Thursday, 10 April 2008

So is this the end of the journey...?

...he asked, as we took off from Lima and headed toward Miami.

'It's not the end till I'm home and asleep in my bed', I answered.
Even the flight home is part of the trip, in as much as the flight outward bound always is.
I was sitting next to Ozzie, a Happy American, the type that is all brimming with smiles even though its stupidly early and everyone is stupidly tired, and he should, within rights, be a miserable bastard at that time of the morning. He was not, and not only was he not miserable, he was great company and eased the pain of having to endure a flight on American Airlines, which is always shit.

Ozzie was also part of Marc Anthonys' band (for those of you who don't live in South America, you won't be familiar with Marc Anthony as a hugely successful Latin American Singer with a following of thousands of screaming girls, you'll know him as J Lo's fella.)
Ozzie is one of his trumpeters, and he kept me entertained with his rock n roll stories, while I apparently kept him entertained because I could identify Cirrus clouds, and I read a novel about Simon Bolivar, so he thought I was 'waaaay smart'. As well as thinking I was 'awesome', he was all round great to talk to, and the 5 hour journey was more of a pleasure than I expected.

So by the time I was ready to board my connecting flight from Miami to London, I was mega tired, and looking forward to getting some kip, and maybe watching a film.

Not so. I sat next to Martin, who had just come back from a worldwide Mosaic Art Convention in Miami, at which he was one of the key speakers. Now this would make most people fall asleep instantly, but the nerd in me wanted to know more, and before I knew it 4 hours had passed of us talking art, education and glass melding (or whatever its called) and we'd both drunk alot of wine. He was really interesting, and after much banter he recommended I join the Chelsea Arts Club, cos apparently I was 'just the sort of person they were trying to attract'. I smiled politely and took his card, knowing that my chances of getting membership to a private art club, where you have to pay shedloads a year to get in and needed to be recommended to even be considered, was quite low. But his work sounded really interesting, and I took his card knowing it would interest some of my other artist friends too.

It seemed like a good omen that I spent the journey home having great conversations with two very creative people, and despite my fatigue, it fired me up for getting on with all of the ideas that have developed in my head while I have been away on this trip.

And it reminded me of all the impressive people I met while I was away.
South America is like no where else in the whole world. The hospitality of the people is amazing, the history is mind boggling, the landscapes are breathtaking. So many people go only to visit and end up staying forever, and I can see why. I barely scraped the surface of what it has to offer, and I know I am going back. When I do return, my Spanish will be well up to scratch!

So till then, thanks for following my journey. Getting messages and emails from people I care about so much meant a lot to me while I was so far from home. But for now, make spaces in your diaries for me, because I can't wait to see you all.

I'm home, and it feels great.


Monday, 7 April 2008

Last stop. Colombia.

I started to write this post last week.

In the past two weeks, it feels as though we have done so much, felt so much, that in a weird way it now feels like it was a really long time ago. Sitting here now, in Lima, having parted with Mandi yesterday as she flew to Costa Rica, all I can feel now are those feelings and contemplations that you inevitably feel at the end of any big trip.

But I will try to ignore that headspace and focus myself back to Colombia, Cartagena, Santa Marta and Tayrona. So get your bearings with the map below, and I shall paint you a picture.

Right then. Colombia, well known for its coffee, the white stuff and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Till we agreed to meet Phil there, it hadnt been part of our original travel plan. We had heard too many scare stories about how unsafe it was there (mostly from people who hadnt been before), so, being sensible female travellers, we ignored the place.
However, as we travelled, we met so many people who had just come from Colombia, and every single person raved about it. It is one of the countries in South America which hasnt been totally run over by tourism, so has a more raw feel to the place. When we knew Phil and Annabelle would be able to meet us in Cartagena, we decided to change our plans. Mandi hadnt seen Phil in 5 years, and quite frankly, I felt alot safer travelling with a guy in Colombia. (As a female traveller, you become acutely aware of your vulnerability. This would be a nice change.)
So in our time in that intruiging country, we passed through the historical town of Cartagena, the slightly odd Santa Marta and the stunningly breathtaking Tayrona National Park.
For me, Cartagena was just gorgeous. I had already filled my head with all sorts of visuals of it, from reading too much G.G.Marquez and Isabelle Allende, and for me the place didnt disspoint. The old colonial town is surrounded by fortress walls, and is now the well preserved posh part of town, filled with beautiful little plazas, colonial houses with huge balconies overflowing with flowers and plants. It is postcard perfect. The heat of the sun brings out the best in everyone, the women are dressed up all sexy and the men dont bother with shirts, we were in the Carribbean now! And we felt good!
We didnt stay in the posh part, but we got a great hotel in Getsemani, a bit of a rougher Barrio, but still beautiful in its decayed sort of way. It was how I imagined Cuba to be. Stuck in time gone by. It was here, In Cafe Havana, that we absorbed the energy of the place, it was in this very cool bar that we got a taste of how the Colombians party. Let me tell you , EVERY Colombian in that place could dance and was dancing, to the brilliant live band that was playing. We were on the dancefloor till the place closed, we Salsa-d our asses off. Beautiful locals, young and old, a handful of travellers and everyone in between packed that dancefloor out. SO much fun.
Aside from the partying, Cartagena felt like a place which had alot to discover, alot to uncover. If it wasnt for the fact that the Spanish here sounded so different, and was so much harder to understand, I would have considered taking classes here.
We then moved onto Santa Marta, the 4 of us, and from here I decided to head into Tayrona National Park and spend some quality time on the Carribean beaches there, while the others headed into the Jungle, to trek for 5 days up to Ciudad Perdida, the ancient settlement.
With only 2 weeks left of my trip till the chill of London hit me again, I didnt revel in the thought of dealing with Jungle humidity, giant mosquitos, snakes, spiders and leeches, or not being able to wash for 5 days. Just didnt quite appeal...
It worked out perfectly, I rested, they trekked, and had a brilliant time all round. I posted some pics up in an earlier post of us all together...I think they speak for themselves!
Once Phil, Mandi and Annabelle returned from the trek, we had a quality day together in Tyrona, before Phil headed back to Mexico, Annabelle to Bogota to fly home and the two of us back to Cartagena. There, we decided to just stay put, allow the heat of the place to relax us, and start to prepare for the end of the trip.
Together in the last days, we talked over everywhere we had been. The people we had met. The laughs and tears we had shared, the jokes and arguments that taught us so much more about each other. All the things that reaffirmed our friendship. We were amazed at the things we had seen together. Colombia, such a different vibe from the other countries, was a brilliant place to end our trip together on. In a way, its hard to do it justice in a post like this. In fact, its hard to do justice to any of this trip in this blog, despite my efforts. Trying to capture the essence of a place in words, with words that do it justice, is better left to great novelists. I hope I have managed to give you a vague idea! Maybe I be able to think about the experiences more clearly, and with more accuracy, when I recall them, back in London.
For now, its the end. No more South America. (Till I return, which I will!)
Today I drink my last Pisco Sour, eat my last Ceviche, feel the last few rays of the Peruvian sunshine on my back and speak my last few lines of Spanish. For now.
It been an amazing journey, but tomorrow, I go home.
Back to where the heart is.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Filling in the Gaps: The Amazing Galapagos.

The last proper post describing our journey was all about ´Pre-Inca Trail´time. That ending of that trek, for us, marked a significant turning point in the way we would be travelling, and in what surroundings we wanted to be in. ´Pre-Inca Trail´was all high altitude and cold weather, living in our hiking boots and alpaca wool. ´Post-Inca Trail´was much anticipated, because finally we would be at Sea Level again, where breathing is easy, climate is warm and the only footwear necessary are flip flops. Heaven. Indeed, after spending a few very cold nights and days in Quito, the highlight of which was nourishing our souls with some great Indian food, we were desperate to get out of the hills.

So you can imagine our joy when we stepped off the plane in Galapagos and felt the heat bathe us...stunning blue sky and intensly green landscapes greeted us. It wasnt long till we felt the sweat start to trickle down our backs, it was a very welcome feeling. Despite the fact that we hadnt slept in over 24 hours (our last night in Quito ended up being a big one), we felt rejuvenated. Welcome to the Galapagos!

This trip really did live up to the hype, at least for me. I have never been anywhere so beautiful in my life, and I felt priveleged to be in this incredible, unique part of the world. Straight off the flight, we met with our group leader and headed off for the start of our 10 day boat tour of the Islands. Now, in that 10 days, we saw some of the most incredible landscape, and got very close to so many different creatures (sometimes too close), that there is no way I will be able to properly do justice to everything in this blog. But, I will try to give you a taster.

Firtsly, I had no idea I would be so enthralled by all the creatures we saw. Many of the creatures that inhabit the Islands are Endemic (are only found naturally there, and exist nowhere else on the planet). Amongst these creatures are certain species of Land and Marine Iguanas, the famous Turtles, Penguins (!!), and countless species of plants. Take a look.

These stunning crabs shone an amazing shade of orange against the black volcanic rocks.
The world famous Galapagos Turtles.
Sea lions were everywhere...we swam with them so many times, they are so entertaining in the water! Total stars, so playful and friendly.
A Land Iguana. Being up so close to them was weird. But very cool.
A Penguin! We had no idea you could see Penguins in warm weather areas! An Endemic species to the Galapagos. As we snorkelled around the Islands, we were lucky enought to see a whole group of them swimming past.
A reef shark swimming near our boat. There were plenty of these when we were snorkelling too. In fact, there was a scary moment when Me, Mandi and a german guy who was with us, were circled by 2 of them! They were swimming around us as the three of us had our backs to each other...they say reef sharks are harmless, and luckily we were fine, but I don´t want to experience that feeling ever again! We were sh*t scared!
Apart from the amazing sights, sounds and activities of the trip, we met some great people. Special shout out goes to Cameron, the beautiful artist from Canada, who we had alot of fun with. Cameron, you rock. Also, to Andy & Clare, the British couple from Isleworth, London, of all places! The last thing I expected was be on a tour in the Galapagos with a couple who lived 10 minutes away from me in London! A&C stayed on for longer than they expected on the Islands and did some incredible dives. Looking forward to seeing the pics in the pub when we get back.
All in all, our 11 or so days in the Galapagos was just the balm we needed to heal our aching hiking feet. The first dip in the warm ocean was a feeling I wont forget, the hours of snorkelling, the hot, warm days, and that night on the roof of the boat where we sat shivering, huddled up, as we stared at the stars (seeing the Big Dipper constellation upside down for the first time!), and talking about all sorts of philosophical rubbish. Swimming with Sea Turtles, sailing alongside a huge group of Dolphins, dodging sharks, seeing Stingrays leap out of the ocean (didn´t even know they could do that!) ...there were alot of great moments.´
Our last night on the Islands was epic in itself, partying with great company and not sleeping till we were on the flight back to Quito the next morning. We left with heavy hearts, we didn´t feel ready to go (by now a familiar feeling) and we had time enough to get attached to new people again, but we left with an incredible sense of achievment. We had come to know the Galapagos well. So with tired eyes, and very brown skin, we set off in the direction of Colombia.
Our final country together.

Monday, 31 March 2008

The beautiful Tayrona National Park, Northern Colombia.


The hammock huts in El Paraiso.

Beer break, very necessary.

Annabel, Phil and Manders baby. Our celebration Pina Coladas, for our last day together.
The best Pina Coladas I ever tasted!

In Tayrona National Park, the beautiful stretch of beach in zona Arricefes.
Colombia really is beautiful.

In case you forgotten what we look like...

Me, Mandi and lovely Phil. On a fishing boat to Tagonga Bay, Colombia.
Thanks to the beautiful Annabel Murphy, for uploading these pics!

A Whirlwind of Motion

Wow, we have been moving FAST.

Galapagos, Quito, Cartagena, Tayrona and back to Cartagena again.
Got a gentle whiff of Ecuador then, before long, found ourselves in Colombia to meet Phil and Annabel. Beautiful, hot, Carribbean Colombia. I actually don't know where to begin, so right now I'm just posting a promise to come back and write about the past few weeks properly.

Right now I'm getting dirty looks from someone who wants to get on this computer... so I think I will be nice and let them get on.

Watch this space, I'll be back soon.


Saturday, 8 March 2008

By the way...

I just posted that last blog now, but started writing it ages ago, so the date on it is wrong! Tomorrow, the 9th March, is when we head to Galapagos.

We will both be off communication radars for 10 days!

See you on the other side!


Thursday, 28 February 2008

2 treks ... 3 countries ... and still in high altitude, and moving fast fast fast!

Hello all!!

I have been recieving emails from people, asking why I havent posted in a while...well, the reason is because we have been moving pretty damn fast and have been ACTIVE!

Writing this blog now, we are in Quito, Ecuador, happily on the other side of the long dark tunnel that was the biggest trek I ever did, the Inca Trail to Machhu Pichhu...but more on that later...from what I remember now, I left you all way back in Copacabana, Bolivia, which is now 2 countries ago crazy is that!!!

So, where was I...way back in beloved Bolivia...let me pick up where I left off...

Did I say we were waiting to catch a boat to Isla Del Sol?

Initially, yes, that was the plan...till our plans changed after we bumped into the real life He-Man. He-Man, or the amazingly cool guy otherwise known as the Frenchman Thierry, is someone Mandi met on Mount Hauyana Potosi. He was one of the few people who actually managed to make it to the top, despite the bad weather. As we were sipping our Cervecas over our Truchas Planchas at the edge of Lake Titicaca, we saw him wander past, Mandi recognised him instantly. He looked alot like this:

That, back in Copacabana, Bolivia, was the beggining of a pretty epic three days. As the next three days evolved, we found ourselves becoming more and more in awe of this real life Superhero, and we turned into wide eyed giggly girls as we observed him with wonder. Why did we call him our Superhero? The reason was, because it seemed that there was nothing that this man couldn´t do! He was the strongest, fittest, most seemingly invincible man we had ever met, a total fitness fanatic, who had trekked everywhere, swam everywhere, climbed every mountain he happened to wander past, and more, you name it, he had done it...this guy was the definition of ´COOL.´
And whats more, he was sooo funny. Mostly without meaning to be. In his strong french accent, he came out with lines that would seem like terrible bragging from anyone else, but from him, were simple statements of fact. He would say, ´I kayaked from Brazil to Bolivia´, ´I fight 2 men´, ´Zat 4 day trek, I do in 2 days´. One of our personal favourites was, ´I run to zee busstop wiv my backpack...I am ALL muscle!´. He was, indeed, all muscle. Then he would say things like ´Where is zee mushroom?´instead of ´Where is the washroom´, such an innocent mis-pronounciation, and we giggled so much and were endeared to him even more.

Anyway, He-Man put the idea in Mandi´s head that we could trek the length of the coast towards Isla Del Sol, instead of take the tourist trap bus. It would be good practice for our trek through Macchu Picchu, which was so imminent. So we trekked.

We trekked along the coast of Copacabana, some 18km, (follow the orange line) over hills, through eucalyptus trees, through beautiful villages and past laughing locals, till we reached a small bay at the northerly tip of the pennisula, Yampupata, tired after 5 hours of intense trekking ( I only wanted to cry once this time, when I had a panic attack cos I couldn´t breathe again, cos of the high altitude, but that soon passed...) and when we reached this point, (HeMan hadn´t even broken a sweat) we got rowed over in a tiny boat to Isla Del Sol, just the three of us and the boat guy. We felt like we were in Lord Of The Rings, in our little boat...we scrambled out the other side onto a rocky, hilly island, and continued to trek another 2km, uphill all the way, to our hostel. For me, mangaging to complete 20km of trekking in one day across high altitude terrain was a pretty damn big deal, I was WELL impressed with myself, and we were all well rewarded with the most amazing views at the top of the Island when we finally reached our destination. I pulled up my deckchair to the edge of the cliff and sat there staring at the horizon, till the distant rain clouds made their way towards our hostel and rained all over us.

We stayed on the Island for a total of 3 days. In that time, HeMan kept us trekking and trekking, that man just can´t sit by the time we returned to Copacabana we had trekked over 35km at high altitude, (following almost all of the dotted orange lines on the Island map, and more) and we all felt more than a little bit pleased with ourselves. We were feeling GOOOOOD.

We left Bolivia with heavy hearts, despite being excited about what lay ahead.

I loved Bolivia, more than I expected to.

Bolivia gave me so taught me to love Spanish, and the soft eloquent way it was spoken there, I was so grateful that I started my trip there, where my fantastic Spanish lessons set me in good stead for the rest of my trip. Bolivia gave me time with some amazing new people...they know who they are...Bolivia reminded me of the power of incredible open landscapes, especially the trip to Uyuni, and I was reminded of how much I loved the scent of Euclyptus trees when we trekked in the land of the Incas. It also taught me that I am cut out for trekking, that I love the feeling of discovering a place on foot, of feeling it challenge and exhaust me. There were challenges there that I discovered I WAS cut out for... Dave knows what I mean, right! The experience on Mount Hauyana Potosi didnt defeat me after all...

Regardless, it was time to move on, time to get to Peru, where our booking for the Inca Trail Trek was imminent. We passed quickly through Puno, on the other side of Lake Titicaca, and were very eager to move was a dull town, but as soon as we arrived in Cusco, we were totally enchanted. OH MY GOD, Cusco is soooo beautiful, sooo stunning, and has a fascinating history. I was enchanted enough with the Inca stuff on Isla Del Sol, getting to Cusco and being in the heart of the Inca Empire history had me WELL excited. To say the least.

We had two days to absorb the city before the trek was to begin. It was no time at all.

Again, the night before the trek, we were so tired, the last thing we felt we wanted to do was trek! But I knew that this was one of my dreams, and after trekking for 3 days solid in Isla Del Sol, doing another 35 to 38km over 4 days to Machhu Pichhu didnt seem so bad after all! I treid not to think about the fact that most of it was uphill, and that we would have to tackle 3 high passes over ancient stone Inca steps that were BIG, before we got to our destination. My mantra was, don´t think, just do it. Take one step at a time. I was reminded of Dory in Finding Nemo...´Just keep swimming!´. I love that fish!

So thats what we did. We got on that trek, and we swam through it. Literally. It pissed down with rain so much of the time! Day by day, up steep steps, through ancient paths, we trudged. I was nervous about having panic attacks related to breathing difficulties again. But amazingly, I had no problem at all. Mandi raced ahead, and my breathing was great. My legs ached and I was knackered mostly, but that was easy to ignore. We were entertained and awed along the way by the most beautiful landscape, by all kinds of hummingbirds and butterflys, and by some of the most amazing plants I had ever seen. Mandi loves plants, and stopped often to admire flowers and to ask our guide about a particular species. It was a great excuse to stop and take a breathe, and our guide was AMAZINGLY full of knowledge. He pointed out plants that were good for all sorts of different diseases and ailments. I thought he had studied plant medicines, but all his knowledge was from local people. He was brilliant. We walked and walked and walked. It was incredible. The only thing that pissed on our fires was that we had a really dull, piss boring group. There were 2 Swiss German girls, who were the most stuck up, dry, boring, DULL, zero sense of humour girls we met on this trip so far. They were condascending and constantly complaining about most things...their company was painful! Then there was a father and son combo who seemed to be on a ´bonding trip´, seemed they didnt have much time together and this trip was making up for lost time. The father was very shy, but nice enough, the son was an all round miserable git. A teenager, we called ´Kevin´, after the Harry Enfield character. He was totally incapable of saying thankyou for anything, or being vaguely appreciative of anything, we both felt like slapping him at different points in the trip, the ungrateful spoilt brat. SO thanks to them, we had the knowledge of our guide all to ourselves, seeing as none of them seemed interested in the information he had. Along the way, we met plenty of other great trekkers, a lovely group of Finnish, Irish and some English folk, we great fun, and we ended up tagging along with them and being part of their group night out when we got back to Cusco, something that we would never have done with our own group. It just proved Mandi´s theory, that it is not language that creates a barrier with people, its just people. On our trip in Uyuni in Bolivia, we had non english speakers in our group, and yet we all communicated brilliantly and their personalities shone through, but on this trip, language wasnt an issue at all, attitude was.

Regardless of all that, Mandi and I laughed and joked and giggled all the way through the trek, gazing in awe at where we were, constantly reminding ourselves of how blessed we felt, as we gazed as the hummingbirds sipping nectar from the flowers only a few steps away from us. We were in a real life episode of ´Planet Earth´. Amazing.

The sense of awe would only grow. On the morning of the 4th and last day of the trek, we crawled out of our tents at 4am, in the heavy rain, to start our final trek up to Machhu Pichhu. Only 2km to go. Uphill. The rain was relentless. My brilliant boots held out for me through the rain and mud, but Mandi wasnt so lucky, her boots filled with water. We climbed and climbed, with our miserable shitty group, but were cheered some some random english girl singing ´I will survive´on the top of her voice. That made me giggle, and more people joined in. This was the point in the trip that we had all built up to, reaching the final high view point where we would get to see the picture postcard view of Machhu Pichhu, the image that was plastered all over Peru.

This is what we should´ve seen:

When we finally got to the top, the whole damn thing was covered in cloud! It was raining heavily, we had been up since 4am trudging through the rain and we couldn´t see a flippin thing!

GUTTED! It was so tragic, we had to laugh! We took a wicked picture, standing in front of the scene, head to toe in our wet weather clothes, nothing but a blanket of white sky behind us! It was funny.

It DID get better though...we trekked down to the actual site, and we had the rest of the morning to properly explore the actual site, and it was AMAZING. The mist from the clouds slowly cleared up, and the scale, beauty and ingeniousness of the whole inca site was revealed, bit by bit. It was magical.

The whole experience of the trek and the site will always be one of the most amazing experiences in my memory. I can totally understand why, for so many people, Machhu Pichhu is the highlight and reason for coming to South America. Next time I come to Peru, Im doing this trek again! (maybe 2 days trekking instead of 4 though....!)

We passed through Peru so fast, I felt we just sneezed and missed it. We were gutted that we didnt have more time, Peru has so much to offer, there was so much to see and do. But we stayed only for the Trek, and moved on quickly to get to the next place of our dreams: The Galapagos Islands.

Now, we are in Quito, Ecuador, recovering from the treks, getting rest from our speedy travelling and preparing to get out of high altitude once and for all! The weather here is crappy, too much like london, and it is cold, so we are happy to move on quickly, and tomorrow morning we catch an early flight out of Ecuadors´ highlands, and finally get to Sea level again! Sunshine, beautiful coastlines and some of the most incredible untouched Islands are waiting for us! Finally the bikinis come out! The snorkels go on, and the lounging begins!!!

Galapagos, here we come.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

La Paz - Sorata - Copacabana

La Paz was a city that we both connected to well, its bustling busy streets, strange smells, crazy traffic and great shopping kept us very well entertained, and I for one, felt right at home, loving the feeling of being back in a 'city' environment. Mandi returned from her triumphant trip up the mountain, where she reached an altitude of 5,700 m before the weather intervened and forced them to turn back. Mandi's own story of the ascent, coming soon...

From La Paz we took a 'Micro Bus' for a 3 hour journey down from the dizzy heights of La Paz, into the stunning lush valleys of Sorata. Sorata is small, sleepy but stunning. The climate changed here, it was much warmer, we were back in Palm tree zone! Despite being the ideal place to use as a base for trekking, we used it for the other thing it is most famous for, plain, simple Chilling Out. It's the weekend retreat for many from La Paz, and was a perfect place for Mandi to recover from the Mountain episode, and for me to swan around gazing dreamily at the amazing scenery, sketch a little and eat alot. There were long lazy lunches with some lovely Canadians we met, and sun drenched hours of immersion in my Garcia Marquez novel. After the bustle and activity filled days of La Paz, this was perfect. There were some odd moments, like the 'Reggae Bar', playing Bob Marley constantly, full of every type of cliched hippie traveller you ever took the piss out of...I felt like shouting 'will you all just take a f***ing shower!!!!!!!' As we sat there drinking playing cards, a friggin nasty little rut of a monkey jumped at us out of the dark and stole stuff off our table, then helped himself to our beer! I never thought I would find myself saying to a barman 'There's a Monkey in my beer'... least of all in bad spanish!

We tired of beautiful chilled and a bit weird Sorata after 2 days, and made our way to where I am writing from now, the lovely Bolivian Copacabana, a small tourist town which serves as the gateway to the awe inspiring Lake Titicaca, and Isla de Sol, the island of the sun, revered as the legendary birthpace of the Inca Empire. The Lake is huge, and straddles both Bolivia and Peru.

Here's the beautiful lake

As I write this, we are waiting for the rain to subside so we can take a boat over to the Island of the Incas. It's such an amazingly historical place, you can see why the lake and the area was considered so sacred, it takes your breath away.
Stay tuned.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Huayna Potosi - ´Begginers Mountain´

So off we went.
Mandi full of excitement, me full of trepidation.
I was unsure of this from the start, but I had to give it a go.

The plan:

Day 1
4,700 m, Basecamp. Trek for about an hour, to get to the Ice Glacier. Practice Ice Climbing. Trek back to basecamp. (Pictured). Sleep. (Note, we were to camp outdoors).

Day 2
Trek about 3 hours, up to 5,000 and something metres to the Midcamp. (This time, a proper building with a proper bed). With a view to sleep at around 6pm.

And get up at midnight, to begin the final ascent to the peak, at night, a 5 hour-ish trek, to 6,088m.

By which time it´s Day 3
Descend mountain.

The Raj version of events:
We arrive at basecamp. Have a fab lunch, just me, Mandi and our Bolivian guide who is tiny and built like a goat. (He has lost track of how many times he climbed the mountain, so VERY experienced.)

We layer on our gear: Merino wool baselayers, our regular day clothes, then tough North Face outer wear, snowboots, Alpaca wool gloves followed by snowgloves, crampons for the ice go in our backpacks, hats go on our heads and ice picks are in hand. (Ice picks double up as walking sticks...VERY necessary). I am told its a short hike uphill to the Ice Glacier where we practice our climbs. We should be there and back in about 3 hours. Apparently.

And we´re off.

First thing I notice, is that these snowboots are not so great for rocks. Great for snow, not great for rocks. But thats ok...´plough on´ I tell myself...

And so I step in front of the other...we climb.
And climb. And climb.
This glacier aint so close.
The guide and Mandi seem to be making much better progress than me.
The air is getting thinner. And thinner.
It´s hard to breathe. Damn, we are very high up.

Time goes on, and I start to panic a little.
I don´t know if I can do this.
I try to focus, on every breath, and with every step, I find myself saying a prayer.

Channeling the mind into a sort of rythymic meditative state, will help...and it did.
I managed to stop myself bursting into tears, about twice.
Higher and higher we climbed, and then we came to a little stream.
By this time, I was exhausted, my legs ached, I was panting for air and fighting tears.

Mandi appeared to fly across the rocks to the other side with apparent ease.

I panicked, I was terrified, I didnt trust my boots and the rocks were wet from the moisture from the cloud we were walking through. I did not want to fall in that stream.

The guide came back for me, held my hand, which I gripped with all my might, and I slowly, tentativly, crossed the stream, rock by rock. When I got to the other side, I was so relieved that I hadn´t fallen that I really did burst into tears, and gasping for breath I hugged Mandi, so glad she was there. The guide looked so bored by the whole scene...bless him, he must have seen this so many times, we had to laugh.

Anyway, eventually we got to the Ice Glacier. And it was well worth it.

That´s where we did this: (Image stolen from someone else´s blog...)

Now this was WICKED.
You put your crampons on your snowboots (big scary spikes) and grab your ice pick, wack the ice pick in the wall, then wack your foot in, haul yourself up, wack your other foot in, then the ice pick, and before you know it you have climbed to the top of the Glacier! SOOOOOO much fun! And not that hard...made the long arduous climb well worth it.
So that was Day 1 done. Back at basecamp, we ate well, watched the stars come up and gazed at the mountain that we agreed to climb. As night approached, I became more and more unsure of whether or not I wanted to do this. The mountain was prettier, and I liked it more, when I was NOT on it. Even the Llamas and goats avoided those heights. What the hell was I thinking, trying to go where no goat had gone before?!? Not a good sign...
We went to bed. Or rather, we crawled into our tent, wearing all the clothes we could get our hands on, crawled into our sleeping bags and lay awake freezing all night. That was enough to shift me into ´Princess mode´as Mandi calls it. I hate being cold. I hate sleeping in tents, unless its Summer and I am at a music festival, armed with whisky. As the night continued to insist on NOT ending, I lay awake asking myself, do I REALLY want to climb the mountain? How ´bovvered´am I, really? I pictured being back in La Paz, sleeping in a real bed, warm, dry, clean... spending the day wandering around town, stopping for a Cafe Solo, maybe a slice of cheescake, absorbng the atmosphere, sketching and drawing. I wanted to DRAW goddammit, not climb a friggin cold mountain. Every bone in my body was telling me ´you don´t want to do this, do you?´...and I was saying ´of course not!!!!´, this is Mandi´s strong area, this is her dream. I didn´t want to dissapoint her, but at the same time, I had to endure the trauma of the climb for the right reasons.
So when morning FINALLY came... I told Mandi that I didn´t want to climb.
She was understanding, but dissapointed...but glad I was being honest.
I was pissed off at myself for feeling that way, because I wanted this to be something we achieved together, you can´t get any more monumental than climbing a mountain, and I was sad that she was doing it alone...but both us knew it was for the best. This way, I wouldn´t hold her back by being the slowcoach, and she could focus better on getting to the top.
Everything was cool, we parted with heavy hearts, both worried for each other, hugged, said the ´I love yous´and waved at each other till she dissapeared over a hill.
She was off to climb her mountain.
And I was off to sleep.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Tomorrow we climb

We begin our ascent up Mount Hauyuni Potosi tomorrow.
We´ll be on it for 3 days.
Gonna be bloody freezing.
And very high up....
We are a bit nervous.

What the hell, if it is the last thing we do, it´s not a bad way to go.
If you don´t hear from us by tuesday, you have our permission to worry!


Monday, 11 February 2008

La Paz

We are in the capital of Bolivia, at an altitude of 3660m above sea level. By now, thanks to our visit to Potosi and our tour from Tupiza to Uyuni, we have already been quite high up, so we are pretty well acclimatised. The 14 hour bus ride eased us in too, despite leaving us properly knackered! We spent the best part of Mandi´s birthday in bed, exhausted from the journey and the tour, but managed to revive ourselves and leap out of bed to get to our celebration Indian meal! I was looking forward to speaking some Hindi or Punjabi again, and was very amused to walk into the restaurant to find it was run and owned by an english lad from Hertfordshire! How ironic...the food was excellent, the meal was drunken, and the birthday was great...full bellied and emotional, just as birthdays should be.

La Paz feels like a bonkers place, manic, busy, crowded...I love it.

Somehow, Manders had managed to convince me to go climb this mountain with her:

Mount huayna potosi....I´m cacking myself, but Í´m gonna do it anyway.
Hopefully I will survive it to tell the tale!
Watch this space....

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Potosi - Tupiza - Uyuni

There was not much to report on Potosi, it was cold, it was high up (it felt like we were almost eye level to the clouds, which was cool), Mandi got ill and we kept getting drenched with carnival waterbombs which pissed us both right off. BUT, we were there on a beautiful bright blue skied day, so we got great views of the city, and I managed to get some quality sketching time in. The point of going to Potosi for most people is to visit the silver mines, but neither of us liked the idea of crawling into cold, dark caves and tiny holes, so we only stayed one day, then caught an early bus to Tupiza the next day. After the beauty of Sucre, Potosi felt a bit ´vanilla´.

Our first Bus ride in Bolivia was entertaining enough, flat tyres in the middle of nowhere on a 8 hour journey was a bit nerveracking, but we met some entertaining Argentinians who had to endure the whole ride sitting on the floor. One of them was a violinist, and got us through the hot journey with some live music. Nice.

The reason for enduring the bus ride was so that we could see this, one of the natural wonders of the world, one of the most famous natural attractions of Bolivia, the Salar de Uyuni, the Great Salt lake. It´s meant to look like this:

A huge expanse of crystalised salt, a massive expanse of white stretching for miles and miles.
However, we are here in the rainy season, so what we saw was more like this:

A shallow layer of water on top of the salt expanse creates an incredible effect, the lake turns into a huge mirror, the sky and land surface blend into one and you cant distinguish between the two. It is unbelievably breathtaking. (We still have not uploaded our own pics, still got crap internet connections, so I found these pics on the web, but they give you a pretty good idea!)After 3 days of journeying around the Bolivian countryside, seeing great lakes and amazing mountains, this was the climax. It was freezing cold, it was 5am and we climbed to the roof of the 4 wheel drive to watch the sunrise in the middle of the great salt lake. Totally enchanting. To get an impression of its size, check this:

The Nasa satellite image of th egreat lake...ITS MASSIVE!!!!

Our tour companions have been brilliant, a Polish girl from Camden who is learning Spanish and is excellent, and a couple from Barcelona who have been giving us both brilliant coaching in Spanish, so we spent a solid four days trying to keep english to a minimum, so now my vocabulary is expanding and Mandi´s Spanish is excellent.

Tonight, the 5 of us leave Uyuni and take a 14 bus journey to La Paz, and in the morning, we wake up to a very special day. We will be having our first Indian meal in what seems like forever, in honour of Mandi´s 30th birthday!!!!! WOOOO HOOO!!!!!


Monday, 4 February 2008

Parting is such sweet sorrow

I´m new to this travelling lark, this whole ´pass through a place, make friends, then leave´, knowing you are unlikely to cross paths again, though hoping and wishing you will, with all the best intentions. We had both become very attached to Sucre, the people, the place, and we had extended our stay so many times, that when it came to our last morning, we almost couldnt belíeve we were moving on.

So after our final Fiesta in the home of our host, which turned out to be a feast of meat and waterfights, and after our final breakfast the following morning, which soothed our sore heads and bellies, we set off. With heavy hearts, and not quite sure that we were ready to go, we had a final coffee at our favourite drinking hole, collected our ´TShirts´(no, really...very nice Tshirt too) and boarded a bus for Potosi.

3 hours later, we arrived at the highest city in the world.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Still in Sucre!

This pretty little colonial style town high in the Bolivian hills has proved to be a very hard place to leave! We are now on day 13!!!!! Tomorrow we FINALLY leave for Potosi, famous for its silver mines and for being the highest city in the world, at 4,824 meters (15,827 feet) above sea level.
But thats tomorrow.

Till now, we have been kept in Sucre by invitaions to party with Bolivian High Society (a very interesting night, which turned out to be at the home of my Spanish teacher!) by offers to salsa, by the Carnival (we have been waterbombed everytime we step out...which was funny for about 5 mins...but got funnier when Mandi retaliated with eggs, to great effect!) and we have also been stuck here because of the freak rains that have hit Bolivia, which have been so severe that much of the country has been made homeless, pretty sad situation.

So to escape the rain, and get over the slight sensitive tummies that we both had from adjusting to the altitude, we took refuge in one of the most well known and popular ´gringo bars´, called The Joyride, run and owned by a Dutch guy called Gert. We found ourselves defaulting to Joyride so many times, that the staff all know us by name and the Gert ended up taking us under his wing and showing us the real Sucre...hence the Bolivian´High Society´party. Turns out Mandi and I have found ourselves in Sucre at the énd of an era´for the owner of the Joyride, as this week he handed over ownership of the bar to its new owner, and that meant another big party! So, we found ourselves extending our stay here yet again, and before I knew it I spent 4 days helping Gert create a leaving film for his ´do´, editing film on a god awful PC with a crappy Windows application...painful! But, was great to get creative and help make the movie for the final, big, epic leaving do, attended again, but some of the ´biggest names´in Sucre.
Even better, we checked out of the crappy hostel we were in and moved into Gerts´spare room, and have enjoyed hanging out with his flatmate Linda and her beautiful baby Esme, so cool to be around kids again.
The final big party came and went with a bang, we were the only guest ´travellers´there, it turned out to be a pretty exclusive affair, so I am so glad I packed a glam dress. Needless to say, we had alot of fun, or in Mandi´s words, we were ´fighting them off with a shitstick´!!..Bolivian men are just a little bit too much....but they are brilliant dancers...!

Sucre has turned out to be pretty special, the guide book warned us that people stay here longer than planned, but we didnt expect to fall into that cliche! Thanks to the friends we made, we were able to see beyond just the travellers´spaces, and get to understand how the town feels for the people that really live here.

So tonight, the final the home of our host, and tomorrow, off to Potosi!

By the way, my camera got knicked, very gutted (for me like losing a limb!)
but we have Mandi´s camera, so will upload shots soon.


Saturday, 26 January 2008

Got the moves

I have come to the conclusion that dancing to Salsa and Merengue in South America is unlike dancing to Salsa and Merengue ANYWHERE else in the world!!


Wednesday, 23 January 2008


Sucre is stunning!

This place has an altitude problem...

We flew into Sucre on a beautiful bright blue skied day, and had amazing views of the mountains, with the town nestling at 2,800 metres above sea level. Now thats high. It can take a little while to adjust to the altitude, you can really feel out of breath mega quickly just walking around town!
But we didnt mind a bit, this town is STUNNING, gorgeous colonial whitewashed buildings, beautiful little streets, lots of greenery, and although a very popular destination, feels very untouristy. They say people always stay here longer than planned, we have already spent 2 days here longer than we expected! We´ve enrolled with Spanish Classes here, which so far have been brilliant, bags of fun, and as a result have rearranged our trek dates so we could take more classes. I´ve taken loads of pics, but the thought of uploading pics here seems impossible, because of the incredibly slow internet connections, so for now, here´s one I nicked off google!

By the weekend, we should have fully acclimatised, and will be off to do our first ´warm up trek´for 2 days!

Friday, 18 January 2008

LND - MIA - SANTA CRZ (Dunno the airport code!)

Feels like it has taken forever for me to finally get here!
Thank god I had chance to break up my journey by stopping for a night in Miami.
The Body clock being off kilter meant I was up at the crack of dawn and saw the sunrise over South Beach. Nice. I had 6 hours to kill before heading back to the airport to catch my connecting flight to Santa Cruz. Best 6 hours I killed in ages. First, a morning walk along the beach, spying all the fitness freak yanks doing their yoga and morning jogs. Just like the telly. A few hunky lifeguards stretching. Nice. Breathed in some decent clean fresh sea air, then found a cafe and pigged out on a proper fat American Brekkie of Pancakes and syrup, and awful american coffee, enjoying the attention from the very cute waiters. So far so good!

Landed in Bolivia last night, already love this place!
Flip Flops and dresses, sunglasses and sun cream, I´m in Summertime!!!

Woop woop!


Tuesday, 15 January 2008


We meet in Bolivia on the 17th, and cry tears of joy. Once we have recovered, its time to explore BOL, then Peru (Inca trail, Machhu Pichhu and all that), then Ecuador and the Galapagos! It's a big old place. Innit.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Welcome all!

Hello! This is where I will be posting up a few pics, moving image, and quick little summaries of how me and Manders are getting on during the next few weeks! Thought it would be more interesting and easier to manage than sending out individual emails which you probably won't get the chance to read, knowing how madly busy most of you are! That is unless I get bored of doing it before you do and end up being too busy having fun to be able to keep up with the blog...who knows! Worth a try! Either way, thanks for reading and please stick with us!
You can post any messages and comments here too, and you don't have to keep it clean!
Fun fun fun!!!!