Lima to La Paz - October 2012

28th September - Lima

Nice, easy journey, if 27 hours travelling door-to-door can ever be called nice and easy. Not impressed with Iberia though, a long haul flight without seat-back video screens. No wonder Spain is going down the pan if this is anything to go by; it's a good job I slept more than half the way.

I'm staying at the Hotel Maury in the Centro Historico. A once grand hotel (where the Piso Sour cocktail was invented) but it has seen better days. Still, I prefer a bit of character rather than the modern identikit chain hotels and it's in a great location. Spent the day wandering around the old part of town. The whole city has seen better days but it is easy to see how this was once a magnificent colonial masterpiece.

Above is the Catedral de Lima on the Plaza de Armas, the main square in the Histric Centre. One of many grand buildings on this the main square. The Centro Historico or the historic centre of Lima is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mind you it seems they hand out that status to anywhere nowadays. Everywhere I go seems to have UNESCO status. I guess it's UNESCO's way to stop governments demolishing old buildings. Apart from the old buildings the other thing that stands out is how short everyone is. I feel like a giant.

29th September - Lima

Decided to head down to the Pacific and look out over the massive ocean. Although it's quite warm here it is definitely not beach weather. For about half of the year Lima is overcast and misty / foggy. It is a sea fog not smog but all the same it gives Lima a dull grey look. Lima sits high up on the cliffs over the Pacific. A park runs along the top of the cliffs looking out over the ocean. Paths, cycle-paths, exercise equipment and tennis courts; I bet it's lovely in the Summer when the sun is out.

Also did my first bit of culture today; "The Archaeological Complex "Huaca Pucllana" was an Administrative and Ceremonial Centre of the Lima Culture, a society that developed at the Peruvian Central Coast between 200 AD and 700 AD. Located in today's district of Mira Flores the "Huaca Pucllana" was built around 500 AD. "Pucllana" is one of the most important ancient monuments in Lima" It's a pyramid made of mud bricks in the middle of Lima. Until about one hundred years ago it was completely covered and just looked like a hill, but now it is being excavated and partially restored. It looks quite impressive but with ruins such as Machu Pichu to come this is only a small entree.

30th September - Lima

It's Sunday so I guess it's time to talk religion. Peru is very Catholic, for some reason the countries of South America forced out the Spaniards but still submit themselves to the Nazi in Rome. There are images of Jesus and Mary everywhere along with lots of churches and cathedrals. And of course being Catholic the churches are full of enough riches feed and educate the poor for years if they really cared about doing good. Anyway rant over, here's some pics.

After lunch I headed back to the hotel. The Ryder Cup supercedes any site-seeing and with the Slingbox I can sit in my hotel room and watch my Sky box over the internet anywhere. So glad I did stay in to watch it. We were 10-6 down overnight. Europe won the first 5 games out, the US started to feel the presure, missed fairways, missed putts; dropped a shot here, a shot there and a Europe win went from impossible to possible to probable. Then a Martin Kaymer putt on the 18th confirmed it, Europe had won, amazing.

1st October - Lima

Time to talk food a drink. In Lima lunch is the main meal with most restaurants doing a set menu for £4 to £6. There's loads of fish, chicken and beef and most meals come with chips and rice. Meals are huge, far too much, the locals all seem to take half of it home in a box for tea. I've found a new favorite starter, Ceviche Mixto. It's raw fish, octopus, prawns in a citrus and chilli sauce. It tastes a bit like Thai Tom Yum soup, very spicy and a real sour lemon and lime kick, fantastic.

As for drinks, of course they have beer and some wine but the biggy here is Pisco a grape based spirit and the Pisco Sour in particular. "The Peruvian Pisco Sour requires the use of Peruvian Pisco as the base liquor and the addition of lime (or lemon) juice, syrup, ice, egg white, and Angostura bitters." It's definitely sour and alcoholic, actually it's really good. Instead of peanuts and the like there's roasted corn. It's everywhere. The first thing on the table at a restaurant, and always there in the bar. It tastes good, but sort of crumbles in the mouth and is very dry. Definitely a good way to get people to drink more.

2nd October - Lima

Tucan trip from Lima to La Paz

The tour officially starts today, but it's the arrival day so just a quick meeting and details of what's happening over the next few days. I'll be flying out early tomorrow morning for 3 days/2 nights in the Amazon. I'm expecting it to be hot, wet and not like anything I've ever seen before.

3rd October - Puerto Maldonado (Amazon)

Here we go, up early for a flight to Cusco and on to Puerto Maldonado for a bit of the Amazon rain forest. Once there it's a motorised canoe, a 35 kilometre journey along the river (took about two hours). About half way we saw a wall of rain ahead of us, so ponchos on, waterproof covers out and we hit the wall. It absolutely pissed down. Having a cover over the boat stopped some of it but speeding along it was coming at us nearly horizontal. Luckily I was sat at the back of the boat those at the front just buried themselves in a plastic sheet.

The Eco Amazonia Lodge is right on the river’s edge and really nice. Lots of bungalows and a huge main area where the reception, bar and restaurant are. All indoor areas are bug netted so no worries there either. Lovely buffet lunch and it's out to see some of the rain forest.

After a late lunch we took a short boat trip across the Madre de Dios River to Monkey Island. They have been given 10,000 hectares of the Amazon by the government for ecological purposes. One of these activities is to rescue monkeys that have been recovered from poachers, they use the island opposite to resettle them. The guide took some bananas across with us and put them down to encourage them in. The trouble with jungle and rainforest is that you see a lot of trees, trip over a lot of tree roots, see some insects, walk into some webs and hear some birds. But, you very rarely see what you want to see. So feeding time is the only way to guarantee seeing anything in a short time. Anyway the monkeys swung through the trees and came right down to get the food. Some even seemed to be posing for the camera. Spider monkeys, howler monkeys and others I can't remember. Quite fun, if a little forced.

4th October - Puerto Maldonado (Amazon)

Woke up feeling rough. Probably food poisoning from some I eat in Lima (raw fish?) compounded by the heat and humidity so I took it easy in the morning. Not a bad move as it turns out as it lashed down with rain half way through the morning and everyone came back saturated. After lunch feeling a bit better I headed out with a group through the forest to a lake. On the way we actually saw a few monkeys at a distance high up in the trees. The main purpose of the walk was to feed (so that we'd see up close) some caiman. They were described as a type of fresh water crocodile but Wikipedia says they're actually a type alligator (whatever the difference is). They were really nervous even though there was food down and we were on a raised walkway. They'd seek out so slowly and the smallest movement they'd rush back into the water. Anyway we got to see a few small ones and one bigger one. Was quite fun watching their sneaking out. From there back for dinner and the rainforest adventure is pretty much over.

5th October - To Cuzco

Up early for the trip back up river and the flight to Cusco. Luckily it was a dry trip back but that's where the luck ran out. After checking in for the flight it started to rain, really rain. Proper rain enough to mean all flights in were held back in Cusco. After about two hours it stopped and the plane finally came in and off the Cusco 3 hours late.

So instead of a half day in Cusco I only had time for a quick wander around. The old town centre looks amazing, lots of old colonial buildings built on top of Inca and pre-Inca foundations. The Spanish arrived in about 1550 and most of the buildings date from then or more often from after the great earthquake of 1650.

Cusco is at altitude, 3,400m and it is noticeable. I've had a headache for a couple of days so not sure if the altitude has made it worse or not. But I'm definitely feeling a little light headed and felt out of breath after walking up a smallish hill. Had dinner with one of the group I'll be travelling with for the next week which was really nice. Will meet up with the rest of the group in a couple of days at Machu Picchu when they finish the Inca Trail.

6th October - Sacred Valley of the Incas

A full day is spent visiting the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Time for a day of culture, but on the way to the Sacred Valley we stopped off at a wildlife recovery centre. The centre takes care of animals which have been rescued from poachers or in one case a puma which had been found in a bar where it was drugged up to the eye-balls so punters could have their photos taken with it. There were llama and alpaca, pumas, parrots and a giant tortoise. But the most interesting things were the condors. I knew condors are the world's biggest flying birds. But, bloody hell they're big. They are sort of a giant vulture, in the picture you can see just how giant.

From here we headed down into The Sacred Valley and first stop the Pisac ruins. They are perched on a hilltop with incredible views all around. Mountains all around and the fertile valley below. So it's time for the first climb of the trip. The thing about Inca ruins is that to see them you need to climb them and that means hundreds of steps. So up we start and about 30 steps in I'm gasping for air. My mouth is dry and I just can't get my breath, everyone else is struggling too. But after 30 seconds rest the breath is back and on we go. 3 or 4 stops and we're at the top and the view is certainly worth it.

After lunch, we carried on down the valley to the temple/fortress of Ollantaytambo with its enormous Inca terracing constructed on the side of a steep mountain. Again it looked good from the bottom but we had to climb it. Ollantaytambo is a couple of hundred metres lower but it didn't seem to help much whilst climbing. Again a lot of huffing and puffing before reaching the top. But the temple is amazing, the granite comes from the otherside of the valley. How the hell they got 30, 40, 50 tonne bock of granite across and up the other side I'll never know. And once they got it there the craftsmanship. In the most important parts of the temple the blocks are put together with no mortar. Each block is a different shape and fits together in a perfect earthquake proof jigsaw. These temples were built to last.

7th October - Machu Picchu

We stayed in Ollantaytambo so that we could catch the train from there to Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu one of the seven modern Wonders of the World. The lost city in the mountains. So we get the train to the bottom of the valley then a 30 minute bus ride up the mountain, hair-pin after hair-pin. Then we finally crest the top and there it is and it is impressive.

Machu Picchu (Old Mountain) was originally completely self -contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces sufficient to feed the population, and watered by natural springs. Located high above the fast flowing Urubamba River, the cloud shrouded ruins have palaces, baths, temples, storage rooms and some 150 houses, all in a remarkable state of preservation.

The ruins were only discovered by the outside world in 1911, when American explorer Hiram Bingham found them while looking for another “lost city” called Vilcabamba. Due to their isolation many of the buildings are still quite intact and the setting is amazing with Huayna Picchu (Young Mountain) and other peaks all around. We had a guided tour around which took about 2 1/2 hours. A lot more climbing, but with it being at 'only' 2,400m it was a lot easier. Again the craftsmanship is amazing and the whole design works really well with the natural features. There are water channels cut in the floors so that during the rains the water passes through quickly rather than soaking in and destroying the foundations.

There were a lot people there but it did not seem too crowded. We wandered around taking lots of photos and just being amazed by each new view. Some times these sorts of places get hyped up and are a bit off a let down when you see them but Machu Picchu certainly isn't. This definitely is a Wonder.

8th October - Cuzco

A free day in Cusco. As I said before it's a really nice old colonial town which is now the biggest tourist town in South America. This isn't high season so it is busy but manageable. Today is a Peruvian holiday, I'm told they have quite a few of them. There was a big parade through the main square with some Catholic icons, brass bands and lots of dancing. But most surprisingly lots of people dressed as gorillas, not sure what that was all about. It was fun to watch though. I think they have quite a few parades and the like in Cusco, anything for a party. In a town where 70% of people earn their money from tourism it pays to put on a good show.

9th October - Puno (Lake Titicaca)

Longish travel day from Cusco to Puno, on a very comfortable double decker bus. The whole way we were above the altitude for normal plants to survive so the rolling hills and mountains along the way were either covered in brown looking scrub grass, bare rock or snow. Herds of cows, sheep, llamas, alpacas and vicuñas. The highest point was the La Raya pass at 4,321 metres, shortly after we stopped for a toilet break, my head definitely felt weird walking around at that altitude.

10th October - Lake Titicaca

Up early and down to the port for 2 days on Lake Titikaka and its islands. First stop the floating reed islands in the Bay of Puno to see the Uros islanders. The islands are made on a base of reed roots and on top they lay layers of cut reeds. The islanders have lived this way for centuries but now their way of life is under threat with the next generation moving to the mainland, tourism could be the only thing which keeps them going.

From here we sailed for 3 hours on the slowest ever boat to Amantaní. At this altitude even engines don't function properly. So we had a slow cruise across the the deep blue lake with the sun shining bright. There are worse ways to spend a morning. On arriving we climbed up about 40m from the dock to the island proper where we were split into groups of 2 or 3 and allocated a family each. 3 of us then followed Rufina a local woman back to her home. It was quite nice in a rustic kind of way. She made us lunch of vegatable soup followed by a main of 5 different types of potato. You really don't want to live here if you don't like potato!

After lunch and a bit of a rest we headed to the community centre where we met up with the rest of the group. Then we started up a game of football with the locals. Football at about 3,900m and the game went on for about half an hour. At that altitude you only want to make a run if you are pretty much guaranteed to get a pass. It was bloody hard work most of us were a mess by the end. Not a good preparation for a climb to the top of the island.

Instead of following the path which circled the peak it was decided we would take the old path which went straight up to the top. Lots of big steps and some scrambling. Climb a bit, rest a bit, then climb a bit more. I was shattered, but I was not going to give up. Finally I made the top, 4,135m, that's 13,566 ft in old money.

After taking some photos we headed back down. After being one of the last to the top I was one of the first down. From there it was back to the family home. I just collapsed on the bed. It was getting dark, the wind was getting up and the temperature was dropping quickly. It was probably the fact that I was knackered but I got very cold very quickly. I couldn't really face more potatos for tea, so just had some coca tea and collapsed into bed very early and slept right through, fully clothed and under 4 blankets.

11th October - Lake Titicaca

Up quite early, pancakes and jam for breakfast and then we headed back down to the boat. From there we sailed for an hour to Taquile Island, where the men stand around knitting distinctive woolen hats while the women work the fields! We were told it was a fairly flat walk up to the main square, but the guide followed that up by saying that we would meet the boat at the other side down 500 steps! Thankfully the path up was a slope rather than steps. Steps kill me, the extra bust of energy required for each one, but walking up the slope wasn't too bad. This time we peaked out at about 4,000m, about 190m up from the boat.

Yesterday's island had a population of about 5,000, today's about 2,600 and the islands are communally owned. They have fought any attempt to put a hotel on the island and have decided that offering homestays is a good compromise between keeping the old ways and accepting the new. It seems to be working but for how long? Will the next generation want to continue living like this? Will tourism take over completely?

12th October - To La Paz

From Puno we traveled around Lake Titicaca towards Bolivia. After crossing the border, we continued to travel across the scenic Altiplano (high plateau) following the shores of Lake Titicaca. The picture below shows our bus crossing the lake at its narrowest point, San Pablo de Tiquina. The views were great all the way. On the Bolivian side we started to see proper mountains topped off with snow. After about 6 hours we hit El Alto the city that has grown up on the plateau above La Paz at 4,150m (13615ft). La Paz itself is set in the valley far below. La Paz is the highest (administrative capital in the world at 3,636 metres. But La Paz isn't Bolivia's capital, Sucre is; so Quito is actually the highest capital.

Time to talk altitude and its effects. So far I've hinted at a few things but here's a list of possible symptoms from Wikipedia. Lack of appetite, nausea, or vomiting, fatigue or weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness, insomnia, pins and needles, shortness of breath upon exertion, nosebleed, persistent rapid pulse, drowsiness, general malaise or peripheral edema (swelling of hands, feet, and face).

I've high-lighted in red the ones which I've felt. I really haven't felt hungry since I've been above 3,500m. I've had a bit of light-headedness and even when sitting around doing nothing my heart rate is over 90bpm. Also as I've mentioned more than once going up hill, especially up steps leaves me a gasping wheezing mess.

Over time it's getting a bit better, the appetite is slowly coming back and going up steps is getting easier. But all in all the altitude thing hasn't been any more than a minor inconvenience. The locals recommend coca leaves (as in where cocaine comes from). In fact their whole culture seems to be based around coca leaves. They chew them and make tea from them, they burn them in rituals and exchange them as a sort of greeting. Most hotels have coca tea available all the time, along side the emergency oxygen bottle. I've been drinking it, not sure if it's helped with the altitude or not.

The other impacts of being at altitude are that the sun is much stronger and the air is soooooooo dry.

13th October - La Paz

"Built on a series of hills and considered one of the world's most beautiful cities, La Paz was established in the basin of a canyon with the snow -capped Mount Illimani in the background."

La Paz is an interesting city. Its built in the valley below the antiplato. The main boulavard runs down the bottom of the valley and the rest of the city rises up the steep slopes on either side. When walking around I seem to be forever going up hill. There are a few old buildings but in general it looks quite nondescriply modern. I hear it's had its fair share of earthquakes since it was founded by the Spaniards. It has a good feel to it. A mixture of 1st and 3rd world, or whatever the PC terms are nowadays. There are plenty of restaurants and bars and stuff for tourists. Many locals look modern and wealthy, probably mineral wealth, but then again there are loads of indiginous people in traditional dress and their bowler hats. The streets are full of market stalls and people selling what ever they have. In many ways the sights and sounds and hustle and bustle reminds me of the non-tourist areas of cities like Bangkok or KL.

14th October - La Paz - Moon Valley

'Valle de la Luna', The Moon Valley, is about 10 kilometres southwest of La Paz. It is a unique place filled with rock formations that have been formed through thousands of years of erosion. They say it is quite easy to spot why this place has been named the Moon Valley, but no pictures I've seen of the moon look like this. There are a couple of walking tracks around the valley, giving you an opportunity to have a closer look at some of the formations which the Indians have named after what they resemble: ‘Madre Luna’ (Mother Moon), 'El Sombrero de la Dama' (the Woman's Hat), 'El buen Abuelo’ (the Good Grandfather), and many others...

It was nice to wander around for an hour or so. Certainly different a bit like thousands of stalactites dropped in to the valley. Not sure I have the imagination to see all the things the Indians could see though.

15th October - La Paz

Found a great view point today, looking down the valley to a snow capped mountain.

16th October - Bolivia v Uruguay

When in South America I thought I have to see some football. So I got myself a ticket for the Bolivia v Uruguay at what I guess is the world's highest international stadium. I know Bolivia had to get special dispensation from FIFA to play games above its usual maximum allowed altitude of 3,000m. The Estadio Hernando Siles is at 3,637 metres (11,932 feet).

I got the highest category ticket and it cost 200 Bolivianos, which considering there are 11 to the pound is great value. The stadium which holds about 40,000 was about 3/4 full of which about 300 were Uruguayan. An early goal for Bolivia got the crowd going and from then on Bolivia completely out-played Uruguay. Bolivia kept a high tempo (I've no idea how at this altitude) and dominated, they were 4-0 up after an hour. Below is their second goal. The number 14 whipped in a wicked free-kick and the Uruguayan glanced it past his own keeper.

The only two players I knew were Suarez and Forlan for Uruguay, they are at either end of the line-up above. Neither had much impact, Suarez tried hard but was well marked and Forlan looked like the lazy sod he can sometimes be. The Bolivian fans don't seem to have any songs but one chant worked well. The stand to my left which seemed to contain the hard-core fans would shout Bol, Bol, Bol then the stand opposite me would shout Liv, Liv, Liv and the stand to my right Ya, Ya, Ya. Our stand would then shout Viva Bolivia. Sounded good with each part coming from a different part of the stadium.

17th October - La Paz

Whilst out walking around today I came across a bit of a media scrum and when I took a closer look I saw it was a photo shoot with the Miss Latin America contestants. Loads of tall thin women in evening gowns. Not the sort of thing you expect to come across when you pop out for lunch. Miss Bolivia had obviously heard I was in town and insisted on having her photo taken with me, being a true gentleman of course I agreed.

19th October - The Death Road

Today I cycled the Death Road. It was amazing and deserves a page of its own.

The Death Road

Bolivia and Chile 2012.