Thursday, 30 July 2009


We have spent the last 10 days or so in Chile, which were also our final 10 days in South America.

Over the 10 days we have covered perhaps half the length of the country, travelling from San Pedro de Aticama in the far north, to Santiago in the centre. On the way we stopped off at La Serena, from where I wrote my last blog, and Valpariso.

Valpariso (left) is a quirky little city on the Pacific coast, characterised by colourful houses which cling to steep hills rising out of the ocean. It’s a fairly tumbledown place, with old rusting VW beetles lining the streets and hundred year old funicular trains carrying locals up and down cobbled hills. This makes for an idiosyncratic but charming place, with an arty, creative vibe. Our hostel sat amongst brightly coloured apartments, art galleries and cafes. All very bohemian - If I had a novel in me I might write it here.

Our final stop was Santiago. Santiago was pretty standard capital city fare, but bigger and more modern than Lima or La Paz. Nice colonial squares, cathedral and underground but nothing special.

Overall impression of Chile was very positive, being a clean, safe and welcoming place. We did not do any of the big ticket activities that defined our time in Peru or Bolivia but just had a very chilled out time, saw some unique places, went out for the odd beer and slept in late. It was suspiciously like being on holiday.

New Zealand here we come..


- The joy of globalisation – mountains, deserts, “culture” etc, are all very well and good but sometimes you miss the simple pleasures that can only be provided by massive, faceless western corporations. As such we spent an evening at an out of town shopping centre in Santiago, where I bought a Levi’s jumper, ate a McDonalds and went and watched Transformers at the cinema. Take that South America.

- One off night out – in Valpariso we had a night out salsa dancing, at a pirate themed club, with some French girls. I’ll probably never get to write that again.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Temporary passport in hand we have now made it to Chile, our last stop in South America.

After our little trip up the glacier, we returned to La Paz and caught a night bus to a place called Uyuni in south Bolivia. Following our last trip on Bolivian buses, wherein we nearly froze to death and my passport got nicked, it was a relative pleasure.

Arriving in Uyuni at 6:30 am you are greeted by a grey, windswept town with a post apocalyptic feel. Again very cold. After a couple of hours sleep we booked ourselves onto a 3 day tour of the salt plains, being the reason people go to Uyuni in the first place.

The next 3 days were taken up with early starts, cold showers, hostels made of salt, jeep rides and fantastic scenery. From our jeep we travelled through or around; salt plains (picture above), mountains, volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, lagoons and flamingos. Pictures hopefully on facebook soon. In short though, spectacular stuff.

The tour drops you on the Chilean border, from where you cross into a place called San Pedro De Aticama. San Pedro is another surreal little place, more wild west than South America and more gringos than Chileans. We spent a couple of days there, during which we tried our hands (feet?) at sandboarding (Dan narrowly avoiding concussion in the process) and saw sunset at the valley of the moon. Cue more mountain / sunset photos.

Finally we caught another (16 hour) bus south to La Serena on the Pacific coast, where we have spent the day walking to the beach and eating ice cream. Very chilled out. From our experiences of the last week, this confirmed that ice should definitely be eaten and not climbed.


- The wonder of (non) prescription drugs - On our salt plain tour were two chaps from Somerset. The accommodation was somewhat ‘basic’ and very cold. Their solution to this was to take copious amounts of valium, which is available over the counter in Bolivia, washed down with whisky. Short term it seemed to work brilliantly. Long term though?

- Andy’s Andes - We met an Aussie couple on a bus who had done the salt plains tour and highly recommended their tour company, the name of which was “Andy’s salt tours”. After half an hour of fruitlessly looking for Andy and his tour company, the penny dropped as we wandered into “Andes salt tours”. Silly boys.

- Holiday? - As I write we have now gone 2 days without a) going up a mountain b) going into a desert c) getting up at 5am for a tour d) hiking up, along or around something - I’m in real danger of being relaxed.

- Master Linguist – I’ve been in South America for 7 weeks now, so how has my Spanish progressed? Not well. This week I’ve discovered that instead of saying “No habla espanol” (I don’t speak Spanish) I’ve been saying “No PABLO espanol” (hilariously – I don’t Pablo Spanish). Ironically this probably made the point better than I ever could in fluent Spanish...

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Bolivia - Glacier Climb

So we are stuck in La Paz for 4 days whilst the embassy sorts out a temporary passport. We decide that we have had enough of the city and seek out something a bit different - 3 day glacier climb? What’s the worst that can happen?

Big mistake

Neither of us had done any real climbing before - there are not a lot of glaciers in the east midlands. As such it’s fair to say we were novices. No problem, said the travel agency; this mountain was for beginners...

The day of the climb begins at base camp with us being woken at 3am for a 3:30am start. The day ends back at camp at 4pm. In between these times lies sheer misery.

It turns out this is a serious climb. At basecamp you are given heavy duty trousers, jacket, gloves, gators etc, along with crampons (big spikes for your boots) and an ice axe. Alarm bells should probably have started to ring at the mention of “ice axe”.

After 5 hours of climbing, half of which is in pitch black and all of which is in the freezing cold (-15 degrees just before dawn), the first peak is reached. Rather than elation at having battled through the pain to reach this point, you are greeted with despair as the second and final peak (see above) looms above you.

The ascent to the final peak is the scariest thing I have done in a very long time and involves a climb up a near vertical wall of ice.

You are grouped in threes. The guide went first, followed by me and then Dan. We are all roped together and inch up the face at a cripplingly slow rate. After 30 minutes and about half way up, Dan slips and falls 3 metres before the rope tightens and he is caught by the guide. Dan is now hanging, back to the mountain, by a length of rope and is attached to the ice only by the 12 spikes on the guide’s boots.

What the hell are we doing?

Happily we recover and make it the top. The view is breathtaking. We have 10 minutes of serenity, before more pain in the form of the descent. 4 hours later we make it back to base camp and collapse into our tents. Never have I been so tired.


- There was an American in our group, very nice bloke by the name of Bryan. The morning after Bryan summed up the climb in 4 words: “That shit was nuts”. Perfect.

Bolivia - Ups and Downs

A certain amount of ups and downs are to be expected in Bolivia. The place is two thirds covered by low lying rainforest , with the remaining third perched precariously atop the Andes. Fittingly then, we have had a week of highs and lows, literally and figuratively.


We started the week by visiting the Amazon. A pretty special start to any week in my book. It’s not the most accessible of places, requiring a 1 hour flight from La Paz, a 4 hour jeep ride and a 4 hour motorised canoe up the Beni river.

Over the course of 3 days we walked in the pampas (Amazonian wetlands), went Piranha fishing, walked in the jungle, swam with pink river dolphins, found an anaconda and held an alligator. Lots of things you just can’t do in Leicester.
I would post the pictures if it were not for one small problem. This brings me neatly to the low..


I had my passport, camera and ipod stolen on a bus to Potosi. We have had a rough couple of days all in all:

Tues am - fly back from the Amazon to La Paz

Tues pm – 10 hour night bus from La Paz to Potosi (1 hours sleep – bloody freezing)

Weds 6am – arrive in Potosi. Discover that I have been robbed by dirty Bolivian. Additionally discover that our big backpacks are not on the bus. Minor panic as possibility arises that we have the clothes we are stood up in and nothing else of ours in the same hemisphere.

Weds 8am – Bus company opens and we establish that our backpacks never made it out of La Paz. Massive relief and quite a bit of anger. Check into hostel (2 hours sleep), arrange return ticket to La Paz.

Weds pm – 10 hour night bus back from Potosi to La Paz (3 hours sleep – bloody freezing)

Thurs am – arrive in La Paz at 6am, collect big bags from office, curse bus company staff in English, go to hostel (1 hours sleep), spend day at police station and British embassy.
Thurs pm - write disgruntled blog entry and go to bed.


We are stuck in La Paz for another 4 days until my temporary passport is ready. Bit of a pain, but this being Bolivia we are going to fill our time with a 3 day trek up a glacier. Could be worse.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Bolivia - The Death Road

I did a bit of mountain biking yesterday – down the world’s most dangerous road.

The road in question is a stretch running from the mountains surrounding La Paz to the sub tropical lowlands of a place called Yolosa. So far so uninteresting.

It starts to get interesting when you know that the starting point is 4,700m above sea level and the finish line is 70m above sea level. This represents a drop of 3,600m over the course of the 64km road – again, for reference Mount Snowdon is 1,085m high. Quite a long way down then.

It gets more interesting when you know that in 1995 the 64km stretch was classified as “the world’s most dangerous road”. This title was earned due to a spate of buses and trucks falling off the road, and into oblivion, during the mid 90’s. Note that this title has since been lost to a particularly nasty section in Tibet.

In honour of this accolade, some bright spark decided to set up a bike company to take adventurous (stupid?) tourists down the road – enter me, stage left.

Therefore at 7:30am on 29th June I strapped myself into $2,500 of bike and chucked myself down a dirty great mountain.

5 hours and a few hairy moments later I arrived at the bottom – unscathed, filthy and with a big daft grin all over my face. Brilliant.


- The value of the euphemism – I spoke to my parents prior to doing the ride and explained that I was going “for a bike ride” the next day. I may have neglected to mention this was down the Death Road. Probably for the best. Sorry mum.