Month: September 2014

HUACACHINA & THE AMAZING SAND DUNES

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Huacachina is a real-life oasis: a  collection of hostels and B&B’s framing a small lake surrounded by never ending sand dunes. The stuff of dreams.

We took a terrifying (but brilliant) ride in a buggy to tour the dunes and sandboard down seemingly enormous drops. It was so, so much fun, well, for me anyway… poor Angela managed to pick the seat with a dodgy seatbelt and I had to physically hold her down so she didn’t fly out of the buggy as we bounced over the dunes.

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BACK TO PERU

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Having spent more time than planned in Bolivia (six weeks) we had to hot foot it back up the coast of Peru to give ourselves a month to explore Ecuador.

Though we were sad to leave Bolivia, it was great to be back in Peru and were immediately hit by how developed it seemed in comparison to Bolivia. Having been there for so long it seems we had got used to its rough edged charm.

Our journey through Peru took us to Arequipe, which is a gorgeous white walled city. Colonial and grand, it is a bigger version of Cuzco and Sucre and, as we were still recovering from the Salt Flats tour, a welcome relief. We treated ourselves to a McDonalds and Maura was persuaded into a free and impromptu dance lesson in the kitchen at our hostel.

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The absolute highlight of Arequipe was the Santa Catalina Monastery, an upper class monastery for nuns. At first it only accepted the daughters of the richest men, who lived in relative luxury and even had servants. However, the Pope got wind of the shenanigans and sent in the heavies to reform its inhabitants.

Now home to just 20 nuns, the majority of the blue and ochre walled village has been preserved and looks like this:

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THE BOLIVIAN SALT FLATS

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Our trip to the Salt Flats was definitely one of the best and worst things we did in Bolivia. It being so hard to get there, makes it bit of a geographical pilgrimage and all the more special when you finally arrive on the flat white plains.

For us, getting to this weird and brilliant place was even more of a challenge than the usual epic three day journey, as the start and end point of the tour, Uyuni, was surrounded by a road blockade. We had to attack it from a different way – from a dusty town called Tupiza, at the very south of Bolivia. This meant an extra day on the long and bumpy roads, however we would effectively save the best until last by finishing with the Salt Flats. A definite silver lining.

Sunrise on the Salt Flats

Sunrise on the Salt Flats

In order to reach the Salt Flats we travelled in a 4×4 truck thing with: our driver, Santos, the Don Juan to whom all the other drivers deferred to; the very sweet Josephine, our cook; and two fellow and lovely tourists, Carolina and Raman.

So, so cold

It was intensely cold. The higher we climbed and the further we travelled, the colder it got. Bone chillingly cold at points. We quickly realised that we needed to put on ALL of our clothes and keep them on at all times. The majority of my clothes were pure Peruvian wool, so the static I constantly created was a shocking and unwelcome bonus.

We knew the accommodation would be basic, but no heating, no showers, no locks on the toilet, and just one sheet of broken glass between us and the -5 outside world was more basic than we had imagined. However, the company was great and a car load of French students kept our spirits up with card games and hot drinks.

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Nothing like a warm, cosy bed after a long day on the road….

The road was long, dusty, bumpy and, for the first and last day, on the edge of some fairly steep drops, but along that road we saw some stunning things and more llamas than you could ever hope for. We stopped at lakes in all different colours: bright blue; dusty pinks; white; and lime green. Passed mountains that looked like they had been painted onto a blue sky backdrop and deserted stone villages abandoned by their owners when surviving became impossible. Travelled through deserts where the wind had whipped stones into Dali-esque shapes, geysers puffing out steam into the freezing air and Angela braved the cold to swim in crystal clear hot springs.

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Llama inception

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Angela and the pink lake

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The hot springs

As you can imagine the cold, the lack of sleep, long car journeys and the stomach bugs that hit us all, meant that arriving at our final destination, the salt desert, was a massive relief. Thankfully, it was worth every bump in the road and it lived up to our very high expectations. Plus, we got to take some great pictures using the flat land to mess with the perspectives and create optical illusions.

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Massive bottle of coke

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Angela and Raman. Such jokers.

Apparently the salt flats are what was once the ocean bed from a time when the Pacific covered that area of Bolivia. Whatever it is, it’s incredibly stunning and a lot like I imagine the moon to be. It was certainly as vast, other worldly and as desolate.

It was astonishingly beautiful, excruciatingly cold and provided an amazing chance to see unique landscapes all whilst suffering from sickness. Apart from the latter, I wouldn’t change a single thing.

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Here are some more of the many, many photographs we took:

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