Hunderburton Adventures


A record of wanderings through Latin America

Iguazu Falls

February 28th, 2012

Iguazu falls is an enormous set of cataracts on the river trisecting Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Argentina holds the falls themselves, and from the Argentine side of the river one can walk under and above them. Brazil, then, we are told gives a spectacular panoramic view of the falls and surrounding region (unfortunately the Visa required for us to see them from Brazil would have been absurdly expensive, so we missed out), and Paraguay finishes a few kilometers short the falls and there is no direct line of vision from Paraguayan soil – yeah, poor old Paraguay really missed out on all the best bits of the continent.

The falls themselves don´t break any record for size; Niagra has a higher water flow, and Angel falls in Venezuela and the African Victoria falls are taller. While Iguazu falls slightly shy of these others, it’s famously beautiful. At one point the first lady of the US visited Iguazu and famously exclaimed ¨poor Niagra!¨ And I must say, admittedly without having seen any of its competitors, Iguazu must be one of the most amazing places on the planet. Its a truly breathtaking paradise. Think of the world James Cameron created for Avatar, make that more spectacular and you´ll get a good idea of what its like (he should have saved $300 million on CGI and filmed it here)


Unfortunately pictures wont do it justice, and I would do an even worse job trying to recreate it through words so I wont even try. I think its something which has to be experienced personally, because its not just the falls that are amazing, but the sounds and atmosphere, and the surrounding jungle which is teeming with life; in a few hours there we saw monkeys, armadillos, some weird giant rat thing with horse legs, toucans, and about a million of these Amazonian racoons called coates, as well as all manner of colourful birds.


  some bird  

Anyway it was a profoundly uplifting to visit, and I recommend anyone who has the time and money go and see it.



February 20th, 2012

Paraguay. The great South American nation known for soccer and… no, actually just soccer. The very few tourists who choose to visit Paraguay will understand why Paraguay has this virtually non-existent reputation: there’s not a lot there… it has none of the token attractions of South America; no beaches, mountains or jungle, no big crazy cities, and is not particularly cheap despite being the poorest south American country according to some measures. What it does have, however, is an enormous grassy area called the ‘Chaco’ covering more than half of the nations land, densely populated by jaguars, cougars, and many other animals tourists usually flock to see. Unlike its more enterprising neighbors, however, Paraguay has built no infrastructure to accommodate tourists in this region, and apparently the only places tourists can stay in the area, are extremely basic, and there is not a single place to buy food. The flip side of Paraguay’s being so unappealing to tourists is that no one goes, so if you choose to visit, you will probably not meet another tourist. This may sound like an exaggeration, but we decided to visit The Lonely Planet’s #1 recommended tourist attraction in Paraguay, and for the first half hour we were there we didn´t see a single other person.


This No 1 tourist attraction of Paraguay, if you were wondering, is the ruined Jesuit town of Trinidad. The Jesuits were a brand of Catholic missionaries who moved to South America during the 17th and 18th centuries in an attempt to instill good Catholic values on barbarous locals. Apparently this failed and they were driven from the region, but, fortunately for Paraguay’s struggling tourist industry, they left behind very intact ruins.

Alot of intricate stone carvings were intact

Considering we were only in Paraguay to save on transport costs, the ruins made for a pretty interesting little side trip. There were underground crypt areas which we could walk around in, and medieval style turrets which we climbed to the top of. The most appealing aspect of visiting the ruins, though, was the ghostly silent atmosphere of the place – a refreshing change from other ruins like Machu Pichu which are swarming with tourists and buzzing with camera clicks. Its pretty ironic really that the main appeal of the ruins as a tourist attraction is the absence of other tourists.

One other great quality of Paraguay for those thinking of visiting, is an unusually low level of violent crime considering its proximity to Bolivia and Brazil, and relative poverty. According to one article I read, a past dictator of the country had absolutely no tolerance for crime, such that petty criminals would disappear, and their corpses would be found floating in rivers weeks later. The strange consequence of this is that the locals are so terrified of committing crimes that its no longer a problem, but also that these severe punishments for tourists relied on a public perception that crime was a serious problem. So now, years on, this fear is still alive in the local population, and high walls are common and there are several private security guards on every block.

Next stop Iguazu Falls! More on that soon.

Last Week in Peru

February 19th, 2012

Dearest Readers,

Sorry that this post is a little overdue, we’ve been moving around a lot lately and have been short of time.

Our plans changed a lot in Mark’s last week. Originally we intended to work our way up from Cusco to Quito, the capital of Ecuador and Mark’s departure point. We were behind on schedule already, and the trip up would already have been rushed, when we discovered the outrageous prices of flights from Quito to Northern Argentina, our next destination. Mark’s flight was from Quito to LA, with a stop over for a night in Lima. We all agreed that it would make a lot more sense for him to cancel the first leg from Quito, and hop on his second plane at Lima. Sounds easy enough, right? The airlines didn’t agree. This might be old news to those of you who’ve been round the airline-policies block, but it is impossible under any circumstances to cancel one leg of a flight without forfeiting the entire ticket. The cheapest option was to buy a return ticket with another airline Lima to Quito (via Bogota), so that Mark could catch a flight he did not want to be on from Quito back to Lima to stay a whole night where he started, and then travel onwards. Obviously he didn’t use the return end of this new ticket, but (again bizarrely) the price for a return ticket was half that of an identical one way fare. It was an expensive and mystifying encounter with airline logic.

As for us, we found some good flights from Cusco to Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, a mere few hours in a bus from Iguazu falls, our next stop. The only downside was that, as Australians, we need a visa for Paraguay from the embassy in Lima.

On the way to Lima we stopped at a little resort town called Huacachina. The town is built around an oasis, complete with palm trees, in the middle of the highest sand dunes in the world (they reach up to 2200m!). Apart from lying around a hostel pool – definitely not all bad – there is only one thing to do in Huacachina: sand boarding. So that is what we did!

At five o’clock a smiling, jolly man picked us up and loaded us into this contraption.

Dune Buggy Huacachina

Dune Buggy

He took us on this crazy ride up, over and around the dunes. It felt just a like a cross between a roller coaster ride, and a hot wheels playstation game I used to play as a kid. He’d make figure of eights in the side of a dune, or ride up, up, up towards a crest until the Swedish girls behind us would scream “no! No! Stop!”, and chuckling he would send us plummeting down the other side, apparently towards a crop of rocks which he would swerve to avoid at the last possible second. It was exhilarating!

The ride lasted for about half an hour before the sand boarding began. I volunteered to be first up. The guide laid me down on the board, demonstrated to everybody where to put the hands, and with no warning at all pushed me off and sent me flying down the dune. Great fun! We tried a few more dunes where we had the option of either lying down, or standing up and zigzagging down.

Nick Sandboarding

Nick Sandboarding

Though for the final dune the guide was very clear that we should only stand up if we wanted to go to the “cementario”, that thing was huge!

After Huacachina we headed to Lima for our visas. We didn’t have very high hopes for Lima, we’d heard from a few people that it was boring, and though its by no means the most interesting tourist city in South America, we really enjoyed it. We stayed in this very wealthy area called Miraflores which reminded me of New Farm in Brisbane. It was safe and lovely, with lots of beautiful cafes and wide streets lined with poincianas and expensive cars. Lima is also renowned for its Japanese food, which we treated ourselves to several times, including one memorable trip to an all you can eat sushi bar. It was nice to take a few days out for eating fabulous food and going to the cinema before we all parted ways. We sent Mark off on his lima-bogota-quito-lima circuit, and we headed for Paraguay, but that’s a story for another blog.


Jungle trek to Machu Picchu

February 7th, 2012

So we have left Bolivia for Cusco (or Cuzco) in Peru. Cusco is the second largest city in Peru (after Lima) and was the center of the Incan empire until the Spanish conquest. Now it appears to be the center of tourist activity for Peru with the concept of walking the streets without being offered cheap massages, shoe shines, tours and other services an impossible prospect. While this large amount of tourism is the first thing I noticed, the second was the beauty of the place. Like La Paz it is in the mountains and the city is framed by them; well, probably at a lower altitude they would be called rolling hills but either way they lend Cusco a beautiful backdrop. The beauty of the place is extended to the city itself with many a plaza and a generous proportioning of Spanish colonial buildings which would not feel out of place in a European city if it weren’t for the Machu picchu pictures everywhere. Also, even though it is only 300 odd metres lower than La Paz the air feels worlds better and we can enjoy going up stairs without horrendously loosing breathe. It also has Inca ruins within walking distance but before you get too jealous it is important to note the Spanish destroyed a lot of the ruins and also the charge for getting in is steep enough to encourage a fair number of travelers, I would imagine, to try and enjoy the ruins from a distance.


So I guess the majority of tourists in this area have one thing in mind: Machu picchu. Local tour operators have generously appeared (in great numbers) to aid tourists in this endevour. They have concocted a multitude of options for travelers wishing to see the iconic city ruins. There exists: the single day trip, the classic inca trail, mountain treks, jungle treks etc. all leading to Machu picchu. The poor man’s version is the jungle trek and this is the option we decided on as this continent (especially Patagonia) has made us poor men (and Anna). The “Jungle trek” is advertised as being a way of getting to Machu picchu by means of “trekking, white-water rafting, mountain biking and zip lining!!”. While all these activities were offered to us (some at additional charge) only trekking and mountain biking actually contributed in getting us closer to Machu picchu; by which I mean the white-water rafting and zip lining activities don’t aid in the getting to Machu Picchu and it makes not real difference to your progress if you do them or not. One can’t help but feel a little like a victim of false advertising as you are not actually zip lining to Machu Picchu but rather zip lining and then going to Machu Picchu. I assure you, however, that when you are doing the jungle trek none of this particularly matters. I mean, after all, the feeling that a certain activity is getting you closer to Machu picchu is purely a mental perspective.

The first day of the “jungle trek” was down-hill mountain biking, similar to the death road cycle. We started at 4,300 metres altitude and rode our bikes for 3 hours downhill to just over 1,000 metres altitude. The main difference was that the road was mostly sealed and much safer. I think we all enjoyed this section of the “trek”, but got soaked head to toe courtesy of Peru’s wet season. The white-water rafting section of the trip was that afternoon and was both immensely enjoyable and instructive as it showed us all that we could, in fact, become more wet.

The next two days were spent trekking through mountains towards the town at the base of Machu picchu called Aguas Calientes (literally “hot waters” – apparently there are hot springs nearby). The two days trekking of course brought beautiful scenery but nothing too much in the way of interesting stories so there is not much to write about unless you are interested in the emotions felt by everyone and/or the number (and location) of blisters which felt it necessary to appear on our feet. I assume you are about as interested in these things as I am in writing about them so let’s move ahead to Aguas Calientes.

jungle trek machu picchu

Well there maybe is one thing worth mentioning – one of the places we stopped for a drink had a monkey with which, as you can imagine, we couldn’t resist playing.

When walking towards Aguas Calientes the biggest thought I had in my mind was where in the world would the Peruvians find the space to build a town in this area. The environment was basically extremely steep mountains on either side of a raging river that really would not hesitate in killing any swimmer, with space for a train line and rarely more for a walking path (don’t worry, trains were infrequent and slow).

Though they did manage to find space because after a few more corners we found Aguas Calientes. I think we all agreed that its situation is the best of any town we have seen so far. Personally I think the more impressive aspect of the town is how it manages to not over-charge horrendously. Everything is a little more expensive than in Cusco, but not by so much that you resent anyone. After stuffing ourselves full of well earned pizza and beer we fell asleep both from exhaustion and also to prepare for the 4am rise the following day. The next day was the 4th day, otherwise known as “the day you see Machu picchu”.

Aguas Calientes Peru Machu Picchu

Aguas Calientes

The raging river I mentioned before is quite loud and kinda makes it sound like it is constantly raining outside which is why I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary the next morning as we were preparing for the day. But as luck would have it, rain had set in and wasn’t planning on leaving until late afternoon. After a wet hour and a half of walking of walking up steps we arrived at Machu picchu. The weather was merciful and allowed us line of sight of around 100 metres so we could see most of Machu picchu through the misty haze.

The ruins themselves are very impressive but I think the mountainous location of the Incan town is meant to be the more impressive part of the whole experience and this is precisely the part of it we could not experience. Most of the time you couldn’t make out the neighbouring mountains and when you could it was only small sections. The mist admittedly did add some atmosphere, but when you are wet and cold it is not much consolation. We had a tour of the place and after extremely overpriced coffee and food we decided to head back to Aguas Calientes to sit and wait for the weather to become better. It did, but just as we had to leave.

Welcome to the Jungle!

January 28th, 2012

After our return from Copacabana we boarded the first available flight to Rurrenabaque (Rurre), a remote village in the depths of the Bolivian Amazon. The plane was a 40 seater twin-propellered contraption which felt well overdue for cleaning and maintenance; it creaked a lot and the sealing was pealing off all the windows. After a turbulent takeoff the flight was beautiful, passing over the edge of Bolivia’s alpine plain and into the lower mountainous jungle of the amazon basin. Unfortunately, the windows were so encrusted with filth and dust to the photo opportunities were limited.

Rurre’s airport was a tad more rustic them I’m used to (in fact I quietly suspect it was once a house whose driveway was extended to form a runway) with dense jungle only a few meters from the landing strip. Exiting the plane we were met by 35 degree tropical humidity which was a welcome change after the dry, cold and thin air of La Paz and the other mountainous places in which we have spent our last 2 months.


Rurre itself felt much the same as I imagine most towns in tropical wilderness feel- Comparisons can be drawn to most villages in Cambodia or Vietnam, with little thatched roof houses, temporary junk stalls on every street corner, and about 20 small motorbikes in any possible field of vision. The native people even look surprisingly similar to South-East-Asians. Having never been to true jungle myself, it was still a novel experience, though this said, Hollywood has made the jungle feel very familiar; driving on the dirt road through the Amazon between the airport to the Rurre I half expected to be stopped be a group of Sudanese Militants armed with AK47′s (fortunately this didn’t happen).

Stacked turtles in Rurre

After a few days of doing very little other than basking in the heat we had all been missing, we decided it was time to venture out into the real jungle. On our search for tour information we made friends with a Brazilian jungle guide, Daniel, who turned out to be a great source of highly dubious jungle knowledge. For instance, he informed us with great confidence that the amazon river dolphin was the smartest animal on earth and was able to read past, present and future human emotions. He also told us that they could directly communicate with ‘mongoloid children’ (seeing as ‘mongoloid’ has been considered an offensive term for Down-syndrome, for some years, I suspect he may not have been up to date with latest the peer-reviewed research in the area). He pretty much constantly smoked enormous joints which he rolled from paper torn from a notebook, so I think he was either a bit addled from all the pot smoking, or at least saw things in some spiritual way which didn’t directly correspond with the way that we see reality. He was a good guy though generally, and ran a pretty legitimate tourism agency, but most importantly was about the only person in town who spoke a word of English. So, we let him talk us into a three day tour of ‘pampas’, a kind of flooded savannah which is not really the ‘jungle’ per se, but is actually home to most of the animals which are generally thought to live in the jungle; anacondas, jaguars, monkeys etc.

Our boat on the way to the pampas

The tour turned out to be one of the best things I’ve done. The camp where we slept and ate was a Venice-like mini-village held above the water on pillars. The wildlife would move in and around the camp, seemingly un-bothered by the people there. The camp had a ‘pet’ 2m Caiman which you could pat and feed things to, and sometimes massive Black Caiman (A crockodilian creature which can get up to about 6m) would swim around under the kitchen building looking for scraps. We also saw many many monkeys and on a side trip saw a baby anaconda, not to mention a lot of bizarre and interesting bird species.

Mark playing with Antonio the caiman

The camp

the second day we swam with the pink river dolphins. At first I thought we would just be in the same water somewhere near them, but the dolphins seemed to actually like people and come over to play with the swimmers. Its amazing because these dolphins are totally wild, they have never been fed humans and are in no way confined, they just seem genuinely curious. Some people rode them around for a bit, holding onto their fins. I only touched them a few times, but they loved Mark and Anna and gave them both a lot of attention.

A howler monkey in our camp

Some young capybaras- the world's largest rodent


Squirrel monkeys in the camp

After we returned from the Pampas tour, we thought we had best see the true deep and dense jungle, so on Daniels advice went on a jungle walk to a ‘zipline’ (flying-fox) facility thing. The one we went on was supposedly the highest in South America, reaching up to 50m. It also had some of the longest lines, some around 300m. All the lines were attached to enormous trees and between turns, we had to wait on these little swaying platforms above the canopy. It was a little terrifying but seemed safe and the locals running the operation were very professional and proud of their system.


Mark on the zipline

After nearly a week of activities and restaurant eating, we thought we had blown enough money, so, in a retrospectively terrible decision, we decided to take the bus back to La Paz for $10, rather than spending $80 on the return flight. I think our journey can best be described as the ‘bus trip from hell’, and I strongly recommend that anyone who isn’t the most extreme kind of masochist catch the plane to and from Rurrenabaque.

We should have gotten the hint when we heard that the trip was 18hours, but only covered 450km, averaging a speed of something like 25km/h. The road was so bad that riding on it felt like operating a jackhammer on a boat in turbulent waters, continuously, for about 22 hours (it took longer than it should have). Most of the trip was on roads similar to the death road, about 3-4m wide, and with a rockwall on one side and a 400m drop on the other.

Though the trip would have been just awful in the best of buses, our bus was probably one of the worst. To begin a long list of terrible qualities, the bus had no toilets, and would go for 10 hours at a time without bathroom breaks. After about 8 toilet-breakless hours, when I felt like my bladder was going to explode, or at least suffer permanent damage, we asked the driver to please stop, but he refused, telling us not to worry and that we would only have to wait another 2 hours… Next, for some reason someone had torn off all the arm rests (I guess to cram more people onto the seats, or to make it easier for Bolivians to take their cages of chickens or other inappropriate things on the bus) which left these jagged metal stubbs jutting from between the seats. The roughness of the road caused us to be thrown into these metal pieces frequently, leaving us all with gashes, and nicks pants torn. To make it even worse, at some point during the trip my seat broke, so rather than being that nice slanted L shape that one expects of a bus seat, it became a perfectly straight slope running directly into the floor.

Oh, and also they completely overbooked the bus, so there were about 5 people standing at any time, often falling onto the seated people at a sharp corner or bump. Many of the families brought children for which they didn’t buy seats, and then decided to put them to sleep in little beds they made up on the floor of the bus, making any movement on the bus virtually impossible. On two occasions on Bolivian buses I have accidentally stepped on a sleeping child, one of which burst into tears immediately- I got a nasty look from the mother for this- and the other just kind of whimpered…

All in all it was a horrible experience. While Bolivia is an amazing country, if you want to travel here and be left with a generally positive view of the place, I strongly suggest you stay clear of the public transport system. The Amazon though was absolutely incredible though and if the plane wasn’t available – and I say this from the comfortable position of lying clean a hotel bed – it would actually still be worth taking the awful bus.

Sunset in the pampas


January 28th, 2012

We’ve been out of internet reception for a while so this post is over a week late, but we thought we ought put it in for the sake of recording an accurate chronology of events. Ill warn you now that is also covers one of the less exciting chapters of our travels, so ill forgive you for skipping over this one.

One of the biggest tourist attractions of both Peru and Bolivia is Lake Titicaca, a 200km long water body covering much of the Peru/Bolivia border. At an altitude of roughly 3800m, it is both the highest navigable lake, and the largest alpine lake in the world.

Lake Titicaca

Mostly due to convenience, we decided to visit the lake from the Bolivian side, on which Copacabana is probably the most popular tourist town. Copacabana is a small and beautifully situated town on a peninsula which juts out a few kilometers onto the lake. Unfortunately, Copacabana also turned out to be about the most poorly organized town I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, for example there is not a single ATM which takes foreign cards within about 100km of the town- so in a town which survives almost completely on tourism, we could only spend about 2/3 of the money we would have liked to because we ran out of cash.

Copacabana from a view point

The town was nice otherwise, and had a good selection of waterside walks. We took advantage of the relative remoteness of the area and set of some huge fireworks on the beach. On the second day, we went on a boat trip to ‘Isla del Sol´ which is a small island a three hour and freezing cold boat trip away from Copacabana. The island is the setting of the Inca creation myth, wherein the sun and the moon burst from a large rock on the top of the island. Supposedly adjacent to the cavities of the sun and the moon is a human face with a prominent tongue, though despite our best efforts none of us could see any semblance. The island also holds the very intact ruins of a small Inca village built around the 15th century AD, which Is surrounded by agricultural terraces, an Inca invention which greatly improved the farming potential of mountainous terrain. This allowed them to cultivate the potato, for example (supposedly the Irish stole it from the Andeans)

The highlight of our trip to Copacabana was the relaxed beach-side atmosphere, and our great hotel which was considerably enhanced by some tiny and adorable 8 week old kittens which would sneak into our room and fall asleep on our beds when we let our guard down (or just felt like kittens on our beds).




Cheesy tourist shot with alpacas

Salar de Uyuni

January 18th, 2012

Hello hello!

So yesterday morning we returned from a three-day, 4WD tour of the southern Bolivian salt flats and surrounds. The tour started from a creepy little town called Uyuni, a twelve hour bus trip south of La Paz. Uyuni is a bit like what I imagine, from the movies, Mexico might be like; the land is dry and expansive, dotted with low lying shrubs, lots of old cans, and the occasional abandoned vehicle beside the dusty, bumpy roads. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a British company sponsored railways from mineral rich Uyuni to the Pacific Ocean, but the mining industry collapsed early, and now the trains sit in the Cemeterio de Trenes, the “Train Cemetery”. Its just a few kilometers out of town, but it feels like the middle of nowhere, and the rusty old trains stretch for hundreds of metres.

Cemeterio de Trenes Uyuni

Cemeterio de Trenes Uyuni

The council has added a couple of see-saws and a few creaky swings, perhaps to cheer it up a bit. Its a really cool place actually, and we had a lot of fun climbing along, above and through the trains, but creepy none the less. In the town center the city has erected statues made of wire and old engine parts – it really could be the setting of a horror movie!

Creepy Statue 2, Uyuni

Creepy Statue 2, Uyuni

Creepy Statue, Uyuni

Creepy Statue, Uyuni















Now, the main reason that people go to Uyuni is its proximity to the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats. The salt flats cover 10.5 thousand square kilometres, and almost entirely flat. In fact, it is so remarkably flat that it is used by satellites to calibrate their altimeters (measures of altitude). The salt is very reflective, particularly now in the rainy season, and so the first thing that we noticed when approaching the salt flats was what looked to be floating mountains. Because the salt reflects the sky so well, it can be almost impossible to tell where the horizon actually lies. This quality, and the white shiny uniformity of the surface, lends itself to the forced perspective photographs which are very popular with tourists (and which you may have seen). Nick and Mark were ideologically opposed to such frivolity, so I have no photos of a mini me perched on someones shoulder or the like. Though they did (bless ‘em!) condescend to take this one…

A Lesson in Forced Perspectives

A Lesson in Forced Perspectives

Impressed? Mark took great care to get the angle just right.

The only building in the salt flat is a hotel built entirely of salt, and so aptly named the Salt Hotel. The beds (though you´ll be pleased to hear not the bedding), walls, furniture is all made of salt bricks. Very neat.

Salt Hotel, Uyuni

Salt Hotel, Uyuni

We spent day number two driving between surreal volcanic rock formations (affectionately named the Salvador Dali Desert), and lagoons filled with flamingos.

A rock near the Salvador Dali Desert

A rock near the Salvador Dali Desert

Flamingos are a very beautiful species of bird. They were the only visible life in the lagoons (and for that matter anywhere nearby), and looked very tranquil resting on one leg meditatively in between skimming for micro-organisms. Its hard not to think of the Queen of Hearts swinging her croquet mallet in Wonderland though…

Una Laguna con Flamingos

Una Laguna con Flamingos

Our favorite lagoon was the last of the day; it was enormous, 4300 metres above sea level, nestled in mountains and the water was entirely red. There were flamingos here too (“siempre flamingos!” – always flamingos! our driver would chuckle at every new lake), and also lots of native camels called vicuñas.

Vicuñas, Flamingos and a Red Lagoon

Vicuñas, Flamingos and a Red Lagoon

The final day was spent hopping between different areas of thermal activity. At the first stop sulfurous gas burst from the ground either in enormous clouds or perfectly formed towers.

Sulfurous Towers

Sulfurous Towers

The second stop was for warm thermal pools, a god send at 4900 meters (read: COLD!), and after three nights without showers… The setting was lovely too!

Hot Springs near Salar de Uyuni

Hot Springs near Salar de Uyuni

We actually got as far South as the Chilean border, where we dropped off the two Korean girls we were traveling with who were bound for a 24hr bus to Santiago. On the way back up the only thing of real interest (and Nick may debate its interest!) was a little town called San Cristobal. I’m not sure who Saint Cristobal was, but his name is everywhere (you might remember the giant Virgin Mary statue on the top of San Cristobal hill in Santiago, there’s also San Cristobals in Argentina, Mexico and Ecuador that we know of). We’ve come across a couple of other names that are obviously beloved for reasons that I am ignorant of, for example “Colon” – we’ve seen Colon streets, suburbs and – my favorite – “Colon Cafe”.

But back to San Cristobal in Bolivia. It was a tiny little town of 350 people, until one of the world’s largest silver deposits was discovered beneath. The result was that a Canadian mining company paid for the entire town to be moved 17km to a new site. San Cristobal had a beautiful old Colonial church (well over 350 years old), and this too was moved stone by stone and rebuilt in the new settlement. Here it is:

San Cristobal Church

San Cristobal Church

So, that was our last few days. I think we were all struck by the beauty and diversity of Bolivia. My bet is that in the next ten years or so, tourism in Bolivia is going to absolutely boom. There’s an album below with a few extra shots from the trip, enjoy!


Yungas Road

January 15th, 2012

The Yungas Road connects the city of La Paz to the town of Coroico. For some time it was the only route to Coroico, and claimed around 200 to 300 lives a year, earning it the title of Death Road. Naturally this sort of danger attracts a variety of thrillseekers, many of whom choose to navigate the road by mountain bike. We decided to give it a shot as the biker mortality rate was comfortably low, 18 cyclists having perished since 1998.

The route is a 63km downhill ride, descending through the Yungas Valley to Yolsa village (1100m).

The ride starts at Cumbre Pass (4700m), the highest point on the Yungas Road. The surrounding area is part of the Bolivian Altiplano, sparse rocky mountain ranges just below the snow line. Visible from La Cumbre is the nearby snow-capped mountain Huayna Potosí (6,088m).The first section of the road was in surprisingly good repair, the asphalt surface allowing speeds of 30-40km/hour.

The Yungas Road is notable for its decent through distinct climates/environments. It wasn´t long before we left the asphalt of the Altiplano and entered the steamy Yungas rainforest. It was apparent that we were now on the true Death Road as the surface shifted to dirt and gravel. This section of the road is characterised by shear drops (up to 1000m) to the left side of the narrow track and cascading waterfalls and rocky overhangs to the right. It was difficult to keep eyes on the track with the incredible scenery spread out before us but somehow we managed to appreciate the vistas while avoiding hurtling over the edge.

After awhile the temperature became too tropical (around 15º warmer then when we started) and we had to shed some layers. The track progressively grew hotter and dustier during the final 1000m decent and by the end we were well in need of a swim. Luckily a dip in the local hotel pool was included in the package. The 63km bike ride lasted 3 hours and brought us to a point 3500m lower than where we started. We were quite proud of not dying and we each got a horribly fitting ProDownhill t-shirt to commemorate our achievement.

While this doesent really relate to the content of this post, we recently went to a place called ¨Moon Valley¨ which provided some pretty spectacular scenery and unique rock formations.

La Paz

January 8th, 2012


So we’ve spent a few nights in La Paz, Bolivia, and its been quite an experience so far. La Paz has to be one of the most unusual cities in the world. Geographically, the city is literally like no other. The area surrounding looks a lot like savannah, with perfectly flat grassy windswept planes stretching into the distance further than the eye can see. Whats so strange about this plane, however, is that it is uniformly 4100m above sea level. La Paz is situated in a kind of bowl naturally cut into the plane which drops down to about 3600m at its lowest point (its still the highest ‘city’ in the world), so looking out from the center of the city it feels like you’re in a mountain range. La Paz is north of Cairns (its almost exactly the same latitude as Port Douglas) but due to the altitude, the temperature all year round is from about 5-20 degrees daily.

Bolivia is a landlocked mountainous country with little economic capacity to exploit its natural resources, and little in the way of possible legitimate agriculture. It does, however, have the perfect climate and altitude for growing high grade cocain, and consequently has become the worlds largest producer of the drug. To appease the United States and International drug control agencies, cocain has been made illegal, but coca leaf growing is permitted for cultural reasons. The locals really do use coca in milder forms a lot; every cafe serves coca tea, a drink which has a similar effect to coffee, and at present 90% of Bolivians chew coca leaves daily. The money, though, is in the international export of stronger products. The result of this massive coca industry is that pursuit of the national interests of the country do not align with its laws, and corruption and bribery, and a generally ineffective law enforcement system has developed. I’d guess this tension is a large factor in how the ‘anything goes’ attitude of Bolivia developed. Now there are ‘illegal’ cocain bars which are publicly advertised, and dangerous weapons, dynamite and metre tall fireworks can be purchased from street vendors. Its all very bizarre.

la paz bolivia

The streets of La Paz

The remoteness of La Paz has also preserved an interesting Indigenous culture. Most local women over the age of about 30, wear the traditional garb which consists of about 10 layered dresses which have so much material it makes even the thin ones look obese. Apparently they are so hard to remove and wash that the women reak of urine in confined spaces – I haven’t noticed this personally yet though, something to look foreword to I guess! The dresses are accompanied by these strange, rigid bowler hats which have a tiny circumference, so they perch on the crown in a precarious fashion and seem to serve no functional purpose. In markets, one quickly sees the Indigenous influence, as a good number of stores sell mummified baby llamas, or llama fetuses, presumably used for some spiritual reason.

dried llamas

A punnet of dried llamas

Today we walked to San Pedro Prison, another of the unusual sights in La Paz. San Pedro is the setting of the book ‘Marching Powder’ which some of you may have read, about an English drug trafficker who was sent to jail there for trying to move five kilograms of cocain to London (I recommend the book – its really interesting). Because of the level of corruption in the system, the jail as well as being a jail, functions as an enormous cocain processing factory, and has a system where inmates have to purchase their own cells (some even live in two story mansions built within the walls). Anyway, if you turn up at the right times you can actually bribe your way into the jail and take a tour around inside for about $10. The most powerful gangs control these tours, so its supposedly quite safe, as news of a harmed tourist would ruin the gangs lucrative business. Having all read the book we thought it would be neat to just go and check out the front gate and building but when we got there we ran into another group of tourists who were in the process of bribing their way in. When they asked if we wanted to come along, we thought we’d give it a shot. The jail sounded like a pretty scary place to be, but everyone says its such a great experience so we thought it could be worth it. So we waited for a while to see if this connection they had with some lawyer they had met that morning was going to work. Unfortunately (or fortunately- I’m not actually sure that I really wanted to go in) their connection failed and we got ordered to leave by a prison guard. It was an interesting experience though.

The gate of San Pedro- the people entering are the family members of inmates, many of whom live inside the prison

I think we’ve going to have a lot of fun here. Everything is really cheap (yesterday we got a 3 course meal with bread for $1.40) so we can afford to do all the crazy activities we couldn’t in Patagonia. Tomorrow or the next day we are going on a bike tour which is 67 kilometres of continuous downhill. It goes from the top of some mountain at almost 5000m down to wetlands.

Ooh yeah.. and Mark joined us yesterday! I thought I should throw that in somewhere…




Farewell Patagonia!

January 6th, 2012

Hey Friends!

So we left Patagonia this morning, and are now at Santiago airport waiting for our connecting flight to La Paz, Bolivia. Anyway, we thought we’d sacrifice some of our precious 10 airport hours here to put up a final post and some of the best photos from our last week here.

After our failed hike we decided to head back into Argentina and see the Perito Marino glacier, an offshoot of a Patagonian ice-sheet which is the worlds third largest store of fresh water. The massive reserve of ice fueling Perito Marino causes this enormous glacier (over 50m high) to move incredibly fast by glacial standards (this is probably still only something like 3m a year). As a result of its blazing speed, one watching for more than about 5 minutes can reasonably expect to see a piece of ice the size of a bus tear off the face and plummet into the glacial lake below. Its extremely impressive, even after seeing half a dozen other glaciers in the past fortnight.

Perito Merino Glacier

A Patagonian Fox we saw near the glacier

From Punta Arenas (the most southern ‘city’ in the world- it has maybe 100 000 people) we went on a tour to see colony of penguins. Penguins are REALLY adorable, and the Patagonian variety seem to have virtually no natural predators, and consequently no flight response to large creatures approaching them. Anna got about 20cm away from a baby one before its parents decided it shouldn’t be so close to strange women and started squawking aggressively (Anna backed down but I recon she could totally have taken that penguin).

Anna and penguin

More penguins

So we will be in La Paz in about 10 hours, and if the stories we’ve heard from other travelers represent the place properly, it should provide us with some good blog material (apparently its one of few places where one can purchase sticks of dynamite from roadside stalls, for instance). More on that soon!