This is the end…. My only friend, The End

January 28th, 2011

So we have been back now for quite a while, but due to restarting work and the terrible laptop I bought in Bolivia deleting an entire blog entry (never EVER buy an ASUS Eee PC) I am only just now getting round to updating you on the US of A leg of our journey. Today is however exactly 1 year to the day since we landed in our first destination, Rio de Janeiro (well, it was yesterday when I wrote this…) .There is a lot to cover, so sit back and enjoy.

First though, some final stats:

Days away – 193

Countries Visited – 10

Hours on Bus – 330.5, or 13.8 days

Flights Taken – 12

Different accommodations – 75

Blog entries – 22

Photos taken – 6375

Although very sad to leave Mexico we flew via LA to San Francisco, which was cold and average. I had various 60’s songs in my head about revolution, freedom and liberty, but in all honesty found the place to be fairly dull. Lots of Starbucks, trams and tourists. Also, I had heard that the Bay Area has its own micro-climate, and that it was prone to being a little cooler and damper than other places on a similar latitude. I wasn’t prepared for the climate of London in November to be happening in San Francisco in July.


Although cold, we had fun in San Francisco, and it was good to have some hearty American food and new clothes so we didn’t look like travel worn Hippies anymore. I think we covered most things – trams, Alcatraz, Chinatown, worlds windiest road etc










 From San Francisco we were originally meant to be picking up our rental car and 6 weeks later dropping it off in New York, but since we had less time we only had it for 10 days, so our plan was to take it up to the giant redwoods just South of Oregon, then back down through Big Sur and onto Los Angeles.

 I was a bit apprehensive about driving, as I hadn’t done so in about 7 months, but after seeing the Italian chap in front of me leaving the rental car park and smashing his gold convertible Mustang into the back of a stationary van within 3 seconds of exiting (I hope 10 minutes earlier he ticked the box that said “comprehensive cover”) we were off. Next stop Golden Gate Bridge.



 The car was epic (relatively speaking). We had paid for the cheapest option, which is usually whatever a Vauxhal Corsa is badged as in the US, but we had two category upgrades and found ourselves in a Toyota Corrola. More importantly, I understand why Americans are so loathed to get out of their cars – their roads are amazing. We were on Highway 101 heading north, which on the map looks like a huge intestate (which it is) the British equivalent of the very uninspiring M1. However, the fact that there only seemed to be 3 people on it, that it wound its way down occasionally to 1 lane taking you through beautiful little towns, and that it climbed its way up though the mountains through some of the most beautiful scenery we have seen all trip made it such a great drive. Also, the further north we got, the better the weather, it was constant sunshine and about 28 degrees. EAT THAT SAN FRANCISCO YOU COLD BASTARD. Unfortunately, we don’t have any evidence of any of this as I was driving.

 Still, after 6 or 7 hours we were really getting ready to stop. We were in the Redwoods, and had seen plenty off signs for camping, and thought we would pop into “Standish Hickey State Recreation Area” to have a look and see what their prices were. Although expensive at $28 a night, the camping was incredible. Each pitch had a proper table, fire bit, BBQ and Bear locker. Yes. Bear Locker.



 We had  arrived late, and earlier in the day in the supermarket couldn’t find the right gas canister for our Argentinian camping stove and were trying to cook spaghetti over a glorified candle. However, whilst we were enjoying a californian pinot noir and a couple of Sierra Nevadas, our neighbours whom I had introduced myself to earlier came to our rescue and invited us over for a welcome amount of hot-dogs and smores. For those (like me) who have never heard of a smore, they are, apparently, an American camping institution. A combination of Graham cracker (pronounced Gram), milk chocolate and toasted marshmallow. We stayed up, drank too much and I prented to know a lot more about American politics than I do. It was great fun.

 The next morning, with heavy heads we were off to explore the redwood forests. The sheer size of these magnificent trees is awe inspiring.





(Can you see Nikki at the bottom of that last one?)

 We spent so long craning our necks that we decided to spend another, though much quieter night at the same campsite, as we wanted to trek down to the “swim hole” people had been telling us about. After a relaxing  night and being fed again  by our neighbours (baby back ribs this time) we set off early down to the “swim hole”. “Swim Hole” turns out to mean “river suitable for swimming” in English, and it was a beautiful spot:


On the way out I noticed a particularly strange looking twig in the water. The twig then stuck its tounge out at me. I am glad he wasn’t around when we were getting in



The area around Standish Hickey was very beautiful, with more than just giant trees to look at:











And so we were off, via the avenue of giants, which is the old route 101 but now a tourist road that takes you through some particularly huge examples of Giant Redwood trees as well as some unbelievably quaint towns.






 Our next campsite, although not as impressive was very nice, and now it was our  turn to BBQ. I knew Nikki’s vegatarianism was cured once and for when she insisted that baby back ribs wouldn’t be enough, and we would need steak to go with them.


 We didn’t do much here other than hang out by the tent relaxing, which was just what I needed before the drive back down through San Fransisco to at least Santa Cruz for the start of Big Sur. This time we did manage to stop for a few photos:





 We were so focused on getting to Santa Cruz that we hadn’t planned where we were going to stay or what we were going to do. After a quick and pointless run round the super market (I believe I bought 2 cans of root beer, some peanut butter m&ms and a 3 foot long deli meat sub) we decided to drive around the various campsites on the outskirts of town. All were occupied. Starting to panic I took a wrong turning and we ended up in a tiny town called boulder creek:






We found a weird but tolerable campsite and then thought we would pop out for a quick drink before coming back and tucking into the aforementioned 3 foot deli meat sub. About 6 hours later, having met the inhabitants of Boulder Creek in its one bar we were drunk enough to call it a night.  It was hilarious, but didn’t bode well for the following days drive down through Big Sur.

 Big Sur. The Mecca for Californian road trips. And what a disappointment. We had no idea it was possible, anywhere, for campsites to charge $60 and not allow you to bring in food. Well it is in Big Sur. Although the coastline is impressive, so is Dorset’s. I don’t think the terrible weather helped the situation.





 The strange thing was that when we went off the main coastal road, up into the mountains following a sign to a campsite we climbed above the clouds and it was glorious:


 I can definitely see the appeal if the weather  is nice and your campsite is pre-booked, but it just wasn’t working for us. It was then, having driven from 9am till 4pm, not being able to find anywhere to sleep or eat  that I uttered the fateful words “fuck it, shall we just go to Vegas?”. I was mostly joking, but the severity of Nikki’s response meant there was only one place for us. Vegas Baby, Vegas.

 Annoyingly, just after this decision was made, we saw a sign for the famous elephant seals, so had to have a quick divert.



We also saw a chipmunk. I think.


 Anyway, after all this nature, we were off, and the scenery leaving big sur was incredible:


 In fact the scenery the whole way was amazing, but Nikki had just confirmed that yes, it was 500 miles to Vegas, and that stopping for photos every 5 minutes was not option. We travelled through scrub-land into wine country, which slowly turned in to oil country, and then into the biggest most endless farmland I have ever seen.

 We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert when the hunger began to take control. So we stopped for a burger, and carried on.

It was incredible how much hotter it had got. The car had automatic air conditioning, and I hadn’t noticed the temperature go up on the cars thermometer, but at 10 o’clock at night it was 105 degrees.

 A few hours later, at midnight the distant glow in the desert got brighter and brighter until at 12:30 we were rolling down The Strip. It was so late, and we had driven so far that we just crashed at the cheapest looking motel we could. In the reception the only adverts they had were for strippers. The room had barely functioning air con and a lot, LOT, of mirrors. The television? 2 channels. ESPN and porn. It didn’t matter, we just needed to crash before looking for somewhere better in the morning.

 The cold (well, really hot) light of day showed us the true nature of where we staying



 Still, checkout was at 11, it was now 9 and we had a hotel to find

We checked the Luxor, which was pretty cool, and then Excaliber, which was ridiculous, but found our place in NEW YORK, NEW YORK.





 So we checked out of the hell hole (and yes, I did check. At 10:30am its still just ESPN and Porn) and we moved into our king size flat screen strip view Empire State Building awesomeness. The most luxurious  room of the trip bar non. this was our view:


 After settling in and cleaning any remnants of the previous days journey or the hellish night in the motel off of us it was time to hit the strip:



 One problem with Vegas? The food.


 We had to eat at Subway for lunch as it was literally the healthiest option around, but we treated ourselves to an epic burger for dinner and then once again hit the strip, when it really comes alive:






 Having seen Swingers many many times I knew that the smaller less glam casinos is where the real action was at. This was why we found ourselves at who knows when full 99cent frozen margahritas in Bills Gamblin’ Hall playing low stakes roulette. We only had $25 reserved for gambling, and after a few hours of play left with $25. I think the highest we got up to was about $100 and the lowest was $5. After this things got hazy and weird:






I wasn’t sure how I was going to take to Vegas, but I absolutely love it. It is the world turned on its head though. You see this kind of thing everywhere


 Yet if you jay walk you get arrested. You can buy beers from a 7/11 and drink them in the Bellagio bar, or take a New York, New York cocktail down the strip and drink it at one of the bars in Cesar’s Palace, but if you are caught selling water at the side of the road it is  $1000 fine and a night behind bars. Anyway, we had another night in Vegas with more of the same. Here is a collection of stuff we came across along the way:







Time to smash across the desert again, Next stop LA and the Carleton’s pad in Hollywood.





Getting from Vegas to LA was fine, finding the car drop off point in Inglewood equally so. trying to get from LAX to Hollywood via public transport was hell. over 3 hours to travel 12 Miles. Still, well worth it. Unfortunately my camera stayed in its bag for most of our stay, too busy catching up.

On the Friday whilst Sarah and Will were at work we hiked up and round Runyon Canyon with its awesome views:



Its True, everything really is bigger across the pond:


We were in LA far too short a time, it really is an epic city. After a final Dinner (and terrible quality group photo) in Malibu….


P1130227 v2

….we were off to New York.


Obviously, Nikki having lived here a few years ago, She was in charge. we were staying in a great little studio in St Mark’s Place.




 The problem was that because we didn’t sleep on the red eye from LA we were out of sync for the first couple of days. I had only been to New York once, and that’s when Nikki and I first met, so this time she was going to be my tour guide. First off, a walk to Brooklyn Bridge via the financial district then on to the Staten Island Ferry. Off we Go.






New York Sky Line



That night, we went to the bar where we first met – Welcome To The Jonsons, a dive bar in Lower East Side. When we were there a few years ago, it was great – a dump where you get a $1 can of beer. Now its really “cool”, drink prices have doubled and with the tip trebled. I’m not sure why you would tip to be treated like shit, I know plenty of hell holes in Britain where you can drink piss in squalar with out some trendy tosser giving you attitude. Any way, Nikki got kicked out (twice) so we headed for home.

Next day we went Up Town to see, amongst other things, Nikki’s old work, 101 Park Avenue (but did she care? NO WAY)







The rest of our stay was spent catching up with Nikki’s friends, eating drinking, walking and exploring. Here is some of it:







And so that was that, we got to our final day of the whole trip. After a walk round central park where I’m sure I could have got some nice photos but didn’t I discovered that this was the last photo of the entire trip. Not a particularly great shot, but I like it.


Home. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but since getting here I have loved it. We moved straight back into the flat, Nikki got a great job almost immediately, and I went back to my old work. Most importantly, a few weeks after getting back, In France, Nikki agreed to marry me.


Lastly, and perhaps most importnatly – A Fridge Magnet Guide To Our Trip:
















Comida Mexicana

August 9th, 2010

Ok, so i’m moving into territory here that is more suited to Ed Wyand’s Blog, but as those of you who know us well will know, Nikki and I are obsessed with Mexican food. Here is a little taster of the little tasters we found along the way:

Most of what you are going to see are Antojitos, they can be tacos, quesadillas, panuchos, picadas, flautas and many other others. Basically, if they are small round and comes in groups of about three and are filled with deliciousness, then that’s them.

First of all I have to start with the Tacos Al Pastor, perhaps the most common taco in all of Mexico. Marinated pork in pineapple, several types of chillies etc and served with coriander, diced onion and pineapple, these joy discs are an all time favourite. This particular batch are from a restaurant in Playa del Carmen called El Fogon.

Next up another staple, Tacos del Carne Asada, which is either pork or beef. Delicious. These ones here are from Poc Chuc (by far the best restaurant) in Isla Mujeres.

A slightly more refined version perhaps are the Tacos Aracherra (steak).  These ones we got in a nameless restaurant in Tulum, which also had a good array of salsas and pickles:

The following photo shows what is possibly the best thing that I ate in my time in Mexico:

These are Picadas Especiales con Chorizo from Poc Chuc. Picadas are basically very thick tacos and are a speciality of the Yucatan Peninsular. Covered in Habenero salsa chorizo onion coriander and cheese. If I could live of these I would. Also from them some lovely tacos de pescado, or fish tacos:

The way in which Mexican cuisine deals with cheese is fairly simple and very wonderful – melt it.

Firstly we have here Queso Fundido con Champinones, literally melted cheese with mushrooms. You can order this with anything, another favourite of ours was with chorizo. so good and bad at the same time.

Next up are quesadillas, tacos filled with molten cheese. They can be meals in themselves such as these Mushroom Quesadillas from San Cristobal:

Or can be smaller appetizers like these from Poc Chuc:

Either way, that molten Tangy Oaxacan cheese, with salsa picante and what ever else you choose to have it with is so so good. Like an exotic cheese toasty.

The guacamole which it is impossible not to eat by the bucket load is so good here, so fresh and simple compared to that which we get served in the UK and a world apart from the green whip that supermarkets try and pass of for the stuff.

Here it is served with totopos, basically yesterdays tacos deep fried and the basis of (American) tortilla chips. Often though, Guacamole is not eaten as a dip but as an accompaniment.

The soups in Mexico are fantastic, and a particularly interesting one is Sopa de Lima, or Lemon Soup with chicken.

One of Mexico’s most classic dishes is Mole. Mole is often wrongly translated as Chocolate Sauce. Some moles do contain small amounts of cocoa, but are a far more subtle blend of seeds nuts spices and chillies, and are amazing. They come in every colour from green and red to yellow and paler. My favourite however has to be the Mole Negra:

Here is it over chicken enchiladas. It is one of those strange dishes were the most important element is the sauce, everything else on the plate an excuse to eat it.

There are so many more wonderful dishes we ate here, the breakfasts in particular being superb, but right now I am so hungry I’m off to grab a taco. Next time, San Francisco and northern California.

“Jaula de Lucha. Wait, does that mean cage fight?!”

July 29th, 2010

I haven’t manage to update for a few weeks, as we have been camping, so expect a few updates over the coming weeks. From dull Campeche we travelled to Palenque, a relatively non descript jungle town which is pleasant enough, but is 10km down the road from some spectacular ruins:

The amazing thing here are not only the ruins but the fact that you can go in them, and also the incredible jungle setting. Carved into a wall we saw epic skull #1

Its also near a beautiful series of waterfalls, Agua Azul:

The water here is normally vivid turquoise (I have been here in February 10 years ago) but we came during the one month of the year when the water is vivid brown. Still, there was a rope swing at least:

We found a company that could take us to the ruins in the morning then onto Agua Azul, then drop us off at San Cristobal de las Casas, our next stop. We got there late, but could already tell that we loved the place. It is so beautiful, and full of the most amazing people.

We found it incredibly humbling being here as loads of kids from the surrounding villages come down to the town to sell their goods. We bought loads of this stuff, as when a bare-footed 4 year old asks for 10 pesos for a little doll, its impossible to say no.

From San Cristobal it was on to Oaxaca (the correct spelling for that dreadful restaurant chain in London). This involved taking a night bus. You would think by now we were very used to these, and we are. The last time I took a night bus in Mexico however, March 2000, William Carleton and myself were taken hostage for 12 hours and robbed of everything we had, which was rather inconvenient. Needless to say I was slightly apprehensive, but the journey went very smoothly (for a journey in Mexico, only 5 military checkpoints) and Oaxaca is another incredible city

We visited an expensive but great museum and cultural centre where, amongst other things, we found epic skull #2

We met John Gregory Smith here, as he has been doing some travel himself and he treated us to a fancy dinner. Food was great service was hilarious and restaurant was loud (they blamed it on a water pump) but it was a nice reminder of home and the finer things in life.

After Oaxaca we went to Mexico city, where we only had one full day, so we had a lot to cram in. Unfortunately the zoccolo was hosting some kind of yogurt themed festival, which is a shame as it is the most impressive city square I have ever seen.

We wandered round taking in the city and went up the fake empire state building to see the view(ticket valid all day so we went up again after dark)

Mexico City is fantastic, and although on paper it is quite dangerous in reality it is safe as anywhere and the people are incredibly friendly.

We decided rather last minute to go and see a Luche Libre (Mexican wrestling) match. Luckily the night we went it was a 12 man cage fight. Unfortunately though there is nothing for me to show you as we weren’t allowed to take our camera in. Needless to say, I will definitely go again next time I am in Mexico. I did manage pick up a souvenir though:

(apologies for camera-phone picture)

We are very sad to be leaving Mexico, it is such a great country totally mis-represented by western media which sells by being overly dramatic. Still, next stop USA, and San Francisco is our first City. Coming soon is a food special blog about Mexican food, so until then, Fight The Man, man.

The Great Shark Hunt (HST 1937-2005)

July 8th, 2010

I have wanted to visit the island of Cozumel for a very long time. It seems though that I have missed my chance to see a beautiful Mexican Caribbean Island, as now it is just a resorters paradise/travellers hell. No local restaurants really remain, so we just ate in the supermarket. Although there is a nice waterfront to sit and have a drink on, the amount of hustlers and pedlars there are yelling “hey buddy, Cuban cigars?”  or “special price for honeymooners” makes it a really offensive place to be. I only bothered to take the camera out one evening as there was a nice sunset:

The main attraction of Cozumel are the coral reefs that surround it, second in size only to the Great BarrierRreef. Unfortunately, as we are not divers we couldn’t see much of it as the shallower parts were largely wiped out by hurricane Wilma. Still, it was an ok-ish snorkel trip:

Whilst we were on Isla Cozumel Tropical Storm Alex rolled in and stayed with us for the next week or so, meaning our stay inour next stop Playa del Carmen was fairly miserable. Whether this was due to the storm or the fact its easier to to get a Whopper with onion rings than tacos and guacamole I’m not sure.

As the storm started to clear we headed south again to Tulum, a place that I have been looking forward to returning to very much. Again, however, we were very disappointed. The Cabanas where you could hang a hammock that used to cost a couple of dollars a night have gone and been replaced by $100 a night cabanas with beds in, that look really really overpriced. We just camped on the beach, but even this has turned terrible, the sand is still icing sugar white and the waters still vivid turqouise, but there is so much litter now that it is quite an unpleasant place to sit. Whether this is from the recent development of hundereds of resorts and apartments in the surrounding area I do not know, but this will definitely be my third and final visit to Tulum.

The ruins, are still amazing, but whereas before there may be 2 or 3 other people there with you today it looks like this:

I can understand why, as they are amazing:

After this 3rd disappointment in a row we left Tulum beach and headed into Tulum town, a few miles inland. Here we arranged to snorkel one of the Cenotes in the area. The whole of the Yucatan Peninsular is linked by a series of underwater tunnels and sinkholes, known as Centoes. The jungle above is fed from the water in these which is why it can be so lush here even during the dry season. The snorkeling was amazing, and I only have this terrible photo of nikki swimming through one of the caves to show you, but if you are in the area I highly recommend it. You can just see in the foreground a small tetra fish, which live there alongside catfish and cichlids.

From Tulum we headed off to Merida, the State Capital of Yucatan, where we had only planned to spend a night but ended up spending 3 as it was so nice:

We stayed in a hostel with a pool, and generally got on with enjoying travelling again, after 10 fairly terrible days. From Merida we headed to Chitchen Itza, the Yucatan Peninsula’s most famous Mayan ruins. They were incredible, especially the main pyramid:

It was actually cheaper to book a tour than to make our own way on public transport to the ruins, and a nice bonus was that we got to see another cenote, a 40 metre deep sinkhole full of black catfish, the best natural swimming pool I have ever seen:

After much persuaision I got Nikki to jump of the diving platform. She is on the left, i’m on the right.






After Merida it was onto Palanque but we decided last minute to go via Campeche, the most boring colonial town we have yet visited, but with a nice view from the hostel roof.

The dorm was unreasonably hot at night, so after a few beers I asked if they would mind if I pitched our tent on the roof. They didn’t, so we managed to accidently stumble across epic camping site #5

We are now in Palenque getting ready to visit the ruins and various waterfalls in the morning, then onto San Cristobal, where we will be meeting a certain JGS.

As you may know by now our plans have changed and we are coming home about three weeks earlier than we thought on 6th August. I will try and do a couple more blogs before then. So until next time, I shall not be as smug.

Paradise found.

June 20th, 2010

Its been quite a while since the last update because, well, for a long time we didn’t really do anything. After 5 days doing nothing in Lima we had 7 days doing nothing in San Jose. All this nothingness was good in that we saved enough off our daily budget to get on with the trip.

From San Jose we had to go via Orlando to get to Mexico, so had 6 days seeing some of the most culturally significant things in the entire trip such as The Upside Down House.

Krusty Land

And my personal favourite – Lobster Car

Although not particularly my cup of tea, we had a great time in Orlando. USA, bizarrely, seems to be one of the cheapest places we have been to yet. For not much more than bunk beds in a 10ft by 5ft room in San Jose we had 300 sq ft apartment, with everything needed. Plus we were really near an amazing supermarket, so it was great to fill up on descent (and some not so decent) food again.

Anyway, we now on Isla Mujeres, a Mexican Caribbean Island, which is just perfect:

There are loads of these huge Iguanas everywhere, which are pretty cool:

This is the first country we have been to yet where everything, so far, seems to cost much less than we had budgeted for. This means we can eat out most days. Those of you who know me well will know that I am obsessed with Mexican food, and we have found some great little local restaurants here. In about a month when we are leaving Mexico I’ll update you with a food only blog to let you know the best places and things to chow on.

Although it is cheap, a lot of the bars are quite touristy with prices to match, so we often prefer to buy a 6 pack and head to “Our Local”. I dread to think the number of hours we have spent here the last week or so.

The sea surrounding an Island near here, Isla Holbox, is the largest known home of Whale Sharks during the summer months. Although we had to pay a hefty price tag of $75 each, swimming with them was just amazing. (You’ll have to forgive me for the quality of the photos, they were taken on a compact camera submersed in a glorified plastic bag.)

Also included in the trip was snorkeling over the Isla Contoy Reef, also incredible:

The hardest thing about my underwater camera bag is that you cant see the viewfinder at all, so you just have to point vaguely in the direction of something bright and hope for the best.

We also saw, quite incredibly, mating turtles from the boat on the way back to the Island:

This is my third trip in the last 10 years to Isla Mujeres, and It will be a shame to leave. Not too much of a shame as tomorrow we head to another Caribbean Island, Cozumel. Is smugness really the worst character trait? Think about it until next time.

Machu Machu Man, I Want To Be A Machu Man

June 1st, 2010

Welcome to part 2 of our Machu Picchu story.

From Ollantaytambo we caught a bus to the train station. Its all still a bit messed up from the severe land slides earlier in the year. Eventually we got to Aguas Calientes, the town at the bottom of the mountain Machu Picchu sits on. Our Trek package included accommodation and a restaurant dinner, so we expected the worst, but both were tolerable. The trouble started when we were told by some random that our tour guide would meet us at 10:30 so as to tell us what the plan was for the morning. Bearing in mind that we intended to walk up and leave at 3:00am, when he didn’t show up until 11:45pm we were fairly livid. I told him, amongst other less savory things, that we just wanted our entrance tickets and we didn’t want his tour. He was a total cock after all. Anyway, after getting to bed at midnight we were up 3 short hours later and set off into the darkness to climb our way to Machu Pichu.

The walk up was hard, especially as it is pitch black, but I was very pleased to discover on reaching the top that we were in fact the first up. This meant we were guaranteed entry to to view Machu Picchu from the second mountain, Huayna Picchu, as only the first 400 up are allowed everyday. It also meant, that for an extremely brief moment, we were the only 2 people in the grounds:

Unfortunately at 6:00am the light is pretty terrible, and my hair is inexplicable, but you get the idea.

The ruins at Machu Picchu really do live up to their reputation. I got a far better shot much later in the day:

What I didn’t realise before was that there are loads of treks to be done within the ruins themselves. The first one takes you to an Incan Bridge:

They must have really wanted to get round that mountain as it seems a fantastically difficult place to build a bridge.

The second trek was the Huayna Picchu trek. This is the mountain in the middle of the overview shot from before. It is incredibly steep, but the view from halfway up is great:

And even better from the summit:

You can see the road that that the buses (for lazy people) take, the walking route is slightly more direct, but a lot steeper and goes almost straight up the middle of the white tracks.

At the very very summit you get to an area that would almost certainly be roped off to tourists in Europe, but in South America it was access all areas:

We are sitting down because it is a sheer drop behind and either side of us. This guy didn’t mind though:

After the Huayna Picchu Trek, we explored the ruins up close for a bit. They really are incredible:

It was then time for the final and most daunting trek of the day. Mt Machu Picchu. Its the one we are not quite pointing at below:

(yes, the tallest mountain in the middle)

The guy I’m with is William, an Alabaman we had met on the bus the day before, and an excellent hiking partner. we only had 3 hours to get up and down. I really did think at one point I couldn’t go on but we made it. Of the 3500 tourists that day only 41 people climbed it. (I know this as you have to sign in and I was the last that day).

Again, the views from up there are outstanding.

If you are wondering how they maintain the grass they have a very willing grounds team:

The day was so much better than I could have anticipated. It was a real highlight of the trip. After walking back down, shattered and broken we had dinner and a few drinks with William, then made the long and painful journey back to Cuzco, arriving at 3:00am.

We stayed in Cuzco recovering from 4 days intense trekking then made a move to Nasca, so I could see something I have wanted to for about 20 years, the Nasca Lines:

Again, these were more incredible than I could have imagined. The 4 seater plane ride only lasted 35 minutes which is a shame as there is so much out there. Many of them are just geometric shapes, but the animals,which are over 500 metres in length, are amazing. I can also see why the priest/astronaut has spawned so an conspiracy theories. It is amazing that nothing can be seen from the ground, and it wasn’t until the invention of modern aviation that these were rediscovered. They are thought to be about 2000 years old.

After all of these amazing things we have had to step back into reality and just sit around saving money so that we can continue in Mexico and the US in style. So in Lima we ate noodles and cereal, went for walks along the coast and that was about it. Other than a bird and a crab we didn’t see much of any interest

In fact being from sunny Worthing myself I felt quite at home there:

We had 5 nights in Lima on the noodle £2 a day diet and are now in San Jose, Costa Rica where we have been doing it for 7 days. I have also put down my camera for a week as San Jose is fairly non-descript and to date I have already kept 4525 photos of the many times that which I have taken. Its been a dull 12 days but tomorrow we are off to Orlando and have saved so much off the daily budget we should have enough to have a pretty good time.

Until next time, always remember, a balanced diet is the way forward.

Half way……

May 23rd, 2010

Ok, so we are just over halfway through the trip and just under 4 months in so I think you probably deserve another stat update.

Countries visited: 7

Hours spent on buses: 273 (1 week 4 days)

Passport stamps: 25 each

Different Accommodations: 47

Last Minute Flights to Orlando Booked: 2

Fridge Magnets: 23

Anyway, back to the trip. From Cusco we set off for the small mountain town of Lares to start our 4 day epic trek to Machu Picchu. A family of 5 dropped out at  the last minute due to illness so once again it was just Nikki and I with the guide, and we didn’t see another tourist for 3 days. Like most things in Peru so far it was terribly organized but a lot of fun. The scenery was amazing:

On the first night we stayed in a tiny Village, very high up in the mountains:

The second day involved a lot more hikking:

The obligatory alpacas and llamas:

And we met some great local kids:

These guys really put us to shame the way they powered up the mountains. Still we managed to reach our highest point at over 4500m:

(I know, I also thought Titicacca was the highest lake)

We spent the second night in an even smaller village, and I think this is the most isolated I have ever been:

After our tent was blown over in the middle of the night we moved it to a more secure location. It was kind of like camping inside:

The third day was blissfully all down hill, and although still beautiful not much to report.

I noticed that on this trek and also at Machu Picchu I saw a load of plants and flowers, most of which had been unique to this area:






We ended this part of the trek in Ollantaytambo, where we were supposed to be catching the 11am train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the bottom of the mountain that Machu Picchu sits on. Obviously when we got there we found out there isn’t an 11am train, and in fact we were booked on the 7pm train. Lucky we started trekking at 5am that morning to make sure we got there on time.

Ollantaytambo has ruins all of it very own:

We didnt pay to get in though, as the next day we were off to Machu Picchu from where I will continue in the next Blog. Thank you and goodbye.

May 12th, 2010

We decided at the last minute to take the cheaper bus from La Paz to Cuzco, which goes a more “scenic” route. We had the option of staying in Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicacca (another Worlds Highest), or Isla de Sol in the middle of it. We chose the latter, and were so glad that we did. We were only meant to have one night there but changed our onward bus to Cuzco so we could have two.

The Island is, as legend has it, the Birthplace of Manco Capac, the first Inca. It was also thought to be the birthplace of the Sun and is phenomenally Beautiful

The view from our Hospedaje was awesome:

Most of the inhabitants live a subsistence farming life, tending crops on ancient Inca agricultural terraces

Most of the buildings on the island are built in a similar way

On our second and only full day we hiked from the south of the Island to the North to see some very early Inca ruins. Here we are:

And here they are:

That table is a 500 year old Incan sacrificial table.

The island is also covered in amazing plants:

They still make these traditional reed boats here. The definition of a pimped ride.

I cant emphasise enough how much we loved this place, I would highly recommend it to anyone. So incredibly peaceful. The exact opposite of where we are now. Cuzco, Peru.

Although it is a beautiful city, it is the most touristy place we have been to yet, and it is impossible to walk around for more than 30 seconds without getting hassled to buy something/take a tour/pay to take a photo of “traditional locals”. It is also quite hard to find anything genuinely Peruvian here.

At Least we have a pet parrot at our hostel:

Tomorrow, however, we start our alternative Inca trail to Machu Picchu. We are doing the Lares trek, in case you care. back on Sunday night, so no doubt will update you again early next week.

Before I go, a triumphant return of “New Stuff I Like”:

20) Inca Kola. Imagine Irn Bru with a hint of bubble gum. My dentist will be happy to see me when i return.

Just try not to walk too close to its mouth…

May 7th, 2010

La Paz. What a weird and amazing place it is. It seems to be the words biggest market, and also to be set in a valley too small to hold it all in so it just climbs higher and higher up the sides.

We have been staying in a great hotel that has BBC news (perfect for watching the shambles of an election) so it feels a bit like home. The view form the top floor breakfast room is just amazing.

We were getting aware that our time in South America is running out, but we couldn’t leave without seeing part of the Amazon basin, so we took a flight to Rurrenabaque on a massive plane:

Its alright, at least it had a proper runway and airport when we arrived:

We had been told in La Paz that rather than book a jungle river tour there it was cheaper to come and book it here. It is not. Not only were there no tours available for that day, the prices were exactly the same if not slightly more than those in La Paz. We had only 1 hour to try and find a tour and after visiting all the agencies almost gave up. Nikki, however tried one last time to beg our way onto a tour with a company called Sunset. They said that they could take us but would have to charge us £20 more each than all the others. Reluctantly, so as not to miss our return flight to La Paz, I accepted and we were bundled into a shabby 4×4 with a nice Bolivian family for the 3 hour bumpy road-less journey to the tributary of the amazon that we were be heading down. It was only when we arrived there that we realised why we had paid extra for our tour, rather than being on a boat with 8 other people we had boat to ourselves. Cashback.

The tour was amazing. We set out to hunt for the Mighty Alligator

The elusive Caiman

And the agoraphobic Pink River Dolphin



(I know, they are more grey than pink…)

I have never had to photograph anything as frustrating as these dolphins. Although there are loads of them they break the surface only for a fraction of a second to breathe and then disappear under water again. Their lack of an extended dorsal fin like their sea faring cousins also adds to their inconspicuousness. Nikki did manage to get a shot of one behind me whilst swimming though:

What isn’t clear from this shot, and was unbeknown to me at the time was that on the far bank of the river was a huge Caiman (they can grow up to 5 meters!) apparently only not coming in the water because the dolphins were there to scare him off.

The volume of wildlife here is incredible. There are loads of birds


Capybaras (worlds largest living rodents)

Loads of different monkey species

And we just couldn’t believe how many Alligators were there.

Including the very friendly Pedro

On the first night we went out on the boat without the motor and with torches to see the reflections in their eyes. That and the bats swooping to get the mosquitoes, the fireflies in the trees and the amazing stars made it an awesome experience.

After watching sunset in the local pub:

We were walking back to our huts in pitch black when in front of us we saw a massive alligator. Although we were getting used to being surrounded by crocs, I never thought I would have to use the phrase “don’t worry Nikki, just don’t walk too close to its mouth”

Our accommodation was fairly basic, but nice enough, and the food wasn’t too bad either.

It was seriously hot, and on the second day we went out into the Pampas, the damp Savana, in search of an Anaconda. We failed. Most other groups did too. Oh Well.

I did however get a chance to go piranha fishing, which was great, though again was in the water we had just been swiming in.

We had this guy, and a few others, for dinner.

Ive been avoiding putting this next bit into words. Willie, our guide, casually said to me “see these holes, they are tarantula nests.” My response “Are you F***ING CRAZY! THERE SHOULD BE CLEARLY MARKED WARNINGS”.

Turns out there are loads of them. This guy was only about 2 meters from our hut. But the good thing about a tarantula is that they are so territorial you generally know where they are going to be. Except for when I walked past a massive pink toed tarantula on a tree. I could have beaten Usain Bolt that day. In fact the number of bugs here of every shape and size is a little bit much really, from flying beetles to dragon flies, moths to mosquitoes it is pretty intense.

Anyway, we spent a second night there, and after that made the journey back up the river, where everything was going fine until we were boarded by some ruffians:

These guys are incredibly cool, very human like in their gestures, and not at all scared of us.

We arrived back at the port to find that Nikki and I didn’t have a 4×4 waiting for us, and we only had 5 hours to get back for our flight. We managed to squeeze into 2 other tour groups jeeps and got dropped of at the airport, only to be told our flight had been cancelled. So had all the flights. For the next 2 days. When your runway is made of grass and there is a lot of rain you can’t take off. So we have been stuck here in Rurrenabaque for an extra 2 nights waiting for the runway to dry out. We only bought enough clothes for 2 nights, and everything was filthy from the jungle but we found a second hand shop, spent about £3 and ended up looking like Vincent and Jules after being lent clothes by Jimmy in Pulp Fiction.

We are hopefully getting out of here tomorrow morning, but I wont be able to upload this until La Paz, which means if you are reading this we did.

Our next stop is Cuzco in Peru, where we shall hopefuly be tomorrow night, and we shall update you again from there.

Untill then, never smile at a crocodile.

The Highest (blank) In The World

May 6th, 2010

OK. We have a lot to get through. Its been about 3 weeks since our last update due to the unreliable Internet and electricity in Bolivia and due to my lack of faith in public computers. Since the last update we have acquired a netbook due to the number of viruses I have been getting on my SD card. Anyway, due to this lack of updating you are getting not one but 2 blogs over the next couple of days. I am writing this offline so things may jump from future, past and present tense depending on whats happened. These have both been written for some time.  Here’s the first:

As you know the last entry was called “Living the High Life”. We should have saved that one. Since then we have been to the highest city on Earth, Potosi (4090m):

The highest Capital city, La Paz:

Drank beer from the highest Brewery:

And Wine from the highest vinyard:

But I’m getting ahead of myself. More of all that later.

From San Pedro De Atacama we travelled with another two couples Noel and Kate, and Mark and Karen, by 4×4 to Uyuni in Southern Bolivia. Here we are at about 4500 meters

The imigration building at the Bolivian boarder is impressive:

As are their toilet facilities:


The tour was a convenient way for us to carry on moving north, but what we were not told when booking it in Chile was that the salt miners who work the worlds largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni, basically the whole point of the trip, were on strike. This meant that rather than having hours to gawp at the hallucinogenic perspective mangling vast white salty emptiness we spend hours and hours in a jeep at well over 4000 meters, so still unable to breath/think properly, driving on a huge a detour to avoid being blockaded by the protesters. It meant the trip was cut short by a day, but we still saw some amazing stuff, on the odd occasion we could stop.

The main problem with the tour was that we were meant to have a whole day on the salt flats themselves, but we arrived there at about 6pm on the second day and only got out of the jeep for 10 minutes. It is an incredible place though:

In the end I suppose we were lucky as the second day of our tour 17 jeeps full of tourists were stopped and held for 10 hours by the disgruntled miners, which doesn’t sound fun. It was made tolerable by the excellent company we had, had we been with randoms it would have been a total nightmare.

After this relative ordeal we decided to stay for 2 nights in Uyuni itself, partly so that we could see the “Train Graveyard” I initially thought this was some PR persons excuse for dumping a load of rusting metal in the middle of the desert, but it did prove have a certain beauty

Uyuni itself is nothing special so we moved onto Potosi, as previously mentioned the highest city in the world at 4090m. It is a chaotically beautiful, with some fantastic colonial architecture. Due to the silver mines Potosi became the most important city for the Spaniards in their American territories, and a lot of money stayed here, but today it has a neglected feel to it.

One funny thing we noticed is that all the buses here are old Japanese imports. This lot passed in the couple of minutes we stood waiting for the ATM:



Although we love camping it is nice to be in a country where we can afford to eat out all the time and stay in hotels. We found an amazing restaurant here where a couple of bottles of wine, a fondue (in Bolivia you say?) and a desert comes in at about a tenner.

Our next stop was Sucre, again a nice colonial town with a rich cultural heritage.

By this point we had firmly decided to get this netbook, so spent a lot of time looking around the worlds most useless electronics stores to try and find one. We couldn’t. This led to a strange set of events. Through some online research we discovered that the only place in Bolivia to buy any kind of PC is Santa Cruz, a 20 hour bus or only 40 minute flight away. The flight was only about £30 so it seemed a no brainer. We booked this and an onward flight to La Paz through a travel agent. Everything seemed fine and the prices were cheaper than buses were in Argentina so it seemed a bargain to boot. It was only when I was trying to find out our baggage allowance online and found that the airline didn’t have a website that we started to panic. Turns out that we had been booked on with the Bolivian Military. What concerned us more was that the only web reference we could find only had a list of all that airlines accidents with details of the numbers of fatalities. Needless to say there were enough of them for us to cancel this flight and fly with AeroSur on a 727.

We didn’t have long in Santa Cruz, less than 24hrs so the race was on to find the market where all computing stuff is sold. We did and I found almost the model I was looking for so that was that. The only other thing to report in Santa Cruz is that we woke to find a toucan in our hostel’s kitchen, which was a first.

It turns out his name is Simone and he is the Hostels pet, and very tame indeed

After all this we caught our flight to La Paz where I shall pick up from again in the next Blog.