A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: PhilR

Argentina, Uruguay and Chile

The last harrah

Things we have learnt :

- Every block in Buenos Aries measures 100 metres
- Argentinians and Uruguayans are hooked on mate (pronounced "matt-ey") (this herbal/tea drink) and will carry a cup of it with a big hot water flask everywhere with them so they can refill! ( see Photo of Phil drinking it)
- Argentina has kosher MacDonalds - 2nd largest Jewish community after NYC
- You can indeed cut Argentinian steak with a spoon!
- Wind speed can be as high as 90 miles an hour on the W trail in Patagonia - ie enough to blow Debbie into a swamp (this happened)
- The Patagonia landscape is as beautiful as everyone says

Phils injury count: all over body ache, near "heat stroke" and a very broken morale on last day of trek.

Chai lattes consumed: 3

BUENOS AIRES
After saying bye bye to Mama Lam and Vicky we crossed the border to Argentina again (With Louis our taxi buddy of course. Crossing and entering the border involved Debbie getting off the taxi with both passports and getting them stamped. No one really checks anything.....). We hopped on our overnight bus to Buenos Aires and settled in for a 18 hour ride. We got given a miniature bottle of Malbec though, so can't complain too much! Luckily the Argentinian roads are mainly straight and smooth so it was one of our more comfortable bus journeys!

As soon as we arrived we could tell we were going to enjoy Buenos Aries. Steak, wine and tango! What's not to love? We kicked off our adventure with a walking tour which was really good and summed up the mains sites in 3 hours! Debbie's favourite was the Pink House, a government building with the most famous balcony in the city- the balcony where Evita Peron gave her speeches (and turns out Madonna had sang from that very same balcony in the movie Evita!). We also visited Evita's grave in the famous Recoleta cemetary.

We obviously had to try the Argentina steaks! They really did cut the steak with a spoon!

Another highlight was our sky diving day! We got strapped into our gear and flew on a little plane for 20 minutes to reach 3000m! We were given very clear instructions: 1) cross your arms before we jump off 2) keep arms crossed until we're told to spread our arms out 3) Tilt head back just before we jump. Debbie obviously followed the instructions to the word. Any guesses as to what Phil did? Yep, that's right- didn't tilt his head back and so instructor forced it back for him, crossed his arms on jumping but pretty much released them straight away causing the tandem to be somewhat unstable for a few seconds. He of course would deny all this if he could but we have the incriminating evidence on camera! Debbie had jumped first and Phil second but somehow Phil managed to land about a minute before Debbie did (his instructor did carry a few extra pounds....) The experience itself was amazing and wasn't as scarey as anticipated! It all happens so fast you don't really have time to be scared!

Being in Argentina, we obviously had to give the wine a good go! We went along to a wine tasting evening which was very interesting! We tasted different qualities of Malbecs and sparkling wine! Unfortunately Debbie was sat next to some unfriendly, rude wine snobs which really irritated her. Luckily this was compensated by the lovely couple sat on the other side of us who were from the States and we ended up going to a tango club together! During the wine tasting session a slightly intoxicated, jolly and loud man came and sat with us and started pouring himself large glasses of sparkling wine. He then proceeded to "cheers" and beckoned all the pedestrians outside the shop to come in- cheers as in smashing his glass into the shop window. It then transpires that he was the shop owner and does this all the time and that he " drinks too much" ( if a fellow Argentinian says you drink too much, you are probably drinking a little too much...) The mums pushing their babies along the path was not impressed by his "cheers" and his invitation into the shop...after the official wine tasting session we bumped into the owner again who demanded we go fetch our glasses and join him round the back of the shop- and so we spent the next 2 hours drinking more sparkling wine for free! We tried to convince him to come to the tango club but he said his wife would go mad.

Our Tango experience was better than our samba experience in that we actually managed a little routine (Phil mainly shuffling, again we have video footage). After the lessons the locals took to the floor and just danced tango to live music all night (some real impressive moves!) It was lovely to see this side of their culture. We don't do such things in the UK certainly no tourist would pay for a ticket to go into a club to watch us dance.......

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URUGUAY

COLONIA
After a leisurely 10 days in Buenos Aires we headed to little Uruguay. Colonia was a pretty little town filled with old vintage cars and little cobbled streets. We enjoyed our walks along the coast and watching people drink mate! After a short stop here we moved to the capital city Montevideo.

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MONTEVIDEO
Apparently the second safest city in the world! Here we spent the weekend walking around the markets and the coast. The Argentinians and Uruguayans love meat so much they have big indoor markets housing dozens and dozens of barbecue houses! After a short stop in Uruguay we headed back to Argentina.

ARGENTINA

EL CALAFETE
A pretty little Patagonian town near the end of the world. You could see the Fitz Roy mountain range in a distance. There's something mesmerising about snow capped mountains, you just never get bored of them.

Here people come to do day hikes and see the wonderful glaciers. We visited parito Mareno- a glacier 5km across and 700m tall (60m of which sticks out of the water - time for Phil's favourite joke in Patagonia - "that's just the tip of the ice berg".) We watched humongous chunks of ice break off making a thunder like noise when it hits the water. There were a lot of reporters around as they were waiting for a phenomena to happen! One that occurs every 4-5years- where the glacier that's formed a bridge over time finally collapses due to water pressure. We sat and watched the cave for 4 hours (it was so cold!) and unfortunately the bridge didn't collapse on our watch but did so the next day! It was still stunning to see the glacier which varied from a powdery white to a bright blue (We were told the more compact ice appears blue and less compact white due to aeration). It was strange to see what appeared to be small ice bergs float away after they break off but their actual was was probably the same as a double decker bus! The glacier itself moves2 metres a day and is a major source of fresh water to the region. Because the major event happened the next day, a lot of breaking off occurred the day before when we were there.

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CHILE

PUERTA NATALES
After our glacier experience we headed to Chile in preparation for our 6 day trek. We spent a day renting and buying trekking equipment and carb loading! We couldn't leave Patagonia without trekking...

The W Trail - Patagonia
So Phil managed to persuade Debbie to finish the trip off with a 6 day trek. We hiked the W trail so we could admire Torres del Paine ("towers of light blue" is the literal translation, we preferred "towers of pain", reflecting the difficulty in climbing up to the,!), the French valley and the Grey glaciers (it's called the W trail because the route is shaped like a W with a point of interest at each peak of the W). Phil promised he had made the trek easier by spreading the hike into 6 days rather than 5 (not mentioning he sneaked in a 5 hour ice hike in the last day! Apparently, that was going to be "easy" ). Our first day actually involved walking from the bus into another bus and then into the fancy looking Refugio (not so bad!). We met some other travellers in our dorms who later became our trek mates! We were trekking from east to west meaning our first proper day of walking was up to Torres Del Paine. We were so lucky with the weather (thick grey clouds and blizzards are common, in fact the weather gets so bad that they close the national park from April onwards). The 13k walk didn't become a problem until the last 45 minutes where the vertical climb was.....well, vertical! It felt like we were rock climbing forever! Eventually we reached the base of Torre del Paine and we were rewarded with clear blue skies! While scrambling over big boulders to get the perfect Instagram shot Debbie lost her balance and fell flat on her back- luckily she had a big puffy backpack on, which essentially saved her life as it took the full hit- without it she definitely would have either cracked her head on the angular granite rocks or sustained a major back injury..while Phil took pictures of the "hilarious" scene (to be fair to him, he did check if I was dead or not first), a kind German man came running to see if she was ok...glad someone cares :p. Our trek continued as planned although we had one day of strong wind (Debbie got blown over and into a swamp and we saw a few Trekkers being blown off rocks) were very lucky in that we didn't have any rain or blizzards (Patagonia weather is notoriously known to be unpredictable and harsh- commonly having 4 seasons in one day and is unusual for us to be so lucky!). We managed to get back to our refugios each night while it was still bright, can't help but feel sorry for the campers who come plodding in after dark dragging their walking poles with their head torches on and massive backpacks! One night we stayed in a fancy cabin with skylight windows which allowed us to watch the stars before passing out. We even had a hot tub (would be more accurate to call it a luke warm tub, but it was still very very nice!). The hike was challenging but a fair bit of the trail takes you along turquoise lakes and lush green forests, giving us a chance to take a breather and enjoy the scenery!
On our last day we went on an ice hike which involved stamping along a glacier with crampons and then having a go at ice climbing! Phil of course climbed to the top (with some difficulty....) and Debbie got to the middle and called it a day! It was exhausting walking and climbing on ice but no rest for the wicked! We then had to complete our last bit of the trail to catch the last catamaran home! (no pressure!) the 'short and easy down hill walk' (guess who boldly claimed that?) was not easy and was certainly not all down hill. It felt like the longest 11k ever under the scorching sun. Phil announced with great conviction that he was going to get/was getting heat stroke and was not in a good place! But you'll be glad to hear we made it down in time and Phil even managed to fit in a beer ( the Heat stroke problem seemed to have miraculously disappeared....) despite all the hardship it was an amazing experience and we have met some wonderful people. The views are second to none and it really is a very special, wild place. Apart from some bruises, blisters and 'near heat stroke' we completed the trail in one piece (we didn't even argue!!).Another life experience and achievement for the Randerlams!

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Our journey home will involve: bus to Peurta Natales, bus to El Calafete, flight to Buenos Aires, flight to Bolivia, flight to Madrid and finally flight to Gatwick airport! (cheapest way to do it!)

6 months, 17 books and 9 countries later it's time for us to make our way home. It's been an amazing 6 months and although we know we have done a lot we still don't know where the time has gone! Adjusting back to real life will be difficult! Biggest achievement for us is that we are STILL married!

After 24 hostels, 5 apartments, 6 hotels, 3 lodges, 4 refugios and some tents we look forward to having our own beds back for a bit before the next adventure.......

Concluding stats:
Since the start of the adventure
Hours on bus: 183.5 (or 7.6 full 24 hour days!)
Hours on plane: 65
Hours in car: 6
Hours on train no change

Posted by PhilR 17:59 Comments (0)

Brazil

Samba!!!

Since the start of the adventure
Hours on bus 161.5 hours
Hours on plane 45 hours
Hours in car: 6 hours
Hours on train no changed

Things we have learnt:
Samba is hard
It's really hot in Rio and Phil owes his life to the mini portable fans from China
The British version of the caipirinha is a disgrace. Do not underestimate a proper Brazilian caipirinha- it rendered Debbie unable to walk a straight line after 1 (and we know she can hold her drink....)
It is possible for a human being to fall asleep 2 metres from the carnival parade (we were sat next to him, though it was 3 am and we're guessing he was in his 70s, but still)
We have a love-hate relationship with DEET- destroys everything it touches and certainly stings the nostrils when breathing through your nose but hey, it works.
Phil has officially grown up and will now start acting like a responsible adult (hmm)
Vicky doesn't like monkeys
The cartoon Rio and Rio2 represents the city quite accurately! Highly recommend!

Phil's injury count: a bee/hornet sting , a further episode of man flu. Turning 30.

RIO DE JANEIRO

So after 2 flights we arrived at the colourful city of Rio! As we stepped out of the airport we were hit by the humid heat (Phil's worst nightmare). We were a little nervous about the naughty mosquitos too with all the news about the Zika virus. Fortunately neither of us were pregnant/ planning on getting pregnant but the prospect of Guillain Barre didn't take our fancy. However, the government really did a good job at fumigating the city! During our stay we only saw 3 mosquitos and Debbie only got bit once (we were doused in 55% DEET).

It was carnival season and so it felt like the whole city was at a stag/hen do. The fancy dress costumes we saw were incredible and very imaginative. First few days we rested up in preparation for our 2 nights in the Sambodromo! (where the samba schools parade down). The parade was like nothing else! Thousands of people dancing in beautiful bright feathery and sparkly costumes. Even the cleaners dressed in orange jumpsuits brushed and cleaned to the beats! ( an army of cleaners follow the end of each parade to brush away all the sequins and feathers etc ready for the next samba school!) We were so close to the dancers that we managed to high five a few! Each samba school has 60 minutes to work their way down the Sambodromo, which meant they had to dance and sing for a full hour! The energy and enthusiasm was amazing! The Brazilians in the audience were samba-ing away, old, young, men and women! Samba really is in their blood and it just added to the already making atmosphere! We managed to stay till the end of the show which ended at 5 am! What a lovely way to celebrate Phil's 30th! This is definately something we want to do again!
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Being in the Samba city we obviously had to give it a try. So we booked a class which included an one hour lesson followed by a trip to one of the most famous samba clubs in Rio to try our new moves. What were we thinking?! After an hour there were certainly no new moves to try! So we drank caipirinhas instead and watched other people samba away! But hey, at least we tried and kudos to the celebrities on strictly come dancing who learns a whole routine within a week! We spent an hour and can't even do the most basic step!

After a quick recovery from our party nights we took a trip to the favelas (slums) located on the mountains and so has the best view of the city ( see photo). We were told the rich are starting to buy land in the slums to build mansions as the views are so beautiful. Of course there's the famous Selaron steps made by the Chilean born artist Jorge Selaron as a tribute to the Brazilian people. It's believed that he set himself on fire and died at the bottom of the steps....
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Time came for Mama Lam And Vicky to take a break from the UK cold and roast themselves in the Rio heat! We did our rounds at Christ the redeemer (took a lot of photos!) and took a cable car to the sugar loaf mountain, which unfortunately was covered by clouds when we got up there (we still took lots of photos!).
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We gave the traditional Brazil meat house a try on Valentine's Day! ( which isn't a big deal over here, we saw no adverts and no couples dining out..) and it was a very interesting experience. You had a card on the table, one side was red and the other green, if you wanted meat, you left your green side facing up. If you didn't want meat you flipped the card onto red side. Trouble was, if you left it on green, armies of meat man come charging towards you with a massive skewer of meat and a very sharp knife! If you declined the meat, they get very sad. They were also very quick so before you could ask what the meat was you found you had a generous portion sliced onto your plate. Vicky was not impressed when the meat man served 11 chicken hearts onto Phil's plate before he could decline. I mean, i understand it is a delicacy and I suppose it kind of taste nice.......kind of....but who would eat 11?! They had 11 different cuts of meat on their menu and we aimed to try all 11. However, they didn't mention that they had several different ways of cooking each cut of meat ( in butter, in cheese, with garlic etc) and so they actually offered over 20 types of meat....we managed about 10 between us (Debbie being the champion) before we had to all flip our green cards onto the red. We didn't eat meat for a while after this...
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IGUACU AND IGUAZU
After a few days of enjoying the beach scene, good food and caipirinhas we moved onto Iguacu (which was even hotter!). The Iguacu falls were amazing! We're glad we bought our ponchos as the sprays completely drenched us! We then crossed the road (having bought ice lollies to go) to take a look at the bird park and to our surprise we saw so many beautiful birds in big enclosures that you can walk into. Our highlight was definitely the cute toucans that did not look real! They were like stuffed toys! (Anyone know where we can source one in the UK. We want a pet toucan!)
Having seen the magnificent waterfalls from the Brazil side we took a day trip to Argentina to see it from the other side! Crossing the border in a taxi was interesting.. The taxi driver, Louis ( who subsequently became our "private" driver for rest of the trip) took our passports and had them stamped, no one got out of the taxi, no one checked how many of us were in the taxi. It was all very causal. The falls from the Argentinian side was just as spectacular and made being extremely hot and sweaty worth it.
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Time came for Vicky and Mama Lam to go back to the UK cold! We waved good bye as they headed back to Rio from Iguacu while we headed to Argentina to embark on the next chapter of our adventures....Buenos Aires, watch out!

Posted by PhilR 16:29 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

BOLIVIA

still going......

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?

A) Chikingunya
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).

LA PAZ
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
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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!
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RURRENABAQUE
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!
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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.
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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.
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IQUEQUE
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.
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SUCRE
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!
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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!
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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!

Posted by PhilR 16:14 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Colombia

Alive and still on the road

Since the start of the adventure
Hours on bus 129.5 hours
Hours on plane 30.5 hours
Hours in train no change

Phils injury count: Jelly fish sting on arm while fly boarding. Drew substantial amount of blood from thumb from handling a chewing gum packet.

Things we have learnt
We're getting a bit sick of bus journeys now.
A Colombian bus can tilt a lot more than what seems/feels safe
The"departure time" of a flight shown on official departure boards in the airport do not correlate to the actual departure time of said flight.
One does not expect to find a scorpion in a 2nd floor apartment in the hills, but it happens in Colombia.
Having a VSD somewhat complicates diving
A hot Christmas is very very odd (Phil's very upset he missed out on stuffing this year)

IPIALES
To get to Colombia we took a bus (yes, another bus) to Tulcan (northern border of Ecuador), a taxi to the actual border, walked across the border and then a taxi to our hotel. It was all rather uneventful and went surprising smoothly and efficiently. We stayed in Ipiales for 1 day mainly to break up the bus journeys but also to see El Santuario de las Lajas ( a church spanning a gorge see photo), Again it's one of those sites that's photos cannot capture (but we took photos anyway) and it was worth a visit but moving onto Popayan the next day.
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POPAYAN
After a very very windy and bumpy bus ride to popayan ( it appears we have to drive round every single mountain in Colombia to get anywhere! ). There was a puppy that was smuggled onto the bus which kept us entertained for the 9 hour journey. At one point the owners put a nappy on it!). We checked into a rather fancy hotel (well in our current standards!) where they had double sinks! We stayed here for a couple of nights to rest our back sides and recover from bus sickness (We've both developed bus induced anticipatory). There were a lot of churches which we took a look at from the outside while wandering around the city. We stumbled into a local vegetarian restaurant where we had no idea what was on the menu ( as there was no menu) and couldn't understand what the lady was saying apart from "soup" and "juice". After a few minutes of unfruitful discussion between us we appeared to mutually agree that she should just pick for us. For 80p each we had glass of fresh blackberry juice, veggie soup, plate of multiple Veggy goodness ( macaroni cheese, Quorn like substance, falafel, rice and curried cauliflower) and banana cake. Best bargain yet! Best of all, there were no adverse gastrointestinal side effects the next day which was just as well as we had another long bus journey the next day.

SAN AUGUSTIN
After another bus ride we arrived at this little town surrounded by mountains with beautiful landscapes and coffee plantations everywhere. We woke up bright and early to visit the parque arqueologico. Here there were religious monuments and tombs made by "mysterious" people a very very long time ago and very little is known about them. We were amazed at the detail, symmetry and designs of these monuments (see photo). San Augustin has many other arqueological sites and we ventured to 3 more sites by car (could have done it on horses but Debbie is allergic to them and to avoid a swollen face and wheezy breathing we opted to take a car instead, which may have been more harmful to our health than the horse...). After 3 days we were all arquelogical-ed out and so we woke up at 3.30 am to catch our next bus to Colombia's capital city.
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BOGOTA
We arrived after 10 hours on a bus (with a toilet! What a treat!). The city is massive and we stayed within the touristy parts as we were told there's nothing to see or do elsewhere. The city was covered with graffiti, some very good and others less so. They even had a 4 hour graffiti tour! We went to museo de Oro ( museum housing A LOT of gold ) and were gobsmacked at how intricate and detailed the handicraft was considering it was made pre Colombian times. We even found a piece that looked like Rudolf the red nose reindeer! (See photo). We thought we had had enough of museums and art galleries but the Botera museum was a highlight or us (Famous for his oversized paintings and sculptures).
We heard about muggings on/ on the way to Monserrate mountain- people are advised not to walk up the steps as this is where the crimes take place. Instead we were told to take the cable car or train up. Seeing that the train was not working, we queued for the cable car which brought us up steeply to 3152m. We got a lovely view of the city which looked a lot bigger than we expected (see photo).
We were so so excited that our next journey involves a flight rather than a bus! Comfy seats, air conditioned, toilets and even a complementary drink! We were so excited. Of course, things didn't really go to plan. As soon as we passed security, we could see there was a 4 hour delay to our flight. But that's OK! Our time travelling has taught us that things can always be worse and so a 4 hour wait in a nice airport which had a bar wasn't too bad at all! 3 beers and a ginger ale later we proceeded to our gate and saw that no one was there. We then got told by the staff that the gate had closed as we were suppose to be at the gate 45 minutes before departure (we were there with 40 minutes to go! Besides it was a domestic flight!) another Spanish man was clearly upset and was told the same thing, though he said he arrived 50 minutes before and was still turned away. It turns out that the flight had left about an hour ago but no one had changed the flight time on the screens. We were told it was not the airlines responsibility to make sure the times on the boards are correct. So in disbelief (Debbie close to tears) we did as we were told, went back to the check in desk to collect our bags that has been chucked off the plane before they took off. To no surprise we were not the only ones that didn't get on the flight on time, seeing it took off AN HOUR earlier than it should have without telling anyone. There were probably about 20 of us, mostly Colombians. The Colombians were raging! We've never seen so many angry Colombians. So we left it to them to kick up a fuss while Phil took our passports and boarding passes to try and find our bags and Debbie stayed in the queue to oversee the impending riot. After about 45 minutes of loud shouting and table slamming the airline offered to squeeze us on the next flight that was due to take off in 40 minutes. Great! I thought, only that the lady couldn't get us on the list as Phil had all our documents and Debbie had no idea where he was and didnt want to go looking in case he came back. Other travellers that went to find their bags offered to look for Phil and let him know we needed the boarding passes ASAP! So after showing everyone a photo of Phil they went on a man hunt. 15 minutes later, nothing. So Debbie had no choice but to go look for him herself! Luckily Phil was located with success and so she returned to the desk with 15 minutes to go. On return she was bombarded with several travellers saying " are you phils wife? Phil says he's downstairs if you need him". Turns out we were both sending messengers both ways and now the entire group knows our names, knows we married and has photos of us on their phones! It's a great bonding exercise! Next complication was that Phil returned with only his bag and that wasn't because he was a selfish selfish man. Turns out they 'forgot' to take Debbie's bag off the plane and that the bag is now in Bogota. So far in our journey the airline forgot to take off on time initially and we had a 4 hour delay,it then forgot to take off on time again and left an hour early, forgot to tell people it intended to leave early and now it's forgotten to take Debbie's bag off the plane. Brilliant. Of course, they couldn't really squeeze all 20 of us on the next flight (probably forgot they didn't have that many free seats...) instead we waited a few more hours (drinking Aguascalientes out of plastic shot glasses while sitting on the floor in the middle of check in as sign of protest. Colombians are so much fun!) and the 20 of us eventually got on a flight (with a different airline) to our destination. We were so hopeful that we would find Debbie's bag once we got there as the airline staff said it would be there waiting when we arrived (yeah right). On arrival, no bag and it was now 11 pm and so we got told to return the next day and try our luck again. So all in all probably still better than a 24 hour bus journey, but it could have gone smoother! But then again, it could have been worse.....maybe? The redeeming factor was that when we did return the next day we did find Debbie's bag (after waiting an hour ). Nevertheless we got it back (delivered to us via a wheelchair?!) so we were happy!
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CARTAGENA
After our flight/lost bag ordeal, we arrived at Cartagena, a little cobblestoned city with tiny alleyways shaded by flowers growing out of balconies. It was so so hot! Direct sunlight (no clouds to shade) and 34 degree heat proved a little to much for us Mancunians. We tactically dashed out for an early-ish breakfast before the heat of the day took hold and left sight seeing to late afternoons. Our hostel was a few steps from a lovely plaza (plaza Trinidad) which came to life in the evenings. We sampled the street food here and enjoyed a few drinks and admiring the Christmas lights and local people going about their normal business.
We ventured to the fortress (Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas) constructed by the Spanish which took 150 years ( I reckon they spent too much time siesta-ing and too little time building!). It gave us a lovely view of the city. Phil enjoyed the canons. We were pleased to be moving to the coast after a few days, where it will hopefully be a little cooler!
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TAGANGA
We arrived at this little fishing village to embark on our PADI open water course. Complicating factor being Debbie suddenly "remembered" 2 days before the course that having a congenital heart disease may have implications on diving. After a evening of googling, things were still a little unclear. Luckily she had expert advise at hand via whatsapp and the cardiology folks unanimously decided it wasn't safe to proceed until more funny tests were done back at home. Doh!! So much for having a medical degree herself. So Phil soldiered on and went on his own. To everyone's surprise he returned everyday without any injuries! Phil spotted some lovely corals, massive eels and fish! At the end of the 3 day course Phil successfully obtained his open water PADI.
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SANTA MARTA
After Phil's diving course we took a short taxi ride to our fancy apartment in Santa Marta. We figured we'll splash out since it's Christmas! It had it's private pool, jacuzzi, sauna (not sure why you need that in this 32 degree heat..get a free sauna whenever you step out of the air con flat...) and gym! It was to Debbie's delight that it was only a few minutes walk from shopping complex with a well stocked super market (think it's Colombia's equivalent to MnS). We had hoped we could make a half decent Christmas Dinner (may also correlate to how involved Phil gets). We spent a week here to accumulate some Christmas spirit by making currywurst, mulled wine, live UK TV and playing Christmas albums. We are proud to say that we did manage a decent Christmas dinner!
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December has gone very quickly for us. We're now saying bye to Colombia and moving onto Bolivia. Hope everyone had a great Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!

Posted by PhilR 16:22 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

Ecuador

Still on the road

Total trip so far stats:

Hours on bus: 102
Hours on plane: 23.5
Hours on train: no change since last blog

Phils injury count since last blog: lacerated ankle, finger and elbow from sharp coral (of course Debbie told him not to swim through that under water tunnel, did he listen?)
Lots of insect bites (definitely the sweet meat)

Things we have learnt
Surfing is hard.
You shouldn't anger male sea lions, especially big ones.
"Ecuador's got talent" exist!
Sea sickness is quite miserable
There are no helmets in Ecaudor that fits Debbie's head
We miss UK TV
The Ecuadorian sewage system appears to be better than the Peruvians. Thank God

GUAYAQUIL
After a long bus ride (10 hours) we arrived at Guayaquil, our first Ecuadorean city! We expected it to be slightly less developed than Lima and Cusco but actually it was keeping up!
We were only staying here for a day before moving onto Montanita (surf town). Our backsides were very grateful for the short respite from a bus seat. With only a day at our disposal we tried to pick out the best activities. Phil suggested a visit to the Iguana park (park full of Iguanas). However, there was literally no way Debbie was going in there ( irrational phobia of lizard and lizard like things). Instead we climbed 444 steps to Las Penas and Cerro Santa Ana for a lovely view of the city. We obviously haven't had enough of steps after the Inca trail) (see photo).

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MONTANITA
In the evening we got on our first "local" bus to Montanita which showed good English movies but they were all dubbed into Spanish. If we were lucky we got English subtitles!

Montanita is a funny place. Lots of tourist, surf camps, people selling you stuff you don't need, bars and restaurants. Not to mention the permanently drugged up youngsters. Police would patrol the area every night but clearly turns a very blind eye to all the recreational drug taking. People watching during dinner has become one of our favourite pass times here.

Phil rented a surf board for an hour to show off his newly acquired skills... Unfortunately the the waves were a lot stronger than the ones we learnt to surf on. The board was on loan for an hour but after 30 minutes the P. Riddy had had enough. No luck standing up this time, let alone surf. We decided to take further lessons the next day. Carlos, our predominantly non English speaking instructor with curly locks completely over estimated our abilities...Phil managed to pick up a few new skills. Debbie however, could not even get out far enough to start the lesson as the strong waves just kept pushing her off the board and back towards shore. She did not enjoy it at all. However, she gritted her teeth and attempted a few waves. After a minor knee injury and ingestion of gallons of sea water she decided it was time to close the surfing chapter in her life. One can only tolerate the sensation/perception of "drowning" to an extent, 1 hour was enough for Debbie. On reflection, the waves we learnt on back in Peru were like small ripples compared to these monsters.

We jumped on yet another bus back to Guayaquil ( this time, English film dubbed into Spanish with no subtitles, bad times) so we could catch our flight to the Galápagos Islands the next day.

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GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
We landed in the Baltra Island and met our guide Fabrizio. Lovely guy who started guiding in the Islands when he was 10. You could tell he loved his job and was very passionate and protective of the islands (picking up litter along our walks, moving vulnerable insects off threaded paths, telling people off when we got too close to the animals while taking selfies) which was really lovely to see.

On board our boat, "The Beagle"(which was the name of the boat Charles Darwin travelled in when he visited the Islands) we had 2 Brazillians, 2 Swiss, 4 Mexicans, 2 Germans and 3 Brits including us. Poor Fabrizio had to repeat everything in 2 languages (Spanish, English). Conversation during meal times proved somewhat difficult.

We did a tour of the central and south islands, navigating mainly at night. We have (not by choice) chosen the time of year where the waters tends to be more choppy and rough. There has been occasions where we felt we were going to fall out of our beds. One time Debbie nearly fell overboard as the boat unexpectedly rocked more violently than usual when she was sat on deck enjoying a cup of tea. This unexpected motion sent her first to the extreme left of the boat, then right and nearly over! She would have gone over had the Mexican man not grabbed hold of her (Phil was no where to be seen to rescue his wife, rude). You'll be pleased to hear that at the end of this 5 second ordeal her cup of tea was still safely in her hand, #priorities.

The walks around the islands proved physically more challenging than we anticipated, a few of our crew mates had to turn back on a few occasions. But being Randerlams we obviously powered through. Of course, we met the stars of the Galapagos, namely the giant tortoise (oldest one 120 years old?! Perhaps the answer to longevity is just to do everything reallllly slowly) marine iguanas (Debbie has semi overcome her irrational fear of these things. Mainly achieved by flooding therapy- you couldn't walk through the islands without stepping over them, they were everywhere!), sea lions, sea turtles, the red and blue footed boobies, frigate birds, flamingos, penguins, and the list goes on (pictures will tell a better story).
The animals were so tame and did not see humans as a threat, they would happily let you walk up next to them.

Despite being spooked by the most recent surfing experience Debbie decided to brave the sea and give snorkelling a go. The crystal clear waters were just too tempting. We managed to spot some rays, turtles, sharks and lots of fish! The highlight was watching the sea lions under water. They move so elegantly and effortlessly, I'm sure they were showing off as it felt they were deliberately swimming close to us and showing us tricks. Swimming with sea turtles was just as brilliant. We managed to follow one for about 15 minutes.

Unfortunately Debbie caught a bad case of lurgy and gave snorkelling a miss for a couple of days and so it was in her absence when Phil got charged at by a big male sea lion (who apparently saw him as a threat to his colony), came too close to a "very" poisonous sea snake and equally as poisonous stone fish (honestly cannot leave him alone for 1 minute!).

One of the in-land highlight was watching the baby sea lions playing with other cubs on the shore (some only a few days old). The wildlife here is incredible and we've learnt so much about the animals and their habitat. Sometimes nature isn't so kind, natural selection, circle of life and all that.
The beaches were amazing but no one ever mention the beaches when you talk about Galapagos. We had a few sunset walks along a few beaches and it was like walking on flour. We went swimming in the sea one evening and was joined by a couple of baby sea lions and sea turtles just a foot away from us, It was surreal.
Overall it was an incredible experience and we are so pleased we did this as we were in two minds and ended up booking it last minute. Thank you locum money for funding this!

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QUITO
After our wonderful week at Galapagos we flew back to Quito. We were welcomed by an unexpected period of torrential rain after a nice dinner. Our 5 minute walk back to the hostel rendered us wetter than the ocean itself. Apparently it was now rainy season and we are to expect torrential rain everyday, how rude ( did they not know we're from Manchester and that we have had enough rain to last us the entire 9 months?!). The city is very hilly and unfortunately polluted but the lovely colonial buildings make up for it.

Being back at altitude (2850m) was again, noticeable. Climbing the steep cobbled stoned roads to the Basillica and then the small mental steps up to the clock tower was exhausting! The view of the city made it worth our while! (See photo).

Of course we had to visit the equator! Instead of paying for a taxi we decided to venture on local buses! (all part of the fun right?!) 2 buses, 40 dollars better off and 2 hours later (bus cost 40 cents?!) we arrived at Mitad Del Mundo. The monument (see photo) was lovely (apparently took 10 years to build?!) and we spent some time taking photos in various poses and straddling the "equator". To our disappointment, this isn't really where the equator is. It's actually located about 200/300m from where the painted yellow line is. Apparently the land of which the equator lies isn't "suitable" for a monument and so they just made it 200M out. Which then rendered all the museum demonstrations a pile of nonsense since it's all " oh look! this happens because we're on the equator" (ie balancing an egg on a nail, water going down plug on in both directions etc). Debbie went round the museum muttering sarcastic comments to herself. Despite this minor issue (ie the entire place is a scam) it was a nice day out and the photos look good so who cares! We're still going to say we were in both hemisphere at the same time!

One of the highlights for us in Quito were the numerous local bus rides we took. Adults and kids jump on and off selling you things ( gum, chocolate, sweets, crisps, ice cream, jelly, nuts, lunch boxes, perfume, lip balm) some sing/rap you songs. Very interesting experience and we found the locals are generally receptive to these things and they get a few sales per station. The youngest vendors were ( I assume brother and sister) no more than 6/7 year old selling sweets on their own after they sang us a song. We thought they were just happy and singing for fun but then at the end these pile of sweets appeared from nowhere. We wanted to give them money but they jumped off before we could even get our wallets out. That was kind of sad, children should be playing and being children, not jumping on and off buses all day on their own selling sweets on a Sunday.

Having been on the road for 7 weeks we're beginning to slow down into a more relaxed pace. Accepting that we don't have to cram lots into our day and that we don't have to go to every sight, church and museum. In fact we enjoy doing "normal" things like going to the cinema. We actually extended our stay in Quito for 3 days just so we can relax a little.

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BANOS
After a 3 hour bus journey we arrived at a small scenic town known for it's waterfalls and thermal baths ( and apparently taffy candy?!they were everywhere and you could see the shop owners pulling taffy everyday). We were surrounded by green mountains and we could see a waterfall out of our hostel window! Another additional perk of our hostel was that we had several free wake up calls every morning, ensuring we didn't sleep in- namely the first cockerel alarm at 4am followed by a further cockerel alarm at 7 am. At 8 am we had MJ's thriller being played on full volume everyday in a school nearby (not sure why they play this everyday at 8 am.... Good assembly song? It was very disorientating when it happened on our first morning....) and finally our own phone alarms....Sleep could have been a bit more restful.

After our thermal bath experience in Peru ( we hadn't mentioned it in the previous blog but in summary: weird smell, creamy brown water and extremely over crowded) we were a little unsure whether we wanted to partake in yet another South American thermal bath extravaganza. We asked around and it sounded like the standard was pretty much the same. They also enforced a rule that everyone must wear a swim cap. If you didn't have your own you obviously had to rent one of theirs (ew). So instead of going to the baths we opted to go canyoning instead! This involved repelling, jumping, climbing, swimming and zip lining through some canyons. A notable moment during this 'adventure' was when we had been stood in the cold water for about 30 minutes (waiting around for our guides to do something, to this day we do not know what we were waiting for...), it was cold, we were thoroughly soaked (having just jumped off a 5 metre waterfall), the sun had gone and it started raining torrentially, Debbie had a wetsuit on that was at least 3 sizes too big, the helmet was covering her eyes and she said " what am I doing here?...." Of which Phil replied "I don't know". Overall it was a good experience...I guess.

We obviously had to see the waterfalls! We opted to go ourselves and so we rented bikes and embarked on a 18k ride. According to the map we should pass 6 waterfalls before reaching the main one called cascada pailon del Diablo ( Devil's caldron). The bike ride was somewhat less relaxing than anticipated. We had wrongly assumed ( once again) that the majority of the way would be designated cycle paths/ parks. Nono! Ecuadorean traffic and trucks galore! We obviously wore helmets ( again, didn't fit Debbie's head). Due to the new found circumstances we (Debbie mainly) had to focus on the cycling and staying alive rather than appreciating the surrounding scenery. As a result we missed all but 2 waterfalls before reaching our destination an hour and a half later (doh! should have just done the bus tour). The Waterfall is enormous and we got pretty wet walking around it. We also had a go at swinging on a edge of a cliff- La Casa del Arbol (see photos)
After 3 days here it was time to catch our next bus to Otavalo.

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OTAVALO
After 6 hours on a bus we arrived in this little town known for it's artisanal markets. The trip was not as straight forward as we hoped. We were told the journey would take 5/5.5 hours and we would arrive at a big bus terminal. After 5.5 hours we noticed we were in a town and that we must be near. Another 30 minutes passed and we still hadn't got to the bus terminal we were expecting. In fact it looked like we had left the little town we were just in that looked like Otavalo. We went to ask the driver, in our best Spanish " where is Octavalo bus terminal?" Which triggered a string of panicked Spanish words between the driver and his colleague followed by the driver slamming on his breaks on a 6 lane motorway. Amongst the unknown Spanish words and hand gestures we figured we have definitely passed our destination. The guy helped us get our bags out ( in the middle of a motorway?!) and pointed to the other side of the road and said " autobus Otavalo". So at 8 pm on a Thursday night we find ourselves crossing the motorway (no bridge, on the road!) and then stood on the side of a motorway in the middle of nowhere waiting for some sort of a bus to take us back to where the original bus should have taken us. Great. You would be so so pleased to hear that after a few minutes ( felt like forever) a bus with the words Otavalo appeared! We have never been so happy to see a bus and it only cost 70 cents!

Phil isn't really an artisanal market kind of guy but Debbie had said "I jumped down a waterfall in a canyon for you, you're coming shopping with me". So off shopping we went. We tactically went on a Friday as on a Saturday the markets get a lot bigger and spill into adjacent streets attracting locals and tourist. Prices increase fourfolds at least on Saturday.

On the morning of our departure we had a rather unusual wake up call ( we thought you couldn't top 8am thriller). At 7am we were woken up by LOUD (and I mean loud) traditional live native music ( we weren't sure where it was coming from but it sure felt near!) and children with high pitch voices singing/screaming along. We headed downstairs to see what was going on to find ALL of the hostel guests (apart from us). There were probably about 30 people- all Ecuadorians) dancing, clapping and singing along to these guys trying to sell their CDs in the hostel reception. The hostel staff looked just as perplexed as us. Who sells CDs at 7 am on a Sunday?! How unusual. After 2 full days Phil was ready to leave the shopping town of Ecaudor and head to the more action packed town of

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MINDO
After yet another bus journey we arrived at this little town situated in the cloud forests. It was humid and green! It was lovely to be back in nature again and you could spot hummingbirds everywhere!

We came to Mindo to do one thing and that was to zip line! So zip lined we did! There were 3 options; 10 lines, 3 lines and 2 lines (not sure where there's such a big gap). Guess which one we opted for? :) So zip lining through the cloud forest was amazing! We were doing well in looking around and enjoying the scenery while zipping through the first couple of lines. When we were given the option of doing the "superman" or "butterfly", enjoying the scenery went out of the window. Unfortunately we couldn't get any photos so we feel we owe it to you to describe the above mentioned ==Your heading here...==manoeuvres. "Superman" involved balancing horizontally and flying like superman with arms out but we had to straddle our legs around our guide who was behind us (we had to go tandem for these high risk manoeuvres) which made the whole thing look a little awkward! The butterfly induced a little more adrenaline production and Phil roaring the whole way. This involved dangling upside down with arms out with legs in the air ( not sure why it's called the butterfly) while the guide held your legs in a V shape and shook you side to side as you raced down the lines. After this hair raising activity we found ourselves a nice spot in a cafe to have some lunch while watching hummingbirds flutter past.

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Mindo is our last Ecuadorian City before we head to Colombia where we will spend Christmas and learn to scuba dive!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Lambo
Xxx

Posted by PhilR 19:11 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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