Thursday, 19 April 2012

But I like monkeys.....

Our forray into Peru started auspiciously when before setting off our bus driver came round with a video camera and proceeded to film all the passengers on the bus ! Being her usual calm & reasoned self Charlotte took this as a sign that we were definitely going to get kidnapped on route to Cuzco....she then spread this panic around the bus so that by the time we set off everyone was either searching through their bags for a makeshift weapon or writing letters home to their families telling them they loved  them. Funnily enough the kidnappping scenario failed to materialise and the next morning we rolled into Cuzco unmolested.

After the ramshackle shanties that passed for "towns" in Bolivia Cuzco was a refreshing change with clean cobbled streets and some lovely old buildings

We spent the next couple of days hanging out in Cuzco with Bene & Maurus and planning our trip to Machu Picchu. We also discovered an interesting brand of tuna !

Machu Picchu was something we had both been looking forward too so by the time we boarded the train to Aguas Calientes (the nearest town) we were really excited.

The train ride up took us through some incredible scenery and all the passengers seemed suitably impressed

Although we were a bit confused as to why the Peruvian woman with the gigantic arse got so excited at the sight of a cement mixer truck that she felt the need to take a load of photos of it ? Foreigners eh....

That night we went to bed early and set our alarm for 4:30 as we had been told by numerous people that sunrise at Machu Picchu was amazing and something that we had to see. Thus it was that we found ourselves queuing up at 5:00 am for one of the first buses up to the entrance gate, however upon making it through the gate we found that the "sunrise view" left us wanting a little more

Still undeterred we spent the next hour or so wandering around hoping that a.) the view would improve and b.) we wouldn't take a wrong step and plunge thousands of feet to our deaths !! Eventually we gave up and went to grab some breakfast but not before stopping to say hello to one of the local residents

After breakfast we went back in to find that HALLELUJAH ! the sun was out

It was then time to join our tour group and learn a little about the history of Machu Picchu and its residents. After this we decided to walk up to Inti Punki (at least that's what we think it was called ??). It was at this point we realised how unfit we've both become in the last 10 months....particularly when we were overtaken by a 9 year old and his 80 year old Grandfather, neither of whom seemed to be red faced, sweating or cursing each other. However it was worth the effort as the views of Machu Picchu and its sister mountain Wannu Picchu were brilliant

It also gave Matt the oppurtunity to indulge in his (and Charlottes) favourite pastime of photographing his Chelsea flag at every historical monument we visit 

After walking back down the trail we headed off to see the "inca bridge" which both of us envisaged as being a huge rope bridge spanning a cavernous gorge, the reality was a little less impressive as it turned out to be 3 rotten planks of 2 by 4 that were about 6ft long. Our disappointment was short lived however when Matt spotted movement on the other side of the valley and we saw a family of extremely rare bears climbing the wall opposite us !!

We watched the bears for the next 30 mins or so, it was the perfect end to an amazing day.

By now it was time for us to leave as we wanted to walk back down the Inca Trail stairs to Aguas Calientes (thank God we didn't walk up them !!) in order to catch the train back to Cuzco.

From Cuzco we headed to a place on the coast called Pisco, we hadn't really done any research about the place and when we arrived for one awful moment we thought that maybe the Nuclear Apocalypse had taken place during the night, but thankfully this hadn't happened. The place was just a dump.

It was however very near to a nature reserve known as the Ballestos Islands (sometimes called "the poor mans Gallapagos") which was teeming with seabirds, penguins & sealions and only a 45 minute boat ride from the mainland.

Another thing we discovered about Pisco was that it is the venue for an annual Easter Parade and as we happened to be there on Good Friday we were treated to the sight of the whole town carrying giant effigies of Jesus and Mary round the main square whilst being followed by an extremely morose sounding band

All a bit wierd really and not an easter egg in sight (much to Charlottes disappointment).

The next stop on our whirlwind tour of Peru was Lima, the capital city, and seeing as we'd arrived on Saturday night we decided to sample the local nightlife......we didn't realise that this would involve us being driven 20 kms out of town and dropped off at what appeared to be an abandoned carpet warehouse playing god awful music until 6:00 am ! Still we had a giggle and showed these South Americans a thing or 2 about English dancing skills.

A couple of days later and we were preparing for our biggest adventure yet - 5 days living in the Amazon Jungle !! As we flew into Iquitos (the worlds largest city unreachable by road) we were slightly concerned to note that a lot of the villages along the Amazon seemed to be underwater. Our fears were not allayed when our guide Gerson Pizango informed us that, with our usual foresight & planning, we'd arrived during the wet season and not only that but it was the wettest wet season in living memory. Good work us !

The next morning, along with the rest of our group, we drove to the start point for our trip and loaded our bags and supplies on to the boat with Matt stopping to buy one last jungle "essential"

Upon arriving at our new jungle lodge home we were slightly perturbed to note that quite a lot of it was underwater, we needn't have worried though as Gerson & his family were used to this kind of thing and had taken the necessary steps to ensure our rooms weren't flooded.

We probably could have done without the scorpion reception committee though

That afternoon we got back in the boat and set off on our first excursion to see some friendly local monkeys

One of whom we named "Balls", for obvious reasons

This was all good fun until we tried to get the little buggers out of the boat

The next morning the real adventure began as we loaded our daypacks and some supplies into a little boat and sailed 5 hours up river into the "high jungle" where we would be sleeping on the jungle floor under nothing more than a tent liner and a tarpaulin.

That night we ventured into the jungle to try and find some nocturnal wildlife but due to the insistent rain they were all staying at home, so we hurried back to camp to play with the GIANT bugs that were EVERYWHERE

After an uncomfortable night of sleeping on the floor we were up early  for a 5 hour jungle trek during which time we saw the Amazons most deadly snake (fortunately it was dead !) and drank water out of a vine just like Tarzan !

Our guide had also mentioned something about a monkey hunt (?) so we decided to employ some camouflage techniques

 After an unsuccessful morning of monkey hunting (we guessed they'd been joking) we returned to camp for a spot of lunch before taking the boat up river to try and spot some more wildlife. As we floated serenely along the Amazon we were both a bit shocked when one of our guides Oli suddenly whipped out his shotgun and BAM! blew a freaking monkey out of a tree ! This amused the rest of the boys on our tour no end but Charlotte found it a bit distressing and even more so when 10 minutes later the monkey started wailing from its resting place under Gersons feet !

Still this was nothing compared to her shock when our new Swiss friend Ivo stepped in AND CUT THE MONKEYS HEAD OFF WITH AN AXE !!!! At this point the wailing continued, only this time it was Charlotte and not the monkey. So when Matt subsequently spotted that some of the monkeys blood had splashed onto Charlottes knee he thought it best to simply wipe it off rather than inform her.

Worse still was to come when upon returning to our camp the monkey was thrown into the fire to burn its fur off

Still we had come for the authentic Amazon experience and we were definitely getting it !

After another night of sleeping on the floor and listening to the Amazon nightlife in full voice we packed up camp and sailed back down to the lodge where after lunch we headed off for one of Matts favourite experiences of the whole year so far. Gerson got us back in the boat and took us to a local (flooded) village where the villagers had rescued a young sloth from the rising floodwaters

Matt can now confirm that Sloths are the coolest animals on the planet !

By now the sun was going down and Gerson had another once in a lifetime experience lined up for us - Swimming in the Amazon at sunset with dolphins.

That evening we were in for another taste of Amazon life as we were due to try Ayawaskha, an Amazon "medicine" which allows the taker to visit the spirit world and see visions of the the West we call this acid. The Shaman from the local village assured us that he would guide us on our journey and that he would bring plenty of bowls, because one of the side effects of the "medicine" is that it makes you vomit... a lot! Joy!

The Shaman arrived at 9.30pm and the ceremony got under way. We passed the cup of sticky, brown, horrible medicine around the circle while the Shaman blew smoke on us, shook some dried leaves on a stick and chanted.Then he blew out the candles and we sat in total darkness and waited for something to happen.

What happened was that we sat listening to each other gag, vomit, and wretch. After 4 hours Matt had had enough. The medicine had absolutely no affect on him (or any of the other boys) and the highlight of his night was when one of our number, Joe, took an incredibly loud, long and gassy pooh which he had to do in the corner of the room in the toilet with no door! He eventually grabbed a puke covered Charlotte and told her they we going to bed. Charlotte reluctantly followed, leaving her vision of Madonna pole dancing in the middle of the room behind her!

The next morning was our last in the Amazon and as a special treat Gerson and Oli had lined up a couple of extra guests for breakfast.

A boa constrictor

And a spider that can KILL YOU

After a hastily consumed breakfast in the company of our deadly new friends we set out for our last Amazonian adventure, piranha fishing. Having been outdone by Charlotte in their previous attempt at this in Northern Thailand Matt was determined to catch one and under Gerson & Oli's expert guidance his patience was soon rewarded.

All that remained now was for us to take our catch back to the lodge and pack up our stuff, however Gerson had one last surprise lined up for us as for lunch they had prepared yesterdays "kill"

We're pretty certain this will be the first and last time that either of us eat from a plate with a hand on it !! For those of you who are interested monkey tastes a bit like smoky barbequed pork.

After this all that was left to do was to thank Gerson and his family for an incredible experience and some amazing memories that we will never forget before catching our boat ride back to civilisation.

Next up Central America and the start of our journey to Mexico, our final destination !

Thursday, 5 April 2012

It´s Chile in Bolivia !!

After a 12 hour flight from Sydney we landed in Chile to discover three things - South America is much cheaper than Australia, South America is much more dangerous than Australia, and people in South America ONLY speak Spanish!

Although Charlotte was grateful for the UN quality food parcel which Frendo had sent with her she was pretty embarrassed to be marked by the immigration sniffer dogs and made to empty her bag at customs. If she´d spoken Spansih she would have lied and said she was going to a kid´s party.

After some funny looks from immigration officials we headed for what we hoped were the buses to the city centre. Slightly dazed and aware of 30 minutes of shouting, pushing and waving we squeezed on a bus which we hoped would take us to our hostel. Unfortunately when Charlotte checked the directions she had to break the news to Matt that she may have "mis-remembered" the name of the suburb that the hostel was in. Matt didn´t take getting off the bus too badly. And getting on the Santiago metro at rush hour with jet lag and our backpacks wasn´t that bad! It did mean however that everyone knew we had our wallets, passports, cameras, and i-pod with us. Luckily the good people of Santiago had our backs and pointed out anyone within in 10m who may be a pick pocket - by waving, shouting, or banging on the train window from the platorm and pointing frantically at the suspected offender. They also showed us how best to carry our bags and hide our cameras which was kind - but also mildly terrifying. Where the hell were we! However the journey was worth it when arrived at our hostel in a lovely area - and had the all important SWIMMING POOL.

We had 3 days in Santiago acclimatising to South America and speaking to people very loudly. Annoyingly rubbish seemed to come out when we tried to communicate anyting in Spanish and we never understood the answer, but the people seemed friendly enough and the food was great!

(A "Completo"- hot dog with mayo, sweetcorn, avacardo and tomarto. Suprisingly Matt swerved it. Charlotte AKA "Condiment Queen" wouldn`t have missed it for the world!)

Matt tried the local speciality - Wierd Fish soup. (Charlotte swerved it!)

And we stood under a flag that is apparently the size of a half a football pitch !

We also discovered a coffee shop Called "Coffee and Legs" where women serve coffee in pretty much their knickers. And every day at one of the shops (although no-one knows which because it changes daily) they close the doors and the women take off their tops and dance on the counter. Matt was dissapointed not to have picked the right coffee shop and even more dissapointed that Charlotte didn`t quite get the point of taking a photo of him in there and got him infront of the woman`s back!

We loved Santiago, but having spent an extra month in Australia we had to get moving and boarded a 24 hour bus north to San Pedro de Aticama. Here we hung out for a couple of days before booking a 3 day trip through the desert to take us into Bolivia. As always we were really lucky with our group and the next day headed into the wilderness with some wicked people. In our Jeep was Ben (ex Swiss professional football player), Marco (efficient German), Maria (sassy Portugese journalist) and Inez (beautiful Portugese artist).

In the second Jeep were Scott and Afra, Harm, Xandra, and "the Chinese girl" - who turned out to be American!

We hit it off instantly. Sadly the soundtrack for the start of our adventure was a CD which sounded like the Peruvian version of the "chipmunks" on speed. Luckily Matt had his I-pod cable and the music soon changed. However, if we spoke one word to each other our driver Oscar would take it as a sign we weren´t listening to our music and instantly put the chipmunks back on. The battle raged for 3 days.

On the first day we crossed the border into to Bolivia and hit the desert.

We visited some lagoons - a green one, a white one and a red one and some geysers which shoot hot steam out of the ground.

By the time we reached the hostel/hut on the first afternoon it was freezing. We were at 4,500 ft and snow had started to fall. We were told that because of the snow the firewood was wet and so we sat shivvering for hours drinking coca leaves, talking and waiting for dinner until Inez broke and went to find something to burn. It´s amazing how long a Ken Folet book will keep you warm.

By the time we went to bed it felt like minus 20 and most people were either puking from altitude sickness or had massive headaches. Everyone except Matt.... who yes, did sleep wearing this.

And yes , we did sleep in this room....

The next morning after everyone had either puked or eaten breakfast we headed to the flamingo lake which was the most beautiful sight we´d seen so far. The snow added to the beauty and it was worth a night of shiverring/puking/brain exploding headaches. We had an hour to wander around the lake and watch the birds take off and land which they did with the same amount of grace as Charlotte might manage.

We also saw a rock, a volcano and some more rocks!

The second night was much warmer and we all shared a bottle of wine or two.

Turns out that didn´t seem like such a good idea the next morning when we had to get up for sunrise!

The day was excellent though. We visited a train graveyard (not sure why but it was part of the tour)

and then went to the salt flats, a desert of salt! We´ve never seen anything like it. It feels like you´re in heaven!

After several hours of playing around we headed to Uyni (our first town in Bolivia and a total s%$t hole!). We decided that getting the bus the hell out of there was a good plan and booked on the 8 hour bus to Sucre which was leaving that evening.

The bus journey wasn´t terrible, but it could have been improved if we´d been told the temperature of the bus would go down to minus 100 degrees in the night. Charlotte would also have prefered it if she had done the lid of the water bottle up properly before putting on the shelf above her head. Matt would have prefered it if Charlotte hadn´t got covered in water and woke him up in the middle of the night asking him to find her a towel. The man sitting behind Charlotte might also have prefered to have sat in another seat - in the morning Charlotte noticed that he was sitting in his kagool with his hood up and looking more than a little pissed off with her. Charlotte gave him a sheepish look and got off the bus.

Turns out it´s not easy to find a hostel for 16 people at 5am in the morning, especially when you´re dropped 2kms out of town. However by 8am everyone had a bed!!

We hung in Sucre long enough to see a local dance festival (although Matt could have done without Charlotte´s solo dance routine), catch up on some sleep, wash all our salty clothes and book a bus to La Paz. Ben and Marco, and Scott, Affra and Xandra also took the bus to La Paz that evening with the girls following a couple of days later.

La Paz is the Capital of Bolivia and doesn´t even have a McDonalds. It is built in a bowl and you always seem to be walking up hill and it looks like an ex -Soviet Block Country may do after the apocolpyse. All these things aside it is very charming and has a prison run by the inmates (not the guards) which provide half of South America with it´s cocaine. Matt and I stumbled across it on our first day and watched the coke which isn´t made in there be delivered!

We heard rumours that you could be shown round the prison by a prisoner for $20 and after meeting some Aussie boys who were visiting it on Saturday we decided to avoid them! We also spent a lot of our time avoiding the "gap yar" groups of 19 year old english school leavers who use phrases like "obscene" and "totes-amaze".

Despite the annoyingness of these gap yar tosser faces we decided to stay in La Paz for some much needed Spanish classes. Luckily classes didn´t run on a Sunday so it didn´t matter that we ended up rolling out of a night club at 10am the following morning. Matt befriended some cool aussies and after about 5 hours of partying excused himself  "anyway, better go and find my girlfriend" - "Jeeeeeeeez  mate, you here with your missus? Where the hell is she?" Turns out neither of us knew exactly where we were, who we were talking to, or how to get home the next day. But one thing was for sure, we agreed that we would never go back to that god-forsaken place, and amazingly we stuck to it.

On Wednesday morning our Spanish teacher told us about an important local football match which was happening in La Paz that evening. With the girls newly arrived from Sucre we hooked up and decided to become die-hard "The Strongest" fans. We didn´t expect to be interviewed on national TV (twice!) but we think we know why..

What the TV crew didn`t expect was for Matt to pull out his Chelsea flag and start chanting Chelsea songs. We were even more suprised when our teacher told us she had seen it on the telly!

With our Spanish mildly improved we left La Paz for Copcacobana to visit lake Titicaca for some beautiful sunsets - FROM OUR BALCONY!! (had to get that in) and the Isla del Sol - where the Incas believe that the Sun was born and their empire started.

We headed there with Ben and our new Swiss friend Maurus. Sadly it rained on the Island of the Sun so we missed the sunrise on the second day, but we luckily had sun for our 3 hour treck on the first day! It was stunning...

From here we borded a bus to Peru!!!

Amazon Jungle and Machu Picchu here we come, what can possibly go wrong there?!?