Sunday, September 10, 2006

Report # 16

Well, greetings again,

I am now in Argentina top north west a city called Salta which on first glance looks like a normal western city, and my district is full of fashion shops and a zillion people were strolling the streets on Saturday evening.. Again it is Sunday - I don”t plan to do all my reports on Sundays but seems many are done then.

Feeling good as am now out of the mtns and deserts and in normal scenery. In fact I feel like I spent 40 days in the desert and the devil came along and said "do you want to get out of here?" and I said "YES" . So this may be my second last report as I will be home in 10 days - about 20th Sept. Was planning on return early Oct but there were no flights from 19 Sep to mid-Oct so only flight available was 18th Sept. So I said yes. Means I cannot do Chile or most of Argentina. Will go from here direct to Buenos Aires Monday - 24 hr trip - and spend 5-6 days there.

Well, you last saw me in Cusco, Peru. Not only did Yovana help me but the guy on duty when I went to get my Mochila said to stay and rest till my bus left at 10.00pm - another wonderful and thoughtful person! Eventually got bus for Puno on Lake Titicaca (pronounced by locals as Titi caha). Did not realise bus was economy version with no heating and rusting windows with air seeping in. Met a nice guy Edvaldo and son Pepe also ging to La Paz (Bolivia). The bitch had told me it was luxury but did not even have footrests! No stops for toilets so about Juliaca while more passengers start or finish I used the street (!). About 3.30 am I went to wipe the moisture off windows and it was solid ice - on the inside!! Apparently we crosed a very high mtn where temp was below zero and I felt it - bloody cold!!. Arrive Puno 05.00 Drab mudbrick place right on edge of lake. Told there is transport strike in Cocacabana (Bolivia) so can only get to border and no further ( if want to see lake from that side). SO decide to see lake from Puno. Local tout offers $3 trip of 3 hrs to floating islands so accept after Ed tells me he is ok. We have coffee and Ed has business in Puno for 3-4 hrs so agree to meet at busstop for Border bus. Do the island trip - amazing man-made things where the local indians live. Thye fish, hunt and depend on tourism for income - pity! Each island is a tourist bazaar but I had run out of local currency so did not buy stuff. There are reeds which grow wild all around the lake (160x65klms) and they dive and cut the roots of reeds which are solid but float, they tie pieces 3x2 mts together till have island, then cover a meter or two deep with reeds and so they have an island which is then anchored with poles thru to bottom. Only about 4-5 mts deep there but is 270 mts deep in centre. Used be salt water millions of yrs ago but now only tiny percent of salt so locals use it but boil first..

Got back at 12.45 and no Ed/Pepe, so changed dollars to Bolivian stuff and took next bus to Desaguadero on border. Use every last cent of local money on fare, toilet and a few lollies. Walk to immig get exit, walk across bridge to Bol immig and get entry, walk 500 mts and get Combi to La Paz, 1.5 hrs to city edge but 30 mins more to centre. Strikingly beautiful city at night in bowl of volcano so high rims and city going all way down to central area. Lovely local couple ensure I get a reliable taxi to centre. Was then about 8.00 pm. At 3500 mts so tough stuff to move around. Found out by walking that the whole of city looks flat from rim but is in fact very hilly and really tiring to walk. Cheapest country by far I have visited - full hamburger with egg etc is $0.40-$0.50 - hotels are $4-5 per single. Had to change my hotel next day as first choice turned out to be just too scungy and dirty. Next day bought coca leaves - fresher this time, plus got some artesan stuff - there are about 8-10 city blocks of shops selling it. First day I had to stop every 3-4 streets to breathe, but by seconfd day had improved a bit but still hard work - need to suck in deep breaths a lot. Even at night trying to sleep. Enjoyed the city but did not do any tourist thing. Good place but you need to visit other high places first to get used to altitude.

Thurs depart for Uyuni where the highest salt lake in world. COnfirm that bus is heated beforehand, but dont trust so take lots of extra clothes with me on to bus. Notice that all the locals also have blankets, and bus is heated but only just, and the trip is over dirt road most of way so very dusty and I ned every item of extra clothes - six layers of clothes and scarf and beanie (gorra)!!! We arrive at 03.30 and two thirds of people get off but rest of stay and driver says we can all sleep till 6-7.00 am - amazing, he sleeeps too!! The some lady wants to get off at 6.20 so we all get up and a tout comes on board and offers tour of 1 or 3 days. I accpet 1 day and she takes me to agency office. Uyuni is dry dirty small, dusty as hell, and colder than ice. Tour is not till 10.30am so leave mochila and go get stuff and wander the 4x10 streets. Come back on time but no girl so ask cop and he says don”t worry she will arrive (! - SthAmerica!) She does and we set out in 4x4, 7 of us incl 2 other Aussies surprisingly. Phenomenal place - 12,000 sq klms probably 120x100 klms. We drove 70 kms straight out on salt visited salt hotel, place where the harvest salt, water springs in salt, plus an island of volcanic rock with tall single stem cacti (They grow at 1 cm per year and there was one there at 12.3 mts which makes it 1200 yrs old!!!) where we had lunch of llama chops - very tasty. Have flat tyre so driver changes it during lunch. Drive back and stop at dump of place on edge of salt about 20 mins from Uyuni and notice we have second flat. Now 5.00pm and cold as hell with stiff wind of wind-chill probably below zero. Driver hopes another vehicle will come along and lend us a spare, but none comes so by sunset we are all pretty alarmed - temps drop to 10 or more bleow zero out here at night!! Driver keeps disappearing and we presume trying to find someone with a spare, finds one and puts it on only to find it is flat too!!! we eventually find another 4x4 and ask if they can take us to town says yes but try another guy who has just returned down the track. Driver goes over and knows the guy and borrows the spare and it fits and we get back to town frozen 2 hrs late!!!

I had already found out that a train runs from Uyuni to Arg border - Villazon/Quiaca which keaves at 10.40pm. So have to wait. I had some great luck - success/universe intervention? - from Uyuni. ( I now have another cold and losing voice). First when I went back to the agency the girl said I could stay there till time to leave if I locked up!! They had a small gas heater and all I had to do was turn off gas and light and close roller door and put padlock in place. So I was able to take my time changing into wram clothes took some panadol, and started a 5-day course of antibiotics especially for chest, throat, nose. Relaxed and got warm and left just before 10.00. Got my ticket and had a coffee in cafetereia, and got on train in ejecutivo and was only passenger in my car!! But later the guard brought 3 French guys to join in. He gave us blankets and pillow. I arrived dressed for the Antartic and the temp in train was about 35C (!!!) so I stripped to just the shirt, But later it cooled a lot as we travelled thru the mtns so got back to Jumper then before leaving train I put back on several more layers. A great trip but I didnt really sleep much as recliner seats are not necesarily comfy and the noise of the whistle and train etc ..... But 10 times better than a bus - also had a great toilet with hand basin and paper-towels and toilet paper!!.

Arrived 7.30”ish and a girl tout asked if I wanted Salta, I sort of said yes but didnt need help. But she persisted and dropped from B40 to B35 so I said I would inspect and decide . She wanted me to take a taxi to office but I said we can walk . we did, 4 blocks or so. Bought ticket she said we have to hurry as bus leaves at 8.45 which I thought gave me plenty of time but that was Arg time and from across the border (one hour ahead!). So we went to Bol immig and got thru quickly then walk the bridge to Arg immig and there was a queue of 50 plus people but she said go up the front so I did and pushed in about 5 from front and got one lady complaining. I was looking at my passport and a Policmand/immig official asked where I was from and had a look at my passport and said wait a minute and went inside and got it stamped as I was still in my original 90 day period. So I was thru in 2 mins and the girl had another taxi waiting and said to hurry. SO I tipped her all my remaining Bol coins and we went to bus terminal and bus was just about to pull out!!! I checked my mochila and got on and it left. SO I arrived here (Salta) at 4.00pm rather than wait till the midday bus!!! (and get in at 20.00). Wasn”t that providence!! Many Thanks to that cop!

Went to a very good hotel at $17.50 per day and talked him into $15 so have very comfy room private bath hot water, soap towels, and b/fast included!! I decided I needed a splurge to make up for some of the tough times! I had not seen a bed since Wednesday night nor had a shower nor cleaned my teeth. Yuk!!!. (all day thurs, frid and Sat)

Have bought my ticket for luxury bus cama-seat to Buenos Aires for Monday, takes 24 hrs. Will see friends there and relax and see sights depart for home on Monday but lose a day over the Int Dateline. See you all soon!!!! Have to admit the thought of home is wonderful and am looking forward to it. Will have to do Chile and Argentina next time(!?).

Cheers for now. Nobby

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Report # 15

Another Sunday Arvo, this time from pretty Cusco. And I have done the Machu Picchu thing!!! - which was the primary site I wanted to see - more later.

Primero , saludos a Yovana Quispe Mamani, una guapa chica que es tambien muy cariñosa, y me ayudó mucho. Mis gracias a ti Yovana, y que todos tus amigos estén celosas de ti que tienes tu nombre en el internet - de un guapo jovencito que se enamoró de ti !!!! Que seas feliz toda la vida tuya.

Well, I left Nasca last week for Arequipa and was supposed to leave at 2100 but did not leave till 2300 and then it took 9 hrs instead of the promised 6!! (bloody liars). SO was not a good trip, but found a lovely little hotel with family atmosphere and settled in happily. Had whole day to arrange things. Booked tour to famous Colca canyon. Not expensive really at $24 for the whole deal - not including meals and entrance to park and thermal baths.

I talk a lot about heights here because once you get above 2000 mts the weather and temp is very much affected by height. For the next week or two I will be in high country so will give hts a lot. Above about 3000 mts also one can suffer serious altitude problems. Fortunately I have not had any - because I am fit(question) - no question mark on this keyboard!!!!

Arequipa is 2300 mts and so quite ok. Colca is about 3200 but to get there we have to go to 4800 mts - that is 15800 ft. Depart 0900 Wed see vicuñas, llamas and alpacas which are all sort of related, vicuñas look like deer, llamas are taller and long necks and often have brown wool, alpacas are small and cream. Once above 3600 mts yo start to get grass and shrubs even though it is still arid. And springs start to appear. Snow usually only stays above 6000 mts. We got to 4200 and had a stop for mate which is tea from coca leaves. Instead I chewed the leaves that someone gave me. From there we climbed to high point of 4800 and stopped to look at piles of stones that the locals build to honour sun god. The higher you are the closer to the god you get so obviously at that point there were lots of piles of stones. Like the piles of stones on the camino for those who have seen our camino pics.

Got to the town of Chivay which is at start of canyon and stayed night there but had thermal springs for over an hour - man, that was beautiful!! temp about 38-40C which is at or above body temp. Marvellous. After that we went for typical meal and folkloric dance/songs. Lovely, from local Quechua group and I bought a CD. GIrl got people up to dance and of course chose the handsme one - me - for two dances, but I tell you at 3200 I ran out of puff very quickly and legs went to jelly. But great fun.

Next day we moved along the canyon to the condor lookout where the canyon is 1200 mts deep - further along it is 3400 mts deep. We saw several condors which are vultures and have wingspan of 2.8 mts. At 8 yrs of age they get white on wings and neck. Then back home to Arequipa after a local lunch. The terracing that is in that valley is immense and amazing - most of it dates from the incas. They terrace up slopes where I dont think I could even walk/climb.

LOts of local Quechua indians in all the towns around there - there are two races, and I forget their names - one is cavanas I think - whose women wear white hats generally handmade. The other race wear multi coloured hats usually of darker colours. That was to distinguish themselves and keep the races pure but there has been a lot of intermarrying so things are getting mixed.

Interesting that this is the seco side of the Andes so that is why there has been no grass or trees for weeks. Once you cross to the Amazom side you start to get forrests - and I guess rain and snow. However here on the dry side once above 3600 mts yo get grasses and shrubs and that is where the vicuñas live.

Above 4200 mts the trees and shrubs and grassses change including a sort of moss thing that grows on rocks at about 1-2 cms per yr ans the locals harvest it for a tea and for burning fuel. By the way at 4800 mts the night temp drops to 10C below zero!! fortunarely we did not stay there. At 4200 mts where we stopped for mate it was hot but they told us by 14.00 there would be a fierce wind that cuts right thru you.

Not far from Colca is another canyon called I think Cotahuasi, which is the deepest canyon in the world -3440 mts question - and twice as deep as Grand canyon. Colca is only a few mts less.

That night -wednesday - departed for Cusco which is enrty for Machu Picchu. About 10 hr trip and was a cama-bus so very comfy and I slept whole way. Great. Arrived about 0500. The guide boook is a bit vague in my opinion about the whole MP area - you have to get from Cusco to a town called Aguas Calientes and it mentions a very expensive train and local buses in Aguas Cal.So when I arrived I asked a bus company lady if it was possible to get a bus to A-C and she said yes of course and sold me a ticket. So then I said I would visit M-P and come back next night to go to Puno. So I bought another ticket. Bus departs 2 hrs later so go to get on and it says Puno, so I ask guy if it also goes to A-C and he assures me yes and a lady passenger confirms. So on I get and after 2.5 hrs bus breaks down and during the wait I ask about M-P. The passengers are amazed, I am going in wrong dirrection!!! there are two A-Cs - one at MP and the other 250 kms away towards Puno. So 30mins more to next town and get colectivo back and front the girl - whom I believe did it deliberately to get a sale - she says stiff cheddar and could not do anything about it except make my Puno ticket open dated - which is what I will use tonite. She says it the best joke of her life and she will remember me always!!

So I had to get a hotel here and chose Casa Grande where I met Yovana. She was very sweet and sympathetic. Helped me get taxis and get train ticket for next day etc. Made up for the other bitch called Flos. However I am now over my anger and can laugh about it all. Have even forgiven her. The MP venture was far far more expensive than the book says all prices have at least doubled. Train from Cusco is $80-100 depending on class, The guy in Perrail was brilliantly kind and arranged a cheaper option. Bus to half way - Ollantaytambo - and night train to AC have full day in MP and then early morn train back to Ollan- and bus to Cusco. That I did and was only $50 all up and gave me a total day in MP.

I cannot describe it adequately. It is awesome and fantastic and has an atmosphere - for those who have a spiritual side! There were only about 500 incas there to start and probably finished with 1500 but hte buildings are fantastic. About 30% are rebuilt and contain mortar - all the rest do not and are original. There are still water channels carrying water all thru the city and there are llamas to keep the grass under control, and they drink from these drains - fotos included in those sent home. I walked almost every inch of the place and spent almost 7 hrs there but you could do it in 3-4 if you wanted. I went to a place called Inca Bridge wher thye built a stone bridge about 1 mt wide across a vertical cliff face!!! and they made a track around the hill to get there. The track has almost vertical drops of 500 mts below so be careful! pics included.

Ther is another track they built about 2.5mts wide which goes to Cusco about 120 kms away. You can climb this track to the Door of the Sun if wish. 45 mins. I did not. There is also a steep hill behind the main city wher they built steps to top and yo can climb that too 1.5hrs up and 1 hr down. I did not!!

The city is basically agric area first - up side of steep hill, then to the left the residential area and kings rooms and temple then further on to the right is the industrial area. There was also a quarry behind the residential area. The inca bridge is behind the hill behind the agric area.. Main plaza is between resid and indust

Had a good hotel and cheap because few tourists now (but still very crowded), hottest water I have had in whole trip! - new bldg new plumbing etc.

By the way, water and fruit etc in AC is twice the price of Cusco and water at MP itself is 7 times Cusco price, so take lots of water and maybe fruit. Meals at MP are outlandish prices. Another point be slow to ask questions of any bus company employee or travel agency. As I found to my woe, they all lie thru their teeth. I have not had one bus employee in any city tell the truth about times prices, arrrivals etc. And locals often just give any direction just to get you away - especially if they are working class. Educated people are more responsible. So if possible ask a policeman or security type person in uniform.

Back to Cusco this morn and have filled in day doing this and other internet stuff and left mochila with Yovana. Have fruit and chocs for tonites trip. Will be in Bolivia within a day or two at most.

Basically the last few weeks have been visiting set sites with famous things to see. Apart from the salt lakes in Bolivia, from here on I will just be seeing towns and cities, primarily in Argentina. Have now changed my itinerary so will be home by early October - depends when Lanchile can get me a seat. Also the cost of travel is at least 25% above the book prices and some of the sites such as MP have been way over the top so that has all helped to blow my budget to hell. So will be limiting my CHile visit to just the Atacama Desert. Then the last few weks in Argentina.

Cheers from the Latin traveller. Hope Mary and Paul can get some pics on internet for yo all to see - especially MP.

Hugs to all. Nobby