South America, Day Eighteen: Cusco, Peru

I’ve had a dodgy tummy so I’m a bit out of sorts.

Woke up. Felt like crap. Had a very small breakfast. And only ate half of my soup at brunch. Felt worse. (This is proof that I really am actually ill… I usually eat everything in sight).

Once I had enough energy to move, we got picked up at 1pm to do a quad-biking tour around the countryside.

Quad-bikes + tummy problems = interesting.

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Nah, actually, trying not to kill myself on the quad-bike took my mind off the agonizing pain.

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When we first arrived, I asked for the ‘bano’, and he pointed to a latrine. That wouldn’t have done the job so I was forced to get on with it.

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I haven’t been on a quad-bike since February 2008. The last time I got on one, I fell off and impaled myself on a thorn bush. So I was a bit hesitant / nervous / terrified. In fact, I nearly threw a wobbler and refused to get on it. But then I “manned up” and the drive got easier with time. In fact, it was actually great fun. We whizzed around the dusty, terracotta paths, passing donkeys, pigs, sheep, cows, chickens, children and even the occasional bus. The mountains in Peru are green and luscious; such a contrast to the brown slopes of Bolivia.

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There were a few close calls today. I’d accidentally turned my bike left on a few occasions (when there was no left) and then I’d squeak until I remembered how to break. And Vicki nearly drove her quad and herself off a mountain ledge. There’s not really such thing as insurance here. Or health and safety.

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Quote of the day goes to Vicki:

“I think I just ran over that child’s dog. It yelped and everything. I don’t want to drive back through the village!!”

I know it’s bad to laugh but HAHAHAHA.

(The dog was fine. We went back and checked.)

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I’ve drank a litre of coke. It kills bad bacteria apparently. Right now I’d try antifreeze to burn this bug out of me. Fingers crossed this is a twenty-four hour thing.

South America, Day Seventeen: Cusco, Peru

We had breakfast at Milhouse. It was lush – scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese and mushrooms for 16 soles (about £4). Then we had a nap because the bus last night nearly killed us.

Having rested our weary heads, we went on the 12.30pm free walking tour of Cusco. We learned how the indigenous maintained their beliefs and culture, even after 300 years of colonisation, and I found it interesting. The tour guide was obviously passionate about it but some people looked a little lost. There were a lot of facts crammed into those three hours.

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(Photo by Vicki Brand)

We walked around the old Cusco – the squares, temples, Inca ruins – the parts of Cusco that still carry connotations of the city’s indigenous past. We saw wild llamas, alpacas and vicunas… mega cute. The tour guide arranged for us all to catch a bus up a mountain that sounds like ‘sexy woman’ (“sacsayhuaman”) and we witnessed spectacular views of the whole of Cusco.

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(Photos by Vicki Brand)

I love this city. It’s so refreshing to be here after La Paz. It’s so pretty. And the people are kind. Car drivers still honk their horns but not as frequently as their neighbours in Bolivia.

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(Photos by Vicki Brand)

We tried alpaca meat (it was that delicious I didn’t even feel bad about it) and Peruvian pisco sours (to die for). Part of the tour even taught us how to tell real alpaca goods from fake ones (needless to say, we were definitely screwed over in Bolivia). We even watched a guy play music with some indigenous instruments… one of which was a skull /jaw from an animal of some sort.

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Afterwards, we had some cocktails and soup at Limbo Restaurant and Bar. We had to leave them a good review in order to qualify for a free cocktail (hence the hundreds of 5 star reviews). The service was abysmal… but we got three free cocktails out of it so who cares if we had to wait an hour for the first drink. (There were hardly any customers so not sure how it all went so wrong).

We had dinner at a nearby restaurant and ordered the garlic alpaca steak and avocado something. Devine.

Now it’s 8pm and we’re in bed. Hardcore. (We’ve decide against Puno. Just can’t hack the night buses).

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(Photo by Vicki Brand)

South America, Day Sixteen: La Paz, Bolivia

We took our sweet time getting up, which is a good thing because we’re about to get on another night bus to Cusco. We’re at the bus station and this woman keeps shouting / singing over and over and over and over again – every three seconds – it’s relentless. La Paz has been… an experience. Definitely looking forward to the next stage of the adventure – PERU, WOO!

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We spent our last day in La Paz milling around the witches market and the souvenir shops. We bought tummy tea, coca sweets, alpaca socks (think they’re fake) and three pieces of silver jewellery (also probably fake).

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Then I tried Api (a hot drink with purple corn that you drink from a bag) and I have an empanada for the journey. The best empanada EVER. 20141022_141631

(Api in action)

We also went to the Coca Musem, which taught us everything we needed to know about cocaine. We even tried a liquid shot of coca (it’s legal, fret not) and we chewed on some leaves. Coca leaves taste like sweet tobacco. Vicki had to spit hers out. I didn’t last much longer in fairness.

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(Mmm, liquid cocaine…)

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(This is what happens if you have too much coca)

All in all, a successful day.

………………………………………………………………..

I was WRONG.

Ok, so we’re on the Trans Salvador bus. At first glance, we were really happy – we actually got cama beds, like we paid for! But… the bus is freezing and we don’t have blankets. Dinner was a stale ham roll and Vicki can’t eat gluten. We think they just asked us our dietary requirements for a laugh. “I’m a vegetarian”… “Here, have a carcass” / “I’m a celiac”… “Get your chops around this packet of flour”. The toilet is just a hole and there’s no bin for the tissue. I think that means you just have to throw it out of the window. The sink doesn’t work and is home to an empty bottle of Coca Cola in it (no idea why). There’s also an empty bucket of liquid, which we’re presuming / hoping is water, but there’s no instruction regarding what to do with it. The lights on the bus don’t work so once the sun sets, we’re reliant on our torches.

And as for border control – ha! We had no bloody idea what we were doing. We just got shouted at by various immigration workers (all in Spanish) and then a ten year old child walked us through the border – bear in mind it’s night time, we haven’t got a bloody clue where we are, and nobody speaks English. It’s all a bit unnerving.

Oh and, as per the ticket / what we’ve paid for, we should have movies, wifi, heating, snacks – do we fuck! All we’ve got is a seat. The lights don’t work, the toilet doesn’t flush, there’s a window that doesn’t close, and it’s below zero outside (we even drove through snow at one point!). That, my friends, is what they call FALSE ADVERTISING. I keep hearing “this is Bolivia” like that’s an excuse!! IT IS NOT ON. I’m cold, hungry and tired. Losing my bloody patience to be honest.

On the plus side, we’re officially in Peru now. Onwards and upwards ‘n all that jazz. I need to snap out of this mood. Here’s a list of what I’m looking forward to:

  • A Peruvian pisco sour.
  • A Peruvian dinner.
  • Machu Picchu.
  • Quad-biking.
  • Staying in a decent hostel.
  • More pisco sours.
  • Pisac market.
  • Warmer weather.
  • A nice, WARM shower.
  • Chilling out.
  • Not having to hear car horns every bloody second.
  • Flushing toilets.
  • Toilet paper.

Right, only two countries left – better make the most  of them!

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… OK, so we’ve just arrived in Cusco. It was supposed to be a 13 hour journey. It was a 16.5 hour journey because the bus kept breaking down, but nobody told us what was happening (in Spanish or otherwise). The bus would pull over, all the electricity would cut out, we’d see flashing hazard lights, and then the crew would wander around in the darkness with torches. It was actually quite unnerving. The bus was FREEZING cold. I actually thought we might die. They gave us a blanket that smelt like dog but that was about it. My feet are still numb. And every now and then they smell of weed would waft upstairs. Yep, the driver was smoking pot. FABULOUS. Just the way to put your mind at rest on a sixteen hour journey via hell. Also there were different rules for the driver and staff. They could get off the bus any time they wanted for a wee out in the fresh air. Us, poor buggers, had to use the “bano”. One guy collected our rubbish and then chucked the entire lot out of the window as the bus was driving along. Disgusting. Horrendous journey. DON’T USE TRANS SALVADOR!!

But we’re in Cusco now and this place has already stolen our hearts.

South America, Day Fifteen: La Paz, Bolivia

So… we arrived in one piece. Just. The first four hours were really intense. Bump after bump after thud after bump… and all the windows were rattling something chronic. Needless to say, it wasn’t the most comfortable night’s sleep. Oh and our so called ‘cama seats’ were in fact semi-camas… basically like an airplane seat but, in this case, the back of the person in front rests on your legs. Snug. Regardless, I managed to sleep the majority of the trip. Vicki didn’t. Vicki stayed awake and witnessed some very close calls… one which involved a lorry.

Anywho, we got here. Alive. We went from cold to snow to pissing rain. Welcome to La Paz.

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And then… the hostel!!! ‘Bash and Crash’ lives up to its name. Actually, no. ‘Hell’ would be more appropriate. The shower is ice cold. It also doesn’t have a curtain so the water goes everywhere. Oh and there’s a high risk of electrocution because of all the exposed wires. It even says ‘WARNING: please do not adjust temperature with wet hands’. Fabulous.

In addition, there’s an annoying cat, which keeps meowing very loudly. And now the hostel is throwing a [very loud] party. But there’s only one guy behind the bar. Unless he’s throwing the party for the cat?

Anyway, onto La Paz. It’s a weird city. Women dig up roads…

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…the indigenous mix with the colonized… llama foetuses hang from stalls in the witches market…

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…big-skirted, bowler-hat wearing cholitas stroll the streets (don’t dare take a photo of them because you’ll be cursed)… everything, I mean EVERYTHING is sold on the streets… dead animals, live animals, potions and lotions, veg…

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…people chew and spit out coca leaves… and the prison has a special “exclusive” relationship with Coca Cola…

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On top of that, every driver feels it necessary to honk their horn to mark every occasion. A red light, for instance. The drivers of these cars couldn’t care less if they run you into the ground. And zebras (aka students in costume) take charge of the zebra crossings because nobody in Bolivia knows how to cross the road.

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20141021_170944It rained cats and dogs for most of the day. Vicki got rejected four times (she asked to take a photograph of the cholitas, they scowled back at her in response) and I got told off for putting too much spicy sauce on my lamb and rice. So, as of yet, we’re not big fans of this city.

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We arrived at 6.30am, tried to find our hostel, gave up, so hopped in a cab instead (20 bolivianos). Then we had to climb up a load of stairs with our backpacks on. Joy. Once we freshened up (with cold water), we headed out to breakfast. I needed a fry-up in the worst way so we went to the English Pub. Not very cultured, I know, but we’re a bit sick of eating frankfurters and dust. The fry-up was great but the guy serving was off his tree and clearly an ex-con (or a current con). He’s probably here for the cocaine.

After breakfast, we undertook the 11am free walking tour, which was really interesting and our tour-guides were excellent. Shoe-shiners wear balaclavas – not because they’re terrorists but because in indigenous culture the foot is the most shameful part of the body, so they cover their faces in order to remain anonymous so they don’t embarrass their family members.

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As for the bowler hats; well, some women can pay up to $2,000 (that’s dollars, not Bolivianos) for a hat. The reason women wear this particular accessory is because, back in the day, La Paz received a load of bowlers in the wrong size. Why, you ask? Well, an abundance of Brits arrived in the city in the 1940s and they brought their fashion with them. Having convinced the Bolivians that Charlie Chaplin was the ultimate role model for the discerning gentleman, an order was placed for hundreds of hats. Latin America wanted to be classy, like Europe. But… and this is a big ‘but’… the English men responsible for the shipment wrongly presumed that Bolivian men would have smaller heads. They didn’t. So, rather than ‘fess up, they decided to tell the women of La Paz (whose heads were smaller) that bowler hats were the latest fashion craze in Europe for women – and bingo, job done!

What else…? Oh yes, the cholitas wear their hat in a certain way to show if they’re single or not. Straight on = taken. Tilted = single.

Apparently Bolivian men love a good, sturdy calf – so the chubbier, the better! That’s why Bolivians eat loads and loads of carbs. The average carb serving is three –  for any one meal. They also have this yummy spicy sauce, made of tomatoes, peppers and chillies… but they don’t like it if you’re a gringo and you take it all. I learnt the hard way. I got told off. In public.

They’re a very superstitious bunch too. They believe in ‘magics’ – back when the Spanish took over, they did everything they could to get the indigenous to conform to their ways and embrace Catholicism. So they basically manipulated them so, one by one, they had no choice but to go to church. To give you an example of this; the indigenous fear that they can easily lose their soul. Sometimes they become so convinced that their slippery soul has slipped away, that they have to call it back. The Spaniards, becoming savvy to the indigenous peoples superstitious nature, told them that their souls were trapped in the mirrors in the church so – tah dah – off they went there in droves to pick them up.

The indigenous believe in “Pachumama”. The Spanish effectively re-wired their beliefs by telling them that “Pachumama” was just another name for “God”. In a way, this allowed the indigenous to maintain their traditions… hence all the dead baby llamas (they’re used as a sacrifice for Pachumama when building a new house on the earth).

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And, according to our two tour-guides (above), there’s an urban legend that human sacrifices are necessary should someone decide to build a high-rise building on unclaimed land. The builder would approach the witch doctor and together they would go out, dressed as homeless people, and get all the down and outs drunk on 90% liquor… they’d get them talking and, as soon as one of them starts talking a bit too much, revealing that they have no family (no one would miss them if they disappeared), they would select that unlucky one as their victim. They’d get them so drunk that they’d pass out; then they’d take their unconscious body to the site of the land they were to build on, dump them into a hole and pour concrete over them. They’d bury them alive before drowning them in cement. Nice. It’s just a legend but under big buildings human remains have been discovered. So it might be true.

Do not get drunk on the streets of La Paz.

Here endeth the lesson.

We went out to Oliver’s English Tavern in the evening and had a couple of “Bolivian Fruits” (cocktails with the Bolivian equivalent of Pisco… grape brandy, I think). We were too knackered to have a large one and Vicki’s tummy was still dodge so we took it easy.

No Route 36 for us – we’d be tempted to pop in just to see it in action, but we’d both be nervous about being slammed away in San Pedro prison for the next EIGHT YEARS. Can you even imagine that phone call home?? “Hi Mum, Dad… I’ve got some bad news…”

South America, Day Fourteen: Salt Flats & Uyuni, Bolivia

We’re currently sitting on a night bus from Uyuni to La Paz, so I thought now would be a good time for a catch up. Before we set off, let me give you an overview of our day:

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We set off in a 4×4 at 7am. First stop was Incahuasi Island (Tunupa Salt Flats). This was basically a vast rock-island in the middle of the salt flats, lined with hundreds of cacti (each of which grows a centimetre a year apparently). According to this formula, the oldest cactus was about five hundred years old (aka very, very tall). Nuts, really. I stood next to one of the ‘big boys’ just to give you an idea of how tremendously tall / old they are.

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Next stop: the salt flats. We took one hundred pictures and I went blind in the process. Miles upon miles of salt flats… sparkling, blinding white, like snow. The pictures will speak for themselves (again, thanks to Vicki Brand):

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Then we went to the “cementerio de trenes” (train cemetery) in Uyuni. Rows and rows of abandoned trains. It’s such a derelict, soulless and creepy place. This is where trains go to die.

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Once we’d taken a few shots, we got dropped off in Uyuni. Everyone was making the town sound like an empty hellhole but it was much better than we expected it to be. We had a cortado at one place, a pisco sour in another, and a llama steak (I know, soz!) and a bottle of red in another. (‘We’ meaning me, Vicki and Amanda). For some reason, Uyuni is full of Italian restaurants. Not the nice kind, mind you.

And now we’re on a thirteen hour night bus. We’ve been told there’s no wifi or TV for four hours because it’s a bumpy road. So, by the time we fall asleep (if we fall asleep), we’ll be woken up by the booming telly (probably in Spanish).

Weirdest conversation last night at the “salt hotel”:

Barbara (an annoying nineteen-year-old multilingual sunburnt Brazilian girl): I’m really impressed with you three.

Jo / Vicki / Amanda: Oh yeah, why’s that?

Barbara: Yeah. We – us Brazilians, I mean – tend to think that Europeans are dirty. That they never wash.

Amanda: What, English people??

Barbara: Europeans, yeah. They don’t wash every day but we, we like shower once, maybe twice a day. But you girls did it, you had a shower, you proved us wrong! **Big proud smile**

Jo / Vicki / Amanda: **Frowns**

……………………………………………..

Okkkkkkk. Thanks for that, Barbara. (In fairness to Babs, we hadn’t washed for a while up until that point but, in our defence, the water was either non-existent or ICE COLD).

South America, Day Thirteen: Bolivia

We survived.

Then we had this conversation after breakfast:

Jo: Is that blood in the sink?

Vicki: I don’t know. I’m not looking at it.

(It was).

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First stop: Laguna Colarado. At least twelve llamas were bathing in the coloured lagoon – in the immediate distance, flamingos dived their beaks into the water beneath them. The blue of the lagoon was complemented by the red water in the distance, the white salts and yellow vegetation in the foreground, and the surrounding mountains reflected back at themselves in the water, all while a hundred flamingos danced to the rhythm of the harsh, cold wind.

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Next stop; rock formations. More rocks.

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We needed a wee so we decided to go behind a rock, rather than the hole that was supposedly the ‘bano’.

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Half way to nowhere, we briefly stopped to take a snap of the rabbit-like-thing who was nibbling on a flower. Not sure where he came from. Or the flower for that matter. (I later learnt that he was a chinchilla).

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So… after the rabbit-thing, we saw a couple more lagoons… and more flamingos… but we’re a bit lagooned-out now so I won’t go into detail this time. That’s what the photos are for (thanks Vicki Brand).

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Then we had lunch. Sitting outside. By a lagoon that smelt funky. We had tuna, rice, sweetcorn, white cheese (that had no flavour whatsoever), avocado, tomatoes and coca cola (apparently it kills all the bacteria so we’re drinking it by the gallon load, which would be fine if there were toilets).

After lunch, we went on a massive, bumpy drive. I think we drove over a mountain. And there’s not much leg room in our 4×4 – especially in the backseats.

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Now we’ve stopped by a volcano but no one really gives a shit because we’re all exhausted. I’ve had three ‘natural banos’ today – one behind a bush, and two behind rocks. I’m leaving a part of myself everywhere in this bathroom-forsaken country.

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Back to Chile…

I forgot to say that the mosquitoes there love ankles. My ankles. I’m bitten to buggery.

Back to Bolivia…

Oh yeah, last night at the “hotel”, some Bolivian kids sung for ages. They didn’t shut up. Everyone thought they were cute. And took photos. I didn’t. Last thing these little tykes need is encouragement.

Needless to say, there’s no wifi here. There’s a rumour that we might not be in a shithole tonight. Watch this space.

……………………………………………..

So yeah… they were rumours. We’re still in a shithole. A nicer shithole, granted. The toilets are a lot better and there are showers and the water isn’t entirely freezing. Plus, me and Vicki get our own room. We got excited when they told us we were staying in the salt hotel (there’s a hotel here somewhere made entirely out of salt) but the only salty thing about this place is the floor. There’s no such thing as wooden floorboards or carpet in this part of Bolivia (I think we’re in a place called San Juan), so they use salt instead. You can’t take your shoes off… especially if you’ve got a cut or something.

There’s sweet FA to do here so Vicki gave me a fishtail plait and now we’re sitting in a cold dining hall being ever so anti-social by writing our diaries.

South America, Day Twelve: Bolivia

It’s going to have to be bullet points, guys.

  • Picked up at 7.50am in a mini-bus called ‘Cordillera Traveller’ (booked via Kanoo Tours).
  • Chilean checkpoint: stamped out of Chile (retain the disembarkation card when you first arrive in Chile… or else you’ll be screwed).
  • Another checkpoint for entry into Bolivia. It’s a shack in the middle of nowhere. It will also be freezing cold (altitude).
  • Bus broke down.
  • We saw three llamas in the desert.
  • There were signs that said ‘no-overtaking’. (We saw these signs as we over-took).
  • We drove by yellow fields… lots of yellow fields.
  • Altitude: it hits you hard. Breathlessness… dry lips… tingly nostrils… you become very slooooow (hence bullet points)… your head will feel like it’s not big enough for your brain… heart flutters… an immediate head-cold… stuffy and sniffy and heady and blargh… take it slow, drink water, deep breaths, take Diamox (get it prescribed in the UK)… don’t rush… don’t do any exercise… breathe through your mouth, you’ll be ok…

(Ok, I’m becoming acclimatized. Here’s my attempt at a paragraph…)

Before heading to Bolivia, take a LOT of warm clothes. And loads of sun cream. It’s very sunny and it’s very cold. Take lip salve.

(Fail. Writing is a massive effort).

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Incredible sights… the mountains are multicoloured… as you approach the red, orange and yellow hues, the azure sky provides the ultimate contrast. The first stop was ‘Laguna Blanco’ – the white lagoon. Absolutely beautiful. A pool of white-washed blue, crystal clear water in the middle of a desert.

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The towering brown mountains are speckled with gold, terracotta and blood orange. The vegetation out here is bizarre. The ‘flowers’ are like sea urchins – or they could be mistaken for row upon row of Gremlins (when they’re all rolled up, know what I mean?)… or those toy trolls you used to get.

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(Hold on, I think I’m repeating myself).

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Then we visited the ‘Laguna Verde’ – the green lagoon. The wind in collaboration with the minerals in the water turn the lagoon into a turquoise pool; the waters of which are surrounded by earthy mountain slopes and clear skies. Beautiful.

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Now we’re at a natural hot spring (the water is 30 degrees but we forgot our bikinis) and I’m sitting on a rock, writing this entry with shaky hands, trying to catch my breath. It’s a bit like being stoned and unfit at the same time.

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We’ve seen loads of wild llamas and deers… it’s magical watching them bolt across the landscape.

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Our driver is very sweet. He speaks very slowly and pronounces each word. Everything and everyone is a lot slower. Each moment is presented as if out of a frame-to-frame chapter book… flick – slooooow – flick – slow – fliiiiick  ………………………..

The toilets are horrendous. There isn’t much in the way of hygiene here. And you have to pay three Bolivianos for the privilege. You get handed dirty tissue to wipe your delicates with. In the last toilet, there was just a hole. Don’t expect a flush. You’ll be lucky if there’s a bucket of sand.

(…Going back to last night quickly; San Pedro, Chile… So the night was spent at Barros. Cheap / good food and live music. 2,500 pesos for an omelette and chips and 2,500 pesos for a Pisco Sour. We saw three acts – a duet, a band and a trio. Awesome music! We had such a wicked night! Vicki pulled the tour guide. And I met a composer/musician called Max. That’s not his real name. He was incredibly charming and spiritual. We spoke about dreams and destinies as we shared a smoke…)

… Back to Bolivia…

So after the hot springs, we saw and smell some smelly geysers… smelt like egg, cabbage and arse.

Now we’re in the “hotel”. Five to a room. Dirty, dirty conditions. No shower. No hot water. And I think we’ve got a frankfurter for lunch….

Yep, yep we have.

So after “lunch”, we headed back out into the wilderness. This time we watched flamingos strut their funky stuff in a multicoloured lagoon – red, orange and blue water surrounded by green and yellow vegetation. And, across the way, Laguna Roche (the red lagoon) – the water is blood red and its surrounding kaleidoscope of colours is just unreal. The red tide laps lazily on the salts that separate the waters… and steam cascades into the air thanks to the nearby geysers.

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We headed back to the “hotel”, via the shops (or shop), to buy water and toilet roll. We bought every single bottle of water and toilet roll. Needless to say; it’s probably best if you prepare in advance. A lot of the shops don’t really have much – or anything – to sell.

ADVICE: Bring toilet roll, anti-bac, wipes, wet wipes, bum wipes, tissue, pills, water, BRING EVERYTHING.

(I’m repeating myself again… altitude…)

We got back to the “hotel” around 5pm so hung around in the kitchen (warmest place) for a couple of hours, ate dinner at 7 (much better than lunch), and wrote our diaries before lights out at 9pm. Yes. 9pm.

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No hot water. No showers. No electricity after 9pm. No flushing toilets. No normal coloured tap water.

We’re spending a lot of time with Amanda (she’s from London), Jim (Scottish engineer – currently suffering with altitude sickness). There’s also a Brazilian girl in our group – Luisa – but she rarely speaks. And there’s also a very sun-burnt Brazilian blonde who speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French and some Hindi. She puts us to shame.

I’m a bit apprehensive about tonight’s sleeping arrangements. Sharing a room with strangers is fine… but it will be pitch black soon and I’m freaking out about the potential creepy crawlies. Let’s hope I don’t have a night terror. I’m also saving having a wee until the last possible moment because the toilets are RANK. And it’s about zero degrees outside.

On that note, na night.

(The majority of these photos are thanks to Vicki Brand)