10. Plenty more fish. Peru 2: Nazca, Huaccachina, Pisco, Paracas, Lima, Amazon

In a coincidence calling free-will into question, we decided to leave Arequipa on the exact day that, unbeknown to us, the coastal road reopened after an earthquake had closed it for 2 weeks. The pristine beaches and rocky scenery were mesmerising and, after numerous hours of sleepy bus window gazing, we arrived at the gigantic and mysterious pre-Colombian sand geoglyphs that Nazca is famous for. With not a single alien in sight but a rapidly setting sun, we sprinted up the observation tower before continuing on to the desert oasis of Huacachina for a cheeky gluten-filled pizza.Built on a picturesque green lagoon with supposed healing properties, the palm tree lined tiny village of Huacachina is completely surrounded by enormous golden sand dunes. Thanks to the Dutch courage gained from a local vineyard’s numerous free samples of Pisco (local liquor), we jumped aboard dune buggies for an exhilarating (aka terrifying) roller coaster ride on the dunes. Feeling elated at surviving the high-speed sudden twists, turns and free-falls of the ride, we waxed our boards (not a euphemism!) and tried our hand (or rather feet) at sand-boarding. After surprising even ourselves and somehow managing to remain standing whilst sliding down the dunes, we took in the incredible view before an even more nerve shattering ride back!

Thankfully, just a short journey further north, the beautiful scenery of Paracas’s nature reserve was calming before our adrenaline levels were pumped back up by a horrendously claustrophobic tour of the Chincha slave tunnels. Whilst in 18th century Peru slavery was legal, to avoid paying import taxes, these secret tunnels were built to smuggle over a thousand slaves into the Hacienda (plantation) to work on the cotton and sugar cane fields. Whilst nervously walking the completely pitch-black windy tunnels, the horror stories of people forced to spend weeks crammed into these tiny, airless, dusty spaces were enough to get my heart racing back to dune buggy levels.Managing to escape confinement, we took our final Peru Hop bus (highly recommend) and journeyed to the capital. With confidence at a high from our recent sand-boarding success, we arrived in Lima and headed to the beach to catch some waves… aka participate in a woefully inadequate surfing lesson followed by an hour of a lot of this:a little bit of this:but mostly this: 

In need of less sea water and more sea food, we tested Lima’s reputation for gastronomical excellence and were not disappointed. From the best grilled fish we’ve ever eaten courtesy of “Pescados Capitales” (so good we had to return… twice), to delicious vege pizza (and gluten-free) from the aptly named “Vege Pizza”. After eventually being too full to eat anything else, we hired bikes and toured Lima from the huge mud brick pre-Inca temple of Huacachina Pucllana to the street art of Mira Flores and Barranco. With Shabbat rapidly approaching, we headed to Chabad where, along with unexpectedly bumping into a friend from home, we were overjoyed by the meat and tahina despite several days of glutinous gorging. To misquote Mother Goose, then these little piggies went to the Amazon.Iquitos is just a 2 hour flight from Lima but is worlds apart from the temperate, urban settings we’d visited this week. Sitting on the banks of the Amazon river, our initial elations at the rainforest’s higher temperatures were quickly drowned out by the pools of sweat emanating from… everywhere! With no air-con, fans, or even electricity for most of the day, our stay at the cheap but very “rustic” Jacamar Lodge was somewhat warmer than us Brits were used to. Whilst the accommodation and food were nothing to write home about (#irony), our guide Juan and our group of Ozzies made it into the great experience that it was.After days of swinging on Tarzan style vines whilst trekking through the jungle and bakingly hot mud baths on the banks of the river, we’d fall asleep to the surprisingly loud buzzing of the forest fauna (and yes, a lot of mosquitoes). Helped of course by the powerfully strong jungle “wines” aka sickly sweet alcoholic concoctions of either:

  • Highly concentrated ginger that burned all the way down to the stomach
  • Tongue numbingly sour berries “packed full of vitamins”
  • Tree barks akin to what I suspect would result in taking a blender to Cinnabon
  • Or a mixture of all three which surprisingly was the most palatable!

Wildlife was everywhere, from the plethora of exotic colourful birds swooping and diving in search of food, to the waters teeming with fish, alligators, turtles and snakes.Monkeys cheekily jumped from tree to tree after stealing items from unaware humans, and swarms of colourful butterflies fluttered all around. Even the local pets were somewhat different from the norm. Meet Slothy McSlothface (patent pending):For me, one of the most standout moments was fishing for piranha which it turns out are kosher! The thrill of a catch quickly washed away our initial hesitation and, despite it being our first time ever fishing, we successfully landed numerous fish with the most basic of equipment. With the sun setting we contently sailed back where, thanks to being attracted to the light of our head-torches, we were amusingly pummelled by small jumping fish which we’d then scramble to throw back into the water. Eating our catches that evening was incredibly satisfying (despite being packed with tiny bones) and a nice change from the rice and jungle “spaghetti” aka shredded palm trees.All jungled out, we had one last game of spot the Roamington before the 2-hour return journey along the amazon, this time during an epic tropical storm. Whilst the boat’s tiny engine chugged along at a painfully slow pace, it did result in finally spotting dolphins, before arriving back to civilisation and much welcomed air conditioning.

Up next: The Galapagos, where the range of wildlife and proximity to it was insane. More on that next time…


9. Machu and Macho! Peru: Cusco, Machu Picchu, Colca & Arrequipa

On crossing into Peru we discovered that, much like in Bolivia, protests are an extremely popular pastime. After learning of impending road blockades, we decided to skip Puno, pull an all-nighter and head directly to Cusco, the heart (or rather the belly-button to Liv’s disgust) of the 2,500 mile long Inca empire. In Incan mythology the three levels of existence are represented by animals: the snake for the underworld, the puma for the world of man and the condor which soars up into the world of the gods. Attempting to ignore our lack of sleep, we joined a free walking tour and roamed the streets of the puma shaped city.

From giant multi-faceted polished Inca stone foundations, to Spanish invasion, revolution and Peruvian independence, our sleep deprived brains were overwhelmed with the flood of insightful information. 

Luckily we had incredible gluten-free crepes from Qucharitas and delicious meat from Chabad to fuel us.

The main tourist draw of Cusco is it’s proximity to Machu Picchu and whilst it is possible to get there and back by train in just one day, most sadistic tourists opt to spend a few days following in the footsteps of the Inca and trek there via one of the many trails. 

As the official Inca trail is booked up 6 months in advance, we opted for a 4-day Salkantay Trek with the aptly named and highly rated (even with a 4am pick-up time) Salkantay Trekking company. Whilst steep hiking was made even trickier by the 4,600m high altitude, the traditional remedy of chewing coca leaves, along with great food and even greater company (#teamsexyllamas) kept us going throughout. Inca smiles all round!

The scenery was also incredible, from the snow capped mountains of Salkantay and Humantay, to the colourful rocky valleys and the lush green dense jungle of the “cloud forest”. This of course provided a great excuse to “stop and admire the view” aka catch my breath. The most spectacular view though was of the stars on the first night when falling asleep in the less than private but picturesque glass domes of the sky lodge accommodation.

From summit to valley, the lower altitudes of the jungle made breathing a little easier, however the heat and the mosquitoes provided new challenges for us weary hikers. Luckily a brief stop at a coffee producer perked us up with some cheekily numerous free samples of coffee and cacao liquor. After finally managing to pry ourselves away from the intensely intoxicating aroma of grinding coffee, and all caffeinated up, we had time for one last chivalrous carrying of bags (#herohubby&machomatt) whilst munching on sweet and fragrant local grenadillo fruits.

Liv even managed to get a quick yoga session in whilst I kept an eye out for local wildlife. 

After a tough few days, we arrived into the town of Aguas Calientes (literally meaning hot water) for an ironically cold shower and a few hours sleep before our 3am Machu Picchu ascent. 

Alas, our guide suffering from shock at getting his first “good” rather than “excellent” review (mostly down to how awkward he made our group feel about mandated tipping), overslept and turned up an hour after the “beat the queues” time. With a gigantic line of tourists waiting to get the pricey coach, we split from the rest of our group and set off by foot where 20 minutes later we arrived (to our despair) at an only marginally smaller walking queue.

Thanks to the guide’s impressive trickery worthy of an episode of Hustle, we were whisked to the front and began climbing the 1500 Remi sized steps still in complete darkness. 

39 minutes later we emerged at the top feeling accomplished but mostly relieved. With the rest of our group yet to arrive (literal slow coaches), we entered the site and had our first views of the sun rising over the astonishing Machu Picchu.

An hour later (and with a now very grumpy guide), we began our tour of the Condor City. From an Inca compass rock shaped like the southern cross (a star constellation), to the water channels, numerous temples and stepped sides, it really was an impressive site to see.

When booking our tour, I for some reason thought that after hiking for numerous days, climbing the steps to Machu Picchu and walking around for hours, it would be a good idea to also tackle the Machu Picchu Mountain. With Liv’s back having had enough, we successfully managed to sell her ticket to a passer by who turned out to be an Israeli mountain hiking extraordinaire called Amir. Ruud (fellow Salkantay trekker), Amir and I then set off on the 1.5 hour roastingly hot and very steep climb (652m elevation gain) to the summit. Whilst the views from the top were spectacular, this was one hike I definitely could have done without! 

Liv (being wiser than me) made the better call hiking to the Sun Gate which was free, much gentler and also offered great views of Machu Picchu.

After an amazing but gruelling four days, we descended the steps of Machu Picchu and returned to Aguas Calientes where thankfully it finally lived up to it’s name with an extremely welcome hot shower. All scrubbed up, we returned back on the fanciest of  trains, complete with a full dinner service and amusingly a fashion/cultural show.

Back in Cusco and after binging out on excessive amounts of meat from Chabad, we once again headed out at 3am for a Winicunca (aka Rainbow mountain) hike. With multi-coloured layers of rock due to the oxidation of different minerals (#science), the climb (1km elevation gain) up to the summit was beautiful but tough, especially considering the 5km high altitude.

Having hiked all that we could, we treated ourselves to a relaxing day of food, more food, massages and a somewhat less relaxing overnight bus to Arequipa. Wanting to make the most of our time, we jumped straight on a 2-day tour of the Colca Canyon. The views from the different miradors (viewpoints) of the stepped hills, deep canyon and soaring condors were beautiful and validated us shlepping round a long zoom lense. The thermal pools in Chivay were also nice and soothing on our sore muscles although a little on the toasty side.

After an achingly active 2 weeks, we returned to Arequipa to treat ourselves to some relaxation and fine dining before, in the words of the M People song, movin’ on up the Peruvian coast and exploring the Amazonian jungle. More on that in the next post…

8. Olivia in Bolivia: Sucre, La Paz, Death Road, Copacabana

After 2 months of rapid roaming and excessive Google Translate, we decided to hunker down and “estudiar espanol”. Once the capital of Bolivia (and still the constitutional capital), Sucre is a pleasant, mild climate, mid-altitude (although we still struggled up the hills) city located in the south-central part of the country. We settled in to the genuinely delightful (although a little fascist re rules) Casa Verde hostel and with writing implements in hand, we summoned our inner students and signed up to classes at the Sucre Spanish school. 

Whilst initially confused at paying to spend our evenings doing homework, it was made worth it by the vast improvements in our Spanish and the delicious 3-course £3 lunches at vege restaurant Cafe Condor. We even found time between shopping for weirdly shaped fruits at the markets, and moaning about man-flu, to make our own gluten free bread. 

 The key tourist attraction of Sucre is the Parque Cretacico aka Dinosaur Park which is home to one of the largest collections of dinosaur footprints in the world (over 5,000), as well as some impressive life size models of the dinosaurs themselves. It was fun stepping back in time (pun always intended!) however as the tours only run at lunchtime we could only view the actual footprints from afar. 

Armed with a new ability to almost communicate with locals, we took a nerve shattering flight from Sucre to La Paz which, unbeknown to an asleep Liv, eventually arrived at the 4,100m high airport after multiple attempts to land. La Paz, the highest administrative capital in the world, is a hectic, bustling, noisy, dirty, sprawling mishmash of a city which, like marmite, divides people into love it or hate it categories. For us it was more of the latter although Friday night at chabad filled with travellers, chicken shnitzels and an incredibly drunk Rabbi was great fun. The vege food at Namas Te was also amazing and they even sold jars of tahini. I think we must be the only travellers in history to travel with two bottles of olive oil and a jar of tahini!

 One of the stand out moments of the whole trip for me was Camino de la muerte aka…Death Road! The world’s most dangerous road gains it’s name from the ~300 people killed yearly from car accidents along this narrow winding mountain road with blind corners, overhanging rocks, waterfalls and of course a 1000m sheer drop. Thankfully, a new road was built in 2006 and since then, the old one is primarily used by crazy, thrill-seeking tourists (and us) on bikes looking to descend the 64km rocky dirt road from 4,700m high to 1,200m. Whilst we were frequently reminded that several cyclists still die each year, even I (the nervy-wobbly cyclist) felt safe in the hands of our Gravity (highly recommend this company) guide Scott from Scotland. The scenery was spectacular and my nerves quickly faded away as my confidence grew. Starting to believe that I may in fact survive the day, I even started enjoying myself and, whilst there were a couple of hairy moments, we both arrived back injury free and elated. We thought it best to wait until this point to let our parents know what we had just done!

After an exhilarating adrenaline pumping day, we thought we’d take it easy and unwind with… a series of 50mph zip wires several hundred meters above the jungle floor. The views were incredible and, after reaching terminal velocity, the ride was strangely serine. Vast coca plantations swept across the mountainous terrain and the cool air refreshed our tired faces.   

 With our feet firmly back on the ground, we joined a walking tour of La Paz from San Pedro prison which operates like an enclosed community where convicts pay rent for cells, live with their families and run businesses. The most notable of these were the prison tours (historically one of the top attractions on lonely planet) and the finest cocaine production in South America…hmm, I wonder if they could be related?!

From inmates to insanes, the Witches Market was seriously weird. Dried llama foetuses for use in rituals, sweets made with poisonous glues and “love potions”. The stories that accompanied them were even creepier, with tales of homeless people being buried alive as offerings to Pachamama (Mother Nature) to protect their buildings.

Weird did eventually turn to wonderful when hearing about traditional Bolivian courting practices (the age old tale of men throwing stones and women revealing their calves if they’re interested) and explanations for the unique female dress code; an over order of bowler hats that were accidentally too small for the men’s heads. My personal favourite story was that one of the many protests in La Paz was actually due to The Simpsons being taken off air, and resulted in it being shown 3 times a day. 

To celebrate the independence of La Paz, the whole city was having a party and the streets were crammed full with marching bands, parades and a lot of drinking. Thankfully being about a foot taller than all the locals meant getting a good view wasn’t much of a challenge.

 After a hectic few days, we opted for simplicity and boarded a Bolivia/Peru Hop bus tour headed to Copacabana (the beach in Brazil is named after this town) which lies on the banks of Lake Titicaca; the worlds highest navigable lake. Las Olas hotel was truly spectacular, from a gigantic round bed to a wood burning fire, not to mention the incredible sunset views over the lake. 

Feeling refreshed, we said goodbye to B-Olivia and crossed into Peru only to discover that chaos awaited us. More on that next time… 

6. Water load of fun! Brazil: Rio de Janiero, Ilha Grande & Iguazu Falls

When we last left you we were “stranded” on the island paradise of Morro de Sao Paolo following an ill timed ill time. Well good news! Just three boats, two super cool hats, a bus, plane and several taxi rides later and we had made it to Rio – phew!

Rio de Janeiro is just a 2 hour flight south of Salvador and until the 1960s was the capital of Brazil until the newly built Brasilia took that mantle. We arrived at the famed (and disappointingly pretentious) Mango Tree Hostel relieved but wary; Rio is known for being extremely dangerous. Petty crime such as thefts and muggings are at an all time high and frequent shootouts occur in the favelas (slums). As a local once said: “America is great but sucks. Brazil sucks but is great”.

A short taxi ride into what we were assured was one of the “safer favelas” (I was obviously still on edge!) brings you to the Dois Irmaos (Two Brothers) mountain. Motorbike taxis await to zip you up the narrow windy roads to the start of the trail as, unlike our unwitting and confused uber driver, most taxis won’t venture all the way. The hike is a fairly steep climb to the top where panoramic views of the south side of Rio can usually be enjoyed. Whilst our view was sadly this:

we were kept entertained by the marmosets along the way.

Having learnt our lesson about cloudy mountain tops + views, we opted for exploring Rio’s impressive 140-hectares of botanical gardens which houses more than 6,000 species of plants and trees. A haven of tranquility inside such a hectic city, the gardens are packed with intricate orchids, gigantic bamboo, bird swooping from tree to tree and lakes swarming with fish.

The only thing spoiling the calm were a couple of crazy jumping touristsand the impromptu game of “Find the Roamington”…After a brief tropical storm and with the sun poking it’s head through, we headed to Sugar Loaf Mountain where a series of cable cars whisk you 400m up to the top of the peak. From there we witnessed spectacular panoramic views of the sun setting over Rio, from the huge Rio-Niteroi bridge spanning the entire Guanabara bay, to the numerous verdant (#karen) islands and the golden beaches of Copacabana (cue Rachel from Friends singing).

Next on our itinerary was Ilha Grande (pronounced “gr-arn-gee” and literally translates as “large island”), a lush mountainous island just a few hours bus/boat south of Rio. Staving off Morro related flashbacks, we joined a speedboat tour of the island’s most popular highlights which, to our surprise, turned out to be completely Portuguese speaking! Not deterred and with snorkels in hand, we braved the chilly waters of the nearly indistinguishable “blue” and “green” lagoons and were rewarded with swarms of exotic fish and turtles.

Any trip to Ilha Grande must involve a trip to the famed Lopez Mendez beach. Having been told it was a two hour walk, we were pretty impressed with ourselves when seeing the beach after just an hour of hiking through treacherous terrain. Alas our smugness was quickly shattered when a randomly placed tourist office informed us that we were in fact only at the half way point. Tired and sceptical (how different could this beach really be?!) we trooped on and, luckily, it was totally worth it. The powdery white sand was as fine as flour and seemed to stretch for miles. The crystal clear waters were pleasantly cool and, until a gigantic wave came and took Liv by surprise, were perfect to relax in; it really was an idyllic setting.

After a tranquil few days, we headed back to Rio just in time to see a chaotic futbol game between arch rivals Flamengo and Fluminense (no we hadn’t heard of them either!). We arrived at the famed Maracana stadium and witnessed a hair-raising and emotional battle ending in a 2-2 draw after a literal last (95th) minute goal. Go sports teams!From Rio we flew to Iguazu falls where we spent a couple of days exploring both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides of one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders. Whilst the Brazilian side provides an incredible overview of the whole waterfall system, the Argentinian side gets you up close and personal to the two thousand tonnes of water flowing per second. Witnessing this sheer natural power was a truly breathtaking experience and whilst pictures don’t do it justice, here’s a few we took:

After three weeks of feeling linguistically lacking, we stocked up on delicious gluten free bread (Miss Laura Bakery in Foz do Iguacu was incredible) and left Brazil for an unexpected but delicious travel reunion tour. More on that next time…If you like reading our blog posts, please follow us and feel free to leave a comment or two!

5. Pousada Poosaga. Brazil: Salvador, Chapada and Morro de Sao Paulo

1. a hotel, B&B or guest house in Brazil
Portuguese, literally ‘resting place’.

1. a period of being in somewhat less than perfect health
Roamingtons June 2017, literally ‘poo saga’

As you probably have guessed from the blog intro, we were forced to face the age old reality about travelling this week; at some point everyone gets ill. Luckily for you readers, this didn’t happen until the end of the week…

From Santiago (Chile) we flew to Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia (26 states in total), located on the northeastern side of Brazil. After the mammoth journeys we’d been taking in Patagonia (see past blog posts), the 6 hours of flying seemed like a breeze: swift and turbulent. OK so first impressions of Brazil: warm, noisy, energetic, vibrant, and… unnerving, party due to everyone warning us how dangerous it was, and partly due to the number of cockroaches scurrying around!

Armed with a good night’s sleep, a delicious avocado, mango and banana smoothie (the fruit in Salvador was incredible!) and a secret bum-bag for our stuff, we roamed from the beaches of Barra, to the cobbled pavements of Pelourinho. 

With colourful buildings, bustling market stalls, giant public lifts and quirky statues, there was a real excitement to the city.

To avoid being hassled whilst spying on an impressive street capoeira performance, we popped into a building that turned out to be incredibly interesting museum. The Afro-Brazilian Museum details the history of Brazil, from Portuguese invasion to the several hundred years of slave trade from Africa. At one point 75% of the population were African slaves and, along with the historical information, the museum displays several styles of art from those cultures including amazingly detailed wooden carvings. Mmm chicken…

Speaking of chicken, Friday night was spent with a bellowing chabad Rabbi in a shul weirdly donated by the “Fingergut” family; a relation of ours perhaps?

A 7-hour coach ride from Salvador brings you to the town of Lencois and the Chapada Da Diamantina national park, named after historic diamond mining, and features incredible mountains, forests, waterfalls and caves.

Our day started at the Devil’s Pool waterfall where unscrupulous workers would curse the devil for taking the diamonds they had been attempting to steal. In reality, rain could increase the water flow so much that even sunken diamonds would be swept downstream. Whilst the diamond mining has long ended (I still optimistically scanned the ground), this particular spot has become popular for people crazy enough to jump (or accidentally belly flop) 30m into the water below.

Armed with torches we explored some of Lapa Doce’s 23km of caves (third largest in Brazil) littered with striking stalagmites and the guide’s amusingly pronounced “stalag-tits”.

The most unique cave experience was swimming in the brilliant blue waters of Poco Azul. In high season tourists face a 4-hour queue for just 15 minutes in the cave; luckily we were the first people there so went straight in. The water was so completely still and clear to the rock beneath that, as we descended the rickety steps, I was surprised to find the water level about 10m higher than it appears!

Photo from Google as didn’t have our good camera with us then. 

At Pai Inacio however we were “special enough” to witness one of only two days a year that the view looks like this:

Thankfully it cleared quickly and we did get to admire the view. 

After three days of delicious tapioca pancakes, stunning views and swimming in every cave, waterfall and lake we encountered, we headed to Morro De São Paulo, an island a few hours south of Salvador, for some beach chilling.

OK folks, remember how this blog post started? Well I’ll spare you the unpleasant details, but after a lovely day of exploring Morro, things turned ugly fast when we were hit by a stomach bug. Numerous days were spent indoors wishing we were home whilst being surrounded by lush palm trees, warm sea water and pristine sun-drenched beaches; not quite what we had envisioned!

This is however the reality of travelling; it’s great, but it’s not all great. Blogging about the hours upon hours of planning, researching, debating and deliberating, or the conversations assisted by Google Translate, would make for some pretty dry reading. Travelling can be tough, and requires a lot of work, but I could not recommend it highly enough…in the words of Nike, just do it!

Our supply of freshly felled coconut water did seem to be helping (the pousada owners were really lovely!), but progress was slow. With a flight to Rio de Janeiro rapidly approaching, we had to find a way to escape the island…