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By this Author: murfclaire

Peru - Chile July 2010

Goodbye South America

After much deliberation, we decided to take the Inca Jungle Trek, the least expensive and supposedly the least strenuous trek to Machu Pichu. At this stage Murf had perfected his haggling skills and he got us a good price for the four day trip. We took it easy for the few days in Cusco before heading off and took advantage of the first bit of sunshine we had seen in ages.

On the first day of the trip, we were collected from the hostel and dropped off around 2 hours from Cusco to start an afternoon of mountain biking (downhill thankfully) in the middle of some really gorgeous landscapes – the views were just amazing – and without major injury we landed at our first destination, the little village of Santa Maria. The next day we started the hard part......the trekking. At 6.30am, we starting walking from Santa Maria uphill for what seemed like forever, no joke at one stage Murf was literally pulling me up the side of the mountain while I was huffing and puffing! I have to say it was tough and apparantly our trek is not a patch on some of the others which makes us feel really unfit!! At around 4pm, we arrived at our second nights accommodation in the village of Santa Teresa. On the third day... more trekking (although not as strenuous or long as the second day) and we made it to our (almost) final destination, Agus Callientes (which is actually really called Machu Pichu). Big pats on the back all round as the group celebrated in the hot springs and looked forward to the last day of the trip, the visit to Machu Pichu. After an early morning rise (4am) we made it to the top and i think everyone was completely breathtaken. I have to say, sitting eating our 100th white bread cheese sandwich on the side of Machu Pichu was really something and we decided the view was definitely worth the previous few days of hard work (although we’ve now decided to take a break from ‘trekking’ for a while).

We were absolutely wrecked by the time we got back to Cusco and were delighted to see a nice warm bed and running hot water waiting for us at the hostel. We were also looking forward to our date with kenny and Julie the following day in (where else) only the highest Irish pub on the planet. We watched the world cup semi final between Spain and the Netherlands and a few sociables later we had booked to head rafting and zip lining the following day with some others we met on the trek. (Again Murf’s negotiating skills got us a good deal). No casualties and a great day was had, I’d say we’ll definitely be heading rafting again.

We weren’t sure where we were going after Cusco and everyone was suggesting different places to visit. But we decided to head for the coast in the possibility of catching a few rays. We made it to Huachachina, a little village outside the town of Ica on the south west coast of Peru literally in the middle of massive sand dunes and funnily enough is famous for sandboarding. The sun was beaming and we had a nice pool so we were happy out to stay there for a few days and chill out after all our hard work. We tried our hand at sandboarding which was scary but great fun. Murf got a bit carried away and headed off by himself the next day – lets just say he wasn’t in good shape by the time he came back :)

After Huachachina, we made our way south to Arequipa – home of the deepest canyon in the world. As our days of trekking were over we decided to buy the one day trip to Colca Canyon leaving at 3am (these early mornings are starting to feel like hard work). Our ‘great deal’ meant we got the smallest bus going and no air conditioning so our early morning start left us with frozen windscreens and a three hour bus journey to our first stop. It was even more uncomforable when the sun started beaming in and the lady next to us was a little car sick. Lovely. Anyway, lets just say it was a long day and 15 hours later we arrived back at the hostel but we got some nice photos of condors flying over the canyon and of the Colca Valley which houses the remains of some inca settlements. I’m wondering if it would have been a better option to do the two or three day trek......

From Arequipa we headed for the border and were on our way to Chile. Surprise surprise, a couple of long bus journeys and taxi rides later and we arrived in the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama. We just had a quick stopover there and didnt decide to try any more sandboarding so headed for another 24 hour bus journey to Santiago, our final destination in South America :( Santiago is heavily polluted and when you head up to one of the main tourist attraction to get a view of the city, you can clearly see the layer of smog which covers the city – makes you think what you’re walking around in!! We stayed in a really cool hostel called Don Santiago, met a good gang and had a few sing songs so it was a good send off from the Gringo Trail.

And so, after 11 weeks, 7 countries and over 200 hours on buses, our South America journey came to an end. Although we are looking forward to heading over the Pacific, we’re both sad to leave this amazing continent but hopefully we’ll be back at some stage…..

Posted by murfclaire 02:04 Comments (0)

Salta and north to Bolivia

Rough roads

Leaving cold Mendoza we travelled north to the city of Salta where we stayed in the Backpackers hostel - free dinners were on offer which is always nice. We were delighted to see the sun again and we had another chance to (try) and top up our tans. Argentina made their first display in the world cup while we were in Salta and the locals were going crazy. After the 1-0 win, there were marching bands and parades around the central plaza, you had to wonder what they'd be like if they actually won the Coup de Mondial!! We didn't do much during our stay in Salta, took in a few NBA and World Cup matches on TV and sampled some of the local gin :)

After a couple of nights, we headed north towards Bolivia stopping off in a little village called Purmamarca, home of the mountain of seven colours. This village is really amazing, the walk around the countryside is breathtaking and we treated outselves to a dinner in a local restaurant and were entertained by a live Peruvian band.

We made our way north to the border town of Quinica, the bus ride from Purmamarca was definitely an eye opener as we got a sample of the barren landscape and small towns of northern argentina. The bus was not of the fanchy Argentinian variety that we were so used to but it was the first of many bumpy rides. Houses so remote they made Cordal or Coraleehan look like urban developments! Kids were getting off the bus on their way home from school and walking into what we thought looked like the burren (albeit limestone supplemented with an orange countryside with llamas hanging around at the sides of the roads). We arrived in Quinica, took the short walk over the border to Villazon, changed our clocks by an hour and we were in Bolivia - home of manually flushing your own toilet, 1990s slow internet, unpaved roads and bumpy bus rides not to mention llama everything........

The border town of Villazon was our first introduction to Bolivia and was a good sample of what was to come, the town was chocabloc with busy markets selling everything from food, to llama socks and penknives. Our bus from Villazon to Tupiza left nothing to the imagination - up remote mountain areas on what felt like a dirt track, Claire was clinging on for dear life at one stage when we went through what looked like a make-shift trunnel in the side of a cumbling mountain. Anyway, we arrived in Tupiza in one piece and found a nice hostel to rest our very weary heads. Tupiza was to be the starting point for our tour of the south west of Bolivia and the spectacular Salt Flats near Uyuni. Following from our successful day’s horseriding in Mendoza, we decided we had to sample a bit of action in the valley where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid was filmed so we took to the hills. Our horses weren’t as lively as those up the Andes but the sights were good, there was some sun which is always good and we had a good day around Tupiza.

The following day we had an early morning start and we were off on our four day Salt Flats tour. We shared our jeep with a German girl and a Canadian guy who were great neighbours for the trek and our driver Ruben and cook Ada were there to take care of us. The first three days driving of what felt like the desert took us around green, blue and red lagoons, volcanic mountains, tree shaped rocks, geysers. We were put up in ‘local’ accomodation, the first night we slept on concrete beds with some newspaper on the concrete walls to try and keep out the cold! Lots of pics were taken. Ada cooked up a storm, proving that you can eat well even if it is out of the back of the jeep. She even whipped up a birthday cake when we stayed in the Salt Hotel on the last night (20th). The altitude played its part as well, with lots of sick tummies to put up with but the early morning rise on the longest day of the year was worth the sights of sunrise on the Salt Flats.

After our tour we got dropped off in the small town of Uyuni. It was here I got the news of Granny Banks’ death. How I wished I was back in Ballymote to give everyone a hug but it wasn’t to be. It was a lonely few days but I know she is at peace now and the lovely lady I heard everyone talk about got a lovely send off. RIP Granny.

We had another very bumpy and long bus ride to La Paz, capital of Bolivia and we were glad to be back to civilisation- well if you could call it that. La Paz is an amazing city, the only way I can think of to describe it is a massive department store! The city is an endless stream of stalls selling everything from electronics, souvenirs, household stuff - there was even a street of hairdressers which Murf sampled to get rid of his ginger beard :) . La Paz is built in what seems like a crator and you know all about that when you start wandering around these stalls,, talk about aching calf muscles!! We stayed in the Wild Rover hostel, needless to say an Irish hostel bang slap in the middle of La Paz which was party central. They even had a half way to Christmas party on the week we were there, all that was missing was the turkey and ham.

We had heard so much of the famous San Pedro prison we had to make a tour. Although tours of the prison are ‘illegal’ any tourist can find someone on the nearby plaza who will take them in to the prison and the guards will let you in in return for a nice sum. Its crazy to see what goes on in the prison, once we went through the main gates we didn’t see one prison guard, its basically run by the inmates, one of whom gave us the tour – don’t worry Mammy its relatively safe! The smell inside the prison is disgusting and the conditions are really poor, inmates are allowed have their wives/girlfriends and children live with them inside the prison and there are around 200 women and 400 children living inside – its actually really sad. Saying that, they seem to have the life of reilly! Some inmates and their respective others run stalls, restaurants and shops inside to make a few bob – its like a little town and the day we went in they were just after having a two day party and there were still loads of people hanging around drunk, music blaring and playing pool.

While we were in La Paz, Murf couldn’t miss the opportunity to cycle down the famous ‘World’s Most Dangerous Road’ – again relatively safe - which involves being dropped off at the top of a mountain and cycling down a very steep and narrow road. 25 people have died cyclying down in the last five years, 11 Israeli (they must be lunatics), but with a good guide he arrived back in one piece. After the cycle, all the brave cyclists have a 4 hour bus journey back up the mountain so they could actually see the Worlds Most dangerous road. Murf’s mechanical skills (ahem) came in handy when he had to help fix a flat tyre on the bus on the way up. I gave the Death Road a miss and got treated to a spa day for my birthday – much appreciated after all my hard work :)

When it was time to leave La Paz, we made our way to Copacabana, a little village on the banks of Lake Titicaca (some might say the highest navigable lake in the world ). At this stage we had picked up our new American friend Dave and in Copacabana we met two more travel buddies from Manchester. Its a lovely little town and we took a half day trip out to Isla Del Sol out in the middle of the lake. Its a nice day trip, but they didn’t tell us they drop you off on the north of the island and you have to trek to the south to be collected to head back to the mainland! The legs were killing us by the end of it and Murf had some nice farmers tan lines to show off the next day.

Our next destination was Puno on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca (apparantly 60% of the lake is in Peru and 40% in Bolivia). Our only purpose here was to have a trip to the famous floating islands, which are manmade (of reeds and local plants) islands off the coast of Puno on Lake Titicaca where hundreds of natives live. They speak their own language and love seeing the tourists coming so they can show off their houses and get them to buy some souveniers! We even had a chance to try on some of the local clothing and take a trip on the boats made out of the reeds, very interesting stuff! Leaving Puno it was on to our second destination in Peru, Cusco. The five of us headed down to the bus station, realised we couldn’t make the tourist bus so we had no option but to go for the local bus, which we regretted the minute we sat on it! At one stage a drunk woman came and fell asleep in the aisle of the bus and noone seemed to mind!

In Cusco, we started searching for a trip up to see the world famous Machu Pichu – after the four hour trek on Isla Del Sol we were beginning to wonder how we’d last four days!

Posted by murfclaire 09:02 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Rosario & Mendoza

The birthplace of Che Guevara is a lovely city a swift four hours from Buenos Aires. We went to see Casa de Che Guevara where they really isn’t much to see but we took lots of pics all the same! We took a trip to Plaza Che Guevara where there is a monument to honour the local hero. More pictures and more walking around we found ourselves an Irish pub in the hope of finding tickets for the match –O’ Connells was packed of locals and not one Paddy to be seen! We asked around a few people but noone seemed to know that the U20 World Cup Games were actually taken place in their home town! We landed down at the stadium early the next day and got our tickets to see the clash between France and Ireland which cost the equivalent of e9! We were on the lookout for some green jerseys but they were few and far between but half way through the match a rugby tour from a Limerick school landed in beside us so between us all our voices were heard!! France were throwing out some enormorous fellas (we were afraid for our boys) and unfortunately it wasn’t to be for Irlande. A good day was had in the sun and we topped off the day with a paddle in the city’s artificial lake....aww how romantic :).

Overnight 10 hours to Mendoza, we landed and felt the cold from the minute we got off the bus at 7am. Destination was Avenue San Martin, so we decided to be thrifty and take the local bus. After checking with the bus driver, we hopped on the bus to ‘San Martin’ – seemed like a no brainer that we were heading teh right direction until we found ourselves five miles outside mendoza the bus driver called me up when he realised we were wrong, heading for a town called San Martin 20 miles away. DAMN. He let us off at the side of a country road and we had to wait until the next bus was on the way back in. We were getting a few odd looks from the locals and were delighted to see the bus and we were inward bound to Mendoza.......again. Our hostel was something resembling a 1980s student flat but was nice, if we ignored the group of 17 year old rude english girls who had decided to take over the place.

Mendoza is a massive wine making region and we just had to do a cycling tour of the wineries as well as the olive oil and chocolate making factories. From strong recommendations, we rented one of ‘Mr Hugo’s’ bikes and off we went cycling around to the local wineries and vineyards. We swirled, sniffed, drank, swirled, sniffed, drank some more and of course the cycling gets a bit tougher as you go on.

The next day we thought we´d take in some western style horse riding at the bottom of the Andes, sure why not. It was brilliant - freezing but well worth it for the views. Claires horse had a mind of its own though which was funny to watch as the horse decided to go his own way a few times instead of following the pack

So we´re now moving north en route to Bolivia and staying in Salta for a few days, we´re going to watch the first Argentinian World Cup match here and no doubt hit the town tonight for the celebrations.

Posted by murfclaire 04:40 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Iguazu Falls & Buenos Aires

View South America on murfclaire's travel map.

After 14 hour bus journey and a trip across the brazilian border to Argentina, we arrived at our next destination Puerto Iguazu. This is a smallish town on the brazilian border but is busy busy with lots of tourists coming to see the main attraction, the Iguazu Falls.

We stayed in a hostel just outside the town which apparantly used to be a casino so it was pretty impressive, albeit with lots of creepy crawlies (but thankfullly no cockroaches!). Being used to the expense of dining in Brazil, we were delighted when we saw how cheap argentina really is, bottle of wine in the hostel was 13 pesos which is around e2.50!! I'll take two thank you :)

We spent the first day on a tour of the Brazilian side of the falls and a trip to the dam which they built on the Paraguaian side of the falls. The Iguazu Falls got more and more impressive as we went on. It was overcast and raining that day but it didn't really matter as we got soaked from the falls anyway. The following day we saw the falls from the Argentian side and it was just incredible - we went for a quick boat ride in to some of the waterfalls - feeling a brief im drowning moment - got absolutely drenched but it was good fun.

We met a gang that were staying in our hostel and we all went into Peurto Iguacu for something to eat, we got the nicest steak dinner, wine, desert, the works for around e20 each! Chuffed with ourselves we decided to hit the town but it was dead (something resembling Ballinamore on christmas day) as the country was on a day off and celebrating 200 years of independence!

19 hours on a fairly comfy bus and the next destination was Beunos Aires. We took a tip and stayed in the America del Sur hostel in the city centre which was nice and had good facilities. We had been running around so much that we decided to stay in BA for a week or so before moving on. We did a city tour on the first day and realised how big the city is but it is really easy to get around with the subway and buses. We made our way to the Boca Juniors stadium and had a tour - didn't manage to get in a game but the tour was interesting. Apparantly the stadium seats 50,000 and 47,000 seats are reserved for Boca fans, doesn't leave the opposition with much encouragement! We also went to see the resting place of Evita herself - Recoleta cemetery - which has hundreds of tombs about the size of small churches! We walked for ages and Murf was surprised when I was freaked out at the amount of coffins you could see through the tombs 'windows'! I was a bit surprised myself but it was very freaky!

We heard that it was worth going to see a bongo show when in BA so we were delighted to hear that the crew were putting on a special show to mark the anniversary of Argentina's independence so off we headed to Ticketmaster (Ticketica) and with the help of our two new Oz friends, went and danced the night away at BA's cultural venue. A great night was had.

I was disappointed to realise that the sun was not going to come back out after we left Brazil - well not with any tanning use anyway. And it was starting to get pretty chilly in Brazil so we had to take to the shops to stock up on woolies. Wandering around the San Telmo markets on Sunday I had to give in and buy a hat and scarf! I also had to invest in a pair of shoes and a jacket, even less impressed at having to spend the money. That was one part we did not plan for - wouldn't have minded a trip home to dunnes!

We also fitted in a day trip to the Uruguaian town of Colonia - a 6.30 start was cold and dark and we spent the day in Colonia cycling around to see it all. The weather was lovely and we took a trip to the beach, albeit in jeans and jumpers :) By 6pm my legs and my back side were beginning to feel that I had been on a bike for the best part of the day and by the time we made it back to the hostel at 11 we were well and truly wrecked!

En route to Rosario for the next leg of the journey and hopefully will make it to see Ireland play in the Under 20 Rugby World Cup against France.

Posted by murfclaire 14:28 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

Two weeks in Brazil

Rio, Ihla Grande, Paraty, Sao Paulo (Brazil)

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Landed in Rio on Thursday 13th May, weather was class and we went straight down for a walk on the Copacabana - yes I sang the song and did a dance! We spent the first day finding out bearings and then set off for Christ the Redeemer on Saturday morning - if we knew how to speak an iota of brazilian portugeuese this would have been a lot easier as we decided to make our own way using the local bus (which is about as well signposted as Dublin Bus). Buy they say its not the destination that counts.....its the journey?? Take the 183 bus to Corcovado for anyone who needs to know! We eventually made it to Corcovado and as the tram is out of service due to rains earlier in the year we had to bus it up the long winding very steep road. We werent at all feeling lazy when three guys passed us out on bikes. Unfortunately Christ himself was getting a bit of a facelift so we got our pics taken in front of scaffolding but it was amazing to see it and the views and wonder how it was built all that way up on the mountain over 80 years ago!!

On our way back we decided to visit Santa Theresa - another comedy show trying to find our way up - but we got there eventually and had a stroll around the cobble streets and a trip back down on the famous tram, holding on for dear life. We stopped off in Lapa Irish pub and then home before getting ready to head out for a few drinks to - as all us paddys tend to do - an irish pub. Shennanigans in Ipanema was the destination and we just so happened to bump into the Irish navy who were on a PR trip in South America and were having a night off. They invited us to a civic reception on their boat the following day with free drink and food.....needless to say we were delighted to take them up on the offer! Murf was even more chuffed when he found out there was to be Clonakilty black pudding on offer!!!

Sunday morning we went to visit the Sugar loaf mountain (bus 513 there and 512 back) which had the most spectacular views - seriously i was nearly pinching my self when we were up there! It was here my mosquito bites started to make an appearance, they were getting very ugly to say the least and the locals were staring at me (for one probably because i was so pasty and two my hidious looking legs). Back to the hotel (yes we were posh backpackers for the first few nights in Rio) and the preparations began for our trip to LE Niamh which was docked at rio port. Getting there was another interesting journey, we took the metro to our stop and when we got out realised we were in the middle of the slums - i swiftly removed all jewellery and stuffed it away and quick marched to get a taxi. Finally got to the ship and they were delighted to see us as out of 120 guests inivited only around 50 turned up so they needed help eating all the sausages ) After the reception we were invited to the captains cabin for a drink and then we went into town with the gang for a few caiprinhas.

Our last day was spent catching a few rays and we also caught sunset at Ipanema beach which was also a pinch myself moment. Rio is an amazing city, expensive but definitely worth the trip.

After five days in Rio it was time to say our goodbyes and we headed for the lovely island of ihla grande, a laid back car-less, atm-less (so bring as much money as you need) island around 150kms south of Rio. Met a load of backpackers on the ferry on the way over and ended up a lot of them were staying in our hostel in ihla grande (Aquario). The first accent we heard when we got off the boat was a kilkenny one - a girl that has been working there for the last year and who turns out to be somehow related to Murfs sister in law - small world! We had an all you can eat bbq at our hostel on the first night, live music and a good ould disco afterwards. We went on a boat trip the following day to a load of beaches around the island and jumped off the boat at a few places into the blue ocean - it was just paradise. So we took loads of pics and came back to the internet cafe to upload them all and what does Claire do only push the memory card in the wrong slot and it disappeared BUT the nice people at the internet cafe opened up the hard drive and got it back for us the next day.....we didnt mind paying the fee as all our Rio pics were now safe. we had planned a day of sunbathing for our last day on the island but of course the clouds came to visit and we had to settle for a few beers overlooking the beach and planning the next leg of the journey..making it to Iguazu Falls.

First off, we left the island for the little village of Paraty - the bus ride from Angra dos Rios was fairly bumpy (memories of Patsy Wrynns journey to cavan came to mind!). Paraty is a nice spot, not much happening - except a religious festival of some sort which meant there was a nice market there which of course meant cheap food which were beginning to love! We stayed in a really nice hostel just overlooking the river called Hostel Paraty - well it was lovely until we were heading to bed and a MASSIVE cockroach crawled across the ground in our room. After several attempts to kill it (in hindsight im glad i didn't as apparantly they lay a load of eggs when they're killed), the night was spent on top of the bunk bed hoping we were safe. Obviously we got out in one piece....it was a close one though:) Then it was time to leave Paraty for the long long journey to Foz de Iguazu, with a pit stop in the massive bus station in Sao Paulo.

As cousin domhnall pointed out to us, stray dogs are everywhere in Brazil. all over the city of Rio, playing on the beaches on ihla grande, waiting for buses in Paraty......world war 3 nearly broke out when one followed us back to our hostel in ihla grande and started a fight with the local mongrel......needless to say we didnt own up :)

6 hours to Sao Paulo and 14 hours to Foz du Iguacu, a long journey over the border and we were at our next destination....Puerto Igaucu in Argentina

Posted by murfclaire 18:27 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

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