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Ruins on Isla del SolAfter reshuffling our plans somewhat, we arrived in Copacabana and checked into a hostel that we later realised was only half built – at least the rooms were new and relatively clean! The next morning we set off to Isla del Sol in the middle of Lake Titicaca (highest navigable / largest high-altitude lake in the world) on what seemed like the slowest boat in the world. 2.5 hours and about 500m later (some exaggeration perhaps) we arrived at the Isla and explored some underwhelming ruins – a little more information on them would have increased their whelmingness but this was mostly only available in Spanish and at extra cost. We spent the day walking and talking with some South Africans and a couple of girls from Norwich of all places.

 

Ruins on Isla del SolAfter enduring the trip back to the mainland we steeled ourselves for another night bus – this time to Cuzco in Peru (via Puno which we’d had to remove from our itinerary). The first part of the journey was highlighted by an impressive electrical storm and accompanying lightning, the latter part lowlighted by snoring, smelly people and sleeplessness.

As usual, more photos here. Our travel map is also looking good 🙂

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A couple of days in Sucre, a pretty Andean town at 2,700m, were a welcome break from bus trips and flights. The air was cool and dry but the sun still warm as we explored the cobbled streets with colonial buildings. Bolivians seem to like their marching bands and we stumbled across one following a statue of Jesus (and a little angel?) through the streets.

We didn’t suffer any adverse side effects of the altitude, but did suffer our first freezing cold showers – something we’ll no doubt be getting used to! A couple of Germans we met getting off the plane in Sucre became our travelling companions for these days and as we set off for Uyuni and the Salt Flats. We soon came to rely on their Spanish abilities as they went a bit beyond our “hola” and “hablo ingles?”!

Our bus trip from Sucre to Uyuni was uneventful, apart from a stopover in Potosi, the highest city in the world, where Lizzy was verbally accosted by a drunk Bolivian man who seemed to take objection to her having curly, blond hair.

(Photos to follow, Internet too slow here)

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Walk, bus, emigration (Argentina), bus (no man’s land a.k.a. Brazil), immigration (Paraguay), bus, bus, taxi, walk, palace, walk, eat, walk, sleep, taxi, emigration (Paraguay), plane, immigration (Bolivia), plane, walk, bus, walk, find a hostel & collapse into lovely clean (in our dreams only perhaps?) bed!

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I would like to wash my shitsAfter a surviving the taxi ride to the hostel, and having a slightly hysterical jet-lagged laugh at a sign in our room saying “I would like to wash my shits thank you” (we presume it was meant to be sheets) we went out for a wander. Unfortunately, the first trip was cut short by a bird poo’ing on Lizzy’s head (punishment for laughing at the sign perhaps?) but the second attempt, after a quick wash, was worth it as we stumbled across a carnival that was going on in the centre which was pretty impressive. Not as impressive as the antiques market we went to the following day though. Hundreds of street performers (opera singers, tango dancers, drummers, ventriloquists, human statues to name a few), market stalls- a proper cacophony of noise and colour for which BA no doubt gets its reputation for being such a cool, vibrant and arty place to be.

Tango!A Tango show was next on the agenda, though our attempts to re-enact weren’t quite so graceful :-S. Then the following morning we bussed our way (all the guide books advise against walking) to La Boca for some ‘shanty chic’ (well, shanty’s probably an exaggeration but the buildings are very run down, particularly outside of Caminoto road itself). They have painted all the buildings bright colours here meaning it was photogenic even in the drizzle that was coming down most of the day.

Another must-do was ticked off the list when we visited the cemetery in La Recoleta district – it’s like a small town of mausoleums – an oddly impressive and eerie place. Evita is entombed here which draws the crowds, but it seemed notable even without that.

As we write this we are in the first few minutes of what we hope will be less than 18 hours of a bus ride from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu. In summary we found Buenos Aires to be a vibrant, arty and attractive place – definitely one of the nicer cities we’ve visited on our travels.

More photos here as usual.

Boca colours

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Pancake RocksOn our way up the West Coast, we briefly popped in to see Pancake Rocks. The rocks are near Punakaiki, a town that reminds tourists that  “there’s more to see and do here than [see the rocks]” and pleads with them, somewhat desperately, to “stay a while”. We ignored their begging and stayed about an hour to just see the main sight. Apparently, scientists do not know how the mysterious stone layers of Pancake Rocks were formed, but that’s not really the reason people come here, fascinating as they are. Tourists flock here to see the blowholes. At their best, the blowholes fling sea water 20m into the air. We tried to capture some in photos and video and got a little wet in the process – we hope you appreciate the sacrifices we make to bring you these clips…

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Pancake Rocks

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Lake Wakapitu near QueenstownThere are so many things to do here to get your heart pumping that it was hard for us to decide what we should do. We ruled out things either of us had done before (paragliding, parachute jumping), things that involved jumping off or out of things at great height for my benefit (bungee jumping), things that meant being cold (for Lizzy’s benefit) for a long time (river surfing) and were left with 2 options – hang-gliding or canyoning. In the end we opted for canyoning as the cheaper option and booked onto a morning of that. What, you may ask, is canyoning? Well it’s scrambling up and down canyons in wet suits, jumping across and into water of varying depth. We both really enjoyed it, but actually found it rather tame and not that action-packed (by nature of there being a group of 10 of us and only 1 person could do each thing at once). For once Lizzy was the chicken as she refused to do the highest jump (8m down into not much water- which she claims she avoided because the previous jump she’d pretty much landed on her face & didn’t want to be face slapped again) which I did several times.  (Normally I’m the chicken when it comes to heights – I had to climb down from the top of a 60m-high building last because I couldn’t jump off it with a rope attached to my back, even though 12 others had done so quite safely). Unfortunately no photo evidence of this activity though – you’re not allowed to take your own camera and they charge rather a lot for the photos they take. A good morning of entertainment and something we’d like to do again, but perhaps in a smaller group.

Lake Wakapitu near QueenstownQueenstown is in a lovely setting on the shores of a massive lake – I imagine it is beautiful year-round. Whilst we were here, I had to secretly collect a package and hide it from Lizzy… but all will be revealed about that in a later entry.

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Our arrival in Auckland! (The huge welcoming party is just out of sight of this shot ;))Since Auckland will be our home for the next year or so, we were keen for it to make a good first impression on us. Unfortunately we arrived in the grey & drizzle after having got up at 3.45am for our flight from beautiful Sydney… probably not the best way to enter our new country! Fortunately there was a familiar face to see on that first evening in the shape of Lizzy’s ex-colleague Nick who made us feel very at home and even took the brave move of introducing us smelly backpackers to some of his friends. They seemed to not notice our odour and were really friendly & positive about NZ. We went back to our hostel in better spirits that night.

Over the next few days we took care of practicalities to do with banking, tax, jobs, phones, housing and many other boring things (and exciting things like signing up for a Subway loyalty card!). I was amused as we did some shopping in the supermarket – the brands of fabric conditioners were Fluffy, Cuddly and Snuggly (or similar)… I figured I could come to like a country where things had such cute names!  Whilst exploring areas to live (in North Shore City – a part of Auckland, cunning on the shore to the north of the city) we did manage to scout out the beaches at Takapuna, Castor Bay and Milford, which were nice (if a little windy on the days we saw them), but will have to be explored more thoroughly in the months to come. We have settled on a furnished place in between Milford & Castor Bay which has access to a pool & hot tub as well as all the usual stuff. It’s in a very quiet area (not a great thing when wanting to meet people) and a bit of a slog back from the beach (30 mins uphill), but it’s fine for the time being.

On the Sunday we popped to a local church where some people from our church back in Nottingham are involved. We not only caught up with them briefly, but met another couple of people from Nottingham – one of whom had actually lived in the same house in Mapperley – in fact the same bedroom – as Lizzy had done, just a year or so later!

With our feelings about Auckland gradually improving, we headed off to the airport to catch our flight to Christchurch where we’d start our 17-day exploration of the south island.

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Nimbin the hippy town - see the signsMid-route stop: Nimbin. This random hippy town about an hour from Byron Bay is a bit kooky, but full of its own character and charm. After almost running over a few long-haired old guys on the way into town, we popped into the House of Hemp and the Hemp Museum before going on our way…

Final stop: Hunter Valley. After an epic 12-hour drive (to allow us increased wine-tasting time the next day), we arrived in Cessnock absolutely parched. Fortunately we had a long day of drinking ahead of us, so we went to bed safe in the knowledge we’d have our thirst sated soon. As it turned out, we could have spent a week tasting wine here, but still managed to cram in 6 wineries, a smelly cheese shop (that’s their term, not ours!), a British Lolly shop and an olive-vineyard-allsorts place. Unfortunately for her, Lizzy ended up doing most of the driving and little of the tasting as she was the scheduled morning driver and with lunch not until 3.30, she was only able to make the most of 2 late afternoon tasting sessions whilst the rest of us gradually fell asleep. That night, we reminisced about our time in Asia with a meal in a Thai restaurant to celebrate Tom’s impending birthday.

Nimbin the hippy town - see the signs

Photos from the whole road trip @ Picasa

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