Pantanal – 21 April 2012

A fitful night sleep and woken up by a very different sort of dawn chorus at about 5.30 am.

This morning we went for a safari at 8am where we saw plenty of caimen

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, toucans and copybara, a  very large rodent!

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Then, we walked through a mud bath to a lake where we saw giant otters and then went up to our knees pirhana fishing. I caught two dog fish and Ed was also successful. I caught a pirhana, but it got away. All in all we caught enough fish for tea! Back to the farm for a lunch of spaghetti, rice and beans washed down with a Skol beer, after having demudded!

It turns out that both Ed and I caught the sun a bit and we’ve also got numerous bites just about all over!

After an afternoon relaxing, we all went for a horse ride…the mossies were everywhere! It was fun, but made me realise why I’m not a cowboy!

Tea consisted of rice, mashed pitato, frango (chicken) ans the aforementioned fish…not a great deal if meat on a pirhana! After some cards it us back to the hammock at 10pm…along with hundreds of mossie friends…the frog in the toilet didn’t appear this time!

Pantanal to Bolivia – 22 April 2012

An early start with breakfast (bread and cake) at 6.30 followed by a walking safari at 7. The midges were unbearable walkinh across the grass and through the forest but we did manage to see two magnificent blue macaw (they live for up to 70 years and mate for life) along with other birds, howler monkeys, qati and wild boar (i didn’t get chased!).

We left the farm at 9 for an hours trip to meet our minibus. After that we headed to join the tarmaced road where we said goodbye to Armando, Marianne’s husband who left to head back to Rio.

After travelling for another couple of hours we arrived at Corumba  on the Brazilian/Bolivian border. We went through passport control for Brazil then drove the very short distance across to Bolivia, where we found that the border was closed!  On Marianne’s advice we went through the border and will probably have to pay a fine when we exit as we have no entry stamp. So we are currently travelling as illegal aliens!

Bolivia is clearly far more deprived than Brazil and after a short taxi ride we got to the train station with 3 hours to spare. We went for a couple of beers (45p per can) with Corinne and Jack at a roadside place with music blaring from inside (the others weren’t as adventurous) and then back to the station.

To get on the train we had to shiw our tickets and passport (more than we had to.do to enter the country!). We almost couldn’t get on the train as the policeman noticed that we didn’t have entry stamps but Marianne managed to persuade him that we would sort it out in Santa Cruz, our next stop!  Currently sitting on the very wobbly train with 15 more hours to go…tea is ordered for 7pm – chicken and stuff for about 2 quid!

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Brazil and Bolivia (from 20 April)

La Paz – 3 May 2012
We had a very early start at 6am to go on the death road for a 64km cycle downhill! After some problems getting out of the hotel (the doors were locked) we arrived and were.kitted out with trousers, helmet and gloves before the 45 minute ride to the top.of the descent. We stopped halfway up at a row of shacks for ‘breakfast’ before gettig our safety briefing at the top.

The first 25km were on roads and the views of the mountains, capped in snow, were breathtaking, although some of the gravel on the road did nothing for my confidence, especially given the 500m drops.

After 25km we arrived at a security point and our bikes were loaded into the bus for a 9km ascent. This took us to the top of the old road. This is the road that gave its name to out trip and it was easy to see why…the road was gravel and for much of the trip only wide enough for one vehicle. It is hard to imagine that until.5 years ago this was the main road to La Paz but not difficult to see why so many people died when using it.

Out trip took us from 4700m to 1380m and the scenery was constantly changing although the one thing that remained constant was the shear drop. As we descensed, we passed through tropical.rainforests and went under a waterfall. Eventually, after 5 hours cycling, we made it to the bottom.

We were taken to a place for food and a beer before the 3 hour journey back to La Paz.

After showering and packing we met the rest of the gtoup for a farewell dinner – after they had met their new tour leader. The meal took ages to arrive but was tasty when it finally came. It was sad to say hasta la heugo to some new friends. In particular Corrinne and Jak gave us a lovely card and I’ve resolved to keep in touch with these friends that we’ve shared such memorable experiences over the last 25 days.

La Paz – 2 May 2012
We arrived in La Paz at 6am after the journey from Uyuni. It would we accurate to say that neither if us slept well on the bus and so we were very grateful that after a short local transfer we were able to check in. We went to bed for a few hours rest.

We met Vlad and the others at 11am for a tour of the witches market – not a market as such, more a collection of little shops, all selling the same sort of things such as jumpers, bags, remedies, idols of Pachamama and gifts to give to her such as dried llama feotus and other offerings.

We then booked our tour for the following day – the death road and went for a final lunch with Vlad. Ed wasn’t feeling too good, a result of too little sleep I think, and so he went back to get some rest while I joined the others for a walking tour of the centre. We saw the old square where the parliament and president’s house are situated and also San Francisco church with its brash alter made of silver etc.

I came back to the hotel and as Ed was feelig better, we went and did a similar walk so that he could see the sights…and take some more pictures!

We met Vlad to say goodbye at 6 before heading out for a very nice, and posh, meal at a local hotel. A early night followed in preparation for our early start…at 6.15!

Jeep safari and Uyuni to La Paz
After breakfast we packed up and headed out again. We drove to see some more volcanic formations on the high high plataeu. Then we headed to the salt lagoon where we saw some more flamingos.

From there we did some more driving through stunning volcanic landscapes before arriving back at the first nights hostel for lunch.

After lunch we headed on the ‘main’ road towards Uyuni and had to keep the driver awake as he kept looking like he was nodding off. A couple of hours later we were back in Uyuni where we saw the train graveyard, a very odd experience with old steam trains left to rust in the desert.

Then it was back to the hotel where we showered and got some tea in readiness for our overnight bus journey to La Pax leaving at 8pm.

Jeep safari – 30 April 2012

We had an early start with breakfast and then headed off the main ‘dirt’ road onto a narrow off road. After about half an hour drive we stopped and saw some amazing volcanic formations.

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After a further drive of about a couple of hours, parallel to the Chilean border with amazing scenery we entered the Eduardo avaroa nature reserve and stopped at the Laguna colorada, a red lagoon with flamingos and llamas.

We then headed to the hotel where we had lunch. We thought that the last hotel was remote but this one is really in the middle of nowhere…4 hours of electricity per day and lights out at 9.30, although it is currently 9.38 and we still have light!

After lunch we set off to see some geysers with molten lava and steam rising. Then we headed off for another hours drive passing through the worlds highest desert and reached a height of 5000m. At the end if the drive we arrived at the Laguna Verde and saw some volcanoes at the point that the two mountain ranges meet to form the one Andean chain, near to the Chilean border.

After some photos we headed back to the hostel stopping off to take some picturescof some weird Dali type landscapes. We also stopped off at the hot springs where we all had a bathe while ed took camera duty. Then it was back to the hotel for tea and an early night although it is 9.46 and the lights are still on!

Salt Lakes – 29 April 2012

After a delayed start we travelled about half an hour to a small desolate village on the edge of the salt lakes. We saw how the locals dry and ‘process’ the salt, but they only get 1 euro for a 50kg bag.

After a hearty lunch of lama steaks, salad ans bananas we headed out onto the salt flats.

We saw how they harvest the salt and manually load it into a truck. Then we headed off to take the photos with the white salt providing an odd perspective.

A quick trip to the first salt hotel followed where there was a raly being held about tourism. Then it was back into the.car to go to collect our cooks before a 2.5 hour journey on dirt roads to our ‘hotel’.

After a 3 hour drive in our jeep which was very warm with the sun beating down on us we arrived at a small village where we are to stsy. The accommodation is basic although we do have a private room with shared bathroom. There is a ‘common room’ where we were offered a warm drink followed.by a very tasty 3 course meal if soup, beef, corn in the cob and mashed potato and pineapple all prepared fresh by our cook. We were also given some Bolivian wine which was quite sweet. After a couple of drinks we retired to bed. The temperature had dropped significantly and it was good to be able to get into our sleeping bags.

Potosi to Uyuni – 28 April 2012
In the morning we went for a walk around the town and saw some of the 17 century churches. We then went to visit the mint and saw some of the presses that were used to mint coins up until 1951.

At 11am we set off on the 5 hour journey to Uyuni. The road took us through some spectacular scenery which constantly changed. Just before Uyuni we passed an abandoned silver mining village. The road was paved for all but the last 20km and we arrived at our hotel at about 4pm.

Uyuni is a bit of a desolate place and we went for a walk to pick up a scarf for the trip to the salt lakes.

We went for a couple of drinks and I left the camera and had to run back one block to get it!

We then met up with the rest of the group for some food at a pizza place before having a couple of drinks at the Extreme Fun pub…full of other backpackers and travellers!

Sucre to Potosi – 27 April 2012

After breakfast we set off for the 150km drive by private bus to Potosi. The journey took just over 3 hours and we are now on the plateau and have gone from 2700m in Sucre to 4050m in Potosi.

On the way, Vlad explained that Bolivia is very rich in minerals including borax and uranium but that the country doesn’t have.the technology to exploit them.

We checked in and them went for lunch a tour of the silver mines. These are working mines and are what made Potosi the largest city in the world in the 17 century. It is also what made Potosi and Sucre very rich at those times.

We went to the miners market where the miners buy their coca leaves (which they chew all.day to stave off.hunger), 96 percent proof alcohol, orange squash, cigarettes and dynamite! We bought some dynamite, coca leaves and alcoholic drink as gifts for.he.miners as it is still a working mine. Then we went to get kitted out in boots, trousers, jackets and hard hats before heading to the mine.

At the mine we walked into the entrance and had to keep ducking our heads to avoid hitting them. We also had to avoid some of the very deep shafts – over 80m deep in places. We saw an idol of the miners ‘devil’ and heard how they go there on a Friday to drink and leave offerings.

We walked deeper into the mine but didn’t see any miners although we did see the helpers.moving the trucks by hand. Eventualy turned back and then turned off at a junction where we found a real life working miner. He was preparing holes for the dynamite using a hammer and chisel. He had been working in the mine since 1970. Finally, after giving him our gifts we headed.out of the mine and were all very relieved to get back into the open air.

We met later for a meal and then an earlyish night.

Sucre – 26 April 2012

After breakfast we met Sam and Henrietta to head off for our mountain bike tour. After being given a bike, helmet and lunch we set off. What we hadn’t bargained on was the first hour bring uphill!

After about 15 minutes the road started to become very steep and we were given the option to get a lift. I decided to give it a try but the others got the car. The route uphill was pretty steep in places and nit helped by the lorries, cars and buses all belching out fumes! On the side of the road was a long line if maintenance workshops keeping some very old battered lorries and buses on the road!

After about an hour we reached the summit by the cement factory whose workings were responsible for uncovering hundreds of dinosaur footprints. A visitor park has been created and you can clearly see, all be it from a distance, the track marks laid down whilst the ‘wall’ was horizontal and the shores of the Atlantic some 80 million years ago, before being covered by sediment and being pushed up as part if the Andes.

After visiting the park we headed off for a 2km downhill stretch followed by another long uphill section where even I had to push. The sun was out, blue skies and at the top.we were rewarded with some magnificent views over the Andes.

After eating lunch we started the best bit of the ride, approximately 25km downhill through some stunning scenery where we were met at the bottom by a car to drive us back to Sucre. On the way down a pick up truck passed us with a little girl of about 5 in the back hanging on to the cab! The journey back itself took over an hour!

On arriving back at Sucre we went to get our free drink (and a few more) and then headed back to get ready for tea. However, half of the group that had gone walking hadn’t yet returned so we were a depleted number!

Sucre – 25 April 2012

After breakfast Vlad took us to get our entry stamps and after surprisingly little problem and no fine, we are all now legal.

We came back to the hotel and then went for some empanadas, a type of south American pasty. Ed and I both had one of each, chicken and meat and very nice they were too.

After a wander round the market we met up with Corinne, Jak, Sam and Henrietta to go quad biking. We were transported to the place in the back if a pick up and were given our bikes. I had to learn how to use a manual One! We had an amazing 3 hour ride over rough dirt tracks with some amazing scenery!

Once back, we’ve just been to the convent for a roof top view of the city

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and then on up the hill to the location of the old market.

Went for a group meal at Joyrides restaurant. My meal was missed off the order and despite the error being on the part of the restaurant, it still took another 30 minutes to arrive.

Santa Cruz to Sucre

We had a travellers breakfast at the hotel and have now travelled the 10 minutes in a taxi to Trompillo airport for our flight to Sucre. We checked in without any problems, although there was a baggage limit of 15kg so we had to pay am excess baggage charge for 12kg of 4 Bolivianos (about 40p) per kg. Next to pay the airport tax of 11 Bolivianos…but it seems that they won’t take it yet as there is a delay due to bad weather! So now we wait!

After much waiting around and nit knowing what was going on, we eventually took off at 1pm. They managed to serve us a quick soft drink during the half hour flight and we landed at Sucre at 1.30 to much cooler temperatures.

Our taxi was waiting and took us to the hotel independencia where we met our new guide Vladimir and went for some lunch. The hotel seems lovely with three floors and two courtyards full of flowers and plants!

After lunch we met up with the other members of the party, two sisters from Pembrokeshire, an older couple from Vancouver and a girl from New York.

Vlad took us for an orientation of the city and explained some of the history to us. We went to the indoor market and saw loads of stalls with fresh fruit, veg and meat.

After that we spent ages in the travel agent with a very friendly, but hopelessly inefficient Swiss agent and eventually managed to book a quad biking tour for tomorrow and a mountain biking tour for Thursday.

After a quick.beer it was back to the hotel to meet the group for dinner. We went to a dutch owned restaurant but ate local specialities of spicy chicken and beef, chicken, peppers, fries.and sauce. All very tasty but the portions were far to big. The whole meal for 12 people, including drinks was less than 75 quid!

Early start tomorrow to try to sort out our passport stamp!

Santa Cruz – 23 April 2012

Our train arrived on time and we got taxis to our hotel. After a very welcome refreshing shower we went for a wander!

The main thing to see here is Plaza 24 Septembiere, a lovely colonial type square with shady trees and smart (in contrast to much of the rest of the city) buildings. There was a protest of some sort going on while we were there and a number of people with horse and carts were parading around the area and stopping to shout outside of the government buildings.

We stopped for a beer and some lunch at the obligatory Irish bar, overlooking the plaza where we met one if our group.

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She gave us the bad news that the airline that we were due to get to Sucre tomorrow has been cancelled and so we would have to kick our heels for another day in Santa Cruz. Not the worst place to have to stay, but equally not a great lot to see or do.

After lunch we went for another wander then back to the hotel.

We met up with the group at 7 for a final meal together as three of the group and our guide were flying to La Paz and their flight hadn’t been affected.  Marinanne gave us the welcome news that flights with a different airline had been arranged and we would be heading to Sucre as planned!

We went for a lovely meal at Bar 24 where the steak and chicken was large and tasty and then for a farewell drink at a roof top bar overlooking the plaza. They had a nifty call button for the waiter! Finally back to the hotel by 10.30 to pack in readiness for departure at 9am.

Pantanal to Bolivia – 22 April 2012

An early start with breakfast (bread and cake) at 6.30 followed by a walking safari at 7. The midges were unbearable walkinh across the grass and through the forest but we did manage to see two magnificent blue macaw (they live for up to 70 years and mate for life) along with other birds, howler monkeys, qati and wild boar (i didn’t get chased!).

We left the farm at 9 for an hours trip to meet our minibus. After that we headed to join the tarmaced road where we said goodbye to Armando, Marianne’s husband who left to head back to Rio.

After travelling for another couple of hours we arrived at Corumba  on the Brazilian/Bolivian border. We went through passport control for Brazil then drove the very short distance across to Bolivia, where we found that the border was closed!  On Marianne’s advice we went through the border and will probably have to pay a fine when we exit as we have no entry stamp. So we are currently travelling as illegal aliens!

Bolivia is clearly far more deprived than Brazil and after a short taxi ride we got to the train station with 3 hours to spare. We went for a couple of beers (45p per can) with Corinne and Jack at a roadside place with music blaring from inside (the others weren’t as adventurous) and then back to the station.

To get on the train we had to shiw our tickets and passport (more than we had to.do to enter the country!). We almost couldn’t get on the train as the policeman noticed that we didn’t have entry stamps but Marianne managed to persuade him that we would sort it out in Santa Cruz, our next stop!  Currently sitting on the very wobbly train with 15 more hours to go…tea is ordered for 7pm – chicken and stuff for about 2 quid!

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Pantanal – 21 April 2012

A fitful night sleep and woken up by a very different sort of dawn chorus at about 5.30 am.

This morning we went for a safari at 8am where we saw plenty of caimen

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, toucans and copybara, a  very large rodent!

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Then, we walked through a mud bath to a lake where we saw giant otters and then went up to our knees pirhana fishing. I caught two dog fish and Ed was also successful. I caught a pirhana, but it got away. All in all we caught enough fish for tea! Back to the farm for a lunch of spaghetti, rice and beans washed down with a Skol beer, after having demudded!

It turns out that both Ed and I caught the sun a bit and we’ve also got numerous bites just about all over!

After an afternoon relaxing, we all went for a horse ride…the mossies were everywhere! It was fun, but made me realise why I’m not a cowboy!

Tea consisted of rice, mashed pitato, frango (chicken) ans the aforementioned fish…not a great deal if meat on a pirhana! After some cards it us back to the hammock at 10pm…along with hundreds of mossie friends…the frog in the toilet didn’t appear this time!

Bonito – 20 April 2012

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Breakfast area

First day of the new travel blog!

Sat waiting for our bus to take us to the Pantanal, an area of wetland where we’ll be going ‘on safari’ to look for different birds and animals. It’s really humid here and the Sun is shining!

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