using basic speech and language development techniques during play with the children. Back then she lived with her husband and daughter in her mother's home. She was very proud to show me her new home on this visit.

Cielo's new house. When I first visited in 2005, Cielo was a community volunteer working with children with a disability. She was, and still is, passionately dedicated to kids in her local community with a disability. She would walk from home to home in the unbearable heat, armed with an old children's book and some bubbles, and play with those children, working on their cognitive, language, emotional and physical development. I worked with her on using basic speech and language development techniques during play with the children. Back then she lived with her husband and daughter in her mother's home. She was very proud to show me her new home on this visit.


Cielo's street. The area is a developing neighbourhood and is yet to have paved roads

Cielo's street. The area is a developing neighbourhood and is yet to have paved roads


Playing hopscotch on the cement floor of Cielo's family living room.

Playing hopscotch on the cement floor of Cielo's family living room.


Cielo's house is open to all the neighbourhood kids. They came over when they heard we were visiting and it didn't take long before the kids were dancing to the blaring "regaton" music (think Daddy Yankee "Gasolina" song) that defines the neighbourhood.

Cielo's house is open to all the neighbourhood kids. They came over when they heard we were visiting and it didn't take long before the kids were dancing to the blaring "regaton" music (think Daddy Yankee "Gasolina" song) that defines the neighbourhood.


Even these little 3 year olds were grooving to the regatton beat!

Even these little 3 year olds were grooving to the regatton beat!

A definite ice-breaker and language minimal activity was dominoes! This is the national game of the Dominican and people sit out in the street in the evenings playing it very seriously! Ben and I played quite a few games during our time in the Dominican, usually Gris ( my Dominican mum who would invite me home and cook for me, and just generally make sure I was OK while I was living there) and myself would play against Ben and Gri’s husband. I would like to say that the girls were the winning team but that would be stretching the truth a bit too far! Dominoes is much more complicated than we remember from when we were kids! Like Cielo's house, Gri's house was also always full of neighbourhood kids, who would pass by to check out the visiting foreigners!

Gri's house is constantly full of babies and children- all her nieces and nephews from the community.

Gri's house is constantly full of babies and children- all her nieces and nephews from the community.


Ben was King of Dominoes!

Ben was King of Dominoes!


Catching a ride home with Gris and her husband after a night of fried food and dominoes!

Catching a ride home with Gris and her husband after a night of fried food and dominoes!

The other favourite past time in the Dominican is dancing. We really had never seen such natural dancers before. The Dominicans can dance to all types of Latino music with a sensual gusto that leaves us feeling awkward on the dance floor! However, Ben and I gave it our best shot, and Ben handled it very well when Dominican men would come up to him and give him “feedback” on his dance moves. He also handled it very well when the men would ask to dance with me and their hands would wander a little too low for comfort- Latino style!

Chelle and Ben doing our version of the Salsa!!

Chelle and Ben doing our version of the Salsa!!


The girls took over the dance floor!

The girls took over the dance floor!

Not stopping at dancing alone, we all embraced our inner Kareoke Queens and Kings during our festive time in the Dominican! Some evidence of our kareoke efforts;

"Mamma Mia! Here I go again...!"

"Mamma Mia! Here I go again...!"


Kareoke home style at 3am on the morning of our departure from the DR!

Kareoke home style at 3am on the morning of our departure from the DR!

As well as the reunions, dancing and games during that first week, Ben and I visited the Special School where my friend Cielo works. The school caters for children with special needs, and mainly attracts children from very poor families who could otherwise not afford to give their child an education. The school provides meals and vitamins to the children, as well as a lot of love, and the best academic environment they can. We had a great day “helping out” ( in other words being a distraction and causing chaos!). The kids were so excited to have visitors and we spent the day colouring, singing songs, playing and helping with meal times.

Chelle with her new friends from Cielo's Special School

Chelle with her new friends from Cielo's Special School


Ben giving a helping hand with the colouring activity!

Ben giving a helping hand with the colouring activity!

Ben was popular with the kids and gave them all piggy back rides!

Ben was popular with the kids and gave them all piggy back rides!

After a week of dancing, playing dominoes and catching up with friends we decided to go for a week long beach break up to the north coast! Donna kindly leant us her car as she was attending a conference in America that week. Ben drove her Rav 4 along the crazy Dominican roads, where road lanes are interpreted as a rough guideline for which side of the road to drive on, stopping at red lights is optional, and experiencing near head-on collisions is a regular driving occurrence. The police will also randomly pull over cars to find a defect (often one that doesn’t exist) so that they can threaten to charge you or alternately you can pay a little bribe to them and they let you go. When we were waved down by the police my heart sank as I wondered how much we would have to pay to be able to continue along. Instead the police officer noted that we were foreigners and said “You are American?”, to which we replied “No, Australian”. (Americans and the American way of life are revered in the Dominican, with most families having an uncle, a cousin, a sister, an in-law living in the USA and sending small amounts of cash back to the family in the Dominican). “Ah, American” he replied, obviously Australia and America mean the same, and then he proceeded to walk out onto the road to personally stop the traffic so that we could merrily go on our way without any further trouble! Very random!

The Dominican was full of random experiences like that. This is just one of many funny, random experiences:

We stopped at the roadside bar for a “roadie”. Ben stayed with the car while I jumped out. While I was ordering I noticed that the woman serving me was incredibly well endowed. She must have noticed that I had noticed, because the next thing she did was jiggle her breasts with a big friendly laugh and cheeky twinkle in her eye, and say to me in Spanish something basically like “ You are small, not like me, I am big and beautiful. You want to see?” and then lifted up her shirt for me to inspect and approve of her breasts, while she gave them a little jiggle at the same time. I had absolutely no idea how to respond or what to do, so I gave a nervous laugh, and heard myself saying “Oh, yes, big!” (WHAT???!!!) and then I retreated to the car as quickly as possible, while trying not to appear unappreciative of the fact that she was sharing with me something she was obviously immensely proud of and found very amusing!! When I got back to the car and told Ben what had happened he couldn’t believe that he had missed it and he wanted to go back to the bar with me. Cheeky bugger! I said no way buddy, she might expect me to join in the sharing experience, and Ben reluctantly drove us off down the highway while I wondered if it had all really happened!!

We arrived to the little beachside town of “Sosua” without any accommodation booked, and were lucky to find a gorgeous European styled villa hotel, with little self-contained villas set around the pool. It was a 5 minute walk down to the public beach and a 2 minute walk to a private beach. We had the best holiday of our lives that week, a "pre-honeymoon" experience!. Ben was in heaven as the World Cup Soccer was on and he spent his days watching the 3 main games at the beach bar, swimming and eating in between each game. I joined him for some of the soccer madness, and then would enjoy my time to myself reading by the pool or swimming in the calm, turquoise blue Caribbean ocean. We went to bed late every night and woke up late every morning (well, Ben woke up at 7am to watch the first soccer game in bed!). Amazingly, we were there at the same time as the World Kite surfing Championships and so were able to watch some of the world’s best kite surfers compete, and even better got to join in at the Opening Ceremony party ,which was a big night on the beach!

In our little villa by the beach

In our little villa by the beach

Sosua Beach

Sosua Beach

Sosua Beach

Sosua Beach

Long beach days!

Long beach days!


IMG_8946_730x547.jpg
IMG_8922_730x547.jpgIMG_8913_547x730.jpgIMG_8903_730x547.jpgWe recruited a support gang for the Aussies and then we lost 4-0 to Germany <img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_sad.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':(' title='' />

We recruited a support gang for the Aussies and then we lost 4-0 to Germany :(


Chelle made sure that all were given the Aussie tattoo!

Chelle made sure that all were given the Aussie tattoo!

We were a bit sneaky during that trip, and used the facilities of 2 different resorts while pretending to be guests. This allowed us to enjoy sunset soaks in a Jacuzzi that was built on a small cliff top overlooking a private beach, as well as use the resort swimming pool and private beach access. We felt like we were living a life of luxury while paying back packer prices!

Enjoying the facilities of a 5 star resort by posing as guests!

Enjoying the facilities of a 5 star resort by posing as guests!

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When the day came for us to leave we discovered that we had accidently left the headlights on overnight, and the car battery was completely dead. Ben got in to try and start the car up, and when it became apparent that nothing was happening he got back out to open the bonnet up. As he closed the door behind him it took a second or 2 for both of us to remember that the car was self-locking. This realisation hit us at the same time as we heard the car go ‘beep-beep’ and lock itself up- with the keys sitting in the ignition! So not only did we have a car with a flat battery we also now had no keys to get into the car! Mads, Donna’s adopted son, sent us up a spare set of keys on the local bus, however we had to wait until the next day to pick them up. Unfortunately this meant that we had to spend another night drinking cocktails at the beach bar as the sun set over the turquoise water!

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We spent our final week back in Los Alcarrizos and Satellite City with our lovely host and special friend, Donna, her wonderful son Mads, and our friends there; Sentata and Tuks and their gorgeous little boy Jo (see the cute photo of him below!), Tim and Paola and their cute baby girl, “The boys” Edison and Miguel, Joel and his beautiful wife Ninoska and many more wonderful people. To end a great week Pammy, Timmy’s brother and a friend from my previous Dominican trip, joined us from America and we spent our last 3 nights singing karaoke, and sharing lots of communal dinners and cuba libres while we talked and danced till the early hours of morning.

Josiah and an ice-block red tongue!

Josiah and an ice-block red tongue!

Mistakenly we thought it would be fun to party our final night away. Unfortunately, too many Caribbean rum and colas and hours worth of bad 80 songs and Abba renditions in home karaoke style left us feeling like we had been hit by a freight train while we struggled through airport security checks, customs and the international flight to Mexico. I am too old to stay awake until 4am and then catch an international flight! Never again. I blame Pammy and ‘Brugal’!! 

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Posted by CBAdv2010 21:57 Comments (0)

Bolivia - born to be wild!

Eco-farms, mines, markets and poverty

sunny 30 °C

Hola Amigos!

And Hola Bolivia!

Coma Estas? Bien? Bien! Bueno! Moy Bueno!

Te gusta Australianos? Si si!

As you can tell by now I'm practically fluent in Spanish, though I try hard not to flaunt it like I did above.

This blog is about Bolivia though, so without further ado it is focus Ben, focus.

As you readers may know, one Miss Michelle England hijacked our blog to bring you Peru, reportedly due to my ostinato procrastination. If procrastination is the codeword for perfection these days then so be it! But before I start this blog on Bolivia context might be in order: before the land of Peru we were in Bolivia, and before Bolivia came the Pantanal in Brazil.

From the Pantanal we caught an increasingly familiar 6am bus along 6 hours of bumpy dirt road to the Bolivia/Brazil border. Getting across the Brazil part was fine, but on the Bolivian side we had the immigration officer ask Michelle and I to produce a certain amount of cash (which we didn’t have) or a credit card; somewhat bizzare having Bolivia, the 3rd poorest country in Latin America questioning us about our financial viability to visit it! Michelle had her CC on her but mine had been in my wallet - that got stolen in Mendoza. We tried to explain this but we could tell it wasn't going anywhere (and someone in front was in the same predicament and failed to convince Mr Serious), so it was time for plan B: the "we are married" card.

I had a ring I'd bought in Argentina, and casually slipped it on the left finger - stealth-like. Chelle explained we were married and shared the same card. A few suspicious looks later - whoolah, we were in! I think that makes it our first official married moment?

Once you cross the border, to get to Bolivia's first major town, Santa Cruz, you need to catch a train affectionately known as the "death train". We'd done our research on exactly why such a friendly label applied and from what we discerned it was mostly to do with the self-inflicted pain people wish upon themselves after putting up with a rickety train that stops every 5-10 minutes and is as uncomfortable as hell. That's the cheapest and nastiest train though which costs about $3-5 for 12 hours. Fortunately us super-rich-credit-card-owning tourists had another option - the ferrobus - for about $40 with seats more like an airplane cabin with air conditioning. Death train it is not, unless it is death by eating the snacks they serve at the station before you get on.

When we woke up on our train from Brazil ... we knew we were in Bolivia

When we woke up on our train from Brazil ... we knew we were in Bolivia


Crossing into Bolivian waters

Crossing into Bolivian waters

Bolivia Death Train - Survived

Bolivia Death Train - Survived

Extreme conditions!

Extreme conditions!

SANTA CRUZ

Santa Cruz had a bad rap from some travellers we had met but we quite enjoyed the city. Firstly – it has Yogun Fruz, quite possibly the best frozen yoghurt the world has yet invented. It also has a beautiful plaza that forms the heart of the central district, and is a plethora of shops, markets and food stalls surrounding it - definitely good for a day of meandering, eating and artwork and shopping. It is beginning to get a pollution problem and has too much traffic already, and will be dealing with some serious environmental and health issues in the near future. But that was nothing compared to the Bolivian capital La Paz - more on that later.

Santa Cruz time was spent mostly chillin and getting up to date on blogs, etc (those were the days), but we were to return to it a week later and visit a village just out of town called Porongo that maintained a more traditional Santa Cruz lifestyle in architecture, transport, food and general day-to-day life. To get there you had to get in a truck/collectivo at one of the markets, wait till the truck filled up with people and then off you go! Half the trip off-road through dirt, mud and overflowing rivers - a very authentic outback Bolivian experience. In the town itself there's plenty of local delicacies to feast on, none of which are remotely healthy, but why let health get in the way of good taste right? Right!

Hop aboard a collectivo and trust the locals get you there - this time to a town called Porongo!

Hop aboard a collectivo and trust the locals get you there - this time to a town called Porongo!


Porongo, a town holding strong to Santa Cruz tradition

Porongo, a town holding strong to Santa Cruz tradition

Tasty friend snacks from a Porongo local

Tasty friend snacks from a Porongo local

GINGERS PARADISE

At our hostel we had read about a place called Gingers Paradise that was a eco/organic farm where you could go and work to pay off some of your board - well, you saved about $1/day so it was basically volunteering.

It sounded interesting and we felt like doing something different than following lonely planet trails, so - off we went!

Getting to gingers was an adventure in itself, again it required catching a collectivo where we squashed in with about 8 people and backpacks into a Toyota Hiace, telling them to drop us off at "KM 72" and hoping they knew what that meant – or more like that they could understand our Spanglish. That's the quintessential travel though right, vague directions of how to get from A to B with you to have the fun of filling in the dots.

Once we arrived at Gingers we were greeted by two Israeli guys in their underwear (an interesting welcoming party!) and as they proceeded to change in front of us they told us to drop our bags at the cabin, get some farm friendly gear on, and head off to the field to start doing some work. Alrighty then - straight into it then I guess!

There we met the owners of Gingers, Chris and Sol, and their cute kids Ginger and Dzi (pronounced "Dizzy"), along with 5 other people who were staying there. An eclectic bunch we were - there was an American girl who'd been staying there in a tent for 3 weeks now, a Dutch guy having some time-out from travelling with his partner, the two Israeli guys and "crazy George" a retired ex-Vietnam green beret. Oh yea – and some nutbag Australians thrown in too.

After a brief hello it was time to get the hoes out and start digging weeds. Nothing like getting those hands dirty after months of avoiding work!

At Gingers all meals are made from organic produce on the farm, and everyone eats together. It's part of the beauty of the place, everyone gets to know each other and within a day you all feel like family. It also helps that the food is so delicious, you truly realise how crap the stuff you usually get from supermarkets is. A typical days’ meal might be fresh baked bread with pesto, home-made jam, avocado and garlic for breakfast. A huge lunch with fried Tapioca and salt, beans and rice, a giant vegetable patty, salad and desert of fresh fruit and dinner is the lightest meal of the day often just fruit and a small sandwhich. Damn it’s making me hungry talking about it! No matter how much you work at gingers, you are ALWAYS full! Oh yea – a little organic chocolate and red wine at dinner doesn’t go astray either.

Gingers Paradise - here we come!

Gingers Paradise - here we come!


Fried Tapioca with local Gingers sauces - mmmmm

Fried Tapioca with local Gingers sauces - mmmmm

Our home at Gingers for the week

Our home at Gingers for the week


Art to be found in every corner - mosaic floor in our cabin

Art to be found in every corner - mosaic floor in our cabin

Favourite time of day - lunch time!

Favourite time of day - lunch time!

Packing in the loft at Gingers Paradise

Packing in the loft at Gingers Paradise

Staying at a place like this is really important as it connects you closely again with your own sustenance. When you shop at a city supermarket you don't think about where the tomato you eat is grown and how it's grown and what it takes to grow it. When you take a dump in the toilet you don't think about the impact that might make, sans those that enter the toilet after you. Gingers had nothing but a can and some sawdust for a dunny, albeit with some of the best nature views one might want while doing their business (that white bread clogging never felt so enjoyable). The toilet was as clean and non-smelling as any you'd want and all waste got recycled and put back into the earth. All electricity for the farm comes from a combination of solar power and a hydro-electric generator driven from a tiny waterfall about 1km from the main house. That’s the type of place Gingers is.

Checking out a problem with the hydro-electric system that powers the farm - fortunately I was there to fix it

Checking out a problem with the hydro-electric system that powers the farm - fortunately I was there to fix it


Now this is how you do a natural cooking stove

Now this is how you do a natural cooking stove

Bean podding and jewellery classes

Bean podding and jewellery classes

Chris the owner of Gingers Paradise is a talented musician and many nights on Gingers involve dinner followed by your own personal concert on the guitar. And if your girlfriend dobs you in as playing guitar as well (not to mention names!) you'll be handed the guitar and in front of everyone there asked to play your own originals or make some up! And then Chris might ask you to record them for his "infamous hits" tape that he is compiling from people that have stayed at Gingers. I did this on the last night and the songs I recorded will stay with Chelle I'm afraid, but if you come and visit us in the future then after a few beers I may be persuaded to bring them out again :-))

Chris playing some nightly originals for the gringos

Chris playing some nightly originals for the gringos


Listening and chilling to the music - with my dawg

Listening and chilling to the music - with my dawg


Playing for the Gingers infamous hits collection

Playing for the Gingers infamous hits collection

Chris is looking to raise money for a musical performance he wants to take around Bolivia to educate people about the environment – badly needed I must say. I helped him while I was there with applying for some funding, doing budgets etc, but if anyone knows an organisation he should consider applying for let us know and I'll tell him.

Chelle and I both left Gingers Paradise changed from the experience, determined to have a backyard as soon as possible when we get home, start growing some herbs and vegies, and generally learning to be more conscious of our day-to-day impacts. Yes - we are turning into tree-hugging hippies. Make sure you all hold us to it OK!

Some misc photos of Gingers including some walks to nearby waterfalls.

Chelle and Sol playing chess - go babe crush em! :-)

Chelle and Sol playing chess - go babe crush em! :-)

Natural remedies galore!

Natural remedies galore!

Dzi and Ginger captivated by the wonders of technology

Dzi and Ginger captivated by the wonders of technology

Doing my bit to fertilise the farm, no-one will find out

Doing my bit to fertilise the farm, no-one will find out

Caught!

Caught!


50m waterfall at Gingers

50m waterfall at Gingers

Dzi the 11 year old tour guide

Dzi the 11 year old tour guide

200 metre waterfall about 4 hours walk from Gingers - shame it's too cloudy to show up properly

200 metre waterfall about 4 hours walk from Gingers - shame it's too cloudy to show up properly


The three amigos, walking and crawling through the jungle after we got lost for 2 hours in the dark - true story

The three amigos, walking and crawling through the jungle after we got lost for 2 hours in the dark - true story


Chris holds watch with the machete while the boys clean off

Chris holds watch with the machete while the boys clean off


Chelle the Speech Therapist and George the ex-Vietnam Green Beret - coming to a screen near you!

Chelle the Speech Therapist and George the ex-Vietnam Green Beret - coming to a screen near you!

COCHABAMBA

At Gingers Paradise I had my first experience playing a Charango, a 10 stringed guitar with 5 pairs of strings tuned to the same note (like a 12 string guitar, just 2 less string). The tuning is totally different than guitar though and gives an open chord tuning which sounds beautiful just strumming it. After playing with it I HAD to get one and Christopher recommended a friend of his, Fernando, who was a great Charango player in Cochabamba, about 6 hours rickety bus away - so off to Cochbamba we went!

Cochabamba is one big-ass market town, with literally every street lined with vendors spruiking their stuff, a lot of it really quite kitsch or trinket and often very random. It's a little in your face and a little polluted and chaotic but still made for some fascinating street roaming, and, mostly importantly, was the place I will remember as where I got my first Charango (cue tears). It is named Coche (many marketing team meetings later), and having a local there to know what to get made all the difference - and saved me some good $'s. Fresh in my hands Fernando, Chelle and I went to the top of a hill for my first - and so far only - Charango lesson. These guitar-battled fingers of mine struggled to learn new skills - you play it more ukelele style than guitar - but fun was had by all, at least the locals nearby didn't go running for the hills when I played!!

Cocha also contained the lesser known of the "Christos" of South America, and given Rio's one was closed we decided to pay a visit - still a spectacular sight and view.

One giant Paddy's market!

One giant Paddy's market!

Funky Cochabamba buses

Funky Cochabamba buses

Shopping for a Charango in the markets of Cochabamba - only 1000 to choose from!

Shopping for a Charango in the markets of Cochabamba - only 1000 to choose from!


Fresh squeezed OJ in Cochabamba

Fresh squeezed OJ in Cochabamba


Avoid buying your shirts from these guys

Avoid buying your shirts from these guys


Christos of Cochabamba (yes it's not just in Rio)

Christos of Cochabamba (yes it's not just in Rio)


View of Cochabamba from the Christos

View of Cochabamba from the Christos

Namaste to the Christos of Cochabamba

Namaste to the Christos of Cochabamba

Looking out onto Cochabamba

Looking out onto Cochabamba

SUCRE

From Cochabamba we headed it was off to one of the most beautiful towns in Bolivia - the colonial town of Sucre. Sucre is one of those places that many a person intends to spend only a day or two in but ends up staying for weeks. It's a perfect place to learn Spanish too – for anyone hitting Bolivia in the near future.

The town itself has been immaculately maintained, with its’ streets, churches and buildings in prime condition and the Sucre central area has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. There is a fantastic energy about the place, with great food at great prices to be found everywhere, fresh markets if you want to cook on your own, and plenty of beautiful architecture to take in, especially at night. Sucre was also the town where the Bolivian Declaration of Independence was signed so it has important historical significance to the Bolivians.

Sucre by dusk

Sucre by dusk


Sucre at night

Sucre at night


Sucre Church

Sucre Church


Watching the world of Sucre go by

Watching the world of Sucre go by


Sucre fruit and veg market goodies

Sucre fruit and veg market goodies

We were lucky to be in Sucre just in time for one of their yearly festivals, where people hit the streets in numbers dressed up and ready to dance and sing. It's colourful and vibrant and reminded us of the festival in Valdivia all those months ago (time is flying fast here!!). Chelle and I also tried a bit of dancing, helping to integrate Sydney and Sucre dance techniques into a new avante garde fusion of human movement. OK – I made that up.

Bowler hat ladies showing how its done at the Sucre festival

Bowler hat ladies showing how its done at the Sucre festival

Sucre festival dancers

Sucre festival dancers

Nearby Sucre, about an hour away is the Tarabuco markets, the biggest in the area. They are held on Sunday and are dominated by the local textile artists who spend up to a month creating beautiful clothes and artwork. As colourful as it was we must say it was a bit of a depressive place, with few smiles on the faces of the locals and no music going on around us. It doesn’t make for really enjoyable shopping, and in a strange way you feel like you are being used for your gringo dollar.

One bright spot in the market was a girl - excitable and contagiously friendly - we met who had just started an organic cafe and arts shop, way out the back of town. We decided to visit and boy did it turn out to be interesting! The food was great and the small gallery there interesting (it had only about 10 or so paintings as it was in start-up mode), but somehow we found ourselves an hour later still inside being held slightly hostage by our overly enthusiastic host!

We had a bus that was leaving at either 4 or 4:30pm (I was sure it was the later; Chelle the former), and it was approaching 4 so we tried to wrap things. We had shown interest in one of the paintings but probably not enough to buy one, but then the idea was suggested last minute that we might want to GET OUR OWN PORTRAIT! Our host was keen for a sale, and her brother was one of the gallery artists and – we were told - he could do it for us within 24 hours! We thought why not? This was actually the first portrait he had ever done and there were none other in the gallery – this was one of those random travel things you have to say yes to!

I had decided I wanted a portrait with a Charango in it (people who know me know that I go through times of brief obsession with new things) and that sparked a series of phone calls and frenzied conversations around town whereby we discovered an uncle SOMEWHERE had a Charango! It was like a challenge in the Great Race to get it to us in time. We waited, waited and waited, and a few minutes before 4pm up turned the Charango – not just a Charango either but a full local costume for Chelle and I, complete with the Spanish style helmet! Chelle was certain by now that the bus was at 4pm and we were going to miss it but I was equally as certain that it was 4:30pm and all was good. Ben’s never wrong, right?

The helmut made us look a little touristy tragic/daggy as you can see the portrait photo below, and the end result you'll have to come and see in our house sometime. It’s pretty damn funny! They did a good job of me, but it does make Michelle look a little bit like she has a black eye! By the time all our costume changes and photo taking were done we raced back to the bus just in time to find out that, shock horror the bus WAS actually 4pm. The pain for me was double-fold: 1) We missed the bus; 2) I had to admit to Michelle she was right. The first pain turned out to be no drama as there were local buses available. The second pain I am still feeling to this day!

Chelle striking a bargain! Got them down 25 cents

Chelle striking a bargain! Got them down 25 cents

Tarabuco markets from the eyes of a local

Tarabuco markets from the eyes of a local


Traditional Bolivian textile piece, hand-made with amazing detail. We are regretting not buying one!

Traditional Bolivian textile piece, hand-made with amazing detail. We are regretting not buying one!


Bolivian textile weaving - meticulous and labour intensive. The women who master it are amazing

Bolivian textile weaving - meticulous and labour intensive. The women who master it are amazing


Tarbucos running of the bulls

Tarbucos running of the bulls

Our hosts/hostage-holders at Tarabuco markets

Our hosts/hostage-holders at Tarabuco markets

Posing for our portrait - totally passing as locals

Posing for our portrait - totally passing as locals

And with that I shall leave part one of Bolivia. Next to come are the Potosi Mines, Uyuni Salt Flats, Death Road and the Amazon**. Geeez you realise you get around a bit when you do this round-the-world thing. Stay tuned!!!

Hasta luego!!!
Ben and Chelle

  • *At this rate current ETA is 2015

Posted by CBAdv2010 04.09.2010 15:29 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia potosí santa_cruz sucre world_trip gingers_paradise Comments (5)

Wheezing and freezing our way to Machu Picchu!

Cusco, The Salkantay Mountain Trek and Machu Picchu

Peru: Part 2.

22nd May to 2nd June 2010.

Hello again!

Sooo, I had spent about 4 hours, spread over a few days and many coffees, writing about our Salkantay trek, Cusco and Machu Picchu, selecting photos, captioning them, referring back to my diary etc. etc., and was pretty happy with the end product, until I went to upload it to the blog a few days later, opened the saved document.... and stared at a blank screen. BLANK! Nada, nothing, CAPUT! Just a void of white staring back at me. I resisted the temptation to shake and yell at the computer and ever so calmly called Ben (OK, it may have been more like a shriek of “BBBBBeeeeeeeeeeeeeeennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn”!!!), my very own “Mr Computer Fixit”. As I watched Ben work it became increasingly obvious that the document had disappeared into the lost world of Microsoft word documents, never to be retrieved again. I then had a little tiny sophisticated adult tantrum and refused to re-write the blog! A week has now passed and Ben has talked me back into it (meanwhile the Bolivia blog is something of a mystery, and has been "almost finished" for about 5 weeks now!!!!). So, here I am, sitting on a luxurious Swiss train to Geneva re-writing the blog (BTW, the Australian public transport system seems like it belongs to the developing world when compared to the Swiss model!).

Cusco: We acclimatised for 5 days in Cusco before starting our 5 day Salkantay Mountain trek to Macchu Pichu. Cusco was beautiful. Ancient Incan walls formed part of the city landscape, along with beautiful old cathedrals steeped in the bloody history of the Incan struggle against the Spanish invaders. Cusco and the surrounding Sacred Valley is full of history, both beautiful and violent, and we spent days just visiting different museums, scared sites and Inca ruins that lie in the valley beyond Cusco.

Ben walking the narrow, cobble stoned streets of Cusco

Ben walking the narrow, cobble stoned streets of Cusco


Incan stone walls form part of many buildings in Cusco

Incan stone walls form part of many buildings in Cusco


Colourful traditional dancing during the religious festival

Colourful traditional dancing during the religious festival


Ancient Incan stone walls line the streets of modern day Cusco

Ancient Incan stone walls line the streets of modern day Cusco


Cusco streets at night

Cusco streets at night

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Cusco's main plaza lit up at night

Cusco's main plaza lit up at night

The old Jesuit Church in Cusco

The old Jesuit Church in Cusco

Cusco main plaza

Cusco main plaza

Main plaza, Cusco

Main plaza, Cusco

Incan wall as the foundation to a local Cathedral

Incan wall as the foundation to a local Cathedral



Sacred Valley Photos:

Sacsayhuaman Inca Ruins

Sacsayhuaman Inca Ruins

Pukapukara Inca Ruins

Pukapukara Inca Ruins

The prayer wall, Sacsayhuaman Inca Ruins

The prayer wall, Sacsayhuaman Inca Ruins


Climbing the tiny Incan steps

Climbing the tiny Incan steps

Moray Ruins

Moray Ruins

The Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley

Taking the local bus out to the Sacred Valley was like playing a game of Sardines!

Taking the local bus out to the Sacred Valley was like playing a game of Sardines!

We also enjoyed the many cafes and restaurants of Cusco, and loved catching up with our friends Tori and Luke, as well as Liz and Ken.

Dinner with Liz and Ken

Dinner with Liz and Ken


Indulging in some very yummy fine food!

Indulging in some very yummy fine food!


Hanging out with Luke and Tori - Jenga was a popular game in Cusco!

Hanging out with Luke and Tori - Jenga was a popular game in Cusco!

Salkantay Trek: The Salkantay Trek is an alternative trek to the popular Inca Trail path to Machu Picchu. Ben and I signed up for it because we wanted to hike through the glacier covered mountains surrounding Machu Picchu (and also because we had missed out on a spot for the original Inca trail trek which was booked up 5 months earlier). What unfolded over the next 5 days could be described by some as torture with a scenic view and 3 meals a day, and others as one of the greatest adventures of their travel. For us it was a bit of both!

Day 1: We woke up at 3:30am (ouch!!), for a 4:30am pick up (we were to wake up between 4am and 5am for the next 5 mornings!). We drove out to a small town at the start of the trek, where we met our fellow trekkers and had a small breakfast , while the desperate coffee addicts tried to drink the luke warm Nescafe for a much needed wake up hit to the body! We then trekked 8 hours through the beautiful mountains, and came into camp at dusk. It was a very cold night, and we shivered our way through a sort of half sleep. I awoke with razor blades in my throat and a cough that produced copious amounts of Shrek- green phleghm. Not a great start to 5 days of trekking!

Highlights Day 1:
• We got to know our fantastic group of fellow trekkers: Canadians, Americans, Scottish and Singaporean. One woman was Deaf and a sign language user. It was great to have her as part of our trek and made me think of and miss everyone back at TPS / RRP (the school and pre-school where I work when not travelling).

Lowlight:
• In true dramatic style I had an asthma attack after climbing our first hill at altitude (I was trying to keep up with Ben and the others in our group and went too hard and fast for my lungs to cope!). I had to ride “Fernando” the emergency horse for a little bit(I named him after Fernando the Mule in the Colca Canyon- not very original but my new favourite name for horses and mules!). I felt completely embarrassed and sounded like an old granny with emphysema trying to suck air through a tiny straw!

Ben enjoying our first day of hiking

Ben enjoying our first day of hiking


Mountain side lunch stop

Mountain side lunch stop


Oh Fernando!

Oh Fernando!

Our first hill climb at altitude

Our first hill climb at altitude


Dinner and a cold night at camp

Dinner and a cold night at camp


Day 2:
This was the most physically exhausting day, as we hiked up to a mountain pass at 4600 metres high. We passed snow, walked through sleet, and enjoyed a trek through constantly changing scenery, from the glacier mountain, to a cloud forest and a valley lake. We chewed on cocoa leaves that helped us cope with altitude sickness, which many people felt. Most people experienced a headache and sense of nausea at some stage during the day. Unfortunately, my cough was worsening and I started to sound like I was a “pack a day smoker”.

Highlights:
• Making the pass at 4600 metres high was a great (and exhausting) feeling! Ben and I placed a stone each, along with everyone from our little group, to make a pile at the pass, sort of the equivalent of writing “ Ben and Chelle woz here!”
• Coming down the mountain and walking through the cloud forest was beautiful; there were humming birds and lovely orchids.
• Our camp for the 2nd night was in a lusciously green valley, and we had fun playing card games with everyone that night.

Lowlights:
• Feeling like you are going to have a heart attack because when you walk at altitude your heart can pound in your chest like you think it is actually going to explode!

Early morning

Early morning

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A mountain lake where we stopped for lunch on day 2

A mountain lake where we stopped for lunch on day 2


Going slowly, up, up, up!

Going slowly, up, up, up!


The mist started to roll in

The mist started to roll in


Quick stop to chew some cocoa leaves and re-energise!

Quick stop to chew some cocoa leaves and re-energise!

Trekking higher and higher, day 2

Trekking higher and higher, day 2


Making the pass

Making the pass

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Making time for a quick photo stop on our hike up towards the pass.

Making time for a quick photo stop on our hike up towards the pass.


Almost there!

Almost there!

We made it! Our group at the 4,600m pass. It was cold!

We made it! Our group at the 4,600m pass. It was cold!


Relieved to be at camp after a long long day!

Relieved to be at camp after a long long day!

Day 3: An easy half day walk through the valley by a beautiful, gushing river.

Highlights:
• Beautiful scenery- see the photos!
• We met “Pancho Loco” the beer drinking monkey who took a liking to Ben (and then drunk some of his beer!).
• We got into camp by early afternoon, and had a great time playing cards and chatting with everyone.

Another early morning wake up, check out those purple bags under my eyes!

Another early morning wake up, check out those purple bags under my eyes!


Sunrise over the mountains

Sunrise over the mountains


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Day 3 was an enjoyable walk

Day 3 was an enjoyable walk


Shopping anyone?!

Shopping anyone?!

Walking by the lovely stream

Walking by the lovely stream

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A very serious Turkey!

A very serious Turkey!

Never trust a man!!

Never trust a man!!


Lunch, Day 3

Lunch, Day 3


The kitchen!

The kitchen!

Day 4: This was another challenging day of hiking along part of an original Inca Path, over another mountain and along a narrow path that hugged the mountain edge to some Inca Ruins, and a view of Machu Picchu. It was an optional hike, which I took, however Ben (who wasn’t feeling well) and a few others decided to head into the town of Aguas Calientes via an alternative route, carrying our pack for us.

Highlights:
• Trekking on an original Inca Path!
• Seeing Macchu Pichu from a distance, surrounded by the mountains and valleys.
• Lying and chatting with new friends in the sun next to ancient ruins, while our bodies recovered from another climb and prepared for the final few hours of hiking into Aguas Calientes.
• Staying in a real hotel and having a shower for the first time in 4 days!!
• Having a fun group dinner with everyone in town.

The start of an original Inca Path

The start of an original Inca Path


Mountain views Day 4

Mountain views Day 4


Valley views Day 4

Valley views Day 4


Stopping for a breather after another big climb

Stopping for a breather after another big climb


On the mountain top of the Llacta Pata ruins

On the mountain top of the Llacta Pata ruins


The Llacta Pata Incan ruins

The Llacta Pata Incan ruins

A view of Machu Picchu from the mountain top

A view of Machu Picchu from the mountain top


Enjoying the beautiful scenery on our final day

Enjoying the beautiful scenery on our final day


Group dinner on our final night

Group dinner on our final night

Day 5: Machu Picchu! We woke up at 3:30am for a 4am start, already tired from the previous days of trekking. We climbed in the early morning darkness up a steep and challenging path that cut through the zig-zagging mountain road. The climb took Ben 45 minutes and me about an hour. My breathing was so laborious and “phleghmy” by this stage that people were stopping to ask if I was OK. Imagine Darth Vadar with emphysema and that is how I sounded! I look back at this final climb and wonder how on earth we did it, as Ben had also started to not feel well. (In the end when we returned to Cusco I saw a Dr who diagnosed Bronchitis and severe asthma, and put me on a strong course of antibiotics to recover. Ben and I spent the first few days back after the trek in bed sleeping, and Ben ended up with a persistent night cough for about a week afterwards. Oh, the memories!!).

Machu Picchu: WWWWwwwwwwwwooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!! Wow Wow WOW! We will never forget seeing the magnificent ruins of Machu Picchu for the first time. We stood together in silence, looking down onto the glorious ruins and terraced mountain fields spread before us. The early morning mist was still lingering, enhancing the mystical feel, and covering the sneaking jungle trees and terraced fields with a light dew. It was a magical and captivating view, one to remember forever.

Waiting in the early morning cold and drizzle for the gates to Machu Picchu to open

Waiting in the early morning cold and drizzle for the gates to Machu Picchu to open


Still barely awake!

Still barely awake!

Early morning mist and our first glimpse of Machu Picchu

Early morning mist and our first glimpse of Machu Picchu


We survived the climb and 3 am start! Early morning at Machu Picchu

We survived the climb and 3 am start! Early morning at Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu at 6am

Machu Picchu at 6am

Terraced fields

Terraced fields

We had a 1.5 hour tour with a knowledgeable guide, who explained the meaning and significance of the main buildings and temples. We were shown the stone quarry where the Inca people would cut out the giant stones, and carve and shape them for the temples and houses. The stonework was incredible, with giant, smooth stone walls perfectly aligned and sloping on a 13degree angle. Below are some photos of the temples, houses and stonework.

The perfectly aligned Incan walls all slope at a 13 degree angle

The perfectly aligned Incan walls all slope at a 13 degree angle


Stone corridors in Machu Picchu

Stone corridors in Machu Picchu

The Temple of the Sun

The Temple of the Sun


The Temple of the Sun

The Temple of the Sun


The main altar, Machu Picchu

The main altar, Machu Picchu


Ben feeling the sacred energy at the main altar

Ben feeling the sacred energy at the main altar


The Temple of the Condor

The Temple of the Condor

The stone garden

The stone garden


Ruins at Machu Picchu

Ruins at Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

An Incan stone representation, or map, of Machu Picchu

An Incan stone representation, or map, of Machu Picchu


Looking down over the terraced fields

Looking down over the terraced fields

After our tour we had a quick nap in the morning sun, backs up against the ancient walls. It was only 10:30am and we were so tired!!

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Feeling refreshed from our little nap we decided that we would climb the famous Huayna Pichu mountain to see the hill top ruins, the Moon Temple and take in the 360 degree views of Machu Picchu and surrounds. The climb up was another steep and strenuous climb, however the views from the top were stunning and well worth it (although Ben and I could barely talk to each other because we were so tired by this point!).

IMG_8517_547x730.jpgOn top of Huayna Picchu!

On top of Huayna Picchu!


The zig-zagging road up to Machu Picchu

The zig-zagging road up to Machu Picchu

From the hilltop ruins we climbed back down and around the mountain to the Temple of the Moon, a small temple built over a cave with intricate and delicate stonework.

The Great Cave at Huayna Picchu

The Great Cave at Huayna Picchu

The Temple of the Moon, Huayna Picchu Mountain

The Temple of the Moon, Huayna Picchu Mountain


IMG_8582_730x547.jpgLying in the stone beds of long lost Incan priests

Lying in the stone beds of long lost Incan priests

3 hours of walking later we were back in the main Machu Picchu grounds, and walked up the terraced fields for a view over the other side of Machu Picchu. At this point Ben had completely hit the wall with exhaustion and decided to catch the 2:30pm bus back before becoming delusional! I had a tiny bit of energy left and walked out to see the Inca drawbridge. It wasn’t exactly what I had imagined but was still an interesting insight into Incan technology and defence strategy.

Inca Drawbridge

Inca Drawbridge

IMG_8621_730x547.jpgTerraced fields, Machu Picchu

Terraced fields, Machu Picchu

High 5 for successfully climbing the Huayna Picchu mountain!

High 5 for successfully climbing the Huayna Picchu mountain!

I caught the next bus after Ben, and we met back up in town, where we joined everyone for a final group dinner. We then caught the train and bus back to Cusco, arriving at 2am in the morning, making the day an incredibly long one as we had been awake for almost 24hours!!

Ben alseep on the homeward bound train, at the end of a long, amazing day exploring Machu Picchu

Ben alseep on the homeward bound train, at the end of a long, amazing day exploring Machu Picchu

So, The Salkantay and Machu Picchu experience was unforgettable, challenging, rewarding and absolutely incredible. If you ever get the chance to visit Machu Picchu you have to go!! ( You can take a bus up to the ruins and don’t need to do the early morning climb!)

Love Chelle and Ben

Posted by CBAdv2010 04:52 Comments (3)

An insomniac in New York writing about Peru!

Lake Titicaca, Arequipa and the Colca Canyon

Peru (Lake Titicaca, Arequipa and the Colca Canyon)
16th May – 22nd May

Hola amigos!

It is 5am in New York City and in true Sex and the City style I am sitting at a little table by a window overlooking a Brooklyn street unable to sleep. Unlike a scene from Sex and the City I look more like a frumpy mad scientist with humidity inspired fly away hair than a glamorous insomniac in designer PJ's! So, rather than toss and turn in the dripping summer heat I thought that I would publish this Peru blog to keep things going while my procrastinating "husband- to- be" ( only 2 months now!!) works on the Bolivia blog in Ben time!

............. Peru part 1:

We spent an incredible 3 weeks in Peru, land of the pan flute, gourmet stuffed chilli peppers, delicious ceviche (raw fish marinated in a salsa of lemon, lime, chilli and coriander), and most memorable, but left untouched by Ben and myself, roasted guinea pig! (I couldn’t help but think of my childhood guinea pigs, “Guts”, “Chloe” and “Mystery”, as I looked at the charcoaled guinea pigs lined up in the street stalls like the ones in the picture below (warning,skip these photos if you are a guinea pig lover like me!):

A gourmet Peruvian feast; chilli stuffed guinea pigs!

A gourmet Peruvian feast; chilli stuffed guinea pigs!

The poor little roasted ones

The poor little roasted ones

Peru has obviously less wealth than Chile and Argentina, and seemed to have more in common with Bolivia than its other South American neighbours. It is louder, less regulated, more colourful and more chaotic than the European influenced Chile and Argentina. Like in Bolivia, many of the country women still wear the traditional dresses, and big skirts, with bowling like hats, as in the picture here:

A woman in traditional dress in the Colca Canyon

A woman in traditional dress in the Colca Canyon

Peru is full of natural and manmade beauty, with the massive Lake Titicaca seeming more like an inland ocean than a lake, endlessly rolling mountains, amazonian jungle, romantic colonial cities, some of the world's largest sand dunes, great canyons and of course Machu Pichu. It is the sort of country that you could spend 3 months in easily, and Ben and I hope to come back to explore more of Peru in the future.

We started our time in Peru at Lake Titicaca, with a visit to the Floating Islands. The floating islands are man-made, using a traditional method where they slowly build up a large number of reeds to form the base of the island, and place dried, straw-like reeds on top to form the ground of the island (at least this is how I understood it from our tour guide's explanation!). It feels like one big waterbed when you walk on it! Today, 2,000 people attempt to live traditionally on floating reed islands, while masses of tourists visit their communities each day, buying their colourful handicrafts and eating in their straw hut restaurants ( we had the BEST trout that we have ever tasted , straight from the lake, for $2 in a simple reed hut restaurant!) . In this way tourism boots the local economy of the floating islands, but I couldn’t help but feel that we were taking more away from their lifestyle than what we were contributing.

A tourist shop on one of the Floating Islands, Lake Titicaca

A tourist shop on one of the Floating Islands, Lake Titicaca


Catching a boat ride on Lake Titicaca

Catching a boat ride on Lake Titicaca

A floating school, Lake Titicaca

A floating school, Lake Titicaca

Doing a bit of tourist shopping on the floating islands!

Doing a bit of tourist shopping on the floating islands!

Next stop was Arequipa: The White City. We arrived to this beautiful city bleary eyed, grumpy and tired at 3 in the morning. We caught a taxi to our hostel and in my sleepy state I left our backpack, with our passports, money, laptop, camera and mobile phone, behind in the taxi. Luckily the taxi had only just started to leave when I realised, and incredibly the driver stopped when he heard my thumping on the back of his taxi and my slightly hysterical cries to STOP!We were both suddenly very alert after this near disaster, and Ben did a good job of biting his tongue and not saying anything when I had almost lost all of our valuable possessions in one hit!

Arequipa was definitely one of our favourite cities in South America. It is an old colonial city, dotted with cathedrals and their grand bell towers, home to white washed crumbling buildings that speak of its grand past, blessed with beautiful, lantern lined cobbled alleyways, and surrounded by dusty mountains and a snow capped volcano. It is known for its spicy food, so Ben was in food heaven, ordering the spiciest dishes on the menu, and even then he often added even more chilli to the food!

View looking out from Arequipa city

View looking out from Arequipa city


The main plaza of Arequipa at night

The main plaza of Arequipa at night


One of the many beautiful streets of Arequipa

One of the many beautiful streets of Arequipa


A Thelma and Louise moment on the rooftop bar at sunset!

A Thelma and Louise moment on the rooftop bar at sunset!


Sunset over the main plaza of Arequipa

Sunset over the main plaza of Arequipa


The beautiful main plaza, Arequipa

The beautiful main plaza, Arequipa

The white washed, super clean streets of Arequipa

The white washed, super clean streets of Arequipa


A common Peruvian site! Riot police hanging out for no observable reason.

A common Peruvian site! Riot police hanging out for no observable reason.

We enjoyed 3 days in Arequipa, and spent our time exploring the city on their open air bus tour, haggling with the locals down at the central markets, visiting the stunning Santa Catalina convent and the numerous cathedrals dotted across the city.

Local markets, Arequipa

Local markets, Arequipa

Potatoes anyone? Hundreds of Peruvian varieties to choose from!

Potatoes anyone? Hundreds of Peruvian varieties to choose from!


Santa Catalina Convent

Santa Catalina Convent

The main street inside the old Santa Catalina Convent

The main street inside the old Santa Catalina Convent


One of the many churches in Arequipa

One of the many churches in Arequipa

View from our roof top

View from our roof top

From Arequipa we went on to do a 3 day trek in the Colca Canyon, home to the great Condor Birds and apparently an even deeper canyon than the Grand Canyon. It was another early start, as we were picked up at 3:30am so that we could make it to the canyon in time to see the condors taking their early morning flight. It was incredible to watch the condors soar over the canyon and glide with the wind (and even more entertaining to watch the crazy cult people worshipping the Condors.... "Embrace the Condor.....Feel the Condor....Be the Condor.... Por que Noooo?!!").

Flight of the Condors!

Flight of the Condors!

We then spent the next 3 days walking down into and then back up and out of the magnificent canyon. We walked with our guide, Alex, and one other trekker, Monica, who came from Spain and soon became a fast friend. We also adopted another member into our trekking group along the way, Juanito- the wandering dog! Juanito took a liking to Ben, and decided to follow Ben for the 3 days trek, even sleeping outside our door at night just to make sure that Ben didn’t slip away without him noticing! They were inseparable, and Ben tried to convince me at the end of our trek to take Juanito along with us for the rest of our journey! These pictures show Ben with his new best friend!

The best of friends! Ben with Juanito

The best of friends! Ben with Juanito


Juanito spent the night curled up outside our door waiting for Ben!

Juanito spent the night curled up outside our door waiting for Ben!

There were some tough hiking moments, made more difficult because of the high altitude. However the scenery was worth it, as the canyon was dotted with some of the biggest cactus plants I have ever seen, and the canyon walls constantly changed in colour, from red to orange to dotted green with shrubs, as well as in form, as the walls were sometimes jagged with strong peaks, and at other times smooth and flawless. We slept in 2 different little villages inside the canyon. The first night we slept in a basic concrete room, with candles lighting the room at night. The second night we stayed in a more traditional hut, with a dirt floor, mud brick walls and thatched straw roof! We each had 1(cold) shower in 3 days, and so were a bit smelly at the end of our trek! Monica and I caught a mule for the final ascent out of the canyon. Mine was called “Fernando” and was hell bent on overtaking any other mule in front of it, which made for an eventful ride up the steep, winding canyon path! Ben hiked out in 1hr 30minutes, when most hikers take about 2hours 30minutes!

The Colca Canyon

The Colca Canyon

Monica, Ben and I celebrating the end of an uphill hike

Monica, Ben and I celebrating the end of an uphill hike


Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

The village we stayed in on our first night in the Canyon

The village we stayed in on our first night in the Canyon

The Colca Kitchen!

The Colca Kitchen!

Coca tea - the most popular herbal tea in Peru made from the coca plant. It is a miracle tea for alleviating symptoms of altitude sickness.

Coca tea - the most popular herbal tea in Peru made from the coca plant. It is a miracle tea for alleviating symptoms of altitude sickness.

Large cacti grow in the canyon

Large cacti grow in the canyon

Ben putting on war paint from one of the canyon's plants!

Ben putting on war paint from one of the canyon's plants!


Traditional fermented corn drink. It was sticky and strong!

Traditional fermented corn drink. It was sticky and strong!


We never knew that there were so many varieties of corn! Corn isn't just yellow!!

We never knew that there were so many varieties of corn! Corn isn't just yellow!!


We had to be careful of the passing mules on the narrow trail

We had to be careful of the passing mules on the narrow trail

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Learning to fish the Peruvian way

Learning to fish the Peruvian way


Ben had more success at the fishing than me

Ben had more success at the fishing than me


Our 5 star, luxurious eco-resort hurt!

Our 5 star, luxurious eco-resort hurt!


Playing chess has become one of our favourite ways to spend spare time, although Ben has to play minus his Queen so that I have any chance!

Playing chess has become one of our favourite ways to spend spare time, although Ben has to play minus his Queen so that I have any chance!

Our trekking gang

Our trekking gang

Love early morning insomniac and softly snoring partner :)

xx

Posted by CBAdv2010 02:24 Comments (7)

Top 10 ways you know you are travelling in South America

Mayonnaise, mountains and mucho more

OK so I - Benjamin Reid - may be procrastinating on writing my Bolivia blog and therefore holding up the entire blog production line (we are now 4 countries behind - Bolivia, Peru, Dominican Republic and, where we are currently: Mexico) but, as our sojourn to South America is coming to an end I thought why not jot out a blog short and sweet. Not everything has to be long-winded and full of photos and all that jazz right? Right!

So without further ado I present to you the Top 10 ways you know you are travelling in South America - actually it became the Top 11 but who's counting!

11) Markets usually consist of 100's of people, all selling the exact same thing, just stacked differently

10) There's a whole aisle of the supermarket dedicated just to mayonnaise, and if there's any food with potential for mayonnaise - it will be there

9) Road rules are to be thought of more as road suggestions

8) You start to think it's normal to go to dinner at midnight; and normal to see 5 year olds seated next to you out with mum and dad

7) You've long since learned you can form your own bus stop just by running into traffic and waving it down

6) You've said "gracias" so many time that you are no longer capable of saying "thank you" in English

5) Beers come in 1 litre sizes, none of this 400ml business

4) You can't remember the last big city that wasn't built on a mountain or around it

3) You can have $100 on you and be as good as broke - because no-one will change those damn 10,000 peso notes the bank keeps gving you

2) You salivate with excitement if your hostel serves something OTHER than white bread, cheese and jam for breakfast - without much effort one can consume their own bodyweight in white bread each day

1) You average about one 15 hour bus ride a week, count total bus travel time in weeks, and can hold people hostage for hours with the horror stories!

For any of you who've travelled to South America feel free to add to the list above in the comments!

Bolivia blog coming soon, just as soon as Mexico stops distracting me with it's tequila and tacos.

Until then
Adios!
Benjamin

Posted by CBAdv2010 16:57 Comments (3)

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