Week 20: Arequipa & Colca Canyon. Peru

I arrived into Peru in the early hours after a fairly rough ride from Bolivia (nothing new there). While trying to pay for the toilet in the bus terminal I walked off without realising and had dropped $300 dollars in the middle of the floor in the bus terminal (it’s all I have left!). I was blessed when the kindest woman came sprinting after me with the goods. The  people you meet will never cease to amaze me.

I arrived on Paddy’s day which was always going to be a write off. I camped out in the wild rover for the day (a branch of south american party hostels owned by an Irish lad). I won’t elaborate on the details of the day but lots of fun and pisco were had. I ended up bumping into two girls who live in Drumcondra, 5 minutes from our house. If you’re Irish you got free accommodation, t-shirt, hat and ample amounts of shots.Happy Days! I always love being abroad for Paddy’s Day and as cheesy as it sounds you feel really proud and patriotic to be Irish when you see people from all over the world celebrating with our flag. Now for most it’s just an excuse to party but sure who cares! A fiesta is a fiesta!

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The general gist of Paddy’s day. Photo:Wild Rover. I wisely left the camera at home that day.

So needless to say the next day was also a write off. When I eventually got to discover Arequipa I realised how stunning it was. It has gorgeous architecture, cobbled streets, amazing foods and the cutest cafes and restaurants. The perfect place to chill out for a couple for a few days.

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Main plaza at night Arequipa

One of the days I did a free walking tour around Arequipa. Feeling confident I decided to do it in Spanish and subsequently didn’t understand a tap but got to see the beautiful sites nonetheless!

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Some of the amazing architexture in Arequipa

 

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Terrace in the Flying Dog hostel, Arequipa
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Flying Dog hostel, Arequipa
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Gracias Marina for the drawings. Marina a chica from Argentina is funding her travels by doing amazing illustrations. Buena suerte!

I decided to treat myself to doing a chocolate making class  in Chaqchou which was  incredible. In Peru there are more than 60 different varieties of cacao, out of the world’s 100 total varieties. Peru is the world’s second largest exporter of organic cacao. Some of the funky facts I learned on the tour was that Christopher Columbus was the first European to taste chocolate and didn’t like it so the Peruvians aren’t fans of Chris (what an idiot). Peru is famous for making tea out of the skins of the cocoa bean, smells like hot chocolate tastes like tea. Bleeding gorgeous. I could have camped out in this chocolate factory for months.

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Chocolate making class featuring real cocoa & cocoa butter
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The coco fruit, coco butter and the chocolate tea

We picked the beans, roasted them, deskined, mixed, tempered and then picked our own fillings and made the most delicious chocolates to take home. If anyone goes to Arequipa you need to do this class. I was so inspired afterwards I was googling chocolate making machines. I was in  one of my dangerous buying moods. The fact my card is blocked was probably a blessing in disguise on this occasion.

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Going home with the goods! 70%  homemade peruvian chocolates

After the class myself and a Frenchie went for a few piscos and met  a few hippy friends of hers.  The hippies spent the evening  teaching me how to make jewellery to try and help me earn some dollar One of the tatoo artists had me almost convinced to a get a tatoo of a coco bean post my chocolate expedition ( which included an excellent discount). I honestly felt high on chocolate.  Once again the lack of money brought me back to earth. I think my jewellery making career will be short-lived. That being said I have mastered making rings out of wires ( no doubt I’ll be minted in no time)! Later in the night there was talk of getting dreadlocks he had me sold when he told me I’d really have to wash my hair! I  eventually came to the realisation that dreadlocks were a step too far even for me! When I came home I had found my only pair of shoes were put in the rubbish. One of my dorm mates told me the cleaner said they were filthy and fit for the bin, I wouldn’t’ mind but there are my ‘going out shoes’.  Needless to say they were rooted out pronto and are back in action.

The following day, I made mates with a Mexican, Argentinian and Columbian in the  hostel (flying dog, v good hostel) where we went to the local market to buy jumpers and eat helado de  queso (cheese ice cream). A really traditional dessert in Arequipa and the lady in the market is famous for hers. Looks like cheese doesn’t taste like cheese it’s DELISH.

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Mexico and Columbia eating cheese ice cream in Arequipa´s market

Arequipa’s food market was one of the most organised I have ever seen and was actually relatively clean. As  usual an amazing collection of exotic fruits and vegetables.

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One of South Americas more hygienic markets
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Fish and some other suspicious meat joints
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One of the many juice bars

One of the biggest attractions in Arequipa is to visit the nearby Colca Canyon. It is the second deepest canyon in the world. Instead of taking a tour myself and Santiago, the Columbian guy decided to go together. If you take a tour you get picked up at 3.00am so we opted for a later start. We ended up picking up a little kid from Canada (just turned 18 looks about 8) and a chap from Iceland (my first Icelandic of the trip). So the 4 of us headed  off to find the public bus to Cabanaconde. So when I first met the Kayden, the Canadian child I though he was a funny fish and definitely not your usual backpacking clientele (but then again who is…). Turns out he is the sweetest guy and getting to know him was a pleasure. He’s defo got his shit together. He has his own apartment and is the manager of Mc Donalds in Canada (I’ve been guaranteed a free big mac if I ever visit!!). Our very random group rocked up to a run down hostel. We stocked up on Clos (cartoned red wine that’s actually is drinkable) and pizza. The next day the hostel owner thought that Kayden was my son so a fantastic start to the day. Everyone was calling him a nino (child en espanol). We managed to secure the nino a discount on the entrance fee into the canyon. Every cloud and all that jazz.

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Colca Canyon day 1
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The gang day 1 of Colca Canyon
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Colca Canyon
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The place is surrounded by cactus
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More cactus

We were blessed with the weather and the views of the canyon were breath-taking. When we arrived at the oasis we checked into the hostel where a caban for the 4 of us for the night was ($2). It was the most stunning setting and we went swimming over a few beers and chilled on the rocks. We were  lucky because the day before there had been torrential rain for the entire day.

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Oasis, Colca Canyon
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Bumped into this little fella outside our caba

At 6am the next morning Ziggy woke up all  up to the sound of his crappy ring tones. The steep climb up the canyon is fairly intense and is vertically uphill all the way. You are warned not to leave any later than 7am because the heat from the sun is such a killer with the uphill. If you go on a tour you leave at 4am (fairly grim). We started off guns blazing after about 5 minutes Kayden the nino started pucking his ring up and had chronic diorrhoea. He looks kind of sick on a good day but he really looked like death on this occasion. I felt so sorry for him as I’ve been in that position on more occassions that I want to recall. Ziggy, superfit was sprinting up the Canyon so me and Santiago stayed back with Kayden. I suggested we take turns in lifting him because he genuinely could barely stand upright. When the lifting idea didn’t work out we  all crawled up with him in-between pucking episodes. We were trying to get to the top of the canyon in time for the bus back to Arequipa but as time went on this was looking unlikely.

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Some of the foliage in the Canyon
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Day 1 Colca Canyon
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Amazing scenes
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Ziggy and Kayden in Colca Canyon

 

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Me in the world’s second deepest canyon

I thought I was having visions when I saw a man coming up the mountain with a donkey. We begged the man to let Kayden onto the donkey explaining how sick he was. Obviously the man obliged at a hefty cost which Kayden was only to happy to pay. It was the first smile of the day from the poor divil. So me and Columbia trudged up the mountain and Kayden was away on his donkey. After about 2 hours of an uphill slog we made it. There’s is no way Kayden would have made it.

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The rescue.
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We made it!

Looking v shook we packed Kayden into the public bus and made our cheese and popcorn sandwiches (a fabulous  new combo). Mid way through the bus a Bolivian gal slapped me on the back screaming. Kayden couldn’t breath properly and was violently sick once again. Out of no where about 10 different peruvian women started screaming and throwing drugs at us. One ‘doctor’ rushed over and started pouring this yellow alcohol on Kaydens’s head down his back and on his chest. It was quite the spectacle and I couldn’t help but laugh (despite how utterly shocking and traumatising it was). Kayden was almost unconscious at this point and they all urged us to get of the bus and go to hospital. I knew it was something similar I had in Argentina so we eventually made it home after the most painstaking bus ride. During the course of the hysterical peruvian ‘docotor’s I realised that my bag and coat were soaking wet. It turn out it was piss and the old man on front of me had pissed all over my stuff. It really was the straw that broke the camels back I couldn’t have gotten out of that bus quick enough. The smell was intoxicating. After a few shower less days in the canyon, random man’s piss, Kayden’s puck and diorrhoea we were all ready for our shower that night. Up there with one of my worst bus trips of my travels.

That night we had our family dinner with the four  pasta carbonara a la Ro, Peruvian wine ( it’s terrible shit just tastes like sugar). Kayden was on the gaterorade and even managed some food without pucking so all in all a success. It was a very random group but we got on great despite the illness and rough transport system . We had an excellent few days. I’ve started to remind myself about this trip. Anything that’s rough is always an experience. I’m sure there will be plenty more to come! Let’s just hope they don’t involve any more vomit, puck or piss. I’ve had my fair share at this stage!

 

 

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Week 19: La Paz, Death Road & Corrico. Bolivia

I still have to pinch myself when I wake up in huge double bed in a hotel. I haven’t gotten used to the luxury of it all and have no idea how I am going to back to my tent life.

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Streets of La Paz
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La Paz’s main plaza
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Even the clocks are different in La Paz

The week started off with me trying to convince Una to cycle death road which is one of the biggest attractions in La Paz. It used to be known as the words most dangerous road (a new road has since been constructed).  It is estimated that 200 to 300 drivers were killed yearly along Yungas Road and as late as 1994 there were cars falling over the edge at a rate of one every two weeks. Still, today about 9 tourists die per year doing the tour and its easy to see why. Una settled on going in the support van while the rest of us took to the bikes and in hindsight this was the best decision. It was comforting to know that there were a few others in the group also violently sick from the altitude. The bumpy bike ride definitely didn’t  help. You have to concentrate so hard not to fall off cliff that you forget about being sick.

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Kitted out in all the gear!
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4,800m high, La Cumbre
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Our group just before lift off!

You drive to the highest point at 4,800m where we all had breakie before setting off. Physcially it’s not too difficult *except for altitude sickness as it’s all basically free-falling down the mountain not an uphill in sight. I loved it from the minute we started. I kept wanting to go faster. I tried to stay to stay behind the guide so you wouldn’t get stuck behind a slowie. Una played a blinder on photo duty. Death road day happened to fall on mother’s day. World’s worst daughter dragging Una along valley de la muerte in a support vehicle. Being the saint that she is didn’t complain and seemed to enjoy herself.

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Beginning of death road
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The route

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One of the treacherous turns!
All was redeemed at the end of the day when we reached beautiful Coirico. We all had lunch and dip in the pool and soaked up the afternoon rays.  Everyone in the group was getting the mouldy bus back to La Paz that evening but myself and Una were booked into a beautiful ecolodge in the mountains for 4 days (Hostal Sol y Luna). How the other half live!Cycling valley de la meurte was spectacular I would do it again in a heart beat. A memorable day!

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Death Road survivors

My generous mother’s day gift to Una consisted of a $3 piece of trout and a cup of tea (don’t worry Mam you’ll get a double whammy pressie next year when I’m home).

The climate in Coirico is amazing for most of the year it remains about 20-25 degrees. It is a little jungle town set in mountains. Our little apartment was perfect and had a kitchen and the most amazing views of the valley. We were surrounded by banana, avocado, orange and lemon trees and beautiful exotic flowers. The wildlife was also amazing with regular appearances from the humming-bird. This is the perfect place to chill in a hammock or by the pool and do absolutely nothing which I am becoming quite good at.

 

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View from our apartment in Coirico
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More views from hostel Sol y Luna, Coirico
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Banana trees are absolutely everywhere

One of the mornings we to an animal rescue centre 8km outside the town. Sende Verde is an amazing organization that save animals from being sold on the black market especially monkeys. All of the staff are volunteers and all proceeds go back into the centre. The tour we did was top class and we saw some of the most amazing animals’ toucans, exotic birds, lots of monkeys, capibara and turtles. Some of the cases are quite sad there was one monkey who was paralysed because his mother was shot and her body fell on the baby monkey causing paralysis. The refugee is set in the heart of the jungle so the animals have lots of freedom. We were warned beforehand that the monkeys are extremely clever and lots of them had been previously trained on the black market to rob tourists so we were told to have nothing in our pockets. True to the guides word we were greeted by the most adorable monkey who took a shining to Una and essentially gave her a head massage for the duration of the tour. There was an extremely rude Italian girl in our group. She had a big face on her for the entire tour. At the end she starting going mad and complaining that the tour was in English not Spanish. To my secret satisfaction she realized at the end that the monkey had robbed one of her earrings that she had kept in her pocket!  She had booked to stay in the refugee but after seeing two spiders in her room refused and left the refugee in a huff.  Imagine seeing spiders in a jungle! Would you be well….

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Even the monkey wasn’t a fan of the Italiano
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He obviously had good  taste and loved Una
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Some of the beautiful animals in Sende Verde

We ended up bumping into the Italian later that night in a gorgeous little pizzeria run solo handed by the cutest bolivian woman. She is the chef, cleaner, manager and waitress and doing an excellent job. She even makes all of her own pasta from scratch (major brownie points in my book). I made the mistake of asking the Italian girl did she enjoy her pizza and she went off on a rant…. Needless to say she didn’t enjoy it and it wasn’t up to her Napoli pizza standards. Welcome to Bolivia you big moan bag. Me and Una on the other hand were delighted with our feed.

The next day we booked to go on a tour of a coffee plantation. This was absolutely amazing. Maurizio the guide took the two of us to his mates house who grows a few coffee plants and just makes coffee for himself and his family. The tour was in Spanish so I was on translation duty. He wanted to take to us through the whole process of making coffee from plant to cup. So me and Una picked our own coffee beans, skinned them, roasted the beans and more importantly spent the afternoon drinking the most delicious coffee. Bolivia also makes a special tea out of the skins of the coffee which is v fruity. Lunch was sourced from the garden. We had bananas, avocados (both freshly picked), a local bolivian fruit called tuna (this are everywhere and v v nice). The beans we roasted were packed up and given to us to take home. The coffee plantations in Bolivia are 100% natural and instead of using chemicals to protect the plants they plant trees/ fruit bushes and their branches and leaves are also used to protect the precious coffee bean. In this coffee plantation we also saw lots of coca plants which are seen all over Bolivia.

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Una at the coffee plantation
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Una picking coffee beans in Coirico

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Our hand picked beans!
En route back to Coirico we stopped off at one of the waterfalls which is set in the most stunning part of the valley. I was buzzing for the rest of the day I forgot how good coffee tasted and after 4 cups I was set for the day. I reluctantly drew the line after the 4th cup (Una after the 1st). It brought me back to that one time I drank 13 cups of coffee and 8 teas at a coffee festival in Dublin. The entry fee covered all you can drink; a dangerous concept. I didn’t sleep for over 48 hours and was nauseated by coffee for over 3 weeks. Never again!

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Me en route to the waterfalls in Coirico
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Una at the jugani waterfall, Coirico

 

We had a gorgeous dinner that night in the restaurant; Carla’s garden. For the first time I was feeling well enough to have some vino (having with drawl symptoms at this stage). I let my guard down when I almost let the waitress take away some delicious fresh Chorizo. Una suggested packing them up for the eggs in the am! So with chorizo and cheese stuffed into pockets we crawled home with happy heads and full bellies.

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Locals in Coiroico

I am now the proud owner of a phone with a microphone, screen and light. An early birthday pressie from Una. I splashed the boat and went with a Cherry (I’ve no doubt a trusted, reputable bolivian brand). Fingers crossed this phone makes it through the next few months without any lake, coffee or robbery incidents. We got the bus back from Coirico to La Paz. For our last night together we decided to splash out on a nice restaurant (well Una was splashing out).  We both agreed that Coroico was one of our favourite places it really was paradise. I had  been researching  this restaurant for weeks and before my card was blocked I had planned on treating myself and Una. Poor Una had to foot the bill once again. Gusto was voted as one of South America’s best restaurants and is owned by Copppenhagon native who owns Noma (world famous restaurant).  I  love eating in the local markets and on the streets but on this occasion I was dying for a bit of fancy.

So when we arrived to the chick restaurant it was hard to believe we were in La Paz any more.  Getting ready for our fancy outing I realized the fanciest pair of shoes I own are a pair of asics currently with holes in them and covered in mud. The only other alternative was Una’s new pair of chunky plastic flipflops. They  were the chosen ones on the night. A few glasses in and the chucky sandels were the least of our concerns.We had a choice of an 8 course tasting menu or a 20 course tasting menu (obviously we went for the 20) and I treated myself on Una’s behalf to the matching wines. We were 4 hours going through the meal and it was an incredible experience . The tasting menu was based around all of the local and traditional foods of Bolivia . Some of the exotic dishes we tasted was cow’s heart with peanut sauce which we cooked ourselves on a volcano rock, alligator with ginger/lime and melon and strawberry salad (also v good), marinated ants taco (this species of ant can only be caught in December and is extremely raw). My standout dishes were a quinoa salad (using 4 different types of quinoa), seared duck with roasted pineapple and citrus butter sauce with cocoa and the dessert of brunt white chocolate, locals fruits and a white chocolate ganache was amazing. The wine pairing was excellent and thankfully the waitress made a mistake so we got a free glass of bubbly. 3 cocktails were also included; one really unusual one was gin, carrot juice and bolivian equivalent to the herb mint (this was v fresh). There were all sorts of shots included at the end.  I loved every second of the experience.

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Enjoy the rest of your Bolivian trip Mam!

I hit the mam lottery with Una and she treated me like an absolute queen during our 2 weeks together. She came equipped with mitchem (worlds best deodorant),  knickers, socks, towels , sewing kit (to repair all my ripped clothes) and most importantly my favourite chocolate!!! A special thanks also to Fiona and Marian who sent chocolate over. I’ve already put a big a dent in the supplies. Una is joining a tour group to travel around the rest of Bolivia where she’ll see Sucre, Potosi and Uyuni. She’s then travelling to San Pedro in Chile and flying home from Buenes Aires in Argentina. Thanks Mam for coming to visit and for the endless amount of treats. The show must go on so back to the backpacking! I am dying to get out of La Paz and am praying the altitude in Peru is a little more forgiving on my stomach!

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Back on the road with Ro

 

Week 18: La Paz, Copacabana & Isla del Sol (Lake Titicacka ).Bolivia

The night bus from Cochabamaba to La Paz was amazing leather seats, recling chairs and most importantly a loo. I have started to dehydrate myself before all Bolivian buses because it really is torture and peeing into lunch boxes obviously isn’t something I want to make a habit of. Things started to decline fairly swiftly when I got my fairly routine  car sickness. The chap next to me was fast asleep so I didn’t want to wake him. After a few hours his Mam came over with fleece blankies to tuck him (he was my age v jel!) so this was my escape point. Luckily I just  made it to the loo on time where I was violently sick. When we eventually arrived  at La paz terminal I realized my laptop had been robbed. Obviously I had invested in a high tech one before my trip. I was raging with myself as usually I don’t leave the bag out of my sight. I’m almost 100% sure it was the chap next to me. I am just so lucky he didn’t take anything else. I had $1000 dollars right beside the laptop, my camera, phone and passport. I have been storing my money in a first aid kid lately because I lost my purse so maybe that saved me. Naturally I was upset initially because of loosing lots of photos but looking on the bright side at least I wasn’t attacked…I’d love to give the culprit a going over with my pepper spray!!!

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Museum Street, La Paz

Things started to get worse from this point on wards. When I arrived at the fabulous Hotel Rosario Una booked for us (she didn’t arrive until the following day). I could barely walk and was violently sick en route to the hotel. The fancy hotel staff didn’t really know how to react to me. I looked homeless, dirty, sick and my backpack was covered in muck post camping expedition.  It felt so strange to be in a hotel and the timing couldn’t have been better. I definitely wasn’t their typical clientele. I rang Ulster bank to try and unblock my card which has been out of action for almost 2 weeks. They started to ask me had I spend thousands of euro on washing machines, hoovers, flights to America, hotels and of course hundreds on pizza. The money situation was  not looking the healthiest at this stage. They think someone may have cloned my card so it was blocked immediately. A new one is being sent to Dublin so Brian will be on the case to try and get it sent over to Bolivia.

Later in the day for good measure my phone decided it also had enough also enough and packed it in (I can’t say I blame him). My screen gradually turned completely black (even though the phone is still working ‘perfectly’). I spent the afternoon guessing where my spotify app might be and when I eventually found it obviously landed onto my Christmas playlist so that was the afternoons agenda along with regular trips to the bathroom to be sick. Reliable google was telling me  my sickness was down to the altitude. La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world and you can definitely feel it. So laptopless, phoneless and moneyless all in the space of one day even for me I think that’s impressive.

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La Paz

Una’s visit couldn’t have come at a better time! The hotel breakfast was amazing and needless to say I got overwhelmed by the buffet element  and overdid it. This is  what happens when you’ve been severely slumming it for the last 4 months.

Una’s first day of holidays was spent on operation laptop. The thing in Bolivia they have themed streets so they have camping street, hairdresser street, stationary street etc…. You name it they have it. Electronic street is like a dodgier version of Moore street. It was hell trying to find a laptop. Most of the sales people would just play candy crush as you’d be asking questions. They also tried to insist that dell doesn’t have a model it’s just dell. One shop for the same laptop there was $400 in the difference. We abandoned ship that day and went back the next morning where I settled for a cheap model-less DELL.  When I got back to the hotel it said the laptop was completely out of storage despite not even using it. So all and all operation laptop a massive success.

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Car accessory street
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The best gal in all of La Paz
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She has been making Api (hot maize drink) and Pastel (cheese pastry) her whole life. This glass was on the house!

Later that day  we did a city walking tour of La Paz which was amazing. La Paz is one of the most unique cities I have ever visited. One of the interesting things is Mc Donald’s opened a couple of years ago and was forced to shut down because no one wanted it. The bolivians really value fresh quality food and virtually everything is bought from the cholitas (traditional women) on the streets. There’s are no supermarkets and more importantly no Starbucks (thank god).

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Amazing street finds in Bolivia

Another interesting fact is Bolivia’s is one of the few countries in the world with 2 different national flags (one for the indigenous people). We also visited the witches market where they sell all sorts of useful items like dead lamas, chalks, dried flowers and of course potions. The only way to become a witch is by getting struck by lightening. Only in Bolivia!  The amazing thing is people actually buy this stuff. One of the most interesting places in La Paz is San Pedro prison which is situated in one of the main plazas. It is the only prison in the world where there are no guards and the prisoners manage the prison it’s like a small village. In the past tourists could do tours of the prison with a prisoner guide. I can’t recommend the book ‘Marching Powder’ enough a true story of a British drug trafficker who spend 5 years in San Pedro prison and shares all the inside stories of this crazy place.

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The building on front is the presidents current house. The horrible building behind will be the presidents new house, costing the country a whooping $136 million

The tour finished in a party hostel in a sky bar with fab views of the city. We each got to make our own singani sour (Bolivian’s equivalent of the piso sour and equally delish).

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View of La Paz from the sky bar

Una was treated to dinner in Lanze market a real eye opener to Bolivia’s rustic cuisine. $1.50 for sopa de mani and the popular Milanese. Really splashing the boat.

One of the days we took a bus to Copacabana to see Lake Titicacka the worlds largest lake.  My stomach was still in ribbons from the altitude despite lashing the coca tea into me.  On Una’s  first Bolivian bus there was almost world war 3 as she had taken one of the senoritas seats.  A perfect introduction to the Bolivias’s transport system. After a rough but beautiful road we arrived into Copacabana and dinner was their famous fried trout ( a famous delicacy in Titicaka).

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$3 for a whole trout

We checked into our hotel at the top of the hill which was beautiful. During breakie we had the most amazing view of the lake, the lamas eating breakie and to top it off the cores were playing. Copacabana is a bit scrubby and not the nicest of places but a perfect stop over point to some of the surrounding Islands.

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View from breakie, Copacabana
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Una hanging out with the lamas
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Copacabana’s church
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Copacabana’s church

Una booked us into an eco lodge on Isla del Sol where we had our own little caban. We  took a two hour boat to get to the island. It was absolutely stunning. The only traffic system is donkeys. The lodge was a 45 minute trek across the island but the donkeys carried our luggage. We were treated to the most incredible views and the lodge itself is probably one of the most amazing places I have ever stayed in. It’s entirely run on solar energy and everything is biodegradable. We ate dinner and breakie here and both nights we had the most amazing trout dinners (probably some of the nicest food of the trip so far). Breakie was a different level and once again I got overwhelmed. There was amazing  cheeses and breads. I seized the opportunity to suss us out with sambos for lunch. It reminded me of the time me Sinead and Orla were in Greece and took robbing the buffet to a whole new level. Our daily challenge was making jumbo seized sambos at dinner. One night I got screwed by trying to wrap my sambo in the white linen table cloth! Never again! Anyway on this occasion Una’s influence made the operation more seamless.

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Lake Titicacka 
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Boats coming in and out of Isla del Sol
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Local crafts, Isla de Sol
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One of the main streets, Isla del Sol
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Views from our lodge, Isla del Sol
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The transport
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The walls here are made out of muck

It’s a shame you can’t visit the north of the island as of a year ago. There’s some archaeological site in the north where tourist paid to see . After a while the middle of the island got wind that there was money to be made and build a lodge also charging tourist to pass the route towards the north. Once the north heard about it they got dynamite and blew up the lodge. Since then both the centre and the north are completely closed off until they can solve their differences. Another interesting fact about Bolivia is you can legally buy dynamite! It’s such a shame and the locals depend so much on tourism for their livelihood so everyone is really a looser! We spend our days exploring Yumani (the south) there are amazing view points, eating trout, reading and soaking up the fresh air. A welcomed change from the chaos of La Paz.

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This little fella almost came home with us!

 

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Una looking fab

I couldn’t have asked for a better way of ending the roughest start to the week. La Paz is such an interesting place and so nice to see their unique culture still alive. Unfortunately, the altitude had me in ribbons and I was sick as a dog. Delira Una got off scot free we’re milling coca tee like there’s no tomorrow.  It’s so nice catching up with Una, god love here though she is having to foot the bill for absolutely until my finances get sorted.

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Me and Una, Isla del Sol

 

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One of the many hills on Isla del Sol

 

Week 17: Cochabamba & Toro Toro National Park.Bolivia

The plan this week was to meet up with a gal called Rocio (a friend of a friend) in Cochabamba who was going to teach me to ride a motor bike. Unfortunately she was out of the city for a few days but said a friend of hers Alfredo, also a motorbiker would take me under his wing. He invited me along to a famous Bolivian apricot festival which sounded interesting. Apparently Bolivia have festivals for most types of fruit and is basically just an excuse to party!

I arrived at 4.30am after Bolivia’s roughest ride so waited it out until 8am to text Alfredo. Lucky again he said he would pick me up from the bus station. It took absolutely ages to find the chap, his whatsapp profiler was of course a motor bike so I spend an hour looking at all the motorbikes until I found him.

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Riding to an apricot festival in the most outrageous motorbikes

We went for a traditional breakie of api. A hot cinnamon maize drink (kind of tastes like thick mulled wine). This is everywhere in Bolivia but best bought on the side of the street it’s so yummy!

We met the other bikers and they couldn’t have looked more biker all quitted out in leather and chains I stood out like a sore thumb. They were all wondering who the hell I was and why I was here. I was starting to think the same myself and tried to explain the random situation. The drive to the festival was stunning but I struggled massively to stay away and kept dozing off. At one point I was actually dreaming I was married to Jamie Oliver. At this stage I threw a bottle of water over my head in an attempt to stay awake.

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Me and the crew at the apricot festival

The festival was amazing . It consisted of  beer, music, food and dancing and of course apricots. Anything you could possible imagine had apricots in it cake, ice cream, jams and drinks. It was amazing to see everyone walking around with bulging bags of apricots. They were absolutely delish. We spent the day drinking beer and eating amazing roasted pig and maize.

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Apricots coming out of my ears
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More apricots
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And more….

En route home we stopped off at one of the other bikers houses for some ice-cold Sangria to cool off.  We arrived back to Alfredos late that night so I ended up staying in his place because it was too late to find a hostel. I was v afraid of any ideas he might have so I made up an Irish bf to keep the boundaries (Mikey Flanagan you got the honors). Photographic evidence was even required and Alfredo approves. Dinner was 6 apricots and a beer and off to bed (Alfredo kindly gave me his). The best sleep in a long time.

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Know the one thats one too many apricots

The next day, Alfredo was trying to organise a camping trip for us which I tried to nip in the bud saying I only had a 1 man tent. He then produced a two-man tent saying it wasn’t an issue. I eventually managed to say my goodbyes. The poa for the following day was to meet a guy I met in Argentina few months ago  who also lives in Cochabamba.

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Alfredo and myself at apricot festival Cochabamba

En route to his I got texts and calls off UIster bank saying my bank card had been blocked because of lots of unusual activity. Apparently someone had been spending hundreds of euro on dominos pizza on my behalf.  The situation would have been better if the robbers had at least good taste in pizza (my preference would be for BOCO for future reference). Anyway the card situation turned into an absolute nightmare because in order to unblock my card I needed to call the bank. The microphone on my phone is broken (caused by an incident with coffee I think). The entire day was spent trying to sort it (well most of Una’s day). Thankfully I had taken some cash out in Sucre so had a little to keep me going.

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I would give my arms and legs for a slice of this right now!

The following day I went to mercado la cancha, Bolivia’s largest market. It was outrageous there were horses heads for sales, live animals, absolutely anything you could imagine the problem is finding it. Lunch was 50c and consisted of chicken, salad, rice with spicy salsa. I was surrounded by men with gold teeth and didn’t spot one tourist all day. I was eating  next to a woman who was gutting a fish and another chap fixing rubber tyres, anything goes in this place. It is notorious for robberies so unfortunately I couldn’t take any photos. Some of the sights in this place are really hard to believe. I would describe it as chaotic, claustrophic and amazing!

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Dessert la cancha style!

So with the money situation looking a bit grim I decided to go camping for a few days to Toro Toro National Park.  This place is really hard to get to and completely off the beaten track. Tourism has only kicked off here in the last 10 years. The journey is hard to put into words but if I had to choose one it would be absymal. I got chatting to a lovely doctor before hand and shared a bag of maize and few doghnuts with him as we waited 2 hours for the bus to fill (this is the norm in Bolivia). The entire 7 hour journey was on unpaved rock, mud road and we were all being flung around. It genuinely felt like a roller coaster. After about 30 minutes I desperately needed a pee and with no toilets on the bus I pleeded with the bus man to stop. He was having none of me and refused. After about another hour I genuinely thought I was going to go into organ failure and with no other choice I decided to pee into my lunch box (a last resort obviously). Luckily I was wearing a dress so this helped with the pee mechanics and I had no neighbours to witness the atrocity. What I hadn’t predicted was that peeing in that kind of turbulence is next to impossible so it was a blessing in disguise when our bus got stuck in a ditch for a few minutes. I was able to do the deed and dispose of the contents out of the window. Obviously not my finest moment but needs must and all that jazz. I ended up forgetting the lunch on the bus soI hope some poor fecker doesn’t end up using it. We eventually arrived, all a little rattled at 1.30am ,The kind Doc led me to a river where he waited with me as I pitched my tent and kindly let me use his phone for light (obviously my phone doesn’t have the high tech feature of light).

I pitched the tent in a pool of mud and lots of cracked  egg shells. Too tired to care I crawled into the leaba covered in mud and slept for about 4 hours until  I was awoken by the sound of snorting. I was greeted by about 20 pigs and piglets sniffing me out. I decided it was safe enough to leave backpack and tent  for the day as I was the only tent there. The only way to see Toro Toro is by taking a guide. Rambling through the tiny town there was virtually no one else there but after a while a I found a french lad, a Swiss couple, a grumply Spanish lady; the only tourists in all of Toro Toro. We decided to go explore the local caves for the day. The scenery in this place is spectacular and completely unspoiled by tourism. The caves are the largest in Boliva. They are definitely not for the faint hearted and the only way to explore them is on your hands and knees and by nagivating your way on ropes. Great experience.

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My campsite neighbours

There’s not a whole lot going on in the town but myself and Frenchie found a random woman in her kitchen baking the most delicous fresh bread so we stocked up. We tried to find wine but that was impossible so made a tough decision and settled for beer.When I got back to my tent it looked like I’d been robbed but in fact it turned out my food bag had been disocvered by pigs +/-  dogs/donkeys/kids. Who knows there was a bite taken out of some chorizo and some nibbled bread. I’d say they were raging with my  sad excuse of a food bag.

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Siesta time in Toro Toro
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Toro Toro’s infrastructure
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This grumpy Spanish woman used to give out to me for asking too many questions!

 

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The building in yellow is Tor Toro’s only school

The next day our group decided to go explore Toro Toro’s canyon (Vergel.) This was a stunning walk the scenery was incredible. This is place is famous for its history of dinosaurs with thousands of fossils and dinosaur footprints still visible in the park. I had the guide and everyone’s heads wrecked with my dinosaur questions! We eventually reached a gorgeous waterfall in deep in the canyon. This involved us jumping over rocks to try to access it where in the process I dropped my phone into a river. She’s still alive and kicking! Lunch consisted of tomato sandwiches and a shot of olive oil!

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Dinosaur footprints Toro Toro National Park

 

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Vergel Waterfall
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Some of the Toro Toro crew

Later that day I went for a mooch around the town which is surrounded by the most colourful mountains and lush valleys. At one point I had pigs, a donkey, dogs and a few giggling children staring at me in my tent as I was trying to make dinner. Obviously  this is why most people stay in hostels or hotels. Dinner was pasta, tomato, cheese and chorizo. It was really windy so I did what you’re not supposed to do and cooked in my tent after a while I could hear giggling  and two little Bolivian children appeared in my tent.  I ended up knocking over the entire pot  of chorizo and tomato on all of my clothes. In fairness to the kids they were dying for a freebie and I can’t say I blame them (I’d be doing the same). They put in good ground work so after giving them each some samples they were chuffed with themselves and were on their way.

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Exploring Toro Toro with the best
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Just outside the town of Toro Toro
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High tech construction going on in Toro Toro

Then after a while as I was in the height of eating another two giggling children appeared. They obviously got wind there were freebies on the go. I was having none of these as I was starving. They stared me out of it as I was eating. It was so uncomfortable I was left with no other choice other but to give them some grub too. They all demolished the grub and were so happy that it was so worth it. They couldn’t believe I was camping on my own and asked me was I lonely. Very difficult to be lonely in this place with the heards of animals and people arriving at my doorstep.

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The first of my customers!
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How could you be lonely waking up to this little fella everyday

In the middle of my last night I was awoken by an old Bolivian man outside my tent with a flashlight. I got the fright of my life it turned out he was looking for one of his pigs (at 5am in the morning?).  Anyway he soon realised there were no pigs in my tent and was on his way. I can’t recommend this place enough I loved it. It’s definitely worth the turbulent journey.

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Beautiful Toro Toro
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High level scurity in this place!

Next destination is La Paz where I’m meeting Una. I can already taste the luxury!