A Travellerspoint blog

Galapagos Islands part 2

Floreana, Espanola and a sad farewell in San Cristobal.

sunny 27 °C

We have been home since June 29th and I am writing this on August 7th - shame on me. The sad truth is that we have to remind ourselves that we ever went away - 'real life' catches up with you way too fast and suddenly here we are, on the day following the riots that occured ten minutes away throughout last night. A sad day in London. What better time to return to the Galapagos Islands and remind ourselves of an amazing adventure. And for those still interested - to share a last few photos with you.

We had travelled through our second night on the boat to Floreana - also known as Santa Maria (to the Spanish) and Charles (to the English - can't imagine who they named that after). We went for a two hour hike in the morning on Cormorant Point....didn't see any cormorants strangely but we did see the following:

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Galapagos Lizard

Galapagos Lizard

Flamingo

Flamingo

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We finished the walk on the beach where we played dodge the stingray as troops of them swept along the shoreline (OK - what is the collective noun for a bunch of stingray?)
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We headed back to the boat for snacks, have to say we were well fed on this trip, and Anouska spent a good hour watching the frigate birds and trying to get the perfect shot. The big red chest/chin/protusion is the males way of saying that he's looking for sex - isn't nature grand!

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We spent the latter part of the morning snorkelling in the Devil's Crown - an old volcanic crater under the water. Writing retrospectively, I can say that this was the coolest snorkelling we did in the Galapagos. It was quite scary which added to the thrill and we saw turtles, sharks, eagle and sting rays as well as a plethora of fish. It also gave us a chance to be wowed by the skills of Hansel, our guide - as an ex navy seal, his free diving skills were awesome and he put them to good use to make sure we all got to see as much as possible.
The afternoon was spent around the other side of the island in Post Office Bay, so called because it is used as a drop off and collection point for mail - historically and to this day.

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We went to the bay, postcards in hand and opened that barrel. We then removed all the postcards and went through them to see if we could take any with us to deliver upon our return to our hometowns. Once that is done, you place your own postcards with the remainder and leave them for the next boat. This shit works people! We have distributed three postcards since we returned - and Noush's sister received hers within a week of us being home - in Potton....who even knows where that is???

After more snorkelling we returned to the boat to watch the sunset and get ready for dinner. Hansel had promised us a slideshow of about 500 photos which of course we were all massively excited about. It unfortunately had to be cancelled due to a display of local nature Attenborough would have been proud of. The local flying fish had decided that the light off the back of the boat was a reason to commit hari kari and the excitment had brought about 30 galapagos sharks and numerous sea lions out to play. Interestingly, the sharks eat the sea lions but they were all about the flying fish that night. Every time a fish would skim the water towards the boat it would create a frenzy of activity - it made great TV but unfortunately lousy photos as it was so dark. A turtle even popped up in the middle of it to see what the fuss was about but decided that it was way too boisterous for his tastes and disappeared.

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See - rubbish.

Day 4 was our last full day in the Galapagos and we spent it on the island of Espanola (English name: Hood). We were excited about the morning's excursions in Punta Suarez as this was where all the sea birds lived and we had seen blue footed boobies diving magnificently but nothing up close yet. It was an amazing morning - it smelt like bloody hell and looked like there was snow everywhere, such was the quantity of bird shit but ......wow. Hope the photos of these beautiful creatures do them justice.

Blue footed Boobies

Blue footed Boobies


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The name boobie comes from the Spanish 'bobo' which means stupid. They thought the birds were stupid because they didn't run away when man arrived on the islands and consequently were easy prey. Interestingly, blue footed boobies can see black, white and blue. Red footed boobies can see in black, white and red - for identification purposes. Brill!

The other boobies on the island were masked boobies. Although the powers that be have decided that on this island they are called Nazca Boobies - don't recall if it's a different name or a different species.

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Their mating ritual involves the male giving the female presents - bits of stone, bits of twig - he's a charmer.

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Another prominent bird species on the island is the albatross. A species that mates for life and where the males are incharge of egg incubation. In the heat in the Galapagos, a neglected egg can quickly cook so the males are vigilant in their duty. And beautiful. And their mating dance is similar to Axl Rose's famous move.

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While on this side of the island we also saw the following creatures...

Sea turtle

Sea turtle


Black crab

Black crab


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Mockingbird

Mockingbird


Marine iguanas

Marine iguanas


King of the castle

King of the castle

We spent the afternoon snorkelling and hanging out with the sea lions in Gardener Bay. It might sound like it was repetitive but believe me, it doesn't feel that way at all. These views and this proximity to nature is mindblowing and every second of it felt like a blessing.

Xavier III - our Galapagos home

Xavier III - our Galapagos home


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One last gratuitous sea lion shot!

Mother nature I salute you. The Galapagos Islands are without a doubt one of my favourite places on earth. Not without their own troubles but it appears to me that the Ecuadorian government and people are doing a great job of preserving Darwin's muse.

And that was that - we had a lovely final evening with our new nautical amigos and the next day we flew out of San Cristobal (English name: Chatham). We had a day back in Quito where we did nothing but pack and sunbathe and then we headed home. 6 months and three days after we had departed.

I will finish with showing you a drawing that Anouska worked on as we travelled around South America - a roughly geographical representation of our experiences. It's amazing.

So this is 2 birds, 9 countries, 6 languages, 78 accomodations, 2 computers, I camera and 1 blog signing off. Ciao ciao. X

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Posted by Dani Parry 12:29 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

The Galapagos Islands

Baltra, Santa Cruz, Plaza island and Santa Fe

sunny 27 °C

  • **So here it is. So many of you have said how much you are looking forward to the Galapagos photos that I hope we don't let you down. There are a lot so I am going to do it over three blogs incase the computer implodes! The ones we upload are of course only a fraction of what I took - but I'm sure you don't want to see 300 photos of sea lions today.***

We met our group at the Hotel Quito which was well posh (by our current standards!); a pool and everything. We had a hilariously bad welcome meeting with a very substandard powerpoint presentation which REALLY wound up Noush, the PP guru!

At 6am the next morning we headed off to the airport to fly to Baltra in the Galapagos....needs to be mentioned that this was Anouska's birthday so it was a pretty giddy time! We arrived in Baltra at about 11am and once we were all together headed off on a bus across the island - it's tiny - it took 10 minutes. Our first views were of a volcanic landscape, scrubland and then ....the sea. Turquoise and glistening, to me it always feels like coming home (you're going to have to forgive me waxing lyrical just a wee bit).

A short hop across the water and we arrived on Santa Cruz - the most populated islands in the Galapagos with about 10000 inhabitants (I think this is right - forgive me if not). We jumped on another bus to traverse this island which took about 45 minutes and reached Puerto Ayora to meet the zodiacs (big dinghys) that would bring us to the Xavier III - our home for the next 4 nights. Once we reached the boat we met the rest of our group who were on a longer trip and had been there for three nights already (lucky, lucky, lucky, LUCKY buggers!). The boat slept the 16 of us plus crew which made it blissfully small - no big cruise liners for us. It had viewing platforms and sun decks and en suite cabins, a dining room and a large saloon....I've never been on a cruise boat before and was pleasantly surprised. Our group was brilliantly diverse - I even got on with the Bush supporting Republicans (Jodie and Aaron y'all deserved that one after the Brit bashing), as it should be, 6 Brits, 3 Americans, 3 Canadians, two Germans (one by way of New Zealand), one Japanese man and a Swiss. Made for some brilliant dinner conversations!

Right - to the good stuff. We spent our first afternoon at the Darwin research centre which is used primarily as a breeding centre for tortoises. It is also the home of Lonesome George - who isn't lonesome at all and has two lady tortoises in his enclosure with which to repopulate his species - but no luck so far. George appears to have lost his mojo. Although about 110, George isn't the oldest tortoise in the centre - Diego is a sprightly 125!! Amazing - and bloody massive. We saw some other critters en route so I'll just let the photos do the talking....

Marine iguanas

Marine iguanas


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Darwin Finch

Darwin Finch


Lonesome George

Lonesome George


Diego

Diego

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Tortoise cold

Tortoise cold

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On our way back to the boat we passed a a small fish market. I would bet there aren't many places in the world where the fishmonger has to contend with this....

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That night we spent time with the group, learning about the next day´s activities from our guide, Hansel - an ex navy seal and biologist who really knew his stuff. Noush was also presented with a birthday cake prompted by another member of the group which was very sweet (in every way)...Aaron took the photos though so they'll come later.

After a short journey during the night (I'm not going to moan about it, engines are noisy and the seas are pretty choppy at this time of year - but we didn´t come all this way to sleep!) we awoke in the south of Plaza Island. Hansel led us all in an exploration of the island, it´s only 100m across at some points, but boy, do they pack in the wildlife!

Swallow tailed gull and chick

Swallow tailed gull and chick

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Tropic bird

Tropic bird


Land iguana

Land iguana


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Sea Lion cub

Sea Lion cub


Spooning

Spooning


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Things to know about sea lions; they don´t get as big as seals (think elephant seals); they have ears, seals don´t; they hunt when they need to but basically lie around a lot; they get scales and rubbish stuck in their throats and cough like cats with furballs!

We moved to Santa Fe island over lunch and spent that afternoon snorkelling off the back of the boat but the underwater camera is film so we won´t have the shots until we´re back. It was great though. Then it was time for some more refreshments, some dinner, a beer or two and another bumpy night as we headed to Floreana.

More to follow.......got a plane to catch!

X

Posted by Dani Parry 11:51 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

No sign of Paddington

An Inca adventure in Peru

sunny 19 °C

We arranged to stay in a gorgeous guesthouse for our first night in Cuzco before we had to meet our GAP tour. We chose Ninos Hotel because all the proceeds from the two hotels fund an amazing project for street children. You can read the full story on the website but the summary is that a Dutch woman moved to Cusco in order to work with street children. She adopted 12 in her first year and now feeds 500 children a day in the restaurant, 3 meals per day, 6 days per week. They also help with schooling, dentistry and adoption arrangements. It's an amazing project, so if any of you in these cash strapped times can spare a tenner than we think it's an incredibly worthwhile charity.

It's also a really gorgeous place to stay if you are ever passing through Cuzco.

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Cuzco is a gorgeous city. Surrounded by mountains and full of ancient churches and beautiful plazas. It's also the most touristy of any South American city we had visited. There are touts for everything from Inca tours to massages but it's not too in your face once you have adjusted and everyone is friendly. It is also home to Jack's....the most gringo friendly restaurant we had seen in 3 months and we loved it. You could even get a full breakfast with home made baked beans - I know that makes us sound awful but a large salad or a tuna melt is a great thing when you have been eating bread, corn, meat and cheese for 10 weeks.

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Catholic Gilt (?)

Catholic Gilt (?)

We had made our alternative plans to take the Inca Train rather than hike the Inca Trail (it's practically the same....one letter difference!) and met at the pretty rotten Hotel Prisma the next day to join our tour group. We were able to join the group for the first day of exploring the Sacred Valley which was great although Noush's lungs struggled a bit. We explored a few ruins, visited GAP's Planaterra project of a female textile community and spent the night in Ollantaytambo, a beautiful little village in the mountains which was in the throws of the first night of it's week long annual festival. Bands, dancers, bonfires, all night fireworks - it was a riot.

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Ollantaytambo ruins

Ollantaytambo ruins


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The next day Noush and I headed back to Cuzco for 36 hours of sighseeing and museums while the other 12 poor bastards started a three day hike into the mountains...this would be the last time most of them washed before we met them again three days later. In order to connect with the group at Machu Picchu, Noush and I caught a train to Aguas Caliente. The train ride was gorgous and scenic and aided by the fact that the roof of the train contained huge skylights so you had an almost 180 degree view. However Aguas Caliente is a bit of a dump and purely there to cater to tourists who are going to or returning from Machu Picchu. We stayed in possibly the worst place of our entire 6 months away - damp, blue carpeted WALLS, lots of nylon, a real gem! It had a TV though so we watched bad films and ate crackers to while away the hours. We also thought it best to avoid some of the food.....(vegetarians and small animal lovers may want to scroll down quickly)

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It is a 30 minute bus ride up into the mountains to the foot of Machu Picchu. We arrived at 7am as the sun was rising and it is a spectacular sight. I'm not big on ruins but the location and the size of Machu Picchu is what makes it. 2700m high, 500 years old and sprawling (although only 80% finished before those dastardly Spaniards came in and spoiled everything!)......I'm really glad that we got to see it and I understand why it is held in such high regard.

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We joined the intrepid members of our group to tour the site and then we all headed back on the train to Cuzco - that was a somewhat aromatic experience with 80 odd hikers in the carriage!

The next day we flew for one brief night to sea level in Lima - Peru's capital city. I can't say we really saw it - we stayed in a lovely area called Barranco and wandered around in the evening, enjoying the additional lung capacity, the sea views and a fish supper before heading back to the airport the next morning to fly to Quito, Ecuador.

Quito is OK....I'm still here as I write this, wrestling with the internet speed. We've seen more beautiful cities which has left us bemused as to why this one is a UNESCO site, we saw a woman get mugged which is never high on your wish list. However...it was our gateway to the Galapagos Islands so I can forgive it anything!

Posted by Dani Parry 10:33 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

A short spell in Bolivia

Altitude, bowler hats, crafts......and panpipes

sunny 15 °C

  • **I am amazed that I forgot to mention the panpipes in the last blog. Since Salta, the sounds of panpipes have filled the air, the radio, every cafe and bar we have been into. Whether the original recordings of South American super groups or covers of everything from 'My Way' to 'Every Breath You Take'....we have officially had enough of panpipes!***

Our rerouted path meant that we would only have one week in Bolivia and we would be mainly flying from place to place. This is all well and good – avoiding the infamous Bolivian buses could only be a good thing – but flying in small(ish) aircrafts above a country that averages 3500m above sea level makes for a bumpy ride. Thankfully the fact that Noush has had flying lessons and therefore understands far more than I do about planes meant that I would only need to panic if she was the one gripping the armrest and that never happened.

Our first stop in Bolivia was Sucre (well actually it was Santa Cruz but only for a very hairy, comedy transit 20 minutes....transito transito.....). I think if we are honest, Noush and I weren't all that excited about Bolivia; expecting crazy food and crazier culture (or lack thereof). Well Sucre proved how little we know – it is a sprawling city – the 'real' capital of Bolivia (I don't really understand but Sucre and La Paz are both claiming this title) with a beautiful centre of colonial buildings, more churches and cathedrals of course and French restaurants...who knew! It's a university city which meant that there was a real buzz on the streets after dark and it felt totally safe to just wander amongst it. Our B&B was very sweet although we did have a TV which is always a bad thing as somehow the only English thing we ever find to watch is the Kardashians on E!

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We had a mind-numbing/blowing excursion to Parque Cretacico in the hills (depends who you ask). To quote Lonely Planet "It seems that 65 million years ago the site of Sucre's Fancesa cement quarry, six kilometers from the centre, was the place to be for large, scaly types. When the grounds were being cleared in 1994, plant employees uncovered a nearly vertical mudstone face bearing over 6000 tracks - some of which measure up to 80cm in diameter - from over 150 different species of dinosaur." So let's get this straight - we went to a cement factory.
Due to tectonic plate movement these tracks now appear to go uphill and when asked what we could learn about dinosaur behaviour from the tracks one English girl in our group said that they could climb....ahhh! So these tracks have been uncovered and used as a place for paleontologists to study and it's all very fascinating. Except, what they have created is a theme park of dino-models complete with weird Disney/geology guides – 'hey guys...what do we know about erosion dudes?' and you actually only get within about 200m of the bloody things!

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However it only took an hour and we got to ride in the dino-bus which miraculously didn't fall apart en route and the journey took us through what I guess is real Sucre; a much poorer, more hectic, dirtier place than it's pretty centre would have you believe. Broken down buses, more stray dogs than you can imagine, gorgeous children playing with whatever they can get their hands on and the general comings and goings of day to day life in a Bolivian city. It's not pretty, some of it is quite shocking but it needs to be seen if you are going to have any real idea of where you are.

Our next stop in Bolivia was the de-facto capital La Paz. The first thing you need to know about La Paz is that it is situated at between 3600 and 4000m above sea level. I've looked it up and Ben Nevis only reaches 1344m. I don't really know if cities were supposed to be situated this high. It's a bit tricky to breathe, the whole place is on a hill and it has some of the worst pollution I can remember experiencing....we're not even convinced they have unleaded petrol here. It is all presided over by 6500m of Mount Illamani.

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However it is a fascinating city, absolutely massive and just alive with activity at all times of the day and night. The central square in the old town is of course pretty but other than that it's chaos. Plaza Murillo (we love a plaza!) is a mixture of cathedral and bullet-riddled presidential buildings, beauty and disintegration and also has a Mary Poppins 'feed the birds' obsession not seen in Trafalgar Square for twenty years or more.

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From a 'traveller' (how I hate that word) point of view the most famous things are 'Death Road' – the most dangerous biking experience in the world, didn't rush to take part in that; and the Mercado de las Brujas. These 'witches' markets are mainly situated along one road in the city and the stalls contain a repetition of the same things – herbs, pulses, teas, shawls, beads and most upsettingly dried llama foetuses. These are literally dried baby llamas, flat as pancakes and bought by locals to bury under their porches for luck and good fortune. I may have found these more shocking than the mummified Inca child. I didn't take any photos as I felt it too voyeuristic.

What we did love about La Paz though was the marriage of traditional and modern culture. The famous Bolivian woman with her long black plaits, brightly coloured clothes and bowler hat – always with a shawl tied around her carrying either her child or her wares on her back. Seeing these women selling food outside of a shop filled with North Face clothing makes for an interesting juxtaposition. And they seem ageless....the climate is harsh; being that much closer to the sun but with temperatures reaching below zero in the winter means that their skin takes on a leathery quality – I found the easiest way to guess their age was by how few teeth they had. We both found them completely charming. (This photo may also be a bit voyeuristic - I hope she doesn't mind.)

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Our last stop in Bolivia was Copacabana – on the banks of Lake Titicaca. Not the Copacabana of Barry Manilow fame – not sure if that is in Mexico or Brazil....hang on 'the hottest spot north of Havana'....Mexico then? No! Just looked that up too and it's about a club in NYC - what do I know? To reach Copa we had to cross the Tiquina Strait by boat...and so did our bus! The first views of Lake Titicaca were stunning to boot.

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Anyway....a quick note about the aforementioned climate....when I called the blog 'Heading South for the Winter', I really didn't consider that in one way we were heading south for it's winter, I was purely talking about avoiding the northern hemisphere version. So here we are in the southern hemisphere winter and by golly, are we unprepared! Temperatures are averaging a very sunny 14 degrees during the day but dropping to freezing at night and our llama jumpers have their work cut out for them. That aside, we had booked into a hostel called Las Olas for our three nights by the lake and we had been placed in a cabana called La Tortuga – the turtle. Without doubt, one of the best places we have stayed (number 72 to be exact), our little two storey house looked like this.....

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We had an amazing view of the lake and the boats, were 5 (slightly panting) minutes from the centre of Copa, with our own garden complete with a female shepherd who brings her herd by every afternoon for a munch on our grass and a huge circular bed to match all the other curvy features. It would be perfect if it weren't for the fact that it had no heating and for one night also had no electricity! We spent that evening in a local restaurant that wasn't totally affected by the power cuts although the power did cut out about every ten minutes. Hats off to the chefs!

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Lake Titicaca and Copa were gorgeous. It felt like a little holiday in the middle of our travels. (Later that same day: Having just sat and had our dinner to the sound of a live Simply Red concert, I say bring back the panpipes.)

We had one night back in La Paz before flying to Cuzco in Peru. Another unforeseen flight – this time due to the protests and border problems in Puno in Peru. The whole situation seemed a little too unstable to approach by bus when we have a definite date to be in Cuzco, so AeroSur here we come (again!). However our bus journey, despite some stunning views took a strange turn. Transpires the Bolivians were protesting too - although no one could tell us why and they were blocking all the roads into La Paz with huge mounds of earth and stone. Our bus driver was not deterred though - have to say, driving cross country in a bus in Bolivia after dark is an experience and a half!

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To finish, two totally gratuitous cute shots.

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Posted by Dani Parry 14:41 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Our last days in Argentina

Quebrada de Humahuaca

all seasons in one day 15 °C
View a migratory path on Dani Parry's travel map.

We spent a blissful 4 days in San Lorenzo and made some new friends, Simon and Annalaura who we whiled away many an hour chatting to. They even took me into Salta with them on one of the days when getting up was too taxing for Noush. We went to a museum called MAAM (Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana) which is a small museum about Inca life. The museum was founded as a result of the excavation of a grave of three Inca children that were found mummified in Llullailaco Volcano at 6700m in the 90s. The bodies were removed along with textiles and sacred objects that were all perfectly preserved and have been used to learn much about the rituals of Inca religion and tribal life. It was a strange and fascinating display, complete with a 500 year old six year old boy....ain't nothing that can prepare you for that.

Feeling more rested we headed off for a three day trip to the Quebrada de Humahuaca (Quebrada means canyon). It is an area of multicoloured hills and small dusty towns and we had chosen to stay in Tilcara.

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We had another ridiculous bus journey, complete with broken bus and sat on a grass verge for an hour along with 30 other people and a horse and a chicken waiting to be saved. Our three hour trip soon became seven.....bloody buses!! Our new bus was 30 years old if it was a day but at least it showed films....Transporter 2 - a classic! Hey, don't knock it until you've tried it.....we quite enjoyed it, even in Spanish with subtitles. Looked a lot better than Big Stan that came on next...

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Tilcara is a pretty little town and we had booked to stay in a B&B based on the elements and we had been put in the Viento (wind) room. We headed out to get something to eat as it had been quite a while since breakfast and did our best to wrap up as the sun was setting and the nights are starting to get really cold. We headed to a nearby restaurant, where Noush ate her first llama...not a whole one you understand. By the time we finished eating it was really cold and we decided it was time to invest in some local clothing. There is a huge market for alpaca wool clothing and obviously the tourists buy a lot of it but it is also worn by every local - so llama jumpers for us it was! I'm sure we can start a new trend in the pubs of north London.

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The next day we headed off to a nearby town of Purmamarca, where we negotiated with Miguel to drive us to the Salinas Grandes. His car looked slightly more reliable than most and as it was a twisty turney hour into the mountains and to over 4000m to reach the Salinas. There we would spend an hour and then twist and turn our way back down again.

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Hello...I'm a vicuna.  Not to be confused with a llama or an alpaca.

Hello...I'm a vicuna. Not to be confused with a llama or an alpaca.

South America has some incredibly famous salt flats in the south of Bolivia called the Salares de Uyuni - they are supposed to be simply stunning. However, we knew that due to the revised travel plans that we weren't going to get there so the Salinas Grande was a taste of what that kind of geography is like. They truth is, it is hard, cold and blindingly bright. Quite a sight.

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That night we met up with Simon and Annalaura who had headed north the day before us, for a feast of Argentinian steak and red wine - a meal we haven't become bored of and will miss when we cross into Bolivia. Another 4 hours flew by with talk of....everything really.....it was so good to meet people that we could really talk to - makes us realise again how much we miss all of you at home.

The next day we headed even further into the Quebrada to the town of Humahuaca. Another town of market stalls, tourists, stray dogs and strange religious iconography. I have to say that the Catholics really go to town in South America - the average church is like a horror film of bloody Jesus'.....it's quite dark and disturbing...not a place of worship as I would imagine it. We walked into the main square just before midday and were perplexed by the number of people standing staring at the church - it transpires that a moving statue of San Francisco Solano emerges every day to point at the crowd and then disappears again. OK........

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We only spent three hours in Humahuaca which was about perfect, time enough to buy a couple more alpaca items, eat some empanadas and walk in the sun until it was time to head back to Tilcara through the beautiful coloured hills.

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After travelling back to Casa Hernandez (bus film, Hachi: A Dog's Tale - could hardly see it, it was in Spanish and it still made me cry!) we had 36 hours to prepare to head off to Bolivia. We spent our last day in Argentina with Alex and Rijkje and another English couple, Helen and John, having an asado and drinking some wine and sitting around in our llama jumpers and hanging out. It was one of our favourite days actually - a mixture of good food, good wine and good company. What more could we ask for?

Posted by Dani Parry 14:11 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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