Friday, 21 December 2012

Feliz Navidad from Villarrica, Chile

Merry Christmas to one and all from lovely Villarricca!!!!

We are now in our little cabana for Christmas and the weather has improved, we have had beautiful sunshine today. The lake and the volcanoes look stunning. This is much less touristy than Pucon and the lake is much closer to town. Walked along the shore at 8am this morning and the light was ethereal. 

One thing that is wonderful about being somewhere else is there is no Christmas craziness.........the supermarkets, shops etc have a few decorations and a bit of Christmas music but no huge queues, no trolleys piled with enough food to feed an army, no drunken hordes. 

We have got our plans in place, Christmas breakfast of fizz, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs...........hopefully eaten on the terrace and then in the evening we will have some fillet steak, roast veggies and then some of the fabulous local raspberries and then local cheese. Oh and washed down with some Chilean wine................

The cathedral is just round the corner and it has a mass at 9.30 on Christmas eve and then we hope to go out for food, as this is when the Chileans celebrate.

Last Saturday we cycled 18k -which is not far but on the ripio road is painful you know where -it was lovely and peaceful and we ended up on the far side of the lake to Pucon. We then had a lovely couple of days at the farm, we shared a cabin one night and then the second night had it to ourselves. The horse riding on Sunday was great we were out for 4 hours and even managed to trot.....Chris managed a gallop. This time Chris had a sane horse called 38, mine was a mare called Polca and she like to go at a sedate pace, which suited me fine. The weather was beautiful and the scenery stunning. 

Our second ride didn't happen as it poured down on Tuesday, but the farm was lovely and we walked on Monday-quite an active three days but good fun.

We spent 2 days in Pucon and it rained most of the time but things look better today. Chris is going fishing tomorrow and I am being positive that he will come back with a fish........we will see.

Somehow the decorations didn't help .......another day another bus station

Christmas Chile style

Looking remarkably cheerful considering he was suffering from "man flu""

Thankfully the cake shop next door is closed till January!!

Ojos de Caburgua, the water behind comes from an underground spring

View from the entrance to the cabanas
For New Year we will be back in Santiago, and from our 33rd floor terrace we should be able to see the fireworks. Then on 3rd January we have a flight booked to Iqueque on the coast about 2-3 hours from the border with Peru........after which we will head north into Peru. Plans still to be sorted, but time is wizzing by and once it is 2013 it will be no time till we are on that Easyjet flight from Barcelona to Newcastle.

Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy and peaceful 2013.

Christmas blessings

Norma xx

Friday, 14 December 2012

Penultimate blog 2012

Hello everyone and greetings from Pucon in central Chile, an area of lakes , mountains and volcanoes  This morning it looks like the English Lake District  low cloud, cool and we have had rain in the night!!

Yesterday was beautiful sunshine and Villarica, the snow-capped volcano looked magnificent  although apparently not so good on the surface, too icy and slippery for people to climb to the top..........not us we were searching for accommodation for Christmas.

We left Santiago , after a lovely week, in what has become  one of my favourite cities, It has a bit of everything, culture, classic architecture  parks and green spaces, vibrant food markets and a good travel infrastructure. We soon got the hang of the metro and used our Bip cards like the locals.......saves queuing for tickets each time. 

We left on Saturday morning and got the train to Chillan, not a bad journey but the buses are more comfortable!! Chris was decidely unwell after beers, Chinese food and red wine........he looked like death and got little sympathy. We planned to overnight in Chillan but what a strange place, just a small town and it either had grubby hostels or expensive empty hotels and no concept that lowering the price might get some guests. In the end we found an okay hostel  with a shared bathroom, but only one other guest and we ate some more Chinese food and hit the sack.

We were up bright and early Sunday for our bus to Temoco, but first had a fried ham and egg sandwich in the cafe next to the bus station.........I just imagined it was bacon...... It was full of locals some of whom were just coming back from a night out and were having their sandwiches and chips!! We swopped bus terminals in Temoco and got a little minibus to Pucon. Chile doesn't have one terminal for all of the buses together, each company had their own, makes for more difficult travelling but we managed.  

We had booked a hostel and it was 2 streets away. Its a lovely homely place, the staff are great and there is a big shared kitchen. It is really helping keep our costs down and allowing us to eat the food we like to cook rather than limited or very expensive restaurant choices. Villarica volcano looms above town and the lakeside is very pretty but sadly there is no place to sit and watch the sunset with a cocktail!! After our travelling we ate out on Sunday night and pigged out on another plate of meat.........it was delicious, tastier than Argentina!!

We have been out and about on the local buses, we walked about 8 k the other day, visited a village closer to the Argentinian border. Wednesday and yesterday we spent looking around Lago Clafequen,south of here for somewhere for Christmas. Pucon is nice but it is very busy and very touristy. We went to Conaripe and Lican Ray and liked both , we found a good place in Lican Ray but yesterday when we went back to book the guy put the price up by 10,000 pesos a night........We also found a lovely hostel in Villarica and thought we would treat ourselves for a couple of night, it was spotless ( run by a German woman) with views of the lake and lovely little balconies. However eventually we found a place in Villarica, right near the lake and it was a bit more than we wanted to pay so the treat has gone out of the window.

We are here in Pucon till Sunday and then at 1 pm are being picked up to go and stay on a farm for 2 nights and do some horse riding. It is only about 12k from Pucon but in a lovely setting............our little hire car didn't really like the road.......its a little Suzuki alto but it was cheap and has got us around. We have a room in a shared cabin, but at the minute no one else is booked. We will ride Sunday and then see how we feel about another session.

Then Tuesday we are back in Pucon for two nights before our 10 days in Villarica for Christmas and then on 30th December we will probably get a night bus back to Santiago to start our trek north and into Peru. When we were in Santiago there were loads of market stalls and cheap shops with Christmas decorations in but here in Pucon it is like Keswick in the lakes a bit posh, but must find something to make our Villarica place look festive. It has 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a kitchen living area, wi-fi and cable TV and an outside space for when the sun is shining............hopefully on Christmas day.......

Hope you are all well and looking forward to a family time at Christmas and my next blog will be a special Christmas edition!!! 

Best wishes to everyone

Sunshine and smiles in Santiago.......

The blue lagoon.......not sure the picture does it justice

The volcano from the lounge window of the hostal

Lunch at Lake Caburgua
Norma xx

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

And so to Chile...........

Greetings from sunny Santiago, the capital of Chile. 

This is five borders we have crossed now and each time they have let us in , with the minimum of hassle!! Our last few days in Mendoza were fine, the horse-riding didn't come off so I did a city tour instead!! Not quite the same. We pigged out one night on an Argentinian parilla.........meat!! Mendoza was an okay city but for the wine capital of Argentina we were unimpressed, the wine was not cheap, nor was it readily available-several cafes near the main Plaza only served beer!! I was served white wine at room temperature........it was 30 C........come on!! It was very green, lots of open space, loads of trees and had a very French feel. Massive city park, which was lovely to walk round.

But we left Argentina on Saturday morning and the 6 hour journey was fabulous. We climbed up from Mendoza and past the highest peak in South America (partly hidden by cloud) and Chris missed most of it as he was asleep!!

We crossed the border at Los Liberatadores, passport control was easy but the bags were X-rayed and sniffed by a cuddly Labrador.............one bag from our bus was searched ..........he had contraband onions in his bag.......Chile doesn't allow any fresh food to cross its border. Then down the other side round 29 hairpin bends...........and we arrived in Santiago.

Our apartment was easy to find but when we got here it had not been cleaned and the considerable debris from the previous renters was here for all to see.After much telephoning etc, and a very helpful lady who was on reception, we spoke to the owner Francisco who apologized and said he would be round to clean and change beds etc. We went out for some food, and happened across one of the many "little Peru" areas in the city and had Peruvian style lunch ..........complete with aji ( chili sauce). I found the food in Argentina a bit bland. 

The apartment was sorted and we have made ourselves a little "home" for a week. Yesterday we moved the furniture as the flat had the TV in the bedroom and not in the lounge area- luckily it was easy to do and cable was connected on Monday so we now have BBC news!!Santiago is very westernised, the flat is immaculate, on the 19th floor-we can see the snow-capped Andes. 

It has been good to re-charge our batteries and we have the next stage of the plan sorted. Santiago is a nice city, not as busy and noisy as some. We shopped in the local market for fruit and veg and fish on Sunday, and queued forever in the supermarket-which was belting out Christmas songs. 

Yesterday we had a lovely day , first at the National Museum which detailed the history of Chile but skated over the Pinochet/Allende eras!! Then we went to an area to the north called Belle Artes where there is a fabulous pair of art galleries in French inspired buildings. The art was an eclectic mix and the Templo de Polve (temple of dust) was a pile of dust!! There was also a room with a collection of dried out tea-bags!!! The peace and tranquility was shattered first by a big group of badly behaved Chilean schoolchildren and then a very loud group of American tourists.......they certainly know how to make their presence felt!!  We then tried to find "Chinatown" but failed and came back to the apartment out of the heat of the afternoon sun. We have used the underground and have our Bip card which saves queuing for tickets.

The sun is shining again today and I am going out for a shopping morning, this is the last civilized place for some time and I need some bits and pieces. I am cooking tonight and found some satay sauce so am making an oriental meal with noodles.........yummy

Our plan now is to go down and enjoy the Chilean Lake district-we leave on Saturday and have booked a train to Chillan, and then we will make our way by bus to Pucon. Although accommodation here is a bit more than Peru and Bolivia other things are not bad, travel is cheap and eating out isn't bad. In Argentina it cost 4-5 pesos just to sit down and the main courses came without accompaniments and they were 18-20 which made eating out expensive. (7.5 pesos to £1)

A little bit of home, gates forged in Scotland adorning Mendoza

Huge modern church that was strangely intimate!! 

Front seats in the bus .........that's Chile in front

The train station Christmas tree.........bit different to Newcastle central station.......no palm trees!!

Belle Artes
We have booked a week there and we will hire a car or a bike for 2 days and check out a place for Christmas and possibly New Year. It looks a lovely area with lakes, snow-capped mountains...........plenty of walking etc which will be good after a week in the city. We have also sorted the end of the trip, we have to be in Lima on 21st February for a flight to Fos Iguazcu-the Brazilian side of the falls, we will spend 2 days there seeing both sides of the falls and then fly to Sao Paulo and overnight in an airport hotel before flying to Barcelona on 25th February............all that remains is to try and book the last flight but the TAM website won't accept our booking............

So folks, as Christmas looms and some of you are in the midst of winter, we are enjoying Santiago and looking forward to the next stage and then eventually heading north and back to Peru.........but those plans can wait.........

Take care

Norma xx

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Flying visit to Argentina

We left Bolivia via the border at Villazon and our first stop in Argentina was Humauacha. It all worked pretty smoothly, taxi to border, visit two border offices, out from Bolivia and stamped into Argentina. Humauacha was a quaint little place and we just did an overnight as our first real stop was Salta in NW Argentina.

 Salta was busy and hot and the accommodation was expensive and some of it grotty. Eventually we got a small room in the Plaza hotel, right on the main square........we didn't have a window so we could have been anywhere........but it was clean and comfy and had air-con. We had already met several people who had travelled in Argentina and said the prices were crazy so our plan was a little sortie here and assess the costs and decide what to do.

Our first night in Salta we had dinner in the square and enjoyed the evening temperatures. We booked our onward travel to Cafayete and a horse-riding trip with gauchos!! Chris had never been on a horse and I once let Amy persuade me to get on one in Ireland and didn't really enjoy it.

We wandered around Salta and came across the Union of Syria and Lebanon .............mmmmmmm. Apparently there are lots of these social centres across Argentina. They made fabulous home cooked food at very reasonable prices, I had delicious meat loaf and lovely bread pudding!!

We were ready bright and early for our horse riding but there was confusion about what time were were to leave, eventually we left at 10am or 10.15 Argentinian time!! Our host was David a huge bear of a man who had played rugby for Argentina under 19 and then shattered his ankle and couldn't continue. We picked up 2 other guests for the day and headed of to the finca. Our co-riders for the day were two Austrian brothers who were actors, one on the stage and the other in film.........the latter had whisky and fags just to leave Salta and a beer as soon as we arrived at the finca. He took his hip flask riding and most of the time he was pale , sweating and had the shakes!! Daaarling!!

We had  great 2 hours on 2 very gentle horses, wandering around he lovely countryside . Afterwards we had lunch of asado and salad washed down with wine.......a lovely relaxing day

For about 48 hours I thought I was going to continue on this trip alone, Chris' sister has had a lot to cope with at home and he was feeling like he should go back to the UK and be with her. However he spoke to people at home and he decided to continue.......

Our next stop was to Cafayete, a wine growing area!! A lovely little sleepy town, we booked a hostel on the outskirts of town. This was fine most of the time, and it was run by a laid back guy called Geronimo. The Spanish in this part of Argentina is very hard and sounds more like Italian!!

We had a nice relaxing weekend, Friday was the day of wine so there was free tasting at the wine museum and we did a couple of bodegas too.

 On Sunday we at at the market restaurant with the locals and had a lovely asado and salad and of course wine!! I went to mass in the lovely church and it was very lively with lots of singing, there was no service sheet but I get the gist of the format of the mass.........one advantage of every mass being the same!!

As we got back to the hostel on Sunday night we could hear  a party in full swing ( Monday was a holiday) and we weren't able to book a taxi..............so Monday we got up at 4.45 and had to walk the 40 minutes for the bus with our luggage, thank heavens for wheels-which even managed the first bit which wasn't paved. The party finished at 5 am and the locals were all on their way to bed as we left.

Our 6am bus got us to Tucaman and we stayed in hostel a la Gurda, a new place run by a family, only been open a month and still a few teething problems. By this point we decided that the original plan of a 2 months in Argentina was not affordable, prices are between 50-100% more than when we planned and Patagonia more expensive again.....and it will continue to rise as the economy worsens. We were at the limit of our daily budget and would have spent 2 months constantly thinking about money and not able to do some of the things we wanted.

We booked an overnight bus from Tucuman to Mendoza, 13.5 hours.........and it cost us 505 pesos, about £70. So we had a whole day to wait in the heat of Tucuman, not my idea of fun. The good bit was the bus terminal is air conditioned but that did not help when we turned up for the bus at 7.30 to find it was late!!!No explanation and certainly no apology!!

Anyway it wasn't too bad and we are now in Mendoza in a place called "wine apart", where we booked a room but they have given us a suite, so we have a kitchen and a bit more space and a little patio. Chris cooked chicken and veg in a BBQ sauce last night and it was good to have veggies!!

Today we are hoping to book to horse ride again tomorrow and then Saturday we head to Chile, to Santiago where we have booked an apartment for a week. It is in the centre, opposite the market and I am looking forward to a week of home-cooked food. We will use the time to sort out Plan Z and think we will head up the Chilean coast and back into Peru before working out a route to finish the trip in Iguazu as it was my number one must do and sod the expense we can have a couple more days in Argentina before we head to Sao Paulo for our flight home.

Sorry no pictures this time, over the last week or so I've lost interest in taking them..........but normal service will be resumed next time.

Take care, where ever you are

Norma xx

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Well that was Bolivia!!!

We are now in Argentina but the last week in Bolivia for me was the best of the trip so far. We left lovely Sucre in a taxi, fairly cheap but the driving was terrible!! We had an overnight stay in Potosi, the highest city of its size in the world.........air please. It is the centre of silver mining in Bolivia and the mine has a sad air about it. The miners still work in Victorian conditions and the Spanish used thousands of slaves to extract the silver, including black Africans who were enslaved and died beacuse of the cold and then once the Spanish realised they weren't the answer to their desire to get the silver out they resettled in Coroico. Guayasamin, the famous Ecuadorian artist, painted a haunting picture of the Bolivian silver mines. We were only there overnight and didn't visit the mine.

The centre was nice with lots of colonial buildings and the square was occupied by miners, stopping some of the city centre traffic. Its called a paro and is the South America way to protest!! We got up early and headed to Tupiza on the bus. We checked into a nice family-run hostel called La Torre. Tupiza is a lovely little town but our main purpose was to sort out our 4 day trip to SW Bolivia. We booked through the hostel and knew we were sharing our trip with 2 French Canadian women ,Francesca and Aline. Spent a quiet day in Tupiza , which has a Pizza restaurant on every corner including one called Tu-Pizza!!

We set off at 8 o'clock in our jeep with our driver Elvis and his mum nancy, our cook, and they proved to be an excellent combination. Elvis was a lovely friendly, patient soul and a really good driver and his mum Nancy was so organised. The set up of these tours is there are 4 people in the jeep and a guide/driver and they carry all of the food and a cook to prepare it. There were 3 other jeeps in our group. 

The first day we drove through awesome scenery, colours changing every 10 minutes . We stopped for lunch and Nancy had prepared a lentil stew, rice and salad the first of many lovely meals.There were llamas all over the place, with coloured ribbons to determine whose flock they were. When we got to the National Park the office was closed and we eventually hit a blockade........after much discussion they let us in, and we were the only people in the park for 3 days!!

We knew our accomodation was going to be BASIC and it didn't disappoint.........we payed a bit extra to have a room to ourselves but we still shared one sink and 2 toilets between 20!!

The next morning we set off at 8 and visited the lagoons in the park, green, blue, colorado and all in fabulous settings and full of flamingos. One area is called the Dali desert as there are natural sculptures that the man himself could have created. We had a soak in fabulous thermal pools and then a beautiful lunch overlooking the pools. In the afternoon we visited the geysers, blowing off huge clouds of sulphur. Becuase of the paro we had to return to the same 5 star hostel and it had been a long day and I was shattered............and then Elvis said we need to get up tomorrow at 3.30AM to "escape " from the park and avoid getting blockaded in!!

It is cold at 3.30 on the altiplano and we set off in the dark, there are no real roads, just tracks and we were driving up a riverbed at one point. We crossed a stream and then we had to walk up a hill , as driving was going to be too difficult loaded with people. Our jeep got across the stream but got stuck in sand on the hill!! It took about 90 minutes to get it sorted, meanwhile we had to build a fire to keep warm, we then got lovely pancakes for breakfast and by 7.30 we were back on track.

It was another long day, we visited the valley of the rocks with funky shapes etc, the black laguna which was very peaceful and then had lunch with views of the mountains of Chile. At his point a French couple from Toulouse lost it as we were in the middle of nowehere and no place to sit in the shade and relax and have lunch.............you have to wonder sometimes.........and it wasn't sunny!! The area we drove through was a quinoa area and we bought some beer but it was only just okay. We visited a cemetry where the bones of small local people were placd in hollowed out volcanic rocks. Our final destination was a salt hotel on the edge of the salt flats near Uyuni. It was made from blocks of salt and the kids (in their 20's) took great delight in licking the walls!!

We paid extra to get a room on our own and it had ensuite and a shower........luxury after 2 days with just a sink. Dinner was again delicious a veggie lasagne. We had a bottle of wine with it!!

Another early start, 4.30 for a 5 Am departure but this was to me the highlight of the whole trip ..........the salt flats. We were up in time to see the sunrise on the flats and then went to isla de pescados ( an island covered in ancient cacti). We had breakfast and then drove through the flats which are just stunning............white as far as the eye can see.

Our trip ended with lunch in Uyuni ( not a very pleasant spot) and we said goodbye to the Canadians and we set of back to Tupiza. We got back about 5pm tired but having enjoyed a fabulous trip and it only cost is 130 pounds for four days. We had a lush bacon pizza and then got sorted to head off to Argentina.

We left Bolivia on Monday and travelled to the frontera( border) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Lovely friendly people, fabulous scenery, not too touristy and cheap but on the downside, everything is slow travel, service etc but all in all loved the whole experience.
The 5star Iowa suite

llamas of course

Maflingos.....a Harris in joke!!

Sunrise on the Uyuni salt flats

Chris on the salt flats

If the kids can do it so can I !!!

Next instalment..........don´t cry for me Argentina......sorry couldn't resist

Buena suerte

Norma xx

Leaving Sucre today.............

Hi,
Thought I would do a short update before we set off on the next phase of our trip. We survived the week of early mornings and Spanish classes and all in all it was good. I will have happy memories of Sucre, it is a fabulous city and it is vibrant and cultured. However in 8 days we were in 3 different hostels or hotels ........the first one had rubbish wi-fi and indifferent staff, the second had built in terror show from 5pm to 10 pm and our final, more expensive, weekend boutique hotel had loud music from a nearby bar Friday and Saturday and we had to move rooms!!

On the upside our , the Posada, has comfy beds, wonderful hot power shower, lush big towels and great buffet breakfast ..........luckily we always have earplugs so managed to sleep through the noise. Friday was great as there was a night of the Museums. All of them were open till midnight and free and some had music concerts. We listened to a couple of youth orchestras and there was a jazz band playing in one of the streets. We ended the night with crepes at the French patisserie.
Saturday we had a great day quad biking for four hours, we were out above Sucre, the scenery was fabulous and it is good on a bike as you get the air and dust in your hair!! We had a double quad but I had a go as well. Our guide was Roberto who had just returned to Bolivia having been in London for 5 years. He had worked in one of Antonio Carlucci's restaurants and it took me about half an hour to realise he was speaking English with an Italian accent , typified by the use of F***ing hell!!
Sunday was our last night so we went back to our favourite restaurant and has steak to die for..........and nice wine. All served at once and not ten minutes apart which is quite normal in Bolivia.

Then Monday we set off for the next bit of our adventure..........coming soon

Very ornate but delicious goats cheese salad

Need any ideas for your house?? Grand hotel Sucre

Above Sucre

Quad biking
Norma

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

La ciudad blanca SUCRE

Hola de Sucre, una cuidad muy hermosa y colonial con edificios antiguos. Hay mas jovenes aqui que en otra lugares porque la universitad y la mas vieja y popular en Bolivia. A las siete de la tarde las calles son llenos con jovenes. Este semana estudiamos espanol en una escuela que llama "Mea gusta", las classes son 4 horas y tambien tenemos tareas!! Estamos en un hotel colonial pero yo espero que po la fin de semana vamos a cambiar a un hotel mas lindo . Lunes vamos a Potosi y despues Tupiza y despues a Argentina.

Greetings from the fabulous city of Sucre, it was the original capital of Bolivia, and is steeped in history. Simon Bolivar was the first Bolivian president and he helped liberate Bolivia and the first act of Independence was signed here. The first Bolivian university was also begun here.It is like a colonial Spanish town, beautiful white buildings but with a South American vibrancy  It is full of young people and at about 7.30 in the evening the streets are just flooded with them.

But back to last week..........Coroico was a fabulous place!! Our journey was about 2 1/2 hours on the new road which parallels the deadliest road in the world. We climbed up and out of La Paz to La Cumbre and then a descent into the cloud forest. The town was small and friendly and we got a taxi up to Sol y Luna. Our cabana ( bungalow) was a five minute walk uphill but worth it for the views, and the walk was though a lovely tropical garden. We has a cabana for 7 just for the two of us, a lovely patio with hammock and a big kitchen and bedroom. Our nearest neighbours were about 5 mins walk away and it was so peaceful  We delighted in going to the town to buy food to cook, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. We bought half a chicken and he cut it in half with a huge ax!! We got the half with the head too!!
Guarding the President-old and new

The most dangerous road in the world 

our little oasis in Coroico

The view for breakfast

Competition to make bread for Day of Dead

The Cloud Forest

I loved cooking and we had a fire pit so Chris did his man bit and BBQd the chicken and some pork. We spent the days lounging, walking to town and generally chilling. The weather was lovely and one morning we set off to walk up hill but it was steep and the heat so bad we got an hour uphill and came back. We returned to La Paz on Friday- a holiday in Bolivia .........the day of the dead.

I hadn't really like La PAz the first time but after Coroico it seemed dirtier and noisier but it was only for one night as we had a flight booked to Sucre the next day..............or not. We were due to fly at 1pm and at 9.20 the airline cancelled the flight, we had to undo a booked taxi and check back into a room we had only just left. Another day in La Paz, we did an afternoon bus tour to get away from the smog of the centre. 

Anyway the next morning we flew to Sucre............where of course all of our previous arrangements had been changed to!! We were having difficulty contacting our Spanish school so we booked into a hostel. I found it while Chris stayed in one of the many "chicken" cafes, when I got back the table was covered in plates of chicken and chips!! As we were leaving Elisabeth from the school spotted us and we cancelled our homestay and arranged to meet at 8.30 the next day for classes. The hostal was nice a room looking onto a big courtyard, so we unpacked and went in search of a veggie restaurant, it was closed but we had  a lovely Chinese instead. 

We had an exam first and then we were assigned our teachers, mine is Gabriella and we have been revising irregular verbs and the past tense!!It is hard work , four hours is a long time one to one. After Mondays class we decided to move hostels as the wi-fi wouldn't connect and we needed to use it. Chris had some bad news about his nephew and needed to be in touch with his aunt and sister regularly.

So we are now in room 18 of the Grand Hotel, we have a massive room with TV and a small ante room with comfy chairs and the bathroom is off this room. Its a place with two outdoor courtyards. Nowhere is perfect and from time to time we get the sound effects from the "House of Terror" which backs onto our room.

Last night the school did a city tour so we went with Noelia and she talked about the city. It was fascinating and we ended up at the Parque Bolivay, where the students are revising for their end of year exams. There was a band playing an some people doing a local dance, which for the girls was lots of skirt swinging but for the boys was quite energetic.

We had a lovely meal in a restaurant but then the heavens opened and it started to drip into the restaurant!! We got soaked walking back though. My stomach hasn't been too good since La Paz but it was ropey in the night and I have spent most of the day in bed........no school!! Think maybe the spicy chorizo sandwich in the market was just the final straw??

We hope to chill over the weekend, we have to be up early to go to school, and then make our way to Tupiza which will be our last stop in Bolivia. We can do the salt flats tour from there and then we have decided to skip the northern part of Chile and go into north west Argentina next. The delights of independent travel............till next time.

Love Norma xx

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Greetings from the highest capital in the world

Hello and from my exalted position, I guess I must be looking down on you all. This is the highest capital but it is lower that Lake Titicaca!! 

We loved Copacabana and spent almost a week there, the lake was so peaceful and the town very nice. We went on the Lake on a whole day trip with a Canadian couple Al and Maureen. We met them in Puno and then again in Copa. The trip was to the islands of Luna and Sol, sun and moon. Our boat was old and slow and the seats were nailed to the floor, and we arrived first on Luna. A tiny place with only 23 inhabitants , no electricity or bottled gas , only either candles or fires for cooking. They breed trout ( a Titicaca specialty  and grow beans, maize and potatoes. We spent and hour just enjoying the peace and quiet and chatting to the locals.

When we left Luna for the 45 minute crossing to Sol I realised why the chairs were nailed down.........even though it is a freshwater lake the wind was strong and it was a pretty choppy crossing. At Isla del Sol you could climb a big hill to look at some ruins but we walked up smaller one and sat with views of the lake drinking beer and eating trout........wonderful views of snow-capped mountains in the distance.

One day we walked along the lake shore and at the very hippy Kasa Kultura met an Argentinian woman, Christina, who made us herbal tea and we chewed the cud , looking out on the Lake. We also met an Argentinian family,who had been travelling for 2 years , in a strange looking "campervan". Copa certainly had a hippy feel to it, and from time to time an aroma too!!

We had found a local community project supporting the two islands and another village about 5 miles away. We booked another trip to go to Sahuena to see the giant frogs. We went with a local Aymara girl, Wilma, in a taxi to the village and then met a local guide at the village. She rowed us from the shore to the frog platform, on the way we talked about how they use the reeds that grow in the shallows. It is used for weaving, cattle feed and the locals chew the white inside......it must have natural bleach as their teeth are very white. We tried it but it did not have much flavour.  We only saw a baby frog, the adults get to 2 foot long, and he was easily as big as my hand!!

One lovely thing about Copa was the quality of the food, on all five evenings we ate at La Orilla a great place, with lovely evening jazz and blues music, and a short but wonderful selection of fresh food. Not Bolivian, but a great selection of vegetarian favourites like falafels, fajitas, baked aubergine etc. In a town with masses of restaurants, mostly empty, this one was full every night. The owner was a Bolivian who had been brought up in Washington DC, he was laid back but he ran a tight ship and his cooks were wonderful.

On Saturday morning we set off for La Paz on the local bus, complete with four very large buckets of trout that a local woman was taking to market. It was a bumpy windy trip and at one point we had to get off and cross a strait on the Lake on a smelly ferry while the bus went across on a barge. 

We arrived in busy La Paz and found the first 2 taxis didn't want to take us into the centre, but as always a lovely Bolivian man sorted it out for us. We have been here two nights and our hostel is fine, we have a corner room with a patio, TV ( with BBC news !!) and wi-fi. It is decorated with paintings of Bolivia on the walls. Breakfast was good this morning , a big improvement on the usual bread and jam. 

Yesterday we did our admin bits, booked a flight to Sucre for next week and for our next destination.............
We are off tomorrow to Coroico , about 2,000 m lower than here. It is where the world's most dangerous road is!! We have booked an eco-lodge called Sol y Luna, where we have a cabana and I am hoping to have a few days cooking as we have a kitchen. The lower altitude should be good and we may be able to walk, the place has a swimming pool and we have hammocks in our cabana. Quite looking forward to chilling before we head off to Sucre for our week of Spanish classes.  We then have two options about how to see the famous salt flats and we will sort that nearer the time. 

Lake Titicaca

Local women dressed for dancing at the fiesta.....and yes that is 2 crates of beer in front of them 

More lovely costumes

Giant Lake Titicaca "bay frog"

Bolivian " Cornish" pasty....Saltenas !!
I'm not quite sure if I can really discern the difference between Peru and Bolivia other than Bolivia is much less touristy, there is no real sales pressure. Its been a while since we were in a busy capital city and we will limit our time here. We come back for one night but really just to transit and get a flight to Sucre.........which sounds and looks like  a lovely colonial city.

So till next time 
Hasta luego

Norma xx


Monday, 22 October 2012

Higher and Higher and that was Peru!!

Hi,
I'm writing this on beautiful Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. The sun is shining and the lake looks fabulous, we have a funky hostel with furniture and odd bits and pieces made from shaped wood. It must get cold here as the room has a brick fireplace in the corner. There is a little patio in the garden. I am in seventh heaven as at lunchtime I had a bacon and avocado sandwich........not really traditional Bolivian fare but not had bacon for about 5 weeks!!

Well we left Peru at 7.30 this morning and the border crossing was quite easy. Our last stop was Puno which is the Peruvian side of the Lake and it was awful. A huge big noisy place with terrible traffic, pollution and just a huge big tourist machine for trips on the Lake. The view of the Lake was not at all attractive and there was rubbish and the drains smelt awful. We had planned a bit more time but got out early. Our hostel was fine with a lovely big room. 

We went to the floating islands and it was interesting but once that was done that was it. On the plus side there was a bit of variation in food and I had trout with a bright green spinach sauce last night. The altitude is another 300 m higher and we struggled up 2 flights of stairs at the hostel. So that ends the Peruvian trip.......and sadly it didn't end on a high note!!

But back to where I left off last week........we were in the Colca canyon in Chivay. Chris was struggling with the height and refusing to drink coca tea which is meant to help!! Men !!

Sunday we hired a bike , a little 125cc, and drove to Cabanaconde which is at the other end of the canyon from Chivay. Boy was it hard work, we were driving on washerboard a lot of the time and coming in the opposite direction on the dirt roads were the hundreds of tour buses full of people who had been to see Cruz del Condor. Three hours later we got to Cabanaconde, thinking we might like to stay.......NOT.  Pretty unappealing place, so we had some mediocre lunch of alpaca and chips and set off back to Chivay


The condor lookout is designed for 4-500 people who get up at the crack of 4am to get there for 8-9 am to see them fly. As we got there at about 1.30pm there were three and one was directly overhead. Got only one rubbish photo but watching them through the binoculars was stunning. We were glad to get back to our end of the valley and stopped off in Yanque and had a lovely coffee in the square in a funky cafe run by a man from the big city, Arequipa. I felt like every bone in my body had been shaken up but it was good fun. We had only used half the fuel so we asked Marco if we could have the same bike on Tuesday. It only cost £10 per day , a mountain bike was £7.50!! Chris was still struggling.

Monday I made a picnic and we set off on the collectivo, with all the locals, to Yanque. There were some ancient Inka ruins at Uyo Uyo and it was only a 40 minute walk!! Yeh, if you are a mountain goat, at the altitude and in the heat it took us 1 1/2 hours.

We had brought our swimming gear and then walked down to the thermal springs. We didn't carry enough water and by we got there Chris was feeling very faint. Thankfully 85 schoolboys arrived so we sat in the shade till they finished their swim. The pool only had 2 bottles of liquid left, a corn based drink called chicha morada but it was fluid. We had  lovely peaceful time in the pool, I'd forgotten how much I miss the laguna. To get back we had to walk to Yanque, 25 minutes in the sun. Luckily a collectivo from up the valley was passing so we got that back to town. Filled Chris full of fluids when we got back. The added problem with Chivay is that the air is very dry and it dehydrates you quickly and the sun is savage.

Our host Marina had to go to Arequipa so we had the hostal to ourselves, with responsibility to lock up and let her mum in next morning to make breakfast. She was a lovely woman, so attentive and the pace was spotless. Chris crashed out and I went out to eat and had a pizza and avocado salad which was a huge change from the usual soup (with pasta), rice and potatoes. 

Tuesday we were going biking again but Chris was not well so I packed him off to bed and I got the collectivo to Yanque and visited the church and the little museum. The lady in the museum was lovely and she gave me some herbs for Chris......also another lady told me he should lie with his feet on the wall to help get blood back to the heart. By mid afternoon he perked up a bit.......tried the feet raised but wouldn't have the herbs ( they were foul!!)

Wednesday was biking again, Chris was feeling much better so we biked the other side of the canyon. It was beautiful and much less traffic, and some of it was tarmac!! I wanted to see the restored baroque churches, we did Corparaque, ( lovely place  then Ichipampa, where we had ice cream with a lovely family. The to Lari , which has the "cathedral", and we saw the museum. Lari had a restaurant, and we had only one more village left, Madrigal. It looked closed but the lad who looked after the church said she cooked every day. So I found her in the kitchen and said  was she open and could we come back for lunch after Madrigal.........she said we could but there would be nothing left!! Chris thought this was a sales pitch but as we returned she was closed-good call.......So we had "menu" chicken soup and chicken stew, lovely flavours and set off to Madrigal.

The road was terrible and the village not very appealing but the church was fascinating as it is in the process of being restored, three people are working on the project, it is the last one to be done and they were delighted to show me some of their work as they don't get many visitors. 

The biking took it out of Chris again and it was the afternoon before we stirred and got a taxi to the Chivay hot springs. Lovely relaxing time and then he relapsed when we got back........two nights with no food!! Friday was out last day and we said out goodbyes to Marina and got our mini-bus to Puno........and you know my views on that!!

At one pint I thought we would be re-arranging out plans and missing Bolivia due to the altitude but we are here now. We will have 4 or so days here and there are 2 luxury places that we tried to book for today but they were full so we might try a couple of nights there. 

Meanwhile we will just enjoy the views of the world's highest lake and get used to the change in country, its now 10  Bolivianos to £1 , which makes the maths easy.

Till next time........sorry still no photos uploading too slow !!

Take care Norma xx

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Blogging on the move isn´t so easy.........

Buenas dias de Chivay en el caƱon de Colca en el sur de Peru. Este lugar es muy bonito y estamos a 3,600metros de altitud. Fuimos ahora a Macchu Picchu y la selva y Cuzco. Esperamos que vamos a quedar aca una semana para descansar y caminar y mirar los condores. Despues vamos a lago Titicaca y despues Bolivia. Acqui es muy alta y la gente comen mucha cane de Alpaca. Disculpe no es possible con photos pero el internet es muy despacio!! Felicidades Norma y Chris

APLOGIES.......NO PHOTOS INTERNET STEAM DRIVEN and bit dark to see the keys so apologies for typos too!!

Okay folks, sorry for the gap with the blog and this will have to be an abbreviated version as we have been on the move for nearly two weeks and getting some time to write this has not been easy. Left Lima for Cuzco and so different a wonderful old colonial centre set in the Andes. We had four days getting used to the altitude and saw a few of the city sights and the Sacred Valley.

We then set off for Machu Picchu (MP) on our mini Inca trail. ( the normal ones is 4 days and roughing it in tents!!) We left Cuzco at 4.50 AM for a 2 hour drive to the train at Ottantytambo. We had the vista train with windows above to. The valley is beautiful. We got off the train at KM 104......a stop but no platform so we had to jump down. It was then a 7 hour slog up to MP, 3 hours continuous uphill in beautiful scenery and beautiful sunshine.........bit too hot for walking. We then got to Winya Wayna-a beautiful Inca site and I thought the uphill bit was over but there were 200 steps up the terraces!! After 5 hours we arrived at the 50 "Gringo steps" -which is almost vertical and you have to go up on all fours. But at the top is the Sun gate and there below bathed in beautiful sunshine was MP. It looked amazing-if a little small.

We then walked down to the site and got the bus down to Agua Calientes -which has to be the biggest rip off in Peru ..............it is outrageously expensive. We had booked an all in package which included dinner bed and breakfast but our hotel was $140 for a room the size of a rabbit hutch. Complete with feather pillows and duvet which set Chris`allergy off.........and there was us worrying about his knee!!

We visited the site the next day and had a 3 hour tour from our guide Marcellino. We stayed about another hour and then went back into town. The train back was 4 hours and tortuous but we got back to Cuzco tired and glad we had done the trek. The train was $104 return !!We had one day more in Cuzco but Chris was still ill so we moved to a feather free hostel and then set off for the jungle.

What a great time we had, 5 days and four nights. We flew to Puerto Maldonando and spent a night at the Tarantula hostel.........thankfully it didn´t come with spiders-just a friendly macaw called Pepe. One hour by road and then one hour by boat and we arrived at Inotawa lodge on the Tambopata river. The lodge was beautiful and we had a room with open balcony , high ceilings and only a curtain. The only electricity was from 6pm to 10 pm and only for the kitchen and bar area. Everywhere else was little by candles and tilly lamps. We had our own resident Betty the Bat too-she flew around at night usually when we were in our mosquito nets.

We had three full days seeing wildlife and it was lovely, fabulous bird life, tiny monkeys, Howler monkey and fabulous butterflies and even some pretty insects including a tarantula. The food was out of this world, beautiful freshly prepared juices, vegetables etc. On the first night we were alone in the lodge and then next day felt quite affronted when 2 more groups arrived. One was a group of 12 German tourists......and apologies to my lovely German friends Marlene and uwe........ they were an absolute embarrassment. Food was buffet style for all of the group together and they just ploughed in like a herd of locusts . Sometimes they were on their second plateful before other people had take their first serving. Luckily they only stayed 2 nights. They got up at 5 am to go and see the parrot clay lick and everyone was awake!!  It was lovely peaceful time with no phone, Internet or power. The days were tiring, it was like walking in a sauna most of the time. I wore one set of clothes the whole time , for outside activietes as there was no point in getting everything wet!! We were quite sad to leave and then had another night in Puerto Maldonando before returning again to Cuzco. We had booked a room at the hostel we left and when we got there they had forgotten.........I knew the system with a little pen mark on the calendar was doomed to failure!! So we had to go off and find a room.....not difficult but we didn´want the hassle. Found a nice place on plaza san francisco. We had out last meal in the lovely vegetarian restaurant and packed up ready for the next stage.

We flew from Cusco to Arequipa and got a taxi straight across a very busy, noisy and dusty city to get the bus to the Colca Canyon. It was a local bus, four hours of twisitng and climbing in the altiplano until we arrived in Chivay. We are now even higher than Cuzco and the same height as La Paz in Bolovia. Our hostel is lovely-the best yet and we plan to say about a week. It is very clean and comforable, lovelyy shower, breakfast was well organised this morning and a lovely lady called Marina who is so helpful.

So far I have not been impressed with the organisational skills of the Peruvians, how much does it take to get a cup, saucer, plate, spoon and knife onto a table????? Apprently a lot in some of the hsotels we have stayed in. We are hoping to stay a week here. It feels like real Peru, the local people have beautiful traditional dress and everyone has a smile on theri faces. I think places like Cuzco are traveller -weary.

 We hope to visit some of the valley, get a motor bike , use the local buses and do some gentle walking. Although this is only 300 m higher than Cuzco yesterday we were quite breathless. We had a lazy morning just wandereing in the main square, then ate in the market for lunch.......a local delicacy spicy red peppers stuffed with vegetables and baby alpaca with potaotes and fresh juice. We bought some fruit in the market today as we are back to the meat and carbs scenario. Tomorrow we hope to go to Yanque , to visit a pre-Inca site and partake in the local hot springs. Hoping to do this on the local collectivo.

Well that is it for now......photos to follow in about a week...once we get to Puno!!!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Greetings from Peru

Buenos dias mis amigos Mexicanos y otra personas que entienden espanol. Chris y yo estamos horita en Peru , en la cuidad de Lima. Esperamos que todo es bien en SAMAO, quedemos un tiempo felix con gente amable y queremos decir "Muchas gracias a todo". Acqui es muy differente, una cuidad de 8 milliones personas, un ciel gris y poco frio. Yo espero que usteded pueden transducir mi blog porque yo utiliso un tipo differente de Ingles quando yo escrivo que quando yo hablo. Yo pienso tambien que yo escrivo muy malo!!

Vaya bien a todo!!.

We arrived in Peru in style last Wednesday. When we booked the flight it was cheaper to go business class than economy!! We checked out of the hotel and sauntered to the front of the check-in queue and then cleared security and enjoyed the VIP lounge. Lovely comfy seats, nice staff, lovely snacks , coffee and my first taste of Mexican wine.........on the last day. The seats were 2 abreast and loads of legroom and we got our food on real plates with real cutlery. All very pleasant and will balance our last flight which is with Easyjet!! 

Things have improved with Chris' mum , she is now conscious , still very weak but starting a slow road to recovery. A huge change from 2 weeks ago when we thought he would be going home for a funeral.

We landed in Lima on time and our lift to the hostel was there waiting. We stayed at the Iqueque hostel, which was plain and simple and clean, with private shower room, TV and wifi. Breakfast was just bread and jam and coffee and a bit haphazard. But it is only 70 soles a night ( about 4 to the £) so about £28. Lima is the capital but it is a grey city and cold a big shock after 5 months in Mexico. 
Traditional Peruvian dancers in main square Lima

Lovely old city centre coffee shop.......15 soles for 2 coffees!!

The virgin de la Merced , paraded round trujillo as part of the spring festival

The main Moche God .Huacha de Luna

Excavating the city at Huacha de Luna

Adobe city at Chan Chan

Our first day was just going to be  a wander around the main square so first we went to get some more soles and booked our bus tickets for Trujillo , a city 9 hours north of Lima. We tried 6 different banks and none would give us money, the staff in the banks gave various excuses and we decided to try later. By we got to the main square the traffic was awful and there were loads of police, some with riot shields.The teachers, nurses and doctors are on strike and there are daily marches causing chaos in the capital.As we arrived it was time for changing the guard at the Presidential Palace. 

We then wandered off and found a little local family run cafe for lunch. The set meal was 6 or 7 soles and had a lovely avocado and potato salad and I had chicken and rice. We then had a bit if a break and in the evening tried again to get some cash, no success so after a carb-filled cheap meal we decided to ring the Nationwide. They had stopped our cards as a security measure!! It was sorted quickly but sometimes you despair , luckily I also have my First Direct cards and was able to get some cash.

The next day was even worse, we used the local buses to go to the National Museum, which promised an overview of Peruvian history and culture etc. After 30 minutes on the bus we arrived to find it closed till mid October. 30 mins back to the centre of town and after a bit of lunch decided the next best bet was the Archaeological museum........yeh well that requires a taxi and the marching strikers had the city at gridlock again. We went in a corner bakery and had a cheap coffee. 

Our third day in Lima proved a bit more successful, we walked though town to the Plaza del Armas and then visited the church of San Fransisco and its catacombs. Fascinating guided tour, although the song "Dem bones , Dem bones" kept popping into my head!! Next a trip to Chinatown for a reasonable meal and finally the Museo de la Inquisicion.......with a few gruesome looking models in the basement............and of course the Monty Python "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition" was an obvious pun!! In the evening we ate in a more expensive place ........still got carb overload. Chris had goat and beans, cabrito con frijoles a local speciality.

Sunday we set off for Trujillo, a 20 hour round trip on some very comfy long distance buses. My only other experience was in Ecuador when the long distance buses played violent films, mainly staring Claude van Damme. We had a good selection both ways ( including Glee-the tour!!) This trip was on my list because I wanted to see the ancient ruins that pre-date the Incas by thousands of years. It was well worth it , Trujillo is a beautiful colonial city, it was warm with blue sky. 

We spent a day in the centre then booked a whole day trip to see Huacha de Luna and Chan Chan. The first is a fabulous pyramid type construction and the second is a city made of adobe. You can only visit a small section of both as money for excavation mainly goes to Cuzco. Our guide was very knowledgeable and we were exhausted at the end as the tour was in Spanish!! We ended the day at Huanchaco, on the beach and had our first taste of Peruvian ceviche, which is very different to the ceviche they serve in Mexico. Ceviche is just raw fish or prawns, with onion marinated in lemon juice and chilli, which cooks the fish. It was served with yucca and sweet potato.

It is taking us a bit of time to try and get sorted with a decent diet here, everything comes with potato and rice and very little vegetables or salad. The bread is all white and refined to within an inch of its life.........but it is not expensive to eat out. In Trujillo we had freshly cooked chicken and home-made chips and I had an egg sandwich and chips and it was 8.50 soles.........just over two pounds. There is a veggie restaurant around the corner so I'm headed there for lunch. Luckily fruit is readily available and quite cheap.

Tomorrow we are flying down to Cuzco and on 1st/2nd October doing Machu Pichu...........till next time.

Norma xx