BootsnAll Travel Network


October 5th, 2006

It would seem that this blog site has suffered a bit of a fuck up and they’ve lost recent entries. I think I’ve only lost one, plus a draft I was working on for Columbia, could be worse.

I’m back home now and struggling with reality, but will attempt to round this journal off with a final couple of entries at some point.


Banana Republic

August 12th, 2006

Ecuadorian bus
Whilst not a Banana Republic in the true sense of the phrase (it has a `democratic´ government at least), Ecuador is largely reliant on its banana exports for its economy. It´s other major resource is oil, but as the US and UK oil companies export most of the profits with the oil this leaves the yellow phallic fruit, and you´re not surprised when you´re bussing it across the country passing miles and miles of banana plantations. The buses may be a bit shit (although they do sport a certain 70´s bad-boy paint job – see above), and break down regularly, but at least the scenery is beautiful.

My first proper stop in Ecuador, cool little city in the south with beautiful colonial architecture, a river running through the middle and a lively nightlife scene at the weekends. Of the two live bands we saw the second one was by far the best, playing a latin rock sort of thing with a few crowd pleasers like `La Bamba´ thrown in. Cuenca was a nice place to chill out for a long weekend before moving on up through Ecuador.

Central Cuenca
Cuenca skyline from the central plaza

I took a bus north on the Tuesday afternoon to Riobamba, a crap little place for travellers, but for the train that leaves there three times a week for the Nariz Del Diablo (Devil´s Nose). This journey takes around 5 hours and starts at stupid o`clock in the morning, but even this non-morning person has to admit it was worth it. The Lonely Planet, being full of shit as usual, builds it up to be some kind of rollercoaster train ride like nothing in the world, which leads a lot of people to be disappointed. If you just expect a ride through some some nice scenery, watching the locals go about their daily lives in the countryside, topped off with a journey at the end down a very steep canyon, through a set of switchbacks to a rock that looks like a nose then you won`t be disappointed. The added bonus is that you get to sit on the roof of the train – I´d like to see them let you do that in Europe.

Riobamba Train
Train ride from Riobamba down to the Devils´ Nose (Nariz Del Diablo)

Having picked up a couple of new friends on the train ride we departed together the same afternoon to get up to Baños (and to avoid spending another night in Riobamba). Thankfully the bus journeys in Ecuador are relatively short compared to the rest of South America, so two hours to Baños was like blinking and being there. The towns name refers to the local hot springs that you can bathe in (Bath would be the closest equivalent town in England), heated by the nearby volcano, Tungurahua. This is the same volcano that was in the news recently for blowing it´s hot load all over the shop. It´s still spewing lava but calmed down a lot now, though unfortunately it´s usually too cloudy to see it at the moment. Rebecca and myself took a quad bike up the nearby hillside to see if we could get a glimpse, but sure enough the clouds shrouded it. The bike was fun though so I wasn´t bothered.

Baños, Ecuador

Rebecca left Friday so myself and Noa, the sweet but mental Swiss girl in our group hired mountain bikes and headed off down the valley. The scenery was full of lush green hillsides and waterfalls all along the way. The best of the waterfalls had a viewing platform from where you could get completely drenched in the heavy spray off it – had to be done really. On the return journey we stopped at one of the cable cars and took a trip over the river to the other side of the valley, passing right overhead of one of the waterfalls before continuing back to town, which was an uphill bastard of a climb that I would not care to repeat. When we returned the bikes, with me on my last legs, the guy in the shop said they were going rafting tomorrow and did we want to come? Needless to say he received an earful of sarcasm from me! Today I´m enjoying being a lazy git, the sky is clear and the sun is out so I´m enjoying a well earnt rest after a hard weeks work 🙂

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Life in Lima

August 5th, 2006

I`ve lost track of the time I`ve spent in Lima, though I think it`s close to 3 weeks, so much for a long weekend there! The last week and a half were somewhat justified as I was waiting around on Lufthansa in London to reply to the Lima office with details of penalty fees to change my flight dates and location. German efficiency was not at it`s best at this time, so until I had confirmation I was stuck in Lima with the perfect excuse to get bolloxed and enjoy the city life.

Lima doesn`t have the best reputation, but staying in the Miraflores area and visiting the neighbouring areas of Barranco and San Isidro you would think you were in any developed western city, pretty safe, convenient and full of diversions. Working in the hostel bar in Loki helped keep me amused as well, working with a good bunch of people and meeting loads of sound travelers passing through. Debauchery would sum it up in a nutshell!

Lima coastline from Miraflores
Lima coastline from Miraflores

Observations of this city and Peru in general:
You can walk down the street in Miraflores and see money changers stood around in the street with a fistfull of Soles (Peruvian currency) in one hand, and a fistfull of dollars in the other – so much for it being dangerous.

It`s taboo to burp in Peru, but you can happily stop in the middle of the street and go for a piss.

The cops are corrupt as fuck and can often be found sleeping in their cars or using their flashing lights to get them to McDonalds quicker for their happy meals.

Peru has just voted Alan Garcia back into power as President, even though he was in this position 20 years ago and devalued their currency into the ground and ran away amid accusations of corruption and stealing the country`s money. Admittedly the second candidate was a right-wing nazi who wanted to kill all gay people amonst other policies, so you have to give the people some credit.

Rather than having people juggling (!) at traffic lights to earn some money, Lima featured breakdancers, the best of which was doing a headspin in the middle of a very busy road in the Downtown area – jugglers take note.

Unfortunately, whilst being set on the coastline, the atmospherics at this time of year mean that the skies are generally grey and cloudy and it`s hard to see the coastline and beaches, but we had a couple days where the sun broke through and the skies were blue – couldn`t help be envious of the 3 weeks of heatwave going on at home.

One of the local brands is called Fanny, and in their product line they have tuna, mustard and jam:

Fanny jam

And finally, even though I`ve come to the conclusion that all the British newspapers are full of shit, it did make me happy to be able to buy a copy of the Guardian (albeit a day old) from the geezer across the road. How they got here I don`t know, but nice to sit and read a paper for once, even if they do talk out of their arses.

A couple of event highlights while in Lima were The Big Wong Parade (sponsored by Wong, the local version of Tescos) which was a warm-up to Peru`s independence day on the 28th July. The parade passed around the park that we overlooked right in the centre of Miraflores and was quite amusing, if only for how much commercial product placement was going on. Ended with fireworks and over the top classical music before the huge crowds dispersed.

The other highlight was the Playboy party in the hostel for Independence Day, where I came dressed in a dazzling silver jacket, bare-chested and with white trousers. I thought I was quite the man (in a super-twat kind of way) until I looked into the bathroom mirror half-way through the night only to realise that I looked like Gary Glitter! What a shitter! Luckily there was no children around. No I`m kidding, really I am, though come to think of it the lady I ended up with that night was dressed in a schoolgirl outfit – next stop a holiday in Cambodia.

Gary Glitter rides again

Anyway I apologise for these dubious ramblings, needless to say that I left Peru with a lot less brain cells, and integrity, than when I entered it, but it`s been a blast. Now, after 28 hours, a dodgy border crossing and 3 buses I `ve finally made it to a nice colonial city in the south of Ecuador called Cuenca. It`s a month later than planned but what the hell, life is good, and thanks to my brother lending me some money I`ll return home a month later than last planned. So until the next time I get around to putting fingers to keys I`ll say adios and enjoy what`s left of the British summer.

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Sand in your crack

July 14th, 2006

Ica desert courtesy of Anaisanais on Flickr 
Ica desert courtesy of Anaisanais on Flickr

Finally dragged myself out of Arequipa and headed north to a small place near the city of Ica called Huacachina, an oasis in the desert. This small place is located around a small lake, surrounded by large sand dunes, a landscape straight out of the old Turkish Delight adverts. Hostel Rocha, with its pool, bar and family of parrots in the garden was the perfect place to chill out after the excesses of city life over the previous weeks.

Huacachina courtesy of Trapac (Flickr)
View of Huacachina from the dunes

The main attraction in town is to take a dune buggy ride out into the desert where they drive like maniacs and throw you down the sand dunes on sandboards, getting sand in your mouth (amonst other places) has never been so much fun.

A couple days later, after a day by the pool soaking up some much needed sun, I headed down to Nazca for the day, a 2 hour bus ride south. Whilst the town itself might be a shit-hole, the surrounding desert has been keeping secrets from it for hundreds of years. The Nazca people inhabited this area before the Incas dominated Peru, and their people drew massive line drawings in the desert depicting animals, birds, people etc. Walking through this desert landscape you wouldn´t see these line drawings as they´re so big, but taking a small Cesna plane up into the air over it revealed them to us, and what a strange phenomena they are. Why these patterns were drawn is a point of much debate, which you can read more about on Wikipedia (worth checking the photos at least), but whatever you think there is no doubt that they are quite a spectacle.

Dave commented he wanted more monkey photos so here you go (courtesy of Karin Evelyn on Flickr)

The experience was all the better for being upfront in the co-pilots seat trying to resist the urge to push random buttons, if only the other people on our flight knew how strong that urge was for me, potentially sending them into an early grave just because I was having a Dougal moment.

We went to an old Nazca cemetary in the afternoon to see where they buried their dead in family group graves. When you look down into these pits you find mummies looking back up at you with dreadlocks twice the length of your average Rasta – a morbid excursion but strangley fascinating.

Gavin Craggs
Oh how we laughed (courtesy of Fengrir on Flickr)

I jumped on a bus back to Huacachina (only for it to break down) and eventually arrived back to tranquillity for a few more days of sunbathing and very little else, a great way to relax, unwind and prepare myself for hitting the big dirty capital that is Lima, where I´m currently residing and considering taking another weeks work in the hostel bar before I dive north for Ecuador.

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It´s been a while

June 28th, 2006

Yes, I think I slipped into a black hole since arriving in Peru (maybe I should re-phrase that). Well before leaving Bolivia I spent half a day trekking out from Copacabana to Yampupata along the lakeside and around through the woods of the mainland. From Yampupata I had to barter a decent price to get a boat over to the Isla del Sol, which ended up being a row boat. The island has legend of it being the birthplace of the Incas, or certainly their sun god.

I spent a night over on the island, rose the next day to trek about it before catching the ferry back to Copacabana. This town did not endear itself to me when I arrived back at my hotel at midnight to find it locked up and no-one answering the bell. With the prospect of freezing my bollocks off sleeping in the park with the dogs for the night I wandered around town trying to find somewhere else open with no joy until I bumped into the mexican girl who worked in one of the restaurants. She was my life saver as she not only took me round to her mates hotel who had a spare bed, but they also plied me with weed and wine and it turned out to be a better night than if I´d returned to my cheap-ass room

The next day however, I really had to escape this shitty town and caught a bus to Cusco in Peru. Two and a half weeks in Cusco, most of which is unprintable, other than making it up to Machu Picchu for a healthy break, from where I had one of those experiences that you´ll always remember, looking down over the site and the location around it blew me away. No photo* can do it justice, but this was a moment when I realised that the view was what I had in my mind when I´d previously thought of South America. Despite all the hype around it, and my cynical nature, it turned out to be every bit as stunning as it´s made out to be.
Machu Picchu (courtesy of Buena Vista 2005 on Flickr)
After returning to Cusco for one last weekend of debauchery, I caught an overnight bus out of the Peruvian party capital down to the slightly more sedate Arequipa. We visited the Colca Canyon in the first few days, saw a condor (the main attraction), headed back to Arequipa and did some museum stuff. Then I said goodbye to Ruth and Alison who went on ahead while I chose to hang around for a little while longer, partly due to my hangover from the Saturday night, though it may have something to do with the girls of this city! Well I´m currently holding fort running the bar in the hostel for a short while, gives me something to do and cheaper living, meanwhile I get to see many of the people I met in Cusco passing through. While my scheduled plans for Peru have all gone out the window, life´s good and that´s all that counts right now 🙂

*Photos are a sore point as I left my camera on the train to Machu Picchu and lost it. This is what happens when I´m made to get up at 5am! I´ll try to add some from other people in the future.

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Monkey Business

May 30th, 2006

After a bus trip along what must have been the worlds second most dangerous road we miraculously arrived in Rurrenabaque (Rurre) early morning, then onto a boat two hours later in the pissing rain on our way to the start of our jungle tour.

The weather improved from here on, and with our guide, Mr Miyagi of Karate Kid fame, we set off from camp to climb through thick vegetation, across rivers, upto to high lookout points and out at night to try to find some of the ever-elusive wildlife, which prefers to stay hidden by day. We managed to find very little but wandering around in the dark with nothing more than flashlights was fun of a scarey kind.

The Mexican singer Pedro Fernandez sizes up a tree in the jungle
The Mexican singer Pedro Fernandez shows us which hand he prefers to wank with in the jungle

After 2 days in the jungle we returned to Rurre for a night before heading out the next day for a 3 day pampas tour. The Pampas are the level wetlands that back onto the jungle and cross over the border into Brazil, where they get renamed the Pantanal. This was the place to come and see wildlife. After several hours in a 4×4 we boarded a wobbly little boat which would be our transport for the next few days.

The tour took in cruising down the river looking at the many birds, turtles, aligators etc., then out at night to shine torches in the aligators eyes, and even to catch a baby one for voyeuristic purposes. Another day we went out trudging through foul smelling swamp water in search of an anaconda (and water bourne tropical diseases). Didn`t find an anaconda, but lovely walking through shitty water and grasses all the same.

The cutest rabies carriers you`re ever likely to meet
The cutest rabies carriers you`re ever likely to meet

The last day we did a spot of piranha fishing, saw some gay pink dolphins and had it all topped off with a monkey invasion on the boat. The tours had been fantastic, and after returning to Rurre for a night we took a cheap flight back to La Paz, where I stopped for a few days and said goodbye to Rico, Ben and Dan who were on a tighter time schedule. Bumped into some guys I`d met in Santiago though, small world that it is here on the gringo trail.

Now down at Lake Titikaka, which spans the Bolivia/Peru border, at a place called Copacabana (I don`t think the Rolling Stones will be playing at this one). Heading out to the Isla del Sol (mythical Inca island) tomorrow for a couple nights before heading on into Peru friday to Cuzco.

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La Paz and a nice little cycle ride

May 17th, 2006

The La Paz electricians are on acid
Wired in La Paz

After catching another dodgy bus out of Cochabamba we finally managed to make it to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. For superlative fans, it`s the highest capital in the world, but it seems like everywhere in South America has got some sort of similar claim. All I know is that it`s bloody hard work walking up the steep streets when there`s this little oxygen in the air. The city is set in a big crater between the surrounding mountains, so flat streets are unheard of and breathless hill climbing is unavoidable.

There are many things that make La Paz, and to some extent the rest of Bolivia, quite unique in it`s strange ways. There`s the shoe shine boys who wear balaclavas to disguise their identities (freaks you out a little when you first see them coming for you armed with a shoe brush), the old ladiers in traditional dress which involves wearing a lot of skirts to give them a fat arse and a bowler hat which doesn`t fit, it just sits on the top of their heads, and then there`s the wiring on the overhead pylons (see photo above).

One attraction of the city is the witches market, where they sell everything from the obligatory colourful blankets and llama/alpaca wool indigenous clothes, to herbal remedies for everything under the sun. Then there`s the llama feotuses, gutted frogs covered in glitter with marbles for eyes (if I thought I could get it through customs he would be sat in my bag now), bird skeletons and other unidentifiable `things.´

After four days in this city we had to escape the madness so we booked our trips in the jungle and pampas, starting first with a mountain bike ride down, wait for it, The World`s Most Dangerous Road, or Death Road as it`s more affectionately called.

Death Road
A small stretch of the Death Road

This dirt track of a road set on the side of a valley has the dubious claim to fame of having the highest number of deaths on it per year, so naturally you want to take a bike and fly down it avoiding the trucks and buses which drive up and down it. In reality, biking it is the safest way, you don`t want to be in a bus when there`s a truck coming the other way trying to pass on the narrow track. The drop in altitude from start to end is something like 3000 metres and it makes for one hell of a ride.

Coming out unscathed at the end I just wanted to do it again, but instead opted for a shower, food and a night in Coroico, the nearby town, before heading off to Rurrenabaque the next day for our jungle and pampas tours.

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Struggling to reach La Paz

May 12th, 2006

I`ve been as slow getting round to updating these pages as the internet is here in Bolivia, so here`s a couple of quick catch up entries.

After Potosì we took a taxi to Sucre. It seems ridiculous, borgeouis even, but with the bus strike on in Bolivia this was the only option, and between us all it worked out only slightly more expensive than the bus. It also had the advantage of us being able to pick the time, rather than with the buses in Bolivia which leave at odd times and dump you in the next place at an even odder time, like 3 or 4 in the morning.

Plaza at the top of the mirador in Sucre
Plaza at the top of the mirador in Sucre

Sucre is a pretty chilled out small city, full of nice colonial architecture, and an even nicer mirador (view point) up on the hill from which you can sit in the cafe garden and look out over the city, soaking up the sun. Lunch turned into a beer, then beer turned into cocktails, then when the sun set it turned freezing.

Anyway, a nice few days in Sucre, then we had to work out how to move on. The bus companies are striking because the don`t pay tax and the government wants them to, like everyone else. Makes travelling around Bolivia a little tricky, but not impossible. We dragged a couple of girls, Ruth and Alison, with us as they`d been sat around in Sucre for far too long waiting for the strike to end. We found the `alternative´ bus station which was actually a roadside on the edge of town where less than official buses gathered. There`s always a way if you`re determined.

After a 12 hour journey, half it on bumpy dirt track roads we made it to Cochabamba. La Paz had been the preferred destination but this was on the way and as close as we could get in the strike circumstances. The city was quite nice but not as beautiful as Sucre, so a couple days here was sufficient. What it did have right in the middle of the city was a hill with a Rio-esque statue of Christ. Good place to look out over the city and watch the sunset from, and it gave me the opportunity to get a photo of the statue, as I was too busy having a good time in Rio to do the touristy sights.

Jesus Christ! There`s no getting away from him in Cochabamba
Jesus Christ! There`s no getting away from him in Cochabamba


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Dynamite, alcohol, coca and lung disease: A Miners Life

May 7th, 2006

Since arriving in Bolivia I´ve covered a lot of ground faster than I normally travel. I met a group of guys waiting for the bus to Potosi and have travelled with them up to now, and I think it´s thanks to them that I haven´t just sat around in a place for too long.

Potosi is the highest city in the world, standing at 4090 metres above sea level, it quite literally takes your breath away climbing it´s steep cobbled streets. It´s set here on this mountain because of the rich mineral deposits hidden inside. In the past it was one of the major sources of silver, which made it a very rich city, but since the Spanish conquerors stole most of that, and there´s very little left to mine, it has declined in it´s status. There is however quite a few other minerals and metals to mine, so the work continues through a cooperative, primarily looking for zinc.

Horny Devil
Before work the miners offer sacrifices of alcohol and coca to this horny devil

The working conditions are what can only be politely described as fucking atrocious, though thankfully a far cry from the slave labour conditions that prevailed under the Spanish. Taking a tour through these mines really helps to put your complaints about working in an office into perspective. If the collapsing tunnels don´t get you, the toxic chemicals in the air will eventually – life expectancy is pretty short down there.

We headed off to the mines armed with coca leaves, dynamite and 96% alcohol. This might sound foolish, and indeed it is, but this is a miners life. We blew some of the dynamite up on the side of the hill outside the mines, that was just for thrills, then the rest along with the coca and alcohol were presents for the miners to sweeten the pill of having tourists wandering around their work place asking questions.

I think you can guess which ones aren`t the real miners

All in all it was a pretty life-affirming experience, mainly affirimng that life for us is very good and that it could be a whole lot worse.

We stayed around Potosi for another day and found some kind of festival celebrations going on around the main streets with processions, musicians and many drunken Bolivians. No idea what it was for, but thankfully it seemed to bear no relationship to the festival we´d just missed in a nearby town. Accounts from fellow travellers described it as a brutal fighting festival where people roam drunkenly around the streets having fights with each other. They tape small blades to their knuckles to inflict maximum blood spillage, but the recipients of this violence are very proud to have their faces gashed up and blood spilling onto the streets as this blood is a sacrifice to Pachamama (Mother Earth). Crazy fucking Bolivians!

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From desert to snow-covered mountains

May 6th, 2006

Valle de La Luna
Valle de La Luna bathed in the light of the setting sun 

Myself and the aussie couple, Andrew and Megan, booked ourselves onto a two night/three day 4×4 trip across the Altiplano of Bolivia, but before heading off the next morning we hired out some bikes and cycled across the edge of the desert to the Valle de La Luna (Valley of the Moon). This proved to be a curiously strange place with the weirdest rock formations (photo soon when I next have the facilities). We stayed for sunset and then set off on the return trip to try to beat the darkness setting in. Not only did we fail, but it also rained on us a little – in the desert, what?! Nice day though, rounded off with a good meal and a few beers in a restaurant with a big open fire pit and live music.

Llama on the Altiplano
What the fuck are you looking at?

The trip across the desert proved to be one of the best things I´ve done in ages, well probably since early Patagonia. The three of us were joined by another couple, Catherine and Simon, as well as our driver Edwin and some other random guy who we dropped off in the middle of absolutely nowhere so he could hitch a lift elsewhere (not the sort of place with passing traffic mind).

Red Lake
Red Lake where we stayed on the first night

The changing landscape was astounding, as I found out pretty quickly leaving San Pedro in shorts and flip-flops only to arrive at the Bolivian border check one hour later covered in snow. I won´t ramble on about the tour as the descriptions of the landscapes just don´t touch it, but I´ve taken a shitload of photos so I´ll add a couple highlights to this entry when I find somewhere with facilities. Check back through the last couple entries as I´ve just added some more photos to those.

A Rock that apparently resembles a tree
Rock Tree

The last day of the tour took us across the salt flats of Uyuni (Salir de Uyuni) before dropping us in the town of Uyuni itself. Didn´t feel the need to hang around here so I said farewell to my travel companions, who headed off in different directions, while I took a bus straight up to the mining town of Potosi to play with dynamite.

Isla de Pescado
Catheryn, Simon, Megan and Andrew on the Isla de Pescado with the salt flats in the background

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