A Travellerspoint blog

Peru to Bolivia The 10,000 Mile Mark

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After spending another freezing night in Cuzco we drove further east to Puno, on the edge of Lake Titicaca, the highest elevation lake in the world at around 3800 meters. By that time the altitude was beginning to take its toll and when I had to carry my 20kg suitcase up 4 flights of stairs at our hotel in Puno, I started seeing stars and nearly passed out.

Later that night we had a few beers and some Lama steaks at a local restaurant and planned our escape from the cold of Peru. The next morning we drove to the Peru- Bolivian border crossing, which is in the middle of nowhere, at the far end of Lake Titicaca. By far the most casual border crossing yet and it was Sunday which made it even more relaxed. A few forms to fill out, a small bribe to pay and we were on our way.

Local Ladies at the Border crossing
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Drunken Sunday after church picnic in Peru
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Next stop Copacabana, a lake side tourist hotspot jammed with hippies and Brazilian and Argentinean tourists. The Bolivian side of the lake was a lot more scenic, the food and accommodation was ¼ the price and the people were friendlier.

We only planned on staying for just one day before driving to the capital La Paz but there were some political issues in the capital and the roads in and out of the city were blocked with trucks and boulders and guarded by rock throwing Bolivians.

View over Copacabana Bolivia
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Apparently the way to protest in Bolivia is to block the main roads into the capital so that no traffic can get through and throw rocks at anyone who dare try to drive around them. The government had just doubled the yearly insurance fees for all truck, bus and taxi drivers and they were really pissed. Fortunately the police cleared the road blocks every couple of days or so, so we would be able to get through we just had to wait a day or so.

We left Copacabana very early on Tuesday morning to avoid any possible complications ( we figured it would be too early and too cold for any protesting) and headed south to Uyuni and the Bolivian salt flats, bypassing La Paz just in case. A crazy 6 hour drive with snow, rain and hail, over a mountain, across a lake and through a desert.

The scary ferry crossing on our way to La Paz
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We drove as far south as Oruru and jumped on an 8 hour train to make the last part of the journey. The view from the train was really beautiful; flamingo lakes, herds of wild Lamas and some very rural villages, definitely a great way to see the country side. There was even a dinning car so you can watch life pass by as you eat your $2 steak meal.

What paved roads there are in Bolivia are in fantastic condition, it’s unfortunate that there aren’t more of them. The secondary roads and some of the main roads consist mostly of one lane dirt tracks, which turn into mud tracks in the rainy season, intersected by several rivers with out bridges. Too much for our Honda to handle and to be honest I think most 4x4s would struggle on some of the roads in the south of Bolivia.

We arrived in Uyuni late that night and crashed at a local hotel. Luckily enough our room came with polystyrene ceilings, beds that sagged all the way to the ground and of course my favorite, the electric shower. Fortunately we didn’t get electrocuted by this one. We got up early the next day to organize a tour to the salt flats. Because it was the rainy season and some parts of the salt flats were inaccessible, even by 4x4, we opted for a 1 day tour instead of the usual 3 day tour. After a few very boring mandatory stops; including the train cemetery, a bunch of old rusted out trains dumped in the middle of a desert and the local salt museum, we started the drive into and across the salt flats.

The salt museum built from bricks of salt
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Train Graveyard
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Now I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I say that the Bolivian salt flats are absolutely incredible. For me personally it was the most beautiful place I have ever been to in the world and by far the most incredible thing that I have ever seen.

The incredible Salar de Uyuni
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The salt flats are up on a mountain plateau in the middle of the Andes and cover an area of over 12,000 square km. In the rainy season they are covered with water and it turns into a massive mirror. We took over 100 photos in the few hours that we spent there and to be honest they don’t do the place justice; it really was hard to capture just how beautiful it was. At times it was difficult to tell where the sky ended and the earth began.

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Salt mounds on the salt flats
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It was also the first time I ever saw someone walk on water. We had a picnic lunch (another steak dinner) out in the middle of the flats and spent the rest day driving around on the roof of our jeep in what has to be the most surreal place on earth. What an incredible place.

Salt flat picnic
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The lady that walks on water
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The little boy that walked on water
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One of the 4000 other tour groups on the flats....Bloody tourists
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The bottle perspective
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That night were continued our whirlwind tour of Bolivia and headed back to Oruru, by bus this time, to pick up our car. It wasn’t quite as much fun as the train ride down and with over 70 people crammed into a 35 seater bus, the 10 ½ ride along the bouncy muddy roads was torture. At one point there were five small children sleeping around the driver’s seat. As Alex politely put it, there was definitely a delicious potpourri of smells floating around the bus. The people in Bolivia are really cool but unfortunately for the people on our bus showering was not as popular as you would hope.

We finally made it to Oruru at 6:30am the next morning, jumped in the car with almost no sleep and headed south west to the Chilean border. After driving for about 2 hours the main highway turned into a dirt road and shortly after that came to an abrupt halt at a 2 feet deep river without a bridge. There was no way around it and it would have been one of many more rivers along the way. We had no choice but to turn back.

We couldn’t believe it, the main highway, one of the few main roads in Bolivia was a mud track all the way to the border. We had no choice but to turn around and drive north to the only other border with Chile, which we were promised was paved.

Thankfully it was and 6 hours later we were in the Chilean Andes at what has to be the highest border crossing in the world, just under 5000 meters. We crossed the border and started the long drive down hill through the fog, rain, rock slides and flamingo lagoons, into Arica on the pacific coast. From freezing temperatures at over 5000 meters, to over 30 degrees at sea level. More than 40 hours of travel in 3 days. What a week..

The top of the Bolivian Andes
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Finally back to the beach and warmer weather…..but not for long….

Posted by hayden111 14:35 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Ecuador to Peru

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After spending a relaxed Christmas day at the beach in Montanita, feasting on chocolate cake and chicken pastries, we drove south along the Ecuadorian coastline to the border of Peru.

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A typical border crossing between Ecuador and Peru. The car is parked somewhere in the middle of all that.

I imagined Ecuador to be a tropical paradise, with palm fringed beaches and turquoise waters but the drive through Ecuador was surprisingly desolate. Apart from a few dusty roadside towns and a scattering of mediocre beaches, it was pretty much a deserted wasteland. After crossing the border into Peru we continued south along the pacific coast.

Peru is a country that is hard to describe; it is both incredibly beautiful and hideously ugly at the same time. We drove down the Pan-American Highway which winds its way down the pacific coast to Lima, through a massive 1400kms of desert, that starts at the border with Ecuador and seems to go on forever. The beaches along the pacific coast were beautiful and the drive through the desert was for me, the best drive of the trip so far. But the small road side towns along the way were horrible, grey, dusty holes littered with trash.

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View from our hotel room in a desert town on our way to Lima.

The 1400km drive took 3 days and although it was mostly desert it was a really fun drive. We made it to Lima on Friday afternoon, checked into our Hotel and went for a walk around the city. We stayed in Mira Flores one of the wealthier areas of Lima close to the beach.

Lima is a really cool city and a great place to spend a few days before heading up into the Andes. With lots of bars, restaurant and cafes it’s definitely a great city to go out in and it certainly rivals Costa Rica for the most beautiful women award. Alex spent most of Saturday night in another world after drinking some tea given to him by a local herbalist. I won’t go into details, but it was pretty entertaining.

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Sand dunes a few hours north of Lima
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On Sunday we continued the drive south to Nasca. A small tourist town in the middle of no where, that is famous for the Nasca Lines. A series of massive ancient drawings in the desert that can only be seen from the air. Alex took a flight over the lines in a small 6 seater plane, while I took the safer option and hung out in town. Later that night we spent New Years drinking and dancing salsa with the locals, out the back of a roast chicken restaurant. It was a pretty cool night.

On Tuesday we finally left the desert and headed east up into the mountains. Another incredible drive, through beautiful mountains and valleys and every possible weather condition you could imagine, even snow.

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The roads and the scenery change around every corner.
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We found this guy crossing the road on our way to Cuzco.

We arrived in Cuzco yesterday; a beautiful city in the Mountains, 3400 meters above sea level, where the altitude makes you feel like you are 60 years old. It has been raining since we arrived and it is absolutely freezing. From shorts and a t-shirt to 4 layers of clothing and a woolen hat. It’s hard to believe its summer.

Today we took a train 4 hours north along the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. An ancient city in the clouds, with a stunning mountainous backdrop. We spent the afternoon walking through the ruins taking pictures and hanging out with the incredibly chilled out Lamas that wander around the ruins eating the grass.

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What a beautiful specimen and a great smile.

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The Famous Machu Picchu
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This was one of the places on the trip that we were both really looking forward to seeing and while Machu Picchu itself is really beautiful, it is a complete and utter rip off. There is only one way to get there (unless you want to walk for 3 days) and that is by Peru Rail train, a government owned monopoly, that charges over $100US for the return trip. Then there is the $12US bus ride to the gate and the $40 entrance fee to get into the site itself.

It’s a shame that so many tourist destinations around the world are getting so expensive that the average traveler just can’t afford to visit them anymore. As picturesque as it was the over inflated prices definitely soured the experience for us.

Peru truly is a facinating country to travel through; a real land of contrasting beauty. From the beaches and the desert to the mountains, the landscape is forever changing. It has been an incredible 2500km drive through what has been by far the most interesting scenery of the trip.

Next stop Bolivia.

Posted by hayden111 07:37 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Panama to Ecuador via Colombia

For info regarding the Darien Gap car shipping check out the general info entry at the start of this blog.

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On Friday night we headed to the airport in Panama City to catch our flight to Bucamaranga in Colombia. I know, bucama.. who; I hadn’t heard of it either but there were no direct flights to Bogotá, so it was as close as we could get. The flight was scheduled to leave at 7pm, but was delayed until around midnight. By the time we arrived in Colombia and cleared customs its was after 2am.

There didn’t seem much point in staying at a hotel, so we took a taxi straight to the bus station and caught a 4am chicken bus to Bogotá. A painful 10 hour journey in a crammed bus, over 2 mountain ranges and through half a dozen military check points. At some of the checkpoints they actually took us off the bus and made us put our hands in the air while they padded us down.

One of the first things you do notice about Colombia is the overwhelming presence of the military police. They really are every where, especially in Bogotá. Which may have been a dodgy city in the past but after spending most of Saturday wandering around different areas of the city, I have to say it felt surprisingly safe. We nearly got robbed on Sunday night but that was mostly our fault.... a long story.

On Monday we took another night bus (a luxury bus this time) to Cali, 10 hours east of Bogotá. Cali has a pretty relaxed feel about it. With a strip of bars and cafes in the middle of the city, it has a much better vibe than Bogotá. After a long and entertaining night at the bars in Cali, we went to the airport to catch our flight to Manta in Ecuador; the port city the car was shipped to.

Our flight was delayed, again; for about 4 hours this time. It was a mad rush through the airport in Quito (capital of Ecuador) to make it through immigration and catch our connecting flight, which we only made by 5 mins. Unfortunately our luggage wasn’t so lucky. As the baggage carousel in Manta spat out its last piece of luggage we realized that we would be wearing the same clothes for a few more days.

Early the next morning we took a taxi to the port to pick up the car. Which as you can imagine is a lot easier said than done. It ended up being a 2 day, bureaucratic ordeal of red tape, paper work and a lot of sitting around waiting. I will spare you the details. Finally late on Friday afternoon when we had both ready to shoot someone we were allowed to drive the car out of the port.

It worked… Granted there was a lot of paper work and a massive amount of time wasted by antiquated, out dated systems and protocol, but there she was, just as we had left her in Panama. Not a scratch on her. To celebrate we decide to buy her some tinted windows for Christmas. $11 for all 5 windows.

Yesterday we drove 3 hours south to a small beach town on the pacific coast to relax for a few days before driving south to Peru. Ecuador is much more relaxed than Columbia, the people are friendlier and the food is a lot better.

Next week we will be in Peru then Bolivia and Chile. Apparently it is an incredible drive down the pacific coast then up over the Andes, where some of the roads reach 5000 meters. We may even get to drive along the road of death in Bolivia. Check it out on Google.

It definitely has been a challenging couple of weeks. It certainly is a lot easier and more relaxed traveling by car. But we knew that the shipping part of the trip would take a lot of time and effort, and now that the business side of things is out of the way we can continue on and enjoy the rest of the trip.

Merry Christmas everyone…

The cable car up to Montserrat church over looking Bogota
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Alex checking out the local tallent
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Some tasteful Colombian Graffiti: " I will be King"
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Posted by hayden111 10:14 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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