A Travellerspoint blog

A week of chilling (mixed with significant activity)

sucre + some tramping + la paz

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So we ended up spending about a week in Sucre, and it feels like we didn't do very much except eat (and discover we could afford steak!), sleep and read our books..
However we did end up going on a 2 day 2 night tramp to some local villages with a volunteer organisation.. We left Sucre at some ungodly hour (6:30am!) and drove to Chatiquilla (Sucre's highest chapel) to start our trek. Luckily the uphill lastest about 10 seconds, when we found ourselves at 3700m, and descended down an old Incan trail to the bottom of the valley below.


Our group was made up of 8 others - Swiss Germans, real Germans, one englishman, a french canadian, and our 2 guides - Filip from the Netherlands, and Edwin from Sucre. We were moving pretty slowly, and had some pretty random conversations with people - such as how milk causes cancer (felt slightly reminiscent of the "gingseng prevents lung cancer even if you smoke" man on our bus to Sucre).
Lunch was like amazing though - its a vegetarian organisation (they have a restaurant) and so we had a huge variety of salad and roast vegetables to put in our sandwiches - needless to say, post lunch felt like we would explode.. thank god for seista!

After lunch we headed up into this large crater - looks like it was made from a sinkhole or something, but apparently no one knows how it was made. In said crater was Maragua, the town where we would be spending the night. Unfortunately on arriving, there was no running water (the pump was broken). Luckily or not, I found this out as I was making use of the facilities, and so got the one and only toilet flush available for the night. Made for some sneaky missions to "borrow" some from the neighbours outdoor tap, but still well short of what was actually needed.

DSC01535.jpg Arriving in Maragua

DSC01536.jpg Richard in the wheat

Next morning we were off to a slow start, and ended up climbing back out of the crater in full mid-late morning heat. Dulp!


Soon enough we were wandering along some farm tracks to the local dinosaur footprints - apparently they were made by Little Foot, and some 4-5m carnivore. They were kinda cool, but more hilarious were Richard's interpretation of the dinosaur noises.


During lunch on this day, there was some pretty threatening sounding thunder rolling away in the distance, and still we had seista time, much to our horror. These horrible black clouds were looming ever closer, and we were snoozing in the ever cooling afternoon.
Unfortunately we did get caught out in the storm, but luckily it did not hose down quite as badly as it appeared it might. Made it to shelter about 30min after the rain started...


Headed back to Sucre the next morning, and continued our trend of not doing very much for a few more days - although we did succeed in doing our GP applications (again!) Unfortunately we both were getting a bit sick at the start of the tramp, and so felt that pulling off a 12hour bus ride might not be the best idea, and that we should wait a few more days.

After being sick for a week each, we decided to take A/Bs. Love A/Bs! Began feeling better after a day, and well enough to get the bus to La Paz - overnight - freezing cold, and luckily enough, no toilet on board!

Made it to La Paz, and got to our accommodation at like 7:30am, where they were nice enough to feed us breakfast. Feeling pretty tired at this point, but decided to go for a wander around town and organise some things for the next day.

Spent A LOT of time weighing up whether we should go on a 12 day tramp in the nearby Royal Mountain range, as we found a place who we could get what we needed from them at an ok price. At this point we have decided there has been almost daily rain and thunder and lightning, so maybe not the best plan. Of course once we decided this, the following day was brilliant sunshine and great mountain views for the first time in weeks!

Got ourselves sorted to ride the "World's most dangerous road" - we started in full cloud at 4700m at La Cumbre, and as we dropped down the paved section eventually got a little bit more of a view (but not of any mountains, that would have to wait). Luckily it was not raining at this point, just freezing cold! As we were feeling energetic we decided to ride the extra 8km which was "uphill", and really just a little undulating, to the start of the real death road. Was nice to get the blood flowing a little with some uphill.

Interestingly, the death road is left-hand drive (rather than the rest of bolivia which is on the right). Apparently this is because the driver going down the hill (who will be on the cliff) will be able to see exactly how close to the edge he is going, being a left hand drive, and the driver coming up the hill will be hugging the cliff as close as he can get, as he can also see perfectly.
Luckily for us, the road is barely used anymore, since the next highway was put in, in 2005. The only traffic we met was the support vehicles for other groups and one lonely motorcyclist.

The ride itself was pretty straight forward - kind of like a flatter Rapaki track, with a few waterfalls to go under and the odd stream crossing and mud section. Our group was pretty much smashing it, overtaking nearly all the other groups. We got totally soaked early on when it decided to rain after all, and so the loss in altitude was excellent as it got rather cold again!
Fortunately by the time we got to 1200m at the bottom, we were feeling warm and down to shorts and t shirts.
After a very late lunch (which we counted as dinner) we were headed back to La Paz and the comforts of bed.

Today was our last day in La Paz, and a bit of a fail - we tried to got to the valley of the moon, and so asked where to catch the bus and what number, and so headed there. However on trying to get on the bus we were told no it was not 42, it was 34. On trying 34 we were told no it was 28, and then 43. Eventually 43 was the most consistent number, but there was no bus 43! Having now wasted most of the morning, we set off to buy some souvieners and a bus ticket to Copacabana the next day.. all the while longingly staring at the mountains in the sun (and reminding myself that the forecast is still horrible for the forseeable future... except tomorrow)

Posted by VGH on tour 12:48 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Southern Bolivia – Tupiza, Salt Flats, Potosi and Sucre

So much travelling around recently!

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Headed off out of Argentina in the early morning rain from Salta. It was quite pleasant to not be stinking hot in the bus, though it made it difficult to watch the landscape go by from our front row seats. Fortunately, or not, the rain did not last, and soon the bus was 35 degrees according to the thermometer (out of the sun!). Managed to ask the driver to turn on the air-con, and soon back to a balmy 14 degrees.
The landscape became increasingly bare as we climbed up to La Quiaca and the border with Bolivia. Highlight of the trip was hearing the driver and his helper yelling excitedly about the llamas crossing the road – “Food! Food!”

Crossing into Bolivia was a breeze, though we somehow got extra immigration forms that were not required (everyone else was filling them out so we thought we should too... apparently not!) Met a couple of other Kiwis – Sam and Harriet during the crossing, and so travelled on to Tupiza with them.
Originally had planned on having a couple of nights in Tupiza to recover from our trip north – as we had been told to expect it to take like 10-12 hours. All up it took about 6, and we were in Tupiza by mid-afternoon. Town was all on siesta time and completely dead – including our hotel where we were the only people staying! Managed to go and order “two lunches please” and to our delight be bought soup, salad, meat, rice, grapes and all sorts of delicious things! Dinner was equally awesome with some Mexican food.

Managed to organise ourselves to go on the tour the following day with Sam and Harriet, along with an English speaking guide, so I didn’t have to constantly try and translate (no-one else spoke any Spanish). Luckily our hotel agreed to cancel the rest of our reservation without charging us, though we were in the dog box for letting Harriet and Sam come and use some internet to book a flight.

So the following morning we headed off in our Land Cruiser with Fabio (guide) and Clement (driver), and packs on the roof. Tour was to take four days, ending in Uyuni. The next few days were a whirl of driving, seeing high altitude lakes, flamingos, high altitude deserts, geysers, some hot pools and the odd rabbit with a monkey tail. Oh and LOTS of llamas. Saw mirages for the first time, which was really crazy, as we had always thought it was due to dehydrated brains playing tricks on people. But tell you what, floating horizons look awesome!
Highest points that we reached were about 4900m – luckily Richard and I did not really suffer from altitude, other than the odd headache and a bit of lost sleep.

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On our trip, we met a Dutch couple called Ruben and Roos, who we later travelled to Potosi with, and another Dutch girl called Kim. We were sure to torture everyone with monopoly! Turns out Roos is as competitive as Richard.
The highlight of the trip was the last day, where we were up at 5am (after having slept in a hotel completely made of salt!) to watch the sunrise over the Salt Flats and take some silly photos. It was cold though, so lots of trips in and out of the Land Cruiser.

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After sunrise headed to a nearby coral island to have breakfast – plenty of cactus there which were HUGE! Once breakfast was done it was time for some crazy perspective photos – spent hours doing this! Got some great pics of us being eaten out of a bowl, doing evolution and Ruben dropping Roos into a bowl. Generally, a great morning, but man that sun is strong! Later we saw the original salt hotel, some piles of salt, and a spring it the flats. Tour completed with a visit to the train graveyard, where Richard proved how strong he was, lifting old train wheels!


Luckily we were dropped off at the Uyuni bus terminal at the end of the tour – it looks like a horrible town! Spent a total of 30min there, and it felt like enough. Local bus to Potosi showed some incredible scenery along the way, though very stark, lacking in any kind of vegetation.
Arriving in Potosi we struck the first person trying to rip us off… trying to charge 2 bus fares for a taxi… yeah right! Quickly got him bartered down (to what we found out later was the right price) and heading towards our hostel of choice.

That evening was highly eventful – went off in search of dinner and ended up having llama burgers from a street vendor, who could make about 4 of them in the time his competitor could make one! Was incredible to watch! After that wandering around town, we stumbled across a free traditional music concert in their theatre – great! It wasn’t until the next day that we learnt that all the festivities around were celebrating the anniversary of the mining collective. Potosi being once a rich silver mining town, is now falling further and further into poverty, as there is very little silver left in their main mountain.
Next morning, Ruben and Roos decided that they would go on to Sucre after a mine tour, where as we would stay for another night as we were in no rush.
The mine tour was incredibly eye opening – first we visited the miners market, buying dynamite (for $4.80!), soft drink and cocoa leaves for the miners. Then we went to the refining plant, where rocks are turned into silver, zinc, and other minerals. Unfortunately, most of what comes out of the mountain these days is fool’s gold, and totally worthless.


Then it was off to the mine – it was dusty and dark inside, with tunnels so low at times we had to bend in half / almost crawl to get along.

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We learnt about how the local people are really superstitious, and belief that underground, the mine is controlled by the devil. Offerings are made to the devil; before starting in a new area, and then each year llamas are sacrificed. Finally, each week, the miners visit the statue of the devil, deep in the mine, and offer him cocoa leaves, alcohol and cigarettes – in the hope it will help keep them safe.


We learnt from our guide, about his father who is hoping to open a new area, but the local expert has told him that the mountain demands a human foetus as sacrifice for the mine. Scary stuff.
Another major issue inside the mine is sabotage by other miners – one independent miner had had his pneumatic drill stolen, and so was now working totally by hand (as a consequence this miner now sleeps in the mine, guarding his work space, and will not go outside for 3 months). Another group of miners (who work with the union) had had someone blow up 20ft of rocks onto their equipment, and so would spent the next 2-3 days digging it out, and not be paid (normally they are paid $22/day, which is extremely good money.)

Post mine tour, we wandered around the markets, buying Richard some new socks, and relaxing. It was nice to finally stop for a bit! Went to see more parades and music again that evening.
Next morning, we visited San Francisco church – the oldest in Potosi, as we had heard that you could visit the roof. The tour was in Spanish – the first part was easy as it was taken by an experienced guide who spoke slowly so I could translate (mostly), but the second part was switched to a new guide, who looked like he was being assessed, and so extremely nervous, speaking quickly. No idea after that. The roof was cool though!

After that decided we might head to Sucre too – had heard there might be road blocks getting into Sucre, but thought we could try our luck. Getting on the bus was super easy. Putting up with the ginseng salesman was less so. He was promising all sorts of things, like this prevents lung cancer, it will cure your prostate problems etc etc, and worse was the fact that the locals were buying it! Man it was expensive stuff for them… Remember how I said $22/day is incredibly good money? Well for 5 days’ worth of tablets, he wanted $6.70! Tried to talk our neighbour out of buying it, but lacked the language to tell her that his claims were not right. Fortunately, he eventually got off the bus, and there were no road blocks in the way.
Sucre is a UNESCO site, due to its colonial buildings, and feels a lot like Cuenca in Ecuador (where I went for my elective). We have ended up staying in a homestay type hostel – this is our third day here, and we have had the place to ourselves until today. It feels like paradise each time we come home. Mostly here has been about relaxing, having some good food (not cooking for ourselves here) and taking some down time. Have been to the theatre and seen that there is a music production on, which hopefully we will be able to go to in a few days

Yesterday we travelled out to Tarabuco, a local town to see their markets, and the Quechua people dressed traditionally (thought limited photos for they believe that photos will steal their souls). Interestingly, they were dressed totally differently to the Quechua people of Ecuador. Bought Richard a llama jumper, which he is very excited to wear on his relief psych weeks when we get home!

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Caught up with Roos and Ruben again, and spent an afternoon playing more monopoly and eating. It was great! Sadly, today, they flew up to La Paz, and so we probably won’t see them again (until they come visit in NZ :) )
Heading off trekking around the mountains tomorrow, and then will come back and chill in Sucre for a little longer we think..

Posted by VGH on tour 10:43 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Iguazu to NW Argentina

waterfalls and rain..

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We managed a pretty uneventful escape from Bariloche - bus to airport, planes and final minibus ride were all amazingly straight forward.
But my god! getting off the plane in Iguazu was like a different planet - felt like being back in Africa again! - it was hot, humid, red earthed and tropical looking.
Got dropped off at our accommodation, which was down some darkened street, and so it took us a while to orient ourselves and figure out where town was that we could pick up some dinner.
Managed to book ourselves the next day activities at the same time - pleased we checked out the buses as it turned out that we could not get a bus on the day we wanted to Salta (or really anywhere that we might want to go). So we had to choose - cut our time in Iguazu short by a day, or be trapped here for another 4 days. It quickly became apparent that our interests were limited to the waterfall, and so we bailed a day early.
As a compromise, we decided to splash out and go on the boat trip around the base of the waterfall, to get a bit of a view from the Brazil side, as well as Argentina. The highlight of this was definately getting soaked, as it was like a million degrees.

Unfortunately as both of us have done big waterfalls before - me in rainy season Victoria Falls, and Richard in kaieteur falls (Guyana), we were a little underwhelmed.

Chasing butterflies over the afternoon was pretty good though!

It was still great to see them, but we were pleased that we decided to leave a day early.
As the kitchen was a little underpar, we decided to splash out and get ourselves a steak dinner - this was incredibly delicious, and much better than the pasta and sauces with limited veges that we had been living on!

Headed off on our first 24hour bus ride to Salta - this turned out to be surprisingly comfortable and roomy, though the food was pretty interesting and coffee was the sweetest I've EVER tasted!

Arrived in Salta to some showers - this was great as we just chilled out for the afternoon and eventually wandered to find a market which actually had some vegetables! So we managed to pull off several delicious dinners of home cooked steak and veges! Salta seems like a really nice chilled out kind of colonial city. Feels pretty relaxed, though has rained at times each day we have been here.

Took a day tour down to the wine tasting region of Cafayate. It has a famous road heading down through some other-wordly rock formations, made from an inversion layer between 2 plates. Makes for some pretty cool photos!


Arrived down to a wine tasting tour, which to be honest was pretty disappointing - the tour took about 5 min and then we got a small taste of 2 different wines. The white that is famously made in the region was pretty sweet, but strangely dry. We were told that these are the 2 wines that foreigners typically like, and the Argentinians tend to like them sweeter! So we snuck back onto the Spanish speaking tour, and lucky for us we got to try these sweet wines. OMG they were sweet! The white was almost undrinkable! It was stronger than cordial!
Got a few spare hours to wander around town before heading back - visited the wine museum and had some wine flavoured icecream - which was surprisingly nice!


Then long bus ride back, exhausted on arrival!
Found out that GP applications have opened, and so decided to take a day off to try and get these sorted out - not a bad choice as there has been thunder and lightning all afternoon! Took the time to wander around the main square, revisit the market and take the gondola up the hill and wander back down - this is when we first noticed the impending storm!

One more day left in Argentina, before heading off to Tupiza in Bolivia (where we hear the internet might be a bit suspect..)

Argentina has been great to us - highlights definately been the wine, the tramping and being able to get my spanish up and running again.

Posted by VGH on tour 11:40 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Bariloche, Argentina

getting our tramp on

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So since last writing we have made it up to Bariloche - meant to be in the low season right now (though seems pretty busy), as typically used as a skiiers base, but also has some sweet tramping to be done from it.
Got ourselves up there and started looking at the options of what we could do - we were quite keen to do a tramp around the refugios (huts) as we had heard they had a really good vibe and were all nicely situated. Unfortunately, the more research we did at the mountaineering club and information centre (DOC), the more we became certain that none of them had ever done one section of track before and so just told everyone it was dangerous and technical (but not the kind of technical you need any gear for). Eventually another guy at the DOC centre suggested, why didn't we walk from Colonia Suiza (nearby on the bus) to Pampa Linda, via the tops. There are campsites along the way and it takes 5 days, which we had.
Sounded great! Except it was Sat afternoon, and all the hire stores now did not open again until mid morning on monday.. dulp! and the forecast for thurs was looking a little marginal..
In the attempts to organise ourselves, over night I managed to fall out of the top bunk onto the concrete tiles (much to Richards amusement), and then that morning, get myself locked in the toilet...
Sunday fortunately bought us some more luck - there were some incredibly nice english guys in our hostel - father and son, who had done torres del paine and so not looking to tramp with tents anymore (seems to be the way for people once they get this far north), and so kindly offered us their tent (waterproof and light!) sleeping mats (inflatable!) and stove with billy. Then when we discovered we also could not longer get fuel or a map on a Sunday either, they let us buy theirs off them, so we could get away by 8am on Monday morning. Life savers!

So on the bus to Colonia Suiza nice and early (by Argentinian standards), and dropped off at the track end. So pleased we were not staying at Colonia Suiza - it had a creepy abandoned town type feel to it..
Initial wandering up the valley on a nice track, but strangely, no insect sounds, no birds, just the slithering of little lizards. Soon enough our nice flat walk was rudely interrupted for a nice steep hill climb (which soon became the norm of the tramp). Climbed 500m vertically, straight up, to Laguna Negra, where we got to see our first and only refugio. A nice local lady was playing some folks songs and singing along which gave incredible atmosphere.
Sadly we decided to move on and combine the first 2 days into one, in an attempt to not be at 1700m when the forecast rain arrived. So off we went around some bluffs, around onto a ridge and straight down the otherside - 600m vertically into the valley below. To of course, turn around and come 400m vertically straight back up the other side! Great views, but man it was hot and dusty. Thought my boots would never return to their normal colour again!
Arriving at Lago CAB for the night we had a swim, dinner and promptly went to bed.. having been up until 1am playing monopoly the previous night was not helping at this point!
We'd been told the next day might be a "little tricky", and thought this referred to leaving the lake, which was surrounded in bluffs.. oh how wrong we were. That was steep but easy to navigate. The otherside however.. rock slabs with scree, bluffs and track markers which are rust red, on rust red rocks, made for a tricky traverse and descent, which ended up taking over 2 hours to lose 500m. Once at the bottom we got ourselves some more water, and then proceeded the ascent straight back up the otherside.. we decided that the Argentinians must have taken advice from the Nepalese in track making, as they have similar valley crossing techniques there..
Again once at the top we could see Lago Creton, where we would sleep that night.. but a 300m cliff/bluff face stood in our way, with the supposed track going down it. If we thought the other descent was ugly, this one was worse. Luckily it only took an hour, and other than a few scrapes and bruises we survived, and with enough daylight for another swim.
Next day was up along the final stretch of tops, with another 500m descent, which based on the last ones we were dreading.DSC00719.jpg
Turned out to be a walk in the park, coming across wild horse prints and some lovely beech forest instead. Got to lago ilon by lunchtime and made camp, reading all afternoon.
Retrospecively we should ahve walked out that afternoon - though the track time to Pampa Linda and civilisation was 6 hours.. the next morning in the pouring rain it took us 2 hours.. followed by a 6 hour wait in the restaurant for the bus to go back to Bariloche. DULP!
Luckily we did make it back to Bariloche though (for if that bus wasn't there, and apparently it doesn't always run, we would have not been able to hitch-hike as that requires traffic!)

Now back in Bariloche, have paid our debts in wine to our English friends and heading to Iguazu tomorrow.

Posted by VGH on tour 12:03 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

BA to Patagonia

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So we landed in BA after what seemed like a remarkably short time - did not help with the jetlag! BA is like 15hours behind NZ, and so suddenly we were having to be awake in what felt like the middle of the night..
BA felt big, but pretty safe and we were remarkably unharrassed as we wandered around in our lost disoriented state.
We tried to do a few walking tours that had been recommended, but found we did not have the attention span to hear all about how BA stole this building from Florence (but made it better of course) or stole this roading concept from somewhere else (but made it the widest avenue in the world). Fortunately we got caught up in a small protest with the riot police on the otherside, and bailed off for a beer with another Kiwi couple that we met.
The rest of our time in BA was spent trying to make a bit of a plan - to go to Patagonia or not? Million dollar question.. eventually we decided yes we would go, it was why we were here after all (even after our last min decision to only bring boots and sleeping bag to keep the levels of crap in our bag to a moderate amount)
Cleverly, we booked an early morning flight to El Calafate (screw 50hours on a bus!), only to get an email from the airline telling us we had to be there a whole 1.5 hours before the flight - yes that would be 5am!
Fortunately explaining to the guest house in broken spanish that yes we would be waking him up at 4:30am, and could he book us a taxi was reasonably easy and we were away...

Luckily for us flying was super straight forward (even if we were over the baggage allowance of 15kg total each!). Got incredible views of the glaciers on the way in, and then our shuttle to Chalten was repeatedly blown to the wrong side of the road on our 3 hour journey, welcoming us to Patagonia..

The next 5 days here were spent in what feels like true Patagonian fashion - walking between the 5 different 4 square type supermarkets to make dinner, negotiating the 5 different hire companies to find a stove, pot, sleeping mat and tent (and we wish harness AND caribeaners), and going to use the non functioning internet and ATM. Fortunately everyone is very helpful - "Oh no you can get that at the OTHER place" (20min across the entire other side of town!)
Eventually we had to concede that our dreams of a 4 day hike to serious glacier country was thwarted by the lack of access to caribeaners - we were short 3 beaners between us to be allowed by Argentinian DOC to go on the tramp to use their equivalent of the flying fox (which on later inspection is simply 2 wires running across a glacial outflow river which we decided we wouldn't want to cross NZ style without some back up)
Instead, we went on a 3 day amble.. first day to Laguna Capri in horrible weather (luckily only 1.5hrs from town) where we set up camp to wait out the rain and play some monopoly deal (thanks liv and matt!). As the tent was red, it seriously screwed with colour perception between orange, red and pink. Sadly our hired tent was not waterproof and so as I was going off to sleep I noted that the internal walls of our tent had become small rivers and were dripping at all angles.. Luckily the second half of the night was just gale force winds and so we were dry by morning!
The following day we had a slow start (pretty much no sleep) but headed to Poicenot and the view point from there (1hr up Avalanche Peak style track) which was pretty epic! Decided we were energetic after that and headed to the next camp of Laguna Torre, which was also super nice, and luckily we did not have rain overnight, as we learnt that the tent was also not dew proof.
Turns out a clear night in Patagonia is pretty cold - sleeping in full thermals + beanie + sleeping bag fully zipped up and not wanting to move until the sun is properly about at after 9am seems pretty ridiculous, but was def the case! Luckily this meant that we got to observe the Argentinian kea in full action - smaller than the NZ variety, and much more scared of us, they circle the camp in groups, mostly aiming for the fungi growing on the trees, but look pretty cool.
Back in Chalten for our last 24 hours - horizontal rain all day.. Not a bad thing as it seems I've come down with a cold.. Off to Bariloche tomorrow, so hopefully it will disappear with a new location!

Posted by VGH on tour 15:54 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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