28.12.2015 - 03.02.2016
Since the start of the adventure
Hours on bus 143.5 hours
Hours on plane 41.5 hours
Hours in car: 6
Hours on train no change
Phils injury count: numerous mosquito bites, ticks (discovered and removed 3 days after our jungle trip) and other various insect bites ala Amazon. Sunburn (secondary to his inadequate and incompetent suncream application. Can't be trusted).
Phil being poo-ed on (by birds) count: 3
Things we have learnt
Flying from sea level to 4000 metres above sea level was possibly not a good idea.
Coca tea pretty much saved Debbie's life.
Phil is actually capable of being scared of something (face first abseiling)
We are not lucky with South American flights (but would still choose flying over buses).
Sadly It's true what they say in the books; most (not all!) Bolivians don't like tourists very much.
It's amazing what Bolivian women can store in their multicoloured Andean shawls.
The "altitude pressure"on domestic flights is the same as somewhere 2900m above sea level. They figure most people would be OK with this.
Bolivians really like to protest
- Special feature*
MRCP multiple choice question
29 year old male P.R traveled to South America where he swam in fresh water lakes and trekked in the jungle and swamps. He sustained multiple insect bites from mosquitos, sand flies and ticks. 4 days later he develops coryzal symptoms, chills, headache and a cough. His behaviour also became more challenging than usual but cognition remained intact. He has been taking doxycycline as malaria prophylaxis. What is the likely diagnosis?
B) Dengue fever
C) Lymes disease
D) Tickborne Encephalitis
E) Rocky Mountain fever
F) Man flu
We appreciate this is a very difficult case so feel free to discuss below in the comments section. Also the identity of the patient has been censored for confidentiality purposes. All other information is accurate. (Can I just say (Debbie) that despite my MRCP positive status, my diagnostic skills were heavily questioned by the patient and it took a while for the patient to accept his true diagnosis).
So after a hot Christmas we vacated our apartment and flew to La Paz via Bogota. Arriving at our hostel at 5 am, the sleepy receptionist didn't have a record of our reservation, but let us in anyway (thank god). We didn't even think about the altitude but after climbing 2 flights of stairs carrying our bags (fair play Phil had both big bags) to our room we were duly reminded that La Paz is roughly 3800-4000m depending on where you are in the city. Unlike our time in Peru where we had time to gradually acclimatise, we didn't have the luxury this time round and boy did Debbie suffer. We were in La Paz for 3 days and things got gradually better, by day three Debbie's resting heart rate had come down to 80 from 120 on day one! (not great but not as bad as 120). The breathlessness, headaches and constant palpitations meant she couldn't really sleep for 3 days and for those who know her, this is major. If there is one thing Debbie can do, she can sleep. It's one of the very few skills she has. Phil was affected too but not nearly as bad. So much so he was determined to 'reverse abseil' down a 18 floor building wearing a superman costume. For those who have seen the video footage- it's not like Phil to hesitate when it comes to these things, but boy he looked scared! The fact Debbie couldn't even walk on the flat without getting breathless and palpitations she felt absailing down a building probably was not a good choice and so being the very sensible adult she was, she gave it a miss.
Our trip to the island of the sun was booked so off we went! (so we can see the highest navigable lake: lake Titikaka
ISLA DE SOL
After a bus, boat and another bus we got to the island. Unfortunately we were greeted by 250 inca steps followed by another 30 minutes of up hill climbing before we reached our hostel. This almost killed Debbie and induced 2 episodes of tears. Exerting yourself while fighting with the altitude was not fun. On the plus side, the hostel was pretty much the highest hostel on the Island and so had magnificent views. Our host Jose who was a lovely Bolivian man (spoke no English and was probably the first friendly Bolivian we met) talked us through the island and what walks we could do (though at this point, Debbie did not want to do any walking!). After a little rest we decided to climb to the top of the little hill behind the hostel to watch the sunset. It looked little, but it certainly didn't feel it while we climbed it! The landscape is breathtaking ( in 2 senses...) and we could sit and look at it all day. After another rather sleepless night for both Debbie and Phil (turns out altitude sickness affects boys too) we went on a couple of short walks - one that was suppose to be 40 minutes (according to Jose) turned out to be 3 hours during which Phil was jumping up and down the hills and fighting his way through people's farms and dense cobwebs because we couldn't find the way back. Eventually we found a path which led us home. Seeing as it was New Year's Eve we went to the top rated restaurant on the island (according to tripadvisor) we were warned by Jose that we shouldn't go there if we were hungry as the service is very slow as they cook everything fresh. The altitude took our appetite as well so we didn't really mind (again, Debbie without appetite, pretty major). We turned up to this shack and was greeted by a very flustered Bolivian lady who ( we think...) was saying the delivery from Copacabana is late and so we need to wait 15 minutes before her ingredients arrives. This was fine, we expected delays and could enjoy the sunset outside the window. 30 minutes later a man brings her a bag of tomatoes. We have never seen someone so excited about tomatoes! So we eventually ordered our food and drinks and after 1.5 hours we got our freshly made pizza! (luckily they provided playing cards for us to kill time). The place didn't have any lights and the chefs were cooking in the dark! ( perhaps that's why it takes so long?). We counted down to the UK new year (which caused the other customers some enjoyment given it was 7 pm in Bolivia) and we were tucked up in bed by 10pm! Rock and roll!
New Year's Day was spent exploring the beautiful island and we embarked on a 7 hour hike to the north of the island and back. The views were awesome, and we had the island to ourselves apart from the odd shepherd (who after wishing us a happy new year asked us for money)' It was a lovely start to the year, and in with tradition of a New Year's Day walk! Breathing was easier for Debbie which was a bonus! We even made a friend along the way! A dog (who we named Pablo) followed us for a good 2 hours along the trail. We think it may have thought we were lost and so took it upon himself to lead us back to the nearest community. He was cute. After the long walk we sat in one of the scenic cafes and enjoyed a jug of South American favourite - fresh lemonade and watched the sun set on the first day of 2016.
The next day we raced down 250 slippery Inca steps (the island was covered by a massive raincloud and it was raining a lot) to make our 8 am boat back to Copacabana so we can catch our 3 hour bus back to La Paz. On our way down a Bolivian lady ( in her traditional dress and carrying her traditional shawl) kept saying " la Paz 7.30! 7.30!" I think she was trying to help us and was telling us to hurry up as we're about to miss our boat...she was also telling us there wasn't a 8 o clock boat and the next one was 10.30 (which means we could miss our bus). Luckily we made it just in time (without breaking ankles!). A notable event during our 3 hour bus ride was that a young Bolivian lady came on the bus and perched on the step (don't think she paid for a proper seat) then suddenly unwrapped her massive Andean shawl that she wore on her back to reveal a bundle of fleece blankets in which there was a 3 month old baby wrapped up in more blankets! It was unbelievable and Debbie couldn't hide her very shocked face. We're unsure how that child didn't suffocate or overheat (it was around 30 odd degrees). After a day's rest in La Paz we were excited to embark on our Amazon adventure!
Of course, it wouldn't be an adventure without some flight drama! Once we got to the check in desk we were told our flight has been cancelled due to bad weather and that it has been rescheduled for tomorrow morning. They all seem to be really surprised that we didn't know our flight was cancelled. We tried to explain that we had to fly today as our Jungle tour starts first thing tomorrow morning. The staff kept telling us to come back in half an hour to see if they can squeeze us on the next flight but everytime we did, it was bad news (no wonder really since there's only 19 seats on the plane). After spending 5 hours in the airport we gave up and went back to town centre to look for a hostel.
Next morning we got back on a taxi to try our luck again. To our disbelief we were told the our 7 am flight was now delayed til 12 due to mechanical issues. After Debbie kicking up a mini fuss we got a free breakfast and taxi money reimbursed. When boarding time came, we were pleased to be finally on our way. Only slight concern was that as the passengers boarded the 19 seater flight, there was a mechanic (we think) still poking the plane with a screw driver (great). Interestingly the mechanic then got on the plane with us. The flight was very turbulent and there was a lot of beeping from the cockpit(apparently normal) and at one point the captain took off his ear phones and angrily beckoned the mechanic over to the cockpit and proceeded to point at various buttons and lights in the cockpit and going off on one. This didn't fill us with much confidence. After a 30 minute flight (felt like years!) we finally landed on a length of dirt ground. What hit us first was the heat and humidity! After the initial shock we noticed the mossy green mountains and trees surrounding the little town of rurrenabaque.
We got on a tour the next day and had our tour cut short by a day. Having achieved our first target of arriving at the place our next mission was to obtain some jungle clothes. Apparently if you didn't wear long sleeves you would get eaten alive by the bugs. We envisaged stalls and stalls of cheap long sleeve khakis and cargo pants seeing this is the place people go to for their Amazon treks. However, it was heaps and heaps of second hand clothes that we had to rummage through. Eventually Debbie found some long beige trousers for £1 that fitted (though we discovered later they were maternity trousers! Very comfy, highly recommend) and Phil managed to find himself a shirt for £3 (Abercrombie and Fitch!). It was quite funny fishing through the piles of clothes. We think they were donations from a clothes bank that's suppose to go to poor communities, how it ended up in shops where locals buy from I'm not sure. We saw items from Calvin Klein, hollister, Nike, NEXT, George by a asda and many more!
Having messed up our itinerary we actually did pretty well as we ended up having our own private tour guide for the jungle! We had wrongly assumed that we would see animals everywhere like we did on the Galápagos Islands. It turns out that spotting animals is very difficult as they like to hide! We did spot a few variety of monkeys, spiders ( tarantula nest outside our huts!),fire flies and birds ( including macaws! It was strange to see them in the wild as we're used to seeing them either on a pirates arm or in a cage!). Our guide Sandro kept picking random plants/leaves and telling us to eat it... Naturally we did as we were told. He explained all the different medicinal uses of the plants. One of them turned our mouths numb for about 2 minutes, this was their anaesthetic! However Debbie was skeptical about some claims, apparently if you boiled a certain root for 4 hours and then drank it 3 times a day for 2 weeks your UTI would go away.....perhaps the UTI just went away by itself. People do say though, the Amazon is the worlds largest pharmacy. Phil "helped" our guide build a raft and we floated down river tulchi which was one of the Amazon highlights for us. Not everyone can say they've rafted down an Amazon river eating a banana! We also spent a few days at the pampas swamps, here we saw pink river Dolphins (very bizarre seeing the water depth was only 2 metres!), capybara ( worlds largest rodent!), hoatzin ( a pre historic bird that looks like it's from the hunger games- almost a cross between a pheasant and a peacock- blue face, red eyes and brown feathers), a lot of caimen ( hence we passed on the offer to swim with the Dolphins), monkeys and lots of birds! Piranha fishing tested Phil's patience. Obviously he didn't catch anything but Debbie let him hold the one she caught for a photo! (he probably won't admit this, but it's true) After our 6 days it was time for us to move on, so via rurrenabaque and la Paz we headed for Uyuni!
After a relatively uneventful flight we arrived at Uyuni. The air felt thinner but it was nice to have cooler temperatures after a week of baking in the Amazon. Uyuni itself didn't have much about it. Streets are lined with multiple tour agencies and generally looked run down. I suppose everyone who comes here comes here for 1 reason only and that's to go to Salar de Uyuni (the salt flats) We planned a 3 day tour where we cross the border to Chile at the end. The only complicating factor was that we discovered Debbie's tourist card was missing. So at 8 am we marched to the immigration office to see what we can do ( with our tour starting at 11am). The immigration man turned up to work half an hour late and essentially was not that bothered Debbie didn't have a tourist card and just gave us a new one plus our exit stamp for £1.50 each. So panic over. We got on our 4x4 and off to the salt flats we go! We passed through some salt factories and salt mines before reaching the classic white salt flats. Lots of photos were taken obviously. The sky was so clear and you couldn't see anything apart from the the flats in the horizon. We then got the opportunity to cycle on the flats (which was hard work seeing it was above 3000m). We got dropped off at various points of salar de Uyuni and saw many lakes/lagoons (full of Flamingos!) /volcanoes (an active one!). Our first day was finished off with a beautiful sunset (see photo). We reached 5000m at the highest point ( the active volcano) and also saw some bubbling sulphur pools and geysers. After our 3 days we reached the Bolivian border (which was essentially a shack) we crossed over to Chile to the Atacama desert.
SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
This little town in the desert gave us some relief from altitude! (only 2600m!) we spent some time relaxing here before going on more tours! Phil developed man flu (answer to above multiple choice question) and so it worked out quite well that we had nothing major planned the first few days. Having said that, his flu seemed to magically disappear for 4 hours during our ALMA observatory tour. The man flu virus sure has peculiar behaviour. We didn't get to see the giant antennas (placed at 5000m and you need special access and medical health checks before going) but saw all the fancy computers that receives information them and learnt about how ALMA came about and what they do. They picked the atacama desert as its the second driest place on earth ( first being Antarctica, not an ideal place for an observatory). Phil enjoyed the massive yellow trucks that's used to transport the antennas (see photos).That evening we spent a few hours in an astronomer's back garden (being fed wine and sausage!) and admired the stars. The atacama is perfect for star gazing as most nights are cloudless and clear (plus lack of light pollution). They pointed out the southern cross, the different star signs etc. We even took a photo of the moon through one of his telescopes! (see photo). Phil really wanted to see some water geysers and so we woke up at 4am (having had a very unrestful night as our neighbours had no concept of how thin our walls were..We heard EVERYTHING despite having ear plugs in! ) and hopped on a bus. The geysers were impressive, but it was muy frio (very cold) due to the altitude. Our efforts were repaid by a breakfast of hot chocolate milk and boiled eggs by the geysers. We also got into a hot spring and visited a community where we tried llama meat! Our final adventure in the desert was a trip to the valley of the moon. We think it's called that because the surface and terrain is similar to the ....moon! Our guide was crazy and reminded us of Jim Carey. We enjoyed our last atacama sunset here.
We were excited about Iqueque, a city known for its beaches and casinos. Phil had booked a fancy hotel as a treat but after our 10 hour bus journey we were told the hotel had made a mistake and overbooked. So they decided to transfer us to their "sister hotel" and upgraded us to a suite. We couldn't decided whether to kick up a fuss or not as the room was bigger and better but the location of the hotel was not nearly as good (in between petrol stations and a construction site as appose to being on the main plaza). In the end we decided the room we were in cost more than the one we booked so we stayed put. We paid a visit to a big casino and decided we would spend £10 max on the slot machines. We spent the first 20 minutes trying to figure out how to actually bet. Once we figured that out, we couldn't work out how to win ( you would have thought you just need to get the same symbols in a row but nono, it didn't seem to have any logic behind it). Nevertheless after 30 minutes of play we nearly lost all our money but then starting winning and at the point of breaking even we decided to cash in and call it a night! We can totally see how some people can get hooked on this stuff! According to trip advisor the number one thing to do in Iqueque was to visit Humberstone (deserted town that used to be a nitrate mine, a UNESCO heritage site). After 45 minutes on a bus we arrived at this ghost town with rusting buildings, cars, trains and machines everywhere. Phil went crazy with the camera! Debbie got a bit bored after 90 minutes, once you've seen 5 rusting trains and several rusting buildings, you feel you've seen it all really. Phil continued to have boundless energy for the rusting industrial stuff though ...see pictures.
Time came for us to hop back over to Bolivia and so after 2 flights we land in the city of sucre (used to be the capital city of Bolivia). It was nice being back in the Andes, the surrounding mountains are just so pretty! Also Debbie missed seeing the indigenous ladies pottering about in puffy skirts and long braids! Even the street cleaning uniform resembled the traditional clothing! We checked into a lovely boutique hotel that served lemon meringue pie for breakfast?! Sucres a very pretty city, with lovely plazas and beautiful churches. We explored the city and walked up to a view point to enjoy the landscape and coca tea! We celebrated Debbie's birthday here and she enjoyed a day of pampering, good food and a bottle of Malbec. Phil was also being extra nice that day! Debbie had another of her compulsive urges and went and dyed her hair bright red. She figured she ought to get all the crazy stuff done and out of the way before she turns 30! Next is outrageous body piercings and tattoos! We went to check out the "dinosaur tracks" in Cal Orko - turns out they are real and has been confirmed by a palaeontologist! The tracks were discovered by the miners. The construction company is still there and regularly dumps piles of concrete near the tracks (just great). Amazing to see so many tracks on a wall ( tectonic plate movements meant it was forced upwards and now looks like a wall where dinosaur climbed). Shame its crumbling away slowly. After a few days here we ventured to the airport to get our next flight. We left with plenty of time as the Bolivians were striking about something again and blocking roads. They really do like to strike a lot!
SANTA CRUZ / SAMAIPATA
After landing in Santa Cruz we took a taxi for 3 hours (no buses to this remote place, and the taxi was only £12!) we arrived in a little village samiapata. Similar to Mindo in that it's surrounded by cloud forests and mountains. It'a very picturesque village. It was nice to hear the birds again. We ventured to El Fuerte to see the pre inca ruins (another UNESCO heritage site). On our way there on in a taxi we came up to a road that appears to have turned into a river and was flowing across the road we were on, the taxi driver said something in Spanish (which we think was "its raining do you still want to go? The flood might get worse later") so we figured getting back over that little river may be an issue later and opted to go back to the hostel. The taxi driver did a 3 point turn and then stopped and suggested we wait a while to see if the rain settles. 5 minutes later the rain stopped so we turned around again and continued to the site. It was a lovely walk around the which was a pre inca ceremony rock (massive rock with various carvings). Being British we embraced the rain that ranged from a spit to good going tropical rain ( I think the locals were laughing at our rain ponchos, but we were dry, they were not!). We headed back to the taxi (man had waited for us) and headed back after a refreshing wet walk! To our surprise, the little overflowing river that didn't really cause us problems 2 hours ago was now a full on flowing torrent. The water was above knee deep with large logs flowing down from the the road up the hill. There was no way we could cross and so we opted to wait it out ( there was no other road we could take) as we waited about 7 cars joined us on our side and we watched hopeful tourist drive up to the river from the other side hoping to visit the site, they all took pictures of the flood and left. After 4 hours (yes we were in the stationary taxi for 4 hours!) the river seemed to have calmed down and one by one the cars tried to go across (obviously the 4x4 first with no issues). Problem is we were in a tiny run down taxi.... Eventually our driver decided to take the plunge (literally!) and through this knee deep river we drove! Things seems ok after apart from the back seat being filled with water and the engine not sounding too happy. Luckily we were only 10 minutes from home and the car didn't explode before then :p. This was one of the times where we wished we were in the uk. If that had happened ( probably wouldn't have in the first place - anybody could see that the river crosses the road with no tunnel under the road for the water) the fire brigade would have been there within half an hour and none of this 4 hour waiting would have happened!
The next day we walked to a animal refuge, homing animals that were captured illegally or injured. There were monkeys roaming around freely, macaws, a toucan! (It literally looks like the Guinness advert! It's beak looks plastic and its eyes looks like a bead!), boars, tortoises and horses! It was really special to see (so close up! A foot away!) the mummy monkeys walking around with their babies clinging onto their backs. We had booked a tour to see the waterfalls but with the weather being the way it was (rainy season) it got cancelled so instead we relaxed and admired the beautiful garden that we had in our hostel (fig, Apple and orange trees, hummingbirds and of course, the mountains in the background)
Time came for us to head back to Santa Cruz. We got up bright and early to enjoy our breakfast before setting off only to be tested by the non English speaking lady go on about road blocks and how we couldn't go to Santa Cruz today. After lots of sign language and phone calls we found out there was yet another protest and that the main road leading to Santa Cruz was blocked by multiple roadblocks. We were just told to wait till later in the day. After a few hours the hostel owner said there was only one road block left and that we could take the taxi right up to the block, walk across it (advised not to by the embassy....) and take another taxi on the other end. Luckily it didn't come to that, our kind taxi driver managed to weave in and out and passed 3 road blocks ( massive trucks parked on the road in groups of four) and we finally got to Santa Cruz. Our hostel there was a little unusual in that it used old shipping containers as rooms! We spent time here shopping and relaxing before flying to Brazil!
Slightly confusing blog as we inconsiderately hopped over to Chile and back again! We're heading to Brazil next for the carnival and Phils birthday! Excited for the VIP visit from Vicky and Mama Lam! Watch this space!