Archive for the ‘South America’ Category

The border crossing between Costa Rica and Panama was very smooth. All you need is 500$ cash, and an outbound ticket or at least a proof of some ticket that takes you home from either Panama or Colombia.

I left Corcovado at 7am and arrived in Sona at 7pm. Sadly from Sona there was no bus anymore to Santa Catalina but I met a taxi driver who gave me an acceptable price..i did try to look for accommodation is Sona but sadly it’s not a backpacker town so there is one or 2 hotels there for about $25 so I thought why not pay this for the taxi instead and stay in Santa Catalina. The reason I went there was to dive in Isla Coiba. In the end I stayed in a lovely place called Hibiscus Garden which is about 10km away from Santa Catalina. It’s owned by a German couple living there with their kids and there was a lovely Argentinian couple volunteering..they made my stay excellent! So diving was awesome there..I was with the dive master only. He is from Oz…I got slightly annoyed though cause during first dive he touched a coral and he panicked so after 45 mins we had to go up….even though my tank was half full but hey..rescue diver was doing what she was meant to do;-) On second dive he lasted 50 minutes (again half full tank)  cause he had to pee!!! I mean bloody hell pee in your wet-suit if you are a dive master and you are with only one person on the dive! I was really annoyed. But hey ho, we saw sharks, turtles, rays and amazing schools of fishes so it was satisfying in the end. In the hibiscus garden I also did some horse riding and engaged with the locals working on the farm. The food was excellent! Price was 11$ a night or so.

Hibiscus Garden Brekkie

Horse riding on the beach

You can actually stay on Coiba ..and I would recommend it as it’s beautiful:

Coiba Coiba Coiba coiba Coiba

After Catalina I headed to Panama city to spend the weekend there before starting my epic trip to San Blas and Colombia on 26th May. Panama City was about 7 hours away from Catalina, so I arrived there late afternoon. I got recommended to stay in Casco Viejo, so I picked the most popular hostel there called Luna’s Castle. It was a party hostel but I wasn’t too bothered as I stayed only 2 nights and I wanted to go out.

I really liked Panama city. It had a great vibe, nice buildings, nice people..and I felt very close to Colombia..In the end I opted to rest cause i was tired but at least I did some sightseeing:

Tom and Jerry Panama City Panama City Panama City Panama City

There is a great fish market where you can eat fresh fish and ceviche, there is a lovely Modern Art Museum that I visited, and I just walked around. It’s advisable to buy Metrobus card for 2$ and top it up with a few $. You don’t need much as a journey is 0.25$.

Panama City

 

I also visited the Canal. It was interesting to understand the history behind it.

Panama Canal Panama canal Panama canal

I only spent 4 days on Panama mainland. Sadly I didn’t get the chance to visit Boquete- fantastic place to do some trekking (although a few people went missing there recently) or climb the Baru volcano (where you get to see the 2 oceans on a clear day) or to visit Bocas del Toro..the Caribbean paradise of Panama. Knowing though that I will shortly go to the San Blas islands during my 5-6 days of sailing to Colombia made me feel ok about not going to Bocas.

So..the sailing trip started on the 26th May on a Monday. We got a transfer from Panama city to the San Blas islands by 4×4 and a little speedboat where our catamaran was waiting for us (Nacar 2).

Nacar 2 Nacar2

The name of the first island where we spent the first night (never on the island, always on the boat) was Analunega. This was a fairly developed island with the indigenous community (kuna) living there. If I compare them to the Tayrona people in Colombia the kunas are much more commercialised and charging tourists a lot for a necklace or any kind of handicraft.

Analunega Analunega Analunega Analunega

The first lunch was on the island, then Jonathan (sailor) cooked our dinner. Our captain was super cool- Jose. I almost forgot the story of how I got onto this particular sailing boat. I have a friend called Danila whom I met 2 years ago in the Bolivian jungle. She is Argentinian and she is still travelling since 2012! I can say without any exaggeration that she is a master of life! She found a job in Quito last year that allowed her to go to the Galapagos islands twice for free! And now she is working on the sailing company called Blue sailing (highly recommended if you are planning to do a trip either from Colombia to Panama or the other way round) so she booked me onto this boat as I had fixed dates.

So I got a fantastic bed outside..I knew this would be my best bet cause inside the boat you are more likely to get seasick during sailing, plus it can be a bit stuffy.

My bed

On the second day we moved after breakfast to the second island called Chichime. On this island I swam a lot! I was always in the water with my snorkelling gear and what you can see down there is a miracle. Not particularly because of the marine life as I was spoilt previously on my dive experience allover the world but this place is famous for its stunning sea stars..tons of them in the bottom of the sea and you can see them perfectly as the water is crystal clear.

sea star

On the 3rd day we sailed to the 3rd island called Huaisaludo. This was the least developed island, only one family lived here Julio and Laura. They moved 5 years ago from Panama City…cannot imagine a bigger contrast..but can perfectly imagine how a person can get to the point living 50 years in a big city to move to a deserted island. They are living from selling coconut to tourists for $1 each. They also sell empty beer cans to different commercial boats. They haven’t got much but what they have is worth more than any Versace bag or a super car. They see the sun rising above the Caribbean sea every morning and they see it setting every evening. We spent an afternoon with them drinking Coco Loco (rum in the coconut water).

Huaisaludo Huaisaludo Huaisaludo Huaisaludo

This 3rd night was the best night in terms of the group. Lobster dinner…(some killed the lobster..as a diver I didn’t have the heart)

lobster

 

We all got to know each other by this time, all the alcohol appeared on the table which everyone brought with themselves, we made a fire on the island, instruments came out..it was a superb night which ended with some skinny dipping in the 28 degree water.

Next day everyone was hungover and we all knew that we would pay for last night this day…We started sailing on the open sea..We all took our seasickness pill which helped but everyone was silent and sleeping most day.

The 5th day was the longest..we had enough water and food but the fact that we couldn’t move just sit or lay made it a bit hard. Also that we didn’t have wind! So the max speed of the sailing boat was 4.5 knot and we had 230 miles to do..That’s an average 5.1 mile/hour…Therefore we knew we wouldn’t arrive on Friday to Cartagena. On the last night people were taking turns in guarding while he captain and sailor were sleeping. My turn was from 10pm to midnight ..I had to check lights around, check the monitor to see if there is any boat nearby, check is there was a storm coming. I enjoyed this task immensely. I have never felt more free in my life than on this boat surrounded by only water and sitting by the steering wheel under the stars..I had time to think. About my life, and about the world. I felt incredibly grateful that i had the opportunity to travel such a big distance…already the second time ..And I was heading towards he country that I most loved on my first trip..Colombia…

IMG_3735IMG_3743

I felt the excitement in my tummy..this was the first time for me to return to a country that I visited before as a backpacker..and because I had very strong memories I was very curious about how it would feel being back there.

On Saturday we had still a long distance to cover..sadly the engine stopped about 37 miles away from Cartagena. The captain knew immediately what to do. The dinghy boat pushed us until he called for help..and then we just got pulled into cartagena by a fishing boat.

being pulled by fishing boat

We arrived at 4.30pm.

In my next post I am going to write about Colombia, the last country I visited on this trip.

It’s almost a month now that I am working for Guias y Baquianos and I have to say that my stay in Santa Marta  is beating the Carnival in Brazil!! I absolutely LOVE  interacting with tourists, and learning about their way of travelling, planning etc. I met some super awesome people..the only ‘downside’ is that I am going out basically every night because every day there are tourists coming back from one tour or from another who are happy to be back in civilisation and want to get smashed and rumbiar!!!:)

However I have to say since David Steinig left Santa Marta I am going out a bit less..

The people I am working with are just unbelievably kind sweet and they love me:)

This is how a normal working day looks like:

I work from 9ish till 7pm..have a 3 hours lunch break that I am spending like this:

or this:

or this:

And once I finish..my night looks like this:

or this:

I get paid around £7 /day and I get free accommodation, occasionally food and drinks and obviously free tours worth at least $300 each.

So therefore I did my diving licence (Padi open water, Nautilus diving school is highly recommended), I went to Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas (the northest part of South America, amazing lobster) and I am going up to the Lost City one more time next week.

A few pics on the programs above:

The plan is the following..I’ll leave Santa Marta on the 17th of August, then visit Cartagena, Medellin, Salento, Bogota and it’s surroundings. I’ll fly to Los Angeles on the 7th of September and from LA to Auckland on the 8th.

I’ll update my South American part with one more post on the places above and then….new chapter…I don’t think I am ready to leave this continent but I don’t think I ever will be so I just need to do it.

Hey by the way I heard a lot of promises from you on ‘joining in’ somewhere….I shall remind you I am half way now..so I look forward to travelling with you guys a bit! Take those holidays off!;-)

Besitos a todos!

Once I left Ecuador I jumped on a bus to go to the Colombian border…luckily there were 2 other ‘gringos’ on the bus so we crossed altogether.

Big surprise on the Ecuadorian border, I met Tracy, my Aussie friend from Brazil!!! How cool!! She was on the way back to Argentina…

Once we crossed with the guys, we separated, and I went to see the stunning church that I have been hearing from since Peru called Las Lajas.

After the church I hopped onto a bus to go to Pasto (about 2 hours from Ipiales). The place didn’t particularly attract me but I wanted to avoid night travel in Colombia as everyone suggested. Now saying that I met a lovely girl who was travelling to Cali so decided to continue until Popayan which was meant to be nice. I arrived at 1am….that’s all about night travel 🙂

I went to the hostel that everyone recommended called Hosteltrail where the next day I met Corrine (EN), Mark (EN -with whom I crossed the border) and Vivien (US). We all went to a village called Silva to a market but the market was a bit crappy..still we had a good time.

Few pics on Popayan:

Next day midday we said bye to Mark and us girls were hitting the road to Cali..the Salsa Capital of Colombia!!! I was super excited about it understandably 🙂 We stayed in an excellent hostel called Pelican Larry…I loved it so much! The girls at the reception were beautiful and sweet..I had a motorbike ride to the centre too with one of them to buy shoes as my ‘going out shoes’ wore out. We went out 2 nights to Cafe de Madre Tierra, Tin Tin Deo..both salsathecas but you hear all kind of latin music from reggeaton, baciata, merengue and the rest…Needless to say the way how South American people dance gave me such a satisfaction that it’s not easy to describe…Cali is a full on passionate city..I learn some great moves however all my dancers thought that i learnt dancing in South America:)

After Cali I took the night bus to Bogota. I was very optimistic by just turning up at the Terminal at 10pm hoping to have a bus because it was a bank holiday weekend in Colombia so all buses were full for the day…

Here come my actress skills in the pic:) I had a flight from Bogota to Cartagena 2 days after but I thought the only way to somehow get on a bus would be to say it was next day (the bus ride is 10 hours)..so the guy was very nice and put me on the seat next to the driver…There was no way that I could sleep on that seat due to the position, the loudness of music and the full blast aircon.

So..arrived to Bogota at 10am knackered..went to Hostel Cranky Cranc, slept, went on a little individual city tour in the afternoon and in the evening FIESTA!

There is a place called Andres Carne de Res, just outside Bogota…an incredible place. You can have a massive asado (barbecue) or if you just want to party, the dance floor is waiting for you…I went with the hostel, we got drunk in the minibus, upon arrival we hit the dancefloor..superb night!

A little insight in the party (last song)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTYqbQuIPas&feature=plcp

The next day I was fresh, no hangover from the famous Colombian drink called: Aguadiente..similar taste to Uzo and watered Sambuca.

My flight was at 3pm, arrived to Cartagena at 4 and took a bus to Santa Marta where my English grumpy friend Iain was waiting for me:)

Next day David arrived too (we had a cracking time in Rurrenabaque in the jungle and since then we have been in touch trying to catch up but we had to wait till here). So we booked the Lost City tour together for the next day (Guias y Baquianos agency is highly recommended).

The tour was quite tough walking in the heat and humidity but so so beautiful! The group was great too, a very nice girl joined us from New Zealand called Ali. We quickly realised that we are on the same page, so after the Lost city I continued travelling with her.

A few pics on the tour:

Upon arrival to Santa Marta we had a crazy night out with the group, then the next day we continued with Ali to Palomino. This little heaven is situated about 70km from Santa Marta and has very few tourists..and a beautiful eternal beach.

We stayed here 2 nights, slept in the La Sirena hostel in hammock right by the sea…so usual wake up time was 5.30am:)

Then we went straight to Tayrona Park..

Now here we met a few crazy people..one is him above…so funny and annoying in the same time!

When we got back to Santa Marta we spent a night in the Dreamer hostel (my all time favourite in South America) then Ali was off to Cartagena and I started working for the tour operator I went with to do the Lost City…

I should open a new blog with the title of: Working ethics in South America:P

Needless to say I am dancing more on the street then working in the office..I am supposed to do some marketing for them (which never existed)..but since my starting suggestion was to change the name and we all agreed that it was a good move the logistics of the process will take…..maybe 10 years. I am planning on staying here till end of June only 🙂

See how it goes..I am used to the thought now that my life and plans are changing on a daily basis…

It’s Saturday…time to Rumba!!!!!

When I left my beloved Huanchaco I didn’t know what was waiting for me at the apparently most dangerous border crossing: Tumbes…I got off the night bus at 10 am and a man came to ‘help me’. He said how dangerous it was crossing the border alone, and he offered his help, as a representative of a major Peruvian bus company (CIFA) that has services directly to Cuenca, Ecuador.

As I read in my Lonely Planet that this was the best way to cross the border, taking a bus directly from Tumbes to Cuenca, and also having asked a few more people around at the station and they all confirmed this, I went up to the man (asked him to show me his ID as a CIFA representative and all this) and said let’s go to CIFA then.

He had a beautiful black BMW (should have been my first doubt ), another man joined us and he asked if i had dollars for Ecuador. I said no but he shouldn’t be worried about that I’ll withdraw in Ecuador. He said that I should take money here as in Ecuador the cash machines are charging $21 commission after every transaction. I found it weird but I listened to them…

Once I was loaded with money we got back to the car and drove to an agency which wasn’t called CIFA. I said to him I wanted to go to CIFA. He said that this was a sub agency of CIFA (with a completely different name). I started to be worried so asked around people and they all said that there was no CIFA in Tumbes only this agency. So the fare would have costed 80 Soles or a budget option 50 Soles which sounded about right. This new man from this sub agency hopped in the car and we were driving somewhere the 4 of us. Me and 3 men….This was the moment when I knew I was trapped….they said we would go to the border and take the bus there but surely if you take a direct service from Tumbes it doesn’t leave from the border but from the city. So they set the new price for the border crossing service and bus fare to Cuenca: $148. I said..NO WAY! They started to panic as soon as I raised my voice and said ok, so be prepared to be killed and robbed at the border if you cross alone. I tried to control my fear and I said firmly that I wanted to get out of the car at that moment. They said ok but I should pay $20 for taking me to the border. I said we are not even at the border and on the other hand for 5 minutes driving I will NOT PAY $20. He said I didn’t pay he wouldn’t return my backpack from the boot. I started screaming and crying and said I will not pay $20, so he said pay whatever you want then. So I paid 20 Soles which is about 10$, got out of the car and stopped the first microbus going to the border. From here all went smooth but I was shaking the rest of the day. The bus fare from Cuenca was $7….imagine how many tourists pay $148 for his ‘services’ that allows him to circulate in this fancy car….

Anyway Cuenca. I stayed in ‘El Cafecito’ hostel. Very mellow, romantic place.

Since I arrived on Saturday there was a life concert which I slept through as I passed out at 9pm. On Sunday I woke up early and was eager to discover Cuenca however I had to realise that on Sunday everything is closed…A few museums were open though so I visited them, had lunch at the market with fresh orange-carrot juice (you have the choice of min. 10 flavours that you can mix too). Then in the evening I chilled with the 2 Swiss girls I was in the same dorm with..we didn’t even realise that we were chatting till 2am. Very nice people. On Monday I continued my city tour ..the culture in Cuenca is amazing..very high level city with great nightlife, funky bars and versatile restaurants.

I also visited a stunning lake close to Cuenca in Cajas  National Park:

In the evening Tegan (my Aussie friend) arrived – it was so nice to see her. But just before in the hostel some musicians got together so we decided with the Swiss girls (one of them played the guitar and sang too) to join..we had some Canelazo (this is a fantastic drink, you can read more about it here: http://southamericanfood.about.com/od/drinks/r/canelazo.htm )

The drink and the music made me very emotional. It was a happy emotional feeling though…I knew this year would happen only once in my life and I knew I would always remember that night…They sang and played amazingly:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akcMXI17f4c&feature=plcp

Then once Tegan arrived we went for dinner and to bed. The next day we visited with Tegan Ingapirca ( gift to Ecuador from the Inkas from the pre-Hispanical  season- Similar to Machu Picchu the main  structure in Ingapirca is the Temple of the Sun, a giant elliptical structure that was built without mortar, just like the traditional Incan way of constructing buildings.)

Once we arrived to Cuenca we had time together with T till midnight, so we had dinner in a restaurant called ‘The Maiz’ (corn – where all dishes were made of corn). Despite the fancy look the food didn’t impress me too much. At midnight I took the night bus to Banos.

This lovely city has a lot to offer..great place to hike, cycle, horse ride, do some extreme sports like ‘Puenting’ or canopy or canyoning..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyBe9gaaH68&feature=relmfu

I spent there 3 days, on the first day I went hiking in the surroundings, on the second day I hired a bike and did the ‘Ruta de las Cascadas’ (The waterfall’s route) and the 3rd day I went to the nicest waterfall in the area and in the afternoon I just chilled in a mountain spa for hours. Perfect 3 days..I didn’t meet anyone though. Maybe I stayed in the wrong hostel (Princesa Maria). Viktor the 60 year old man working there was very nice tough..we had a lot of evening conversations.

After Banos I wanted to check out the Laguna Quilotoa close to Latacunga but didn’t want hike. Once I got to Latacunga people suggested me to go to Hostel Tiana where I can get info on how to get to the lake but it was already late for the day to go there and also I accidentally asked about the Galapagos and she found an amazing deal for me which she couldn’t book because it was Saturday so I decided to go straight to Quito and start looking around for Galapagos deals ( I haven’t done any research on it earlier just because I knew I wasn’t able to afford it ). So Quito..I stayed in the Mariscal area..where all the bars and clubs are. Stayed in Centro del Mundo hostel which is great to meet people and it’s close to the bars (walking home is not recommended though from a club..I did it only because the hostel was literally one corner from the main hub). So the hostel was full of early twenty something Americans who headed out but I didn’t really want to go with them, so opted for the going solo one 🙂 Well…to be honest with you guys..it’s great to do at the beginning of your trip..you meet lots of different people (mainly local men though)who wanna chat you up but after a while the repetition of the same questions over and over again can be tiring…the top 5 most common questions are:

–          De donde eres? (Where are you from?)

–          Viajas solita? (Are you travelling alone?)

–          Desde cuando estas viajando y donde fuiste? (How long have you been travelling for and where have you been)

–          Ahh que bien…entonces tienes mucho plata! (Ah..wonderful, so you have a lot of money)

–          Quieres que te acompano? ( Would you like me to come with you?)

So I hit Bungalow 6..had a superstrong rum and coke watched the people having fun in groups and went home a bit disappointed that my friends were not there with me…

Next day on Sunday I went to the historical centre and I met the most amazing old man who was selling maps..We had a perfect connection..a bit like grandfather and his grandchild..I invited him for lunch as he showed me the whole city centre and explained the history. The man was like a walking library…it was so nice to meet finally someone with brain and not having to explain where Hungary was. He knew Liszt Ferenc and all that…So hats off. We spent the whole afternoon together, he also recommended me some islands on the Galapagos (I still wasn’t sure if i should take a cruise or do it individually but everyone suggested the 2nd oprion). So in the evening (Sunday) I went to the airport and bought a return ticket to the Galapagos islands from Monday (next day) to Friday.

I was superhappy. For some reason I felt I needed this trip to get me back to my normal balance..

So I woke up at 5.30am, went to the airport and this is where the fun starts…I bumped into Cam Smith my previous affiliate sitting at Quito airport..The last time we met was in London a few years ago so it was incredible meeting him there. Turned out he was heading to Galapagos on the same flight to we travelled together. The flight was a bit delayed unfortunately so we landed at 3pm..didn’t have much time on Monday but I found a great hotel (cheap too), checked in, walked around, went to the Charles Darwin complex . ( story in brief: in 1831 he sailed to Galapagos and 30 years later published his theory of evolution- the conversation of animals (giant land turtles mainly) had to be started as they would have instinct in 10 years time from the discovery)

After visiting the complex I went to every single agency on Santa Cruz island to plan my next days. Unfortunately I didn’t find any cruise going to Espanola island (one of the best ones but the furthest one too so no day trips are avail.) which turned out to be better because I still saw the best islands in the neighbourhood: Seymour Norte, Isabela and Bartolome.

Seymour Norte:

Isabela:

Bartolome:

I met on my first day trip Simone- english girl, we had a click so we were hanging out the rest of the time together…our ‘local’ for the week has become the Bongo bar and Panga club downstairs..

I’ll upload few videos on the animals…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjr4ebRdsPo&feature=plcp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hmarHTJ0c8&feature=plcp

On Friday in tears I said bye to the Galapagos islands, flew back to Quito, went straight to the ‘Mitad del Mundo’ (Middle of the World)

I wanted to go straight to Otavalo as a festival was starting on Saturday but in the hostel when I returned to collect my backpack (I went only with a light pack to Galapagos) they didn’t suggest me to arrive late in the evening so I stayed in the hostel and left Sat. Morning.

The market is impressive in Otavalo..almost occupies the whole city. Everyone can find something for their taste that’s for sure. In Otavalo people are wearing traditional clothes.

And men have long hair (pigtail) and they are wearing a poncho and black trousers, black waistcoat and white shirt under the poncho. Very nice people. The festival kicked off at 7pm, I went down a bit later, met a guy and his gf. Whom I met first in Banos, so we hung out together and participated in the dancing bit too.

On Sunday I just chilled in the hostel and walked a bit in the city. Today heading to the border and the Colombia. Fingers crossed for a safe crossing….

I think it’s the first time that I am going to talk about my feelings here in the amazing South America beyond describing my adventures…I don’t know whether it’s the fact that I have been travelling for 4 months now or Peru or the combination of things but for the first time I feel that I miss my life back in London. I miss my family, my friends, my job at Foxy ..the office banter, my nice clothes, my decent look, the bars and Asian restaurants and I could carry on….but hey let’s talk about Cusco and Machu Picchu first.

After Copacabana I got to Cusco in the middle of the night with 2 lovely Dutch travellers, Klaas and Ivora. We got lucky with the hostel (well more or less) as a man was waiting for us with a great offer at the bus station so we went to Apu Wasi hostel close to the centre of Cusco. We didn’t waste our time too much, slept till 10, then went to discover a bit this stunning city.

In the afternoon we booked our Machu Picchu jungle inka trail which started the next day. After a long minibus ride up to the mountains I felt terrible..I don’t know whether it was the altitude again or the serpentine but I felt so sick…I got a bit scared too because I felt that I had fever and it was exactly 7 days after the Jungle of Bolivia which made me think that I had malaria (apparently it kicks off after a week of getting bitten, and I was covered by bites). Once we were on the top of the mountain we started cycling downhill…it reminded me of the Death road but a less scary version of it. The fresh air helped me, so I felt better. Our guide’s name was Martin, seemed like a nice guy. After the bike ride we went for lunch and to our hostel in Santa Maria. It was basic, still nice. In the group there was an English couple, an English guy, a Chilean couple, my Dutch fellows and me. In the afternoon we went rafting. This was the first time I did it…AMAZING.

Once we were back we went for dinner and played pool. I had my first Peruvian Pisco sour..I don’t think I should blame the drink though for falling into a water fount on the way back to the hostel as it was very dark (no street light) and it was hidden on the pavement! I do think I can blame the Pisco sour for my next day diarrhoea though (sorry for the details but I reckon it’s part of the story:P).

The next day after breakfast we started walking up in the jungle..quite hard walk but on the way we were surrounded by stunning trees, banana, monkeys and picturesque landscape while listening the story of Pachamama, coca leaf and the inkas.

Martin painted some Inka pattern on all of us so we could feel that we were part of the history for a few days…

At lunch we went to an Inka farm and chilled for an hour in the hammocks.

In the afternoon we continued our trip all the way until Santa Teresa but just before that we reached the hot springs and had the opportunity to relax our muscles after 8 hours of walking.

Evening- dinner, then we went to a club where I could show off with my salsa moves:)

The next day after breakfast we went to do some Zip line adventure. It was an incredible fun..the only thing that put some shadow on it was that I wasn’t feeling great again. Fever and dizziness.

We had a terrible minibus ride again to the lunch place where I had no appetite and all I wanted was just lying down. Martin suggested me to take the train to Aquas Calientes instead of walking for 3 hours but I didn’t want to be a lightweight so I said I would walk- bad decision. My group walked fast..I felt shit..so I was left behind and walked with a German group- they were nice and helpful…I honestly thought I would pass out during these 3 hours. My group hated me because they had to wait for me (which they only did when they got close to the town). I still had no appetite, went to see a doctor who said I had bacterial infection so he gave me antibiotics. I went to bed at 6pm because the last day was the highlight..Machu Picchu. I knew I wouldn’t be able to walk up the stairs the next morning so I took a bus up there with Ivora ( her ankle was really bad so she couldn’t walk either) at 5.30, and we met Martin and the other up there at 6am. When the gate opened everyone went in and was enchanted by the beauty of Machu Picchu.

We spent up there 4 hours then went back to Aguas Calientes and chilled until our train back to Cusco (9pm). We got there after 1am so we went straight to bed. I was feeling a bit better but because of the antibiotics I couldn’t eat much for days (great way of losing weight, horrible way to travel). I stayed a few more days in Cusco and did some day trips to the Sacred Valley. Met Zoli my Hungarian friend and Danila, my Argentinian friend with whom I was in the jungle in Bolivia.

The next destination was Lima. The bus ride was fairly long, around 20 hours but good. I stayed in the historical centre, met Anne-Laure (French girl, we met first in Brazil- she is studying in Lima), and I hang out with an American girl, Maggie. We got on well. Lima was a nice surprise, beautiful cathedrals, and great vibe. Miraflores is a stunning area by the sea.

After 2 days I took the bus to Trujillo. This is ‘the capital of the North of Peru’, but I went straight away to Huanchaco, 20 minutes by bus to a little beach town which I fell in love with. Upon arrival I got some bad news from back home which changed completely my plans..- I guess this was the aim of the bad news- so I decided to stay here for 2 weeks and study Spanish here instead of rushing to Quito. I realised I needed to take a break of the rush and just chill out for a while. I have to say I did the right thing. My Spanish has improved a lot. My teacher Sam, is a Welsh guy and has been living in Peru for years. (highly recommended!)

He gave me the same deal as I got in Quito, and I have been taking 4 hours per day. Now mentally it’s been tiring but I combined it with some physical activity too such as running, exercise and surfing so I have been busy all day every day and managed to digest the bad news….well..mas o menos…

I found a fantastic place to live- it’s a vegetarian restaurant called ‘Otra Cosa’, where I rented a private room, free from tourists. The restaurant is run by a Dutch guy called Berry- he is living here with his Peruvian (beautiful) wife and kid, there was a girl volunteering from the US and a Dutch guy working for a travel agency..apart from them the kitchen crew was awesome too and they had a little dog Yardy (coming from Yard dog) and Killy the few months old kitten. So I feel I found a bit my equilibrium here..got involved with a lot of local people and made lots of friends…oh I am going to miss those fresh juices and breakfasts on the market in Jerrer’s shop..and the surf guys, and the vibe of this amazing place.

It’s time to move though…tonight I am going to Tumbes (city on the Ecuadorian border) and tomorrow hopefully I will be in Ecuador.

Peru has been amazing…and if I had to choose a place to come back, Huanchaco would be the one.

A few pics on my ‘paradise’ 🙂

I left San Pedro de Atacama on the 22nd April. The group seemed to be nice in the minibus on the way to the border..There were a few people though who didn’t speak much. After the border crossing we had breakfast in the beautiful National park of Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa. The group halved and we packed all our stuff into 2 jeeps. I wasn’t very happy at the beginning because the ‘cool’ people stayed with the other group, so i continued my way with a Polish guy Szymon, a French couple, Tom and Elena and a Spanish guy Carlos. We visited on the first day the Laguna Verde (for me this was the highlight):

then we went to the geysers..impressive:

And after this we headed to the hot springs where I didn’t go into the water for 3 reasons:

A, I was a bit sick of altitude (5200m)

B, I had bed bug bites all over me

C, It was freezing cold and i still had my cold from the Navimag

After this 1 hour break we went to our accommodation.

Had lunch and a bit of siesta, then in the afternoon we went to Lago Colorado..Now this was something special with all the flamingos..my altitude sickness kicked off though even more. Luckily Chino (our guide) had a lot of coca leaves so I mastered in the chewing technique.

We went back to the hostel, had dinner, and played cards with the guys while having a bottle of wine. Early bed time (I was happy to lie down but i woke up a few times during the night because I couldn’t breathe. I measured my heartbeat by the way in the evening and it was 90 which is fairly high..this gives u an idea how is this altitude sickness.

Next day we left early to continue our way to the rocks where there is the Arbol de Piedra:

Then we continued to the Train Cemetery and to the market of the Salt flats.

We arrived to Uyuni around 5pm (There was an hour less than San Pedro). Walked around. It’s not a particularly nice city. Then dinner at 7pm and another card night with the boys. Won again:)

On the 3rd day we had to be out at 5am to see the sunrise in the Salt flat…

Chino’s family came with us. In Bolivia the guides for the Salar work almost 7/7 so he only gets to see his family for an afternoon every 3 days…and earns 1500Bolivianos /month which is about £150.

We had breakfast in the Hotel of Salar de Uyuni where everything is made of salt.

And we carried on discovering this massive Salt flat, plus went to a place where we could see some mummies of the Inka’s.

We got back to Uyuni at 11am, the tour finished. Everybody took the 12pm bus to Potosi. The bus ride was about 3 hours, we stopped once to eat in a place.

After we got to Potosi we went to the same hostel. Elena and Tom to a different room, I stayed with Carlos and Symon.

We went out a bit and met some people from San Pedro, then we did a bit of shopping in the Central Market (you could buy there even Langos!!) and I cooked in the hostel. We had dinner but everyone was dead so went to sleep.

The next day I had a lie in..it was incredibly good not being on a schedule. In the afternoon i went to explore Potosi, had lunch at the market. They have these set lunches for 6 Bolivianos: soup, main and soft drink..I met there Ute and Rosa, we booked the tour in the mine for the day after in the morning, except Rosa she did it straight away. I did a tour in the ‘Casa de la Moneta’ of Potosi, the history of the coins…quite dull tour but one thing surprised me. Even though Bolivia is rich in minerals, the country doesn’t have money for the technology of printing coins..so they outsource is to Europe , Canada and Chile..impressive. After the tour I was walking around with Ute, and went up to the ‘Gherkin of Potosi’:

In the evening we met Rosa again and went out for a meal. Then hostel and sleep.

Big day was waiting for me the Mine tour..i was the only one on the English tour which was great. Pedro, my tour guide- his nickname among the local girls is ‘Lama face’- made sure that I get a proper intro into the minor’s world. We first went to the mining shop where I bought soft drink and dynamite to the minors..Look at my outfit:

Then we went to the place where all the minerals are processed:

And after we entered the mine..imagine something like this:

We spent about 2 hours inside..met Tio who is the Devil but kind of God of minors…they have a ‘party ‘ every Friday, they bring coca leaves to him, cigarette, and the famous 96% alcohol:

I have to say the life of the minors is tough…they are self employed, therefore some of them start at 6-7 in the morning and leave at 9-10 in the evening..I had the luck to try to work there a bit..after 2 minutes I was sweating..they smash incredible stones to get a tiny bit of minerals of them..

After the tour one of the ex minors (now working as a tour guide) invited all the tourists to his wedding which took place on Saturday. I couldn’t miss this opportunity so I offered him that I could take some nice pics for them and this would be my present. He was over the moon.

So I left Potosi at 4pm and went to Sucre, to the capital of Bolivia with Ute. We had a 3 star hotel called Hotel San Francisco for 6 euros/night..not bad..I needed a bit of luxury after the past days.

On Thursday we went to bed straight so we can start early with the sightseeing..after amazing avocado, cheese and fruit breakfast we started the city tour..very cultural amazing city:

In the evening we met Verana (I did the Uyuni tour with her) and Daniel from Izrael and we went to a local 1st of May (Labour’s day) celebration. I had the spiciest food ever and the drink’s base was the 96% alcohol I reckon because it hit my head straight away. We bought a 1.5l bottle for the 4 of us..

Ute went home earlier, Verana and the guy did too so i had no other choice..Funnily enough I was walking home drunk with the remaining of the alcohol and the police came in front of me, and without saying anything they took my drink. Later on I found out that u cannot drink alcohol on the street..probably better that they took it from me:)

On Saturday I did a bit more sightseeing then packed and left to Potosi at 1.30pm. Upon arrival I checked into a hostel, bought some ‘wedding accessories’ in the market and went to the tourist info office where Carlos accompanied me to the church. In Bolivia the church ceremony can start at 6,30pm as it did in the case of Efrain and Juliana. The priest did an awesome speech..he asked them why they were here..and then demonstrated the difference between loving each other or being used to each other with the example of the bread and cheese dinner every day. I was truly impressed. After the ceremony the couple went out to the church yard and a Mexican band was waiting for them with music. First they danced with each other then with relatives. After this they went to the official ceremony (only the family went with them, the guests including me had some free time until 9pm). At 9 I went to the tourist office again, they hired a minibus for the tourists (certainly not for free) and we went altogether to the party..The first 30 minutes were very serious..which very quickly turned around and in about an hour you saw the 70 year old Bolivian lady dancing with the 20 year old English guy or the Hungarian girl dancing with the 60 year old Bolivian granddad. It was hilarious..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzM2ph0nc6o

The cake distribution was another impressive moment:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38qU25xxwLM

I lasted till 3..and then I left. I lost the key of the hostel so I had to wake up the owner of the hostel..it’s a family and a 10 year old little girl let me in.

Next day I was running around to develop pictures and write them on CD, once it was done I left them with Carlos, walked around a bit and caught the 22.00 bus to La Paz. My God..it was truly the toughest night trip since I started travelling…it was 10 degrees outside and 5 in the bus..everyone was coming with 2 blankets and i didn’t know that in Bolivia you don’t have blankets supplied so I had none!! I begged the driver to turn on the heating but I don’t think it was working. Slept nothing, arrived to La Paz at 6am, took a cab and went to the hostel to sleep. At midday I woke up and went out to explore. I booked both the Death Road bike tour and the Rurrenabaque Pampa’s tour…very happy! In the evening I had a few drinks..I stayed in the biggest party hostel..which was a mistake. Screaming 20 years old blond English/Dutch girls and zoned out people coming back in the morning from Ruta 36..what is ruta36? It’s a cocaine bar, moving around in La Paz. Ruta 36 is the address u need to give to the taxi driver if you want to go there. I didn’t. I went out for dinner to the Steakhouse and had Lama steak..The taste is similar to lamb, so I didn’t like it too much but I had to try it. The next day early start, I went to the Valle de la Luna:

After I went to the market…and bought a few things…about 6 kilograms to send home. To be honest if I had been aware of the costs of sending home stuff from Bolivia I might not have gone near the market..but hey..I will be very happy opening them up when I am home..FACT.

In the evening I had dinner with 3 girls from the Isle of Wight and went to sleep to be fresh and relaxed for the Wednesday activity, the Death road.

So early start in the morning, 7am I had to be at the El Solario hostel. We had breakfast there, picked up our gear and jumped into the minibus. Then when we arrived close to the death road we mounted the bikes and started the adventure. The first hour was easy..on concrete, going down fast, but then we arrived to the proper dangerous narrow stony road. Our guide went first always and we followed. He was pretty fast. At the beginning I went a bit slower but then got used to the road and reached the speed of 60km/h..we crossed rivers and took edgy curves. This was the road:

The landscape was pretty amazing. In the end I came 4th out of 18 J We had lunch in a restaurant and the biggest surprise was that the owners were Hungarians. And the funny thing is that there was another Hungarian guy, Zoli who was travelling in South America. The owner (Laci) said that every half year there is one Hungarian passing by..how cool that he had on one day 2!! This was the crew:

Unfortunately a guy from Izrael fell with the bike and had to have his chin stitched..it was bleeding badly..but we didn’t go back to La Paz until everyone had lunch and had a dip in the swimming pool..I heard that this is normal..2 weeks ago a guy broke his shoulder but lunch and swimming was still priority before the hospital..Laid back population..We got some stats on deaths /year..it’s about average 10 people..quite high number if you think about it.

In the evening I met Verana again in La Paz in my hostel!! We were happy to see each other and planned on going out but it failed on my behalf. So we just had a few drinks with her and Darran (Irish guy, he was on the same death road tour).

On Thursday I woke up early, went to Killi KIlli mirador. View from it to La Paz:

Then to the post office to send home the stuff. I had a set lunch on the market, then headed to the airport to catch the plane to Rurrenabaque.

Imagine a mini plane like this:

I arrived in the evening, took a motor taxi and went to the Tucano hostel. Surprisingly Darran was on the check in list, so i thought we were doing the Pampa tour together which we did.

In the evening I walked around, had some dinner..I was suffering though because meanwhile I was chatting to the Hungarians after the death road i got bitten by sun flies…annoying little creatures..the bites are not only itchy but after a few days your legs look like you were beaten up and it hurts a lot too.. By now they are gone luckily.

So the Pampa tour started next day with a 3 hour jeep ride on a very bad road. The team was great, Maki, Japanese lady, Darran, Dani, Argentinian girl, Marie from France, Fanny, from Holland, and 2 Izraeli girls.

We had lunch close to the place where we took the boat..lots of laughs and fun. Then we arrived to the boats, packed all our backpacks there and all the food for the 3 days met Tas our guide and the boat trip started..We saw a lot of animals already on the way…caimans, monkeys, lots of birds. Around 4 pm we got to the hostel, went to play football in the only field in the neighbourhood and went back for dinner. (food was awesome during the 3 days..our cook was top!) Oh before dinner we got introduced to Anthony the alligator..I played a bit with him..and touched him too..if I think back that I was afraid of frogs this is a massive achievement:

Evening activity: searching for alligators with head lights..so interesting their eyes are so bright

in the dark. We saw a few.. Upon arrival Tas introduced us to his rules…6.10 am we had to be by the boat next morning to see the sunrise. He said even if there was only one person by the boat he would leave.

We were 5 minutes late..the whole group except the Dutch girl with great team spirit who was by the boat. They left the 2 of them…7 people were standing there like pigeons waiting for Tas..we all thought he was sleeping. Eventually we figured out that he left with Fanny..and we were so pissed off. Another guide felt a bit sorry for us..or maybe he just realised that we paid for the tour and NO GUIDE CAN JUST LEAVE US THERE WITHOUT WARNING, so he took us out on his boat to see the sunrise..we just about caught it. Upon arrival I had to open my mouth and tell Tas that this behaviour is not accepted and next time please be a bit more flexible and give us at least one warning. Hehh..the answer was: there will not be a next time…Wow..my chin dropped.

The atmosphere wasn’t the greatest after this..after breakfast we went for anaconda search. This activity was on a small island and the previous group returned from it all muddy and wet until their bum. So we opted out with Dani and took some sexy pics instead:

I seemed to be the only one to be in fight with Tas so Darran tried to suggest the white flag policy but Tas was stubborn and hurt..well me too!

So in the afternoon we went to swimming with the dolphins..they were there but they seemed to have only little interest in playing with us..few of us went into the water once Tas reassured us on the lack of alligators and piranhas in the water when a dolphin is around..He also told a story about a girl who went into the water a few weeks ago and he vagina got bitten by the piranhas because she was on her period!!!!

We were pretty close to the dolphins but they didn’t swim with us…until the last minute when I felt that one swam under ,my hand…it was amazing experience..but as a first reaction I screamed a bit..Tas hated me for this too (and we were still in fight) so we left the place went to play volley ball and for dinner. In the evening we were in the hammock room where Tas made a ring to Dani saying to her that she was the only one who wasn’t Hypocratic….hahh!

But..I think he might have had bad conscious because before i was going to bed he shaked hands with me. That was his way of apologizing. I was fine with it..

Oh a few pics on the Refugio we stayed in:

Oh and I forgot to say that I fed monkeys just before dinner, Tas gave me bananas from the kitchen but he didn’t tell me that i am not supposed to give him straight away the whole banana..

 

Next morning we did a second attempt to see the sunrise..This time everyone was 5 minutes earlier than the meeting time..and we saw a lot of animals:

Then after breakie we went to Piranha fishing..I didn’t get any, the whole boat got 3:

Then lunch, saying bye to the camp and we made our way back where the jeeps dropped us. On the way monkey feeding:

Tas got mad at me again for giving the monkey the whole banana…..i couldn’t do anything right on this trip 🙂

In the end we said bye to him, gave him a nice tip…and even though he seemed to hate me I got the biggest hug and he suggested me to come back right now for another 3 daysJ

Jeep ride back to Rurrenabaque was horror..Maki left her backpack in the camp which made her things complicated…also there was a 2-3 days of road blocking coming from Monday in the whole Bolivia..You couldn’t get the correct info on it so I was hoping that if I fly back to La Paz early in the morning I would have a little chance to catch a bus straight to Copacabana..FAILED.

I was at the airport for the whole day with Marie (French girl), in the end I found a ‘dodgy’ taxi driver who was willing to leave at 3.30am in the morning with us to Copacabana for $100 (the people who block the road go to sleep this time..but again this is not sure..maybe they drank 50 cans of redbull and they wouldn’t move from the road. This blocking is physical blocking people are on the street with stones..if there is a car passing they throw the stones at the car. So fairly risky..but I didn’t want to spend one more day at the airport so we took the risk. It went all smooth..Arrived to Copacabana in the morning around 7, got a hostel, Marie left to Arequipa and I went for a walk..pretty cool little town. I went to bed early due to my 36+ hour sleeplessness..

Next day as of today I came to the Isla del Sol situated in the middle of Lake Titicaca. I am walking in the island ..it’s stunning..Tomorrow back to Copacabana and take the 13.30 bus to Cuzco to see Machu Pichu.

See some pics on the Isla del Sol. Bye everyone! X

I arrived to Pucon very late (11 pm), and went straight to the hostel called El Refugio where Bea (Hungarian girl, I mentioned how we met first in Buenos Aires and then in Torres del Paine) stayed.

We met immediately and jumped into each other’s arms of the joy again. She climbed the Villarica volcano (main attraction in the area) on that day because the weather was nice, and since the next day it was forecasted similar weather I begged the hostel to book me in for a tour. (You can only do this climb with guides –advance booking just as in the case of any tours is essential and usually at 11pm there is not much chance to be able to book anything, tears always help though 😉

So next day after a 6am wake up we started the tour. 2 guides picked us up (a girl and a guy), and took us to the volcano in minibus (6 people is the standard group size). We saw the sunrise from the bottom of the volcano:

The starting point of climbing was 1800m.

You had 2 options to start the first 400m with:

Chairlift or walking. 5 people including me took the chairlift and 1 warrior walked.

The first hour after the chairlift was ok..on volcanic sand, then we had the ice bit where we had to put on special ice walking gear like this:

By the way the tour company provided boots, jacket, ice walking gear, gloves and sliding gear for the way back..yes, sliding, I will explain later..

My boots were brand new so I had to stop to cover the fresh blister caused. After the ice bit we had the hardest part, climbing on moving volcanic rocks..very steep climb, one bad move and you are down…

Saying that, about 2 month ago 2 people fell off at this point..bodies were found only after 2 days..they fell about 500m.

I was a bit worried therefore very cautious of my steps. We were on the top around 1ish, but the wind was very strong so the fume of the volcano let us stay there only 10-15 minutes. (incredibly horrible feeling to inhale that toxic fume, it gives you headache and coughs)

But the crater looked amazing:

The view from here was well worth it though:

On the way down, my knees were suffering from all those downhill but then we got to the first sliding bit..Imagine a snow slide like this

We put our sliding gears on and the fun started

http://youtu.be/x_20t_CTRVY

http://youtu.be/PezTaL72ZWg

There were 2 more of these. You had to listen to the guide on how to slide because the snow was very icy and full of rocks underneath. One of the girls on the 3rd slide couldn’t slow down and literally flew away in the end landing off the slide. Since she wasn’t moving for a bit everyone got scared but in the end she was fine just hit a little bit her hip. The tour finished at 5pm, I went back to the hostel, met Bea, decided to cook together, but first she had to meet a friend in another hostel, so I walked with her..where I bumped into Iain, Chris and Katherine (Navimag)..small world.  And on the way we also bumped into our tour guide, Emir, who invited us for an asado (barbecue) in the evening, and since we were starving, we accepted the invitation 🙂

Pucon Tours was the host, so we were the only travellers there. To give you an idea about the amount of meat on the grill:

A few beers later the Spanish seemed to be our mother tongue 😛 Then the cherry on top of the cake was Tal who turned up at the asado a few hours later…she lived there!! I was supposed to give her back her driving licence that she left in my wallet in Bariloche a month ago..so this fact eased the meeting:)

We got a bit tipsy and went home around 1-2..

The next day we woke up 10ish, did some admin , bought the tickets to Santiago for that night, and then went to the hot springs to release our tired muscles. After a month of hiking this seemed to be a fab idea.

I wanted to stay a bit longer in Pucon, but since Bea got super excited about the Sensation White 2012 in Santiago, even though the tickets were sold out, we decided to go there and try to buy tickets on the spot. The journey took 10 hours- we took a night bus.

Arrived to Santiago at 6am, then we were hanging out at the station a bit, as I didn’t want to call Carmen very early (she is my amazing Spanish friend whom I met on the W trek..she straight away offered me without even knowing me that I can stay in her flat..so sweet), so we went to a hostel to book Bea in and she discovered a free city tour starting at 10am..so after the vague sleep on the bus we did a 4 hour walking tour…my brain was a sponge..in the end we lost our tour as we were busy taking pictures of a couple of lama-like animals on the street.

We met Carmen after and went to the Mercado central to eat amazing sea food..I just cannot have enough of the fresh Chilean sea food..I love it!

It turned out that the venue where the highly sought Sensation took place was just next to the Central market. So we went there at 5pm, as we saw already a few people around..tickets were gone, and since it’s illegal to sell tickets on the spot we had to hunt for them..after 2 hours of waiting/negotiation on prices we managed to get 2 tickets for 50.000 pesos which is about £60 (original price was: 55.000 CHP). We were super happy!!! Carmen stayed there as she met Cora (the other lovely girl I met on the W, Carmen’s friend), and me and Bea went back to the hostel to get ready, pick up my stuff and make out way after to Carmen’s house, and then to Cora’s house for pre-drinks. It’s a shame that we didn’t get the chance to go altogether but the girls didn’t have budget for it (me neither in theory but I just couldn’t say no to an event like this!!!!).

This was our outfit:

We had a really fun taxi ride with my favourite salsa, La vida es un Carnaval, and upon arrival (midnightish) we got interviewed by CNN Chile…I would love to see this shot but probably they cut out from the production as it was scandalous:)

By this time we were fairly drunk (almost had a litre of vodka, just the 2 of us).

The party was SENSATIONAL!!!! OMG! Total euphoria! Check out a short video:

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150662871937681

The party finished at 6am, so we went home. The next day was a bit rough…when am I going to learn that Redbull gives the worst hangover ever?? Malta should have taught it to me.

Anyway, I spent the afternoon with Carmen and Bea, cooked spaghetti Bolognese, chilled in the afternoon and in the evening went to Valparaiso.

It’s a little town 1.5 hours away from Santiago. Colourful houses, antique, authentic. We got there eat 9pm, so we didn’t want to spend too much time with searching for hostels. Through a weird sales guy we reached our destination, a nice old family house with a beautiful baby. Chilean babies are sooooo nice!!!

Next day we decided to make our lives easier and we took a tour for 10.000 pesos with minibus. It was a great idea as the city is quite big and we could save some time by going by car.

‘The colonial city of Valparaíso presents an excellent example of late 19th-century urban and architectural development in Latin America. In its natural amphitheatre-like setting, the city is characterized by a vernacular urban fabric adapted to the hillsides that are dotted with a great variety of church spires. It contrasts with the geometrical layout utilized in the plain. The city has well-preserved its interesting early industrial infrastructures, such as the numerous ‘elevators’ on the steep hillsides.’

PICTURES:

The tour was fun, with 2 Brazilian ladies, one from Rio, the other one from Belo Horizonte..oh all the Brazilian memories came back during the day..Such happy people!

Our guide Mario was very good and funny so all of us enjoyed the tour. We also went to Vina del Mar, which is much more modern.

We got back into town at 6pm.The hostel we stayed in was full for the upcoming night so i went to another hostel (family house rather) and that’s where the fun started.

Bea left in the evening for Mendoza and I sat down in the living room to do some admin. An old guy (Jorge) who lived there came up to me to chit chat. I wanted to focus on what I was doing but then I gave up as he sat down and just talked to me. So very quickly turned out that my birthday was coming up, he brought beers, wine and we had a drink together. Then the son of the landlady (Jose) came home from uni (20 years old) and joined us in the drinks. By the time we finished 2 litres of beer we wanted to have more so i went out with Jose to buy some more. Unfortunately Jorge came out after us and while he left the house a lady who went up to collect the rubbish in the house nicked my precious Maltese metal lighter..I loved that lighter but oh well..so they felt bad about it but I told them not to worry…considering that my credit card, dslr camera and laptop were on the table too and they stayed untouched I felt quite lucky. But the atmosphere was going down after this…in the end we decided to go to sleep, when….the house started to be shaking…more and more and more. I freaked out…we all knew that it’s an earthquake. I wanted to run out, but they said it’s safer in the house so apart from a few plates and bit falling nothing major happened. Turned out it was 6.8 strong, it lasted about a minute. It was followed by 2 smaller ones…first time I experienced something like this..I calmed down after a while and went to sleep.

The day after I met Hannah, she was on the Navimag too and she stayed in Valparaiso too. We decided to take it easy and just go to Vina del Mar to chill on the beach.

In the evening I went back to Santiago and we just chilled with Carmen, didn’t go out.

The day after (Wednesday, on my birthday) she went to school in the morning, and I happily stayed in. I needed some rest and catch up with my things. Went to buy my bus ticket for Thursday to San Pedro de Atacama, then she came back home and cooked very yummy Spanish tortilla with original salsa from Andalucía.

In the evening both Jessica and Pat (flatmates of Carmen) were ready to have a few drinks with us on my birthday. I bought a bottle of Pisco, and some food to cook them Rakott kel, a typical Hungarian dish. They were so sweet, prepared a little surprise cake for me..the candles were quite powerful, so we almost lit up the house:

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150763463824171

We had a power nap before and we woke up super late so the whole night was a bit delayed. We were meant to meet Mariona and Xavi and Hannah too, but we had no time unfortunately.

So we managed to get ready by 2am, which was too late for me..I couldn’t face all those drunken students at the club, so I went home after an hour.

Next morning we spent together with Carmen, packed and caught the 12.20 bus to San Pedro de Atacama. It was a 24 hour bus ride, I was travelling with Julia, a German girl. In Calama during our 10 minutes stop I met the German couple from Navimag whom I met also in Chiloe and Pucon. So funny that you keep bumping into people.

We arrived on the 20th April at 12pm to Atacama. As usual, hostel sellers were waiting for us at the bus station. So we went to La casa sol de naciente, but Julia didn’t like it. I stayed.

It turned out that it was worth doing 2 very good tours, one is sand boarding and watching the sunset in Valle de la Luna and the other was star-gazing in the desert.

So I booked the sand boarding tour for 3pm on the day of arrival. It was a lot of fun. I never tried any board whether it’s skate or snow…but I assume sand boarding is the easiest and softest terrain.

After the 2 hour long fun we went to Valle de la Luna to check the salt caves..Incredible, San Pedro de Atacama was under the ocean millions of years ago and you could see all the salt on the clays.

We had to rush to see the sunset on top of a beautiful clay mountain where you had a perfect view on the volcanos and Los Andes..Unbelievable views..

We celebrated the end of a fun day with a few Pisco sour..the last ones I had in Chile..then went back to the hostel and I slept.

The second day in Atacama I hired a bike and went to Pukara Quitor.

I met Rene and his daughter on the hill and continued the day with them.. Around 3pm I went back to the hostel, returned the bike and wanted the collect the video on sand boarding but it wasn’t ready.

I also wanted to book the stargazing for the night but I was too late..no more spaces were left but they suggested me to go back at 8pm in case some people cancel. It did happen, so at 9.30pm i went to the desert where a Chilean lady did a 2 hour explanation on the constellation of the stars, the zodiac, and the rest. It’s incredible how limited things we see in Europe. Chile and Australia are the 2 best places to see the amazing galaxy.

I went back to the hostel at 12.30, packed for next morning when I started a tour to Uyuni crossing to Bolivia. This is the topic of my next blog.