(This embedded map is a non-exhaustive list of where I'm going to go while I'm in South America). I go on my exciting, five-week trip in about seventeen days. Am I prepared? Not really. (Not, at least, for the time that I'm spending alone. Jess has forced us to plan the joint section pretty thoroughly.) I was in this situation when I went to India alone, too. People would ask me where I was going after I arrived in Delhi, or whether I'd be seeing the Taj, and my response was always *shrug* "I dunno". About a month before I left, my Dad sat me down with the huge, dog-eared map that he'd used when he'd been in the country and spoke to me for hours about almost every interesting place he knew. I took a few notes, but all the strange names didn't make any sense to me, and I remember folding up the map feeling like I'd had a lecture in Ancient Greek architecture -- interesting, but nothing I'd actually use. No one understands why I feel so apathetic, and I don't understand it either. Travelling is something I enjoy so much; in the rest of my life I am really organised; I ought to have planned this out perfectly, right? But no. I have a to-do list, but I look at it every so often and then I close it.
... I wrote the above section of this blog post, and then I procrastinated -- again -- from finishing it. And then, on Saturday afternoon, I forced myself to spend a couple of hours planning, and after barely an hour I felt ready to either burst into tears or mainline an entire bottle of wine. I think I've broken through the apathy barrier, and now I have more to say.
But there's only one way to find out.
I find baggage carousels very frightening. I always seem to be exhausted, greasy and nervous when I get off a plane, and especially when I've taken more than one flight and they had to move my baggage from one plane to the other, I am always certain they've lost my stuff. The worst thing is that there's nothing I can do to prevent that from happening, so I just have to stand there, hoping and praying, that the worst hasn't happened. It didn't, and that came out very fatalistic!
(Asuncion, pt. 2 is here). Paraguay's biggest cities have the beautiful, elegant names of Concepcion, Encarnacion and Asuncion. There is something bathetic about its fourth city just being called Ciudad del Este ("East City"). My one-and-a-half days in Asuncion (which will be followed up by a few more hours at the end of my trip) gave me the impression that it's a pleasant, calm, unintimidating city, but that there isn't very much for tourists to do here.
I accept that I've only been here for 36 hours, but this is what I've seen that I have thought interesting.
Soy in Lima! Yesterday (2nd August) I worked myself too hard: I pretty much did not stop from 2am to 9pm. So today, as two of the museums I wanted to go to are closed (*grumble*) I am having a rest day. I keep having to remind myself that that is okay -- I came straight from work on Friday, I have flown many thousands of miles, I have done a lot of stuff, and all of those things are mentally exhausting. I can't enjoy my trip if I am staggering and miserable. So today I won't feel guilty for not racing around -- much as my brain wants me to. Why was I up at 2am?
Peruvians love 80s and 90s soft English/American pop-rock. This gives many of my experiences, e.g. wandering through markets, sitting in traffic, talking to drivers and shopkeepers, a very strangely homely/discomfitingly dated feeling. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailMoreGoogleTelegramWhatsAppSkypeLinkedInPrintRedditPocketPinterestTumblr
Hi Cuzco! His groove! I threw it off! And now he’s going to have me thrown out the window… Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailMoreGoogleTelegramWhatsAppSkypeLinkedInPrintRedditPocketPinterestTumblr
(So I just spent twenty careful minutes writing this post, and then WordPress deleted it. I won't swear. I will write it again. *Zen face*) So on my "rest day", I did the below things!
(So I just spent twenty careful minutes writing this post, and then WordPress deleted it. I won't swear. I will write it again. *Zen face*) So on my "rest day", I did the below things!
In Lima at least, and hopefully Peru, there exists a kind of beauty parlour whose sole use is to sort out your manky feet. (THIS POST HAS NO PHOTOS DON'T WORRY).
(Other Lima writing: the city, the city pt. 2, my mental hotel, miscellaneous observations, a fiesta). I don't know what takes hold of me when I go travelling, but as soon as I get on the plane I feel the need to write until my thumbs fall off. Everything I see I process and think about and systematise, and nothing makes me happier than when my mind snaps some new piece of knowledge into place about where I am. When I am out and about I think constantly about what would make a good blog post -- and I see this as a boon rather than a drag. I love to blog. Obviously! Here are some of the things I have been thinking about:
One of the things that I have had to learn how to be good at when travelling in any country is sitting on a bus, train, coach, taxi or rickshaw, staring at my map or at Google maps, and trying to work out where to get off. It’s really hard. Google maps often doesn’t track where ...
My post on the Lines is here. My night bus, thank God, was not too bad. It was prompt to the minute, clean, comfy, and I slept almost all the way to Nazca. My next bus is from Nazca to Cuzco and is from 19.00 – 09.00. So let’s hope that I deal as well with ...
It was just the best: so strange and so alien and so amazing. I was buzzing for hours after I got off the plane.
... Is Pisco Sour, and they are very proud of it. With good reason.
But what does it mean? (Seen at Saqsaywaman). Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailMoreGoogleTelegramWhatsAppSkypeLinkedInPrintRedditPocketPinterestTumblr
(I still think of the Emperor’s New Groove every time I see the name. It’s just such a good movie.) (I have written a lot about Cuzco: a rant on its history, the well-known sights, the market, the mountain of Saqsaywaman, and miscellaneous observations). I didn’t have very clear ideas about what to expect of anywhere on ...
I have come to really like Spanish. I like the way it sounds when people speak it quickly -- and it's interesting to note the difference in accent between European Spanish and the variety of Spanishes spoken here. (Not that I can notice it very much). I like that pronouns are disposable. I like the fluid "no se" compared to the lumbering "I don't know", and I love the heartfelt way you apologise in Spanish: lo siento -- I feel it. But I am absolutely hopeless.
(I have written a lot about Cuzco: a rant on its history, the well-known sights, the market, the mountain of Saqsaywaman, and miscellaneous observations). So when I left off in my last post, I was discussing how the very touristy situation in Cuzco doesn’t make me feel sad as it otherwise would, because it’s already been ...
(I have written a lot about Cuzco: a rant on its history, the well-known sights, the market, the mountain of Saqsaywaman, and miscellaneous observations). Saqsaywaman (Sak-say-wah-mun) is a fortress built by the Incas in the sixteenth century above Cuzco, which was their capital and the seat of their empire. It took them 20,000 slaves (lol, like ...
When I was in India, one of my hobbies was to spot strange, garbled "Engrish" on the chests of the locals. I wasn't sure whether these strange t-shirts were also going to make an appearance in south America, but I can now confirm that they have. This is part one. Enjoy. (Although I have to say that nothing will ever, ever beat this one). (Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.)
My summary of the famous settlement of Machu Picchu 🙂
My summary of the famous settlement of Machu Picchu 🙂
(I have written a lot about Cuzco: a rant on its history, the well-known sights, the market, the mountain of Saqsaywaman, and miscellaneous observations). One of the things that I have noticed about touristy places throughout the world is that unless they are small villages, the touristy section is quite compact. The rest of the city ...
(I have written a lot about Cuzco: a rant on its history, the well-known sights, the market, the mountain of Saqsaywaman, and miscellaneous observations). Most of the city is cobblestoned, including the roads, which have then been made perfectly smooth over time. I love, and will remember, the way people’s shoes and cars’ tyres squeak on ...
I was absolutely, completely alone in the Peruvian desert, discovering markings made by mysterious people over a millennium ago.
Collectivos, or shared taxis, frighten me. I've already written about the nerve-wracking experience of local buses, taxis and rickshaws, and not knowing when to get off. Collectivos are like that, but cramped, full, fast, shouty, and impossible to predict. So when I got on a collectivo to Ollantaytambo, I was a little nervous. (The taxi driver who took me to the stop reminded me not to get ripped off and pay any more than anyone else, for which I was grateful). "Ollantaytambouno! Ollantaytambouno!" the conductor called out, and I assumed this meant they only needed one more person. Fortunately it didn't take too long to get several more people on board (breathe in!) and we were off.
I have tried hard not to eat any Western food while I have been in south America, and I have broadly succeeded. But by and large, Peruvian food does not present as big a difference as Indian food, and it's certainly not as big a difference as you might think.
I like it when people correctly assume that I have no idea what I'm doing.
It's the Monasterio de La Recoleta in Arequipa. The museum has some exhibits taken from when it was a Franciscan monastery, but the real highlights are the items that I assume the monks collected over time: Amazonian wildlife, Amazonian culture, and a 20,000 volume library. This post contains photos of the first two sections. Regarding the library: the guidebook told me that it would be a treat for bibliophiles, but I completely lost my head. I remember the best non-UK museum I'd been to before (in Varanasi, India), and this definitely beat it. And also, on walking around the complex, I had to face a fear that I've had for as long as I can remember.
Arequipa is a beautiful, pale city that sits at the base of a dormant volcano, El Misti. (The Misty Mountain! I was on a careful lookout for dragons). I spent three full days there, the longest I've spent in any city so far, and it was worth it: it's compact, relaxed, and I had a good time.
I reached Puno after a bizarre and endless journey, and the 3870m altitude made me feel so wiped out that I spent most of the 36 hours in that place in my room, getting short of breath whenever I stood up. But I did do some fascinating things there, and got a tiny snapshot of a unique region. I'll be visiting Lake Titicaca from the Bolivia side -- Copacabana -- in a few days. (That post is here).
By chance, this post has gone up the day after my friend Jess arrived in Bolivia to spend two weeks with me 🙂 The three biggest problems with travelling alone:
Nice to meet you, Jose. Meeting you is the kind of thing that'd never have happened if I'd travelled in a group, and I'm so glad it did.
So: to stay in a cheap dormitory with other travellers (usually between four and eight), or to pay more for a private room where you can sleep alone? This is a big dilemma when going travelling, regardless of where in the world you go. Guidebooks list both, and it's assumed that if you're travelling alone or if you're pressed for cash, you'll be in dorms every night. But not me! I come down on the side of private rooms -- I only go for dorms if there is no other option. Why?
(I wrote many posts on La Paz: a summary; a female wrestling event; the graffiti; and some random observations). So Jess* and I went to a folklore museum in La Paz and one of the exhibits included a number of masks from the past century that have been used in festivals and parades. Both she and I were too scared to go in at first, but I took a deep breath and walked all the way around. Caution: even when they are meant to represent good guys, these masks are scary. *Jess is the girl that I also travelled with in India. Yes, we have the same name. It's annoying.
(I wrote many posts on La Paz: a summary; a female wrestling event; the graffiti; and some random observations). Once again, I have been completely surprised by what I have seen on this trip: unexpectedly, La Paz has got to be one of the most graffitied capitals in the world. Graffiti is everywhere -- from (near) the most important official buildings to the dirtiest, dingiest underpass. The sheer amount of effort that's been put into decorating this city reminded me of Bristol's fantastic street art and how it complements its alternative culture. It made me wonder whether the Bolivian artists gather, whether they plan their pieces and share ideas together, and whether they have any political or social motive. One thing I'm sure about -- the stuff I have seen is far beyond idle teenagers trying to impress each other! (Here is part 2 about the country as a whole, and here is a post specifically about the city of Cochabamba).
(I wrote many posts on La Paz, Bolivia: a summary; a female wrestling event; the graffiti; and some random observations). One of La Paz’s key ‘alternative’ attractions is the Cholitas Wrestling, a wrestling system / league / event / that happens twice a week in the northern suburb of El Alto. The event has become very ...
So I arrived in La Paz the night before Jess flew in from the UK; I spent three nights there and she spent two. We were able to see a good chunk of the (interesting) tourist parts of the city, and were pleased to discover that not only was it a lot warmer than we expected (during the day), but that it was generally a lot cleaner, more compact, and more pleasant. One might even say: more peaceful! (La Paz means 'the peace'). (I wrote many posts on La Paz: a summary; a female wrestling event; the graffiti; and some random observations).
(Part 1 -- featuring Amazon animals and Amazonian costumes and portraits -- is here). My guidebook told me that the Recoleta monastery's library was so precious that it was only open every fifteen minutes, forty-five minutes past the hour. I arranged to get there at about half past four -- and found it entirely deserted and unlocked. A small number of books were laid out in the centre of the room; the rest were in bookshelves that lined the walls on two floors. For the next half an hour I wandered slowly around the small room, trying to make out the titles, taking photos of everything I could. Time flew; it felt like I was only there for five minutes.
Tiwanaku is now a small collection of ruins around 90 minutes' drive from La Paz; two thousand years ago it was the capital of an empire which existed and thrived from around 300BC to 1200AD. We spent a few interesting hours there, and were intrigued -- and depressed -- by what we saw. (I had never heard of the Tiwanaku empire and yet I had, of course, heard of the much more short-lived Incas -- because Europeans interacted with them. It's a funny old world).
Tiwanaku is now a small collection of ruins around 90 minutes’ drive from La Paz. Two thousand years ago, it was the capital of an empire which existed and thrived from around 300BC to 1200AD. We spent a few interesting hours there, and were intrigued — and depressed — by what we saw. (I had never ...
Going travelling in a foreign country is damn stressful. So let me list five things that I have found helpful.
I had a very funny realisation the other day. And that is that the Spanish word for potato, la papa, happens to be the same as the word for Pope. Everywhere we go (and I mean everywhere), we see images of Papa Francisco (Pope Francis) on billboards, churches, signs, and paintings. And now all I can think ...
... I highly approve of their bucket-like size.
(My first post on Titicaca, from the Peruvian town of Puno, is here). I was sad to discover that the song is not about this Copacabana -- it's about the seaside town in Brazil. But that town is named after this one, so that's something.
The townCopacabana (Copa) can best be described as a half town. Many buildings are half-built, shops were half-open, restaurants were half-full. Everything seemed like it was at half-capacity, as though it were always Sunday, or the middle of the off-season. We often felt like we were intruding, or that we made things harder for the people around us. It was an odd feeling for a town so tightly based around tourism -- it had a little enclave of hotels, identical restaurants, and overpriced tchotchke shops where we spent most of our time.
This is a game invented by Grace, the stellar girl with whom I travelled for a while in north India. I have subsequently introduced it to everyone I travel with, and now I'm going to introduce it to you.
If you have read my India writing, either while I was in the country alone or when I was there in January, you’ll know what I’m talkin’ about. It’s sweet. It’s flavoursome. It’s refreshing. It’s fresh. It’s sugar cane juice. When I saw it for sale on the street in La Paz I paid the money, I got ...
To see a poster which has a woman holding a condom, and which tells women that they have the choice about sex, is pretty awesome in such a conservative, Catholic country. “Deciding on motherhood is a choice in your life and when you do it is your right. Always make sure you take care.” This made me ...
After the strange, raised, cactusy oasis of Incahuasi (part 1), we headed back into the perfectly white emptiness of the flats. (Before doing so, we met an Italian who was cycling the breadth of Bolivia -- which left us all shaking our heads.) Our guide was a star in his ability to find our next stop -- a single 'scale' of the flats which had been removed. From it, he carefully reached down into the frigid brine and plucked out an immaculately formed clump of crystals -- which he gave to me ????. He then plucked out several more, and the boys in the group did so for the girls when he gave up. By that point, it was time for the jewel of the day.
I haven’t seen this very often, so forgive me if I am reacting too intensely. But no. This is not okay. Why is this poor monkey here? Why is he tied up like this? And why in God’s name is he dressed in stupid clothes?! Seen in Uyuni market. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailMoreGoogleTelegramWhatsAppSkypeLinkedInPrintRedditPocketPinterestTumblr
This hotel is the fanciest that I have ever stayed in. Oh - and it was also made almost completely of salt.
Y'all know how much I like talking about my bus experiences. Here are some more stories; try not to faint with excitement.
Sucre is the constitutional and administrative capital of Bolivia (the official capital being La Paz), and I believe that it is also the capital for many indigenous communities. It was the first place in a long time in which I saw pale-skinned Bolivians as well as indigenous people, and it had a lot of facilities that made me thing that it's relatively rich. It's a gorgeous, whitewashed, calm university town, and we only had one day to explore it.
All mannequins in south American shops are absolutely hideous / terrifying / emaciated / falling apart / all of the above. Here is an example, which also perfectly demonstrates our own facial reactions when we saw it.
So Jess and I went on a three-day tour of the Pampas region of the Amazon. It was probably the coolest thing I have done in my life. (Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.) I don't usually talk about how much things cost or what companies I use, because that would change this into a very different kind of blog, but our stay was with Bala Tours, we booked it through Kanoo Tours, and it cost $240 per person. I have included this because it's so important that you have a good company when doing nature stuff, am I right? And I'm pleased to say that everything appeared reputable and ship-shape to us. Let me tell you about it.
Day two of our stay in the Amazon was the only full day, and we wanted to make it count. (Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.) Breakfast -- -- was as delicious as we had come to expect; the yukka cake thing on the left was my favourite. As we ate I asked Aurelio why there were a number of halved plastic bottles were hanging from the roof -- he told me that they contained garlic and that they kept out the bats. After we had finished stuffing our faces, we headed out on the boat again, this time to see squirrel monkeys much further upriver.
So for the entire time that I was in India (five and a half months cumulatively) I never managed to eat a ripe mango. People always said that they were out of season or that I was in the wrong part of the country. It became a sort of mission, because we all know how delicious mangos are, and I wanted to try them properly.
In both Peru and Bolivia I’ve noticed that pictures of naked ladies are very common. For example, one of my buses had some photos of women in bikinis selling engine oil at the front of one of the rows of seats, so the people (men) at the front had to stare at them for the entire ...
There are two separate reasons why you might not be seeing anything or doing anything on a day abroad: dead days and dog days.
(Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.) Day three! And the morning started fantastically -- we were eating breakfast, when all of a sudden Aurelio leapt up and outside, saying that he'd heard the flight of a toucan. (He must be part-animal). True enough, he called out to us a few seconds later and we ran outside to see one in the trees just beyond our camp. It was surprisingly small and miles away, but its beak was iridescent. I took a photo. I am so proud of this photo. What a special bird!
I have already blogged about the amazing graffiti that I saw in La Paz, and I thought that perhaps the epidemic of street art would be limited to Bolivia's capital city. It's not. I've been keeping a careful eye out for graffiti as I have travelled around the country, and here are the best examples! Who knew that Bolivia might be the world leader in street art?
I'm blogging separately about the graffiti I saw in Cochabamba because they are off the chain. Here is a post about La Paz and about Bolivia generally. I read somewhere that international street artists had worked in Cochabamba -- which explains why the images are so amazing. But another mystery for me to wonder about: why there, and how did it all begin?
Rurrenabaque (Roo-ren-a-backy) is the town that we stayed in after our Amazon trip. It sits in the middle of the wildlife and humidity and richness of the rainforest, which makes it ideal for tourists and gives it a unique vibe among all the places we visited in Bolivia. A girl we met in our hotel told us it reminded her of central America or south-east Asia -- neither Jess nor I could verify this, but it's a compliment to those locations. It was relaxed, warm, a little ramshackle, green, and easy. The pace of life was slow and steady.
I was in Cochabamba for little more than twenty-four hours -- I arrived there at 4pm after an eight-hour bus journey from La Paz, and the following evening I got a night bus on to Santa Cruz. Almost everything I experienced, I liked, and I wished that I could have spent more time there. (Top of the list? The fact that it was at 2000m altitude: high enough that there were no mosquitos and the air was clean and fresh, but low enough that I felt no sickness and the temperature hung in the non-oppressive mid-twenties.)
I have next to nothing to say about Santa Cruz -- it's a big city in central Bolivia, with almost nothing to interest tourists apart from an international airport. So I'm just going to write about what I did that day. I arrived at 8am on my night bus from Cochabamba. It had not been a good journey: the bus was sweltering, my seat was made of sticky plastic, and two enormous Bolivians, a mother and son, sat opposite me, staring stolidly at the horizon and farting continuously. Driving through the suburbs reminded me of India, specifically Mumbai: there were lots of people going through rubbish bins to find things to sell, and a group of young men washing themselves in a shallow river. (These things sound completely bizarre and unpleasant to us, but they are everyday occurences for so much of the world that earns less than we do. We, in taking pity, are the weird ones.) Despite the fact I felt and looked awful, I was cheered up by the time I got to my hotel -- my taxi driver complimented me on my Spanish because I could explain how much change I needed. It didn't make up for the previous twelve hours, but it made my greasy face blush. How times have changed!
I write this on my plane from Santa Cruz, Bolivia to Asuncion, Paraguay. (For once, Amaszonas Airlines have managed to launch a plane). I have felt absolutely wiped out these last few days, what with Jess leaving, taking several very long bus rides, feeling under pressure to explore a sequence of cities in consecutive days, and ...
So, the proverbial dust has settled and I am enjoying being home in my little flat, eating food that I cooked myself and wearing clothes which I haven't just hand-washed and still smell a bit funky. I was lucky enough to go to Biarritz in southern France with my Mum and brothers for a few days straight after I arrived home, and this week has been full of adventures, meetings, and chores, so it's taken a while for me to be able to collect my thoughts.