Day 49 – 54: Huaraz, Northern Peru 08/12/19 – 13/12/19

We headed 12 hours north, overnight, arriving early in Huaraz. Situated more northerly in Peru, it is known for some of the most beautiful hiking circuits in the world. The Huayhuash circuit is voted 2nd in the world for beauty, after a trek in Nepal, but unfortunately at a minimum of 8 days long was not one we had time to complete. Perhaps another time. We had aimed to complete the Santa Cruz (4day) trek, but starting to run out of time and money we had to make a decision. Continue travelling by bus through Ecuador and into Columbia, which would mean over 100 hours on buses and a fair amount of money with less time in each country, or fly directly to Cartagena in Columbia but skip Ecuador altogether. We decided to save time and money and give Columbia our full attention. However, massive fluctuations in flight prices meant we had to leave on the 13/12/19 and so only had 3 full days in Huaraz. This meant no multi-day trek, but filling each day with trips to see as much of the surrounding area as possible. Huaraz sits at over 3000m up, still a part of the enormous Andes along which we have travelled, in a range called the Cordillera Blanca. Home to the highest mountain in Peru (Huarascan – 6700m!) with blue lakes, glaciers, Condors and more, it was somewhere we had been looking forward to.

We spent the afternoon, once checked in, at Cafe Andino where we drank coffee, planned out the next few days and wrote an earlier blog. We decided Day 1 – Horse riding in the mountains, Day 2 – A high altitude trek (Alexz’ birthday) and Day 3 – Trekking to Pastoruri glacier.

Our Huaraz hostel

After breakfast we met the man about a horse and were taken to the local bus terminal. Here, the bloke told the conductor to tell us when to get off, at which point someone would be waiting for us with 3 horses (Tres Ceballos). Or at least that’s what we could make out from his spanish. After 30 minutes the conductor told us to hop off, however, there was no one and no horses waiting, but signs pointing in opposite directions for horse riding. We asked some locals selling their goods roadside who pointed us up a dirt track. Here, we found an older woman, who seemed pleased to see us, tacking up 5 horses (Cinco Ceballos) and so we waited. However, our helpful local then came running up the dirt track, waving us back down to where we started and waiting there was a man with Tres Ceballos. This must be it. Next thing, the older woman with Cinco Ceballos came back down and started waving at us to return. After a long phone conversation, several arguments and much waving, it turned out the older woman was the wife of our original bloke who met us at the hostel, and the man with tres ceballos was just a chancer who fit the description.

Finally on our way, we first headed along a main road, but with no helmets and little/no prior experience in horse riding we had to place a lot of trust in our new steeds. Thankfully then we moved onto rocky dirt tracks, through local villages and started climbing up into the foothills of the Andes, having to pull aside at one point for an old lady walking her pig. It quickly became clear that Emma’s horse, despite being smaller, was the boss over Alexz’s. Any time Alexz’s horse, called Obama, tried to take the lead he was quickly put back in his place by a sharp nip on the backside from Canyon (Emmas horse). We had beautiful weather and trotted up over several hours to take in the view of the Cordillera Blanca before heading back down. It was nice to experience something a little different for us both and not have to do all the uphill walking, although we did feel a little sorry for Alexz’s horse. The highlight of the day for Emma was on the return leg back down the hill. Obama decided to make another dash for the lead in a tight space, overtaking Canyon just as he lifted his tail to have an enormous poo, resulting in driving Alexz’s knee directly into the backside of Canyon and having giant balls of turd roll down his left leg and onto his shoe.

That evening, after having cleaned Alexz’ shoes, we looked around the supermarkets for something we could make in the hostel kitchen for dinner. However, with very little fresh produce available, we ended up making a meal which wouldn’t have won any prizes in our Patagonia camping efforts.

Our second full day was the most important day of the year, being Alexz’s birthday. The alarm went off at 0430AM for an early pick up to take us to the start of our 6 hour trek to Laguna 69, known for outstanding views and a tough climb owing to the altitude, reaching heights of 4600m.

Along we the way we enjoyed a pit stop at the beautiful lake of Chinan Cocha.

Arriving at the trailhead our guide made us aware of two things. Firstly, we could walk at our own pace rather than in any sort of group and all meet at the top, and secondly to look out for the cows. They were particularly confident cows which were known to sneak up on people and raid their bags for snacks. Setting off, and looking out for confident cows, we were greeted with a beautiful valley of rivers, waterfalls and wooden bridges surrounded by mountains, one of which was Huarascan which loomed over us. The first part of the walk was relatively easy going and reminded us a lot of the alpine scenery in Patagonia, however, after a couple of hours things got a lot steeper with rocky switchbacks and the altitude quickly became apparent and so we slowed our pace. We arrived at the brilliantly blue Laguna 69 and stopped for lunch. We found a little spot lakeside where no one else had ventured and enjoyed our cheese sandwiches, pringles and a flask of tea whilst listening to avalanches rumble through the valley. Overall, it was one of the most beautiful hikes we have done and very much like those of Patagonia, which is no bad thing.

Arriving back in Huaraz that evening, fairly exhausted, we enjoyed a good meal and few beers at our favourite place (Cafe Andino) before turning in for the night.

Our final full day in Huaraz before heading back to Lima, the capital of Peru, for our flight to columbia was spent climbing to our highest point yet. Another early start and several hours on the bus took us to the start of the hike to see the Pastoruri glacier. En route we stopped off and learnt about how valleys were formed by ancient glaciers, the coloured springs that still exist as a result and the unusual trees which grow in the area over hundreds of years.

Walking up toward the glacier, the weather turned for the worse, with thunder and lightning carrying rain, sleet and snow. Thankfully, we had packed for the worst and so it was only the lightning overhead which worried us! The walk up was less steep than the previous day and so didn’t feel as strenuous, but we were chuffed to have finally broken the 5000m mark. Stood at 5021m up in the wind, rain and snow, overlooking the lakes, mountains and glacier, it felt pretty good.

We had cut our stay in Huaraz short by one day in order to catch a day bus and make our flight (to Colombia) leaving the following morning at 0500. Arriving at the airport at 2200pm we decided to tolerate the long wait rather than spend more on a hostel where we would only be for a few hours. Also, leaving Peru for good, we spent our last peruvian pesos on some food in the airport to tide us over. As the food arrived, Alexz’s phone rang, it was the airline. They had decided to notify us at this point our flight scheduled for 6 hours time was now going to be leaving in 12 hours time… This meant we had to search for a hostel close by, which took card payments, and headed there for some sleep. The most frustrating part of this was we could have stayed in Huaraz for the additional day needed for us to complete the Santa Cruz trek and have caught a night bus to our flight saving on accomodation. The flight company pays compensation for flights delayed by 6 hours, but miraculously for them, it was only delayed by 5 hours and 55 minutes. These things happen, and when you’re away for so long, it seems more likely. Next stop, Colombia!

Early starts in Huaraz…

Day 47 – 48: Huacachina, Peru 06/12/19 – 07/12/19

A few of the places we have visited so far have been based on recommendations from other travellers met along the way, Huacachina being no different, after we heard about sand boarding & buggying, we decided it was a must. Arriving at the ‘Adventure Banana hostel’, feeling a little worse for wear after another long night bus, we hung around and cooled off in the very cramped pool for a few hours until we could enter our room. It was far too hot under the struggling fan for our well practiced post night bus nap, so we headed out for a wander. An amazing and very different place, this oasis settlement has developed purely from tourism, with the only establishments around being restaurants, hotels and tour agencies. All of these buildings encircle a pool of water and palm trees surrounded in turn by towering sand dunes. With the dune boarding and buggy tour booked for that evening, we grabbed a cold beer, and looked out onto the oasis with a collection of buggies waiting atop a dune in the background.

Our trip started with a little climb up the dune to where the buggies were parked, before we jumped into the large twelve seater buggy, making sure we were securely strapped in! The ride started off relatively gentle, perhaps to ease us in, because for what followed needed both seat belts and big boy pants. Blasting full throttle through the sand, the driver swerved, took us down steep drop offs you couldn’t see until you were already looking down and hit the top of sandy ramps so quickly we lifted off before slamming down. One of the best bits was listening to other peoples shrieks and screams – although at one point Alexz forgot his big boy pants and out screamed everyone when a particularly large jump caught him by surprise. After a short pit stop, to admire the views across the dunes, we reached our first sandboarding dune. Heavy wooden boards were handed out along with a small piece of wax that needed applying. All standing at the top of a steep and long dune downhill, a volunteer was required to demonstrate how we were to board down. To many of your surprise, it was not Alexz! With one brave soul stepping forward we (especially Emma) were very grateful to learn we would be bodyboarding down on our bellies and even more grateful when the first person to go showed us how not to do it, hitting some big bumps at the bottom. We then had 3 big dunes to ride down in succession before our buggy picked us up at the bottom. We thought we would be heading home now given it was getting dark, but had a pleasant surprise when the driver drove as crazily as the first time, back through the dunes in the darkness with the lights of Huacachina visible in the distance. We were really looking forward to the boarding, but the buggy rides had to be the highlight!

That evening we enjoyed the hostel’s BBQ and planned our next moves. We decided that as Huacachina was so small and we had done what we came for, and because there was still a lot to do in Peru, that we would move further north and back into the mountains. Next stop, Huaraz.

Blasting through the dunes…

Day 43 – 46: Arequipa & Colca Canyon, Peru 02/12/19 – 05/12/19

Arriving bright and early into Arequipa on our overnight bus, but feeling less than bright ourselves, we managed to check in early to our hostel and power napped. Feeling very slightly more human, we headed out to explore Peru’s second most populous city, known for its pretty streets and buildings made from the white volcanic rock Sillar (Sillar White, not Cilla Black). As we were staying next to the main square, which was decorated brilliantly for christmas, we headed there first to look at the famous white stone Cathedral. From here, we mosied around the pretty streets, lined with shops selling insanely expensive clothing from Alpaca and Vicuna wool, before seeking out what we were looking for. A shop doing delicious cakes and coffee. However, our main reason to visit Arequipa was to trek the Colca Canyon, which we had heard great things about from other travellers. Not wanting to waste any of our precious time we set out to gain advice from the information centres as how best to travel to and from the canyon, how many days to spend there and where to stay. With the information we needed but didn’t necessarily want (as we were told the bus leaves at 3:30am!), it was time to pack our bags and get another early night, but not before we sampled the very cultural food known as McDonalds.

The 6 hour bus journey to the canyon was very beautiful with landscapes of desert, rolling mountains, deep canyons and volcanoes. Looking out of the window we felt slightly concerned when one of the volcanoes had an enormous white mushroom cloud of steam climbing into the sky which hadn’t been there before our comfort break. We glanced around to see other locals also looking, none of whom seemed in the slightest concerned, and so we pretended not to be either.

The colca canyon is the second deepest in the world, its neighbour being the deepest but largely inaccessible, meaning at the start point we were left daunted peering down into the depths and tracing our path winding down becoming smaller and smaller. The scale of this place was difficult to take in and impossible to capture as an image, the bottom of the canyon looking literally miles away and lined by Andean mountains reaching over 6000m tall. A beautiful rocky trail led us down into the canyon, with a significant drop on one side giving us brilliant views throughout our descent, before we crossed the river running along the floor and took our first rest. After lunch, and now on the opposite side of the canyon, the scenery was surprisingly different, moving from enormous rock faces and cliffs to small windy tracks passing through green farm land with complex waterways quenching the crops. This section took some work, as being at high altitude made climbing some way up from the canyon floor much tougher, and we were grateful to see the final section of our 8 hour walk was downhill. Looking down the final stretch, we could see the oasis village of Sangalle where we would be spending the night, an area of lush green nestled in an otherwise fairly barren and cactus lined rocky section. From some way above, you could track where the water must flow in small channels, highlighted by greenery. We had nowhere booked to stay for the night and had gambled on finding somewhere to stay. On entering the village, the first place we walked through had diverted some of the natural spring water into a swimming pool, with people sitting around the edge drinking cold beers. We went no further. A basic room, including dinner that night, deep down in the canyon with the sound of the river roaring past set us back less than £20 and we were soon the ones smuggly sipping cold beers in the pool as weary dusty travellers trudged in up the steps. We ate dinner before heading to our basic room, which was effectively a long shed with a tin roof, walls from nearly floor to somewhere close to the ceiling separating the rooms, no lock on the door, no electric after 10pm and hard beds. However, the sky was full of stars, a few fireflies darted around and you could hear the constant rush of the river below, so it seemed more than a fair trade.

The second day of our hiking route required us to climb from the canyon floor back up and out to the town from where we could catch the return bus to Arequipa. This meant over 3,500ft of climbing up a steep rocky path whilst at altitude, which we were warned was very tough and should take 3 – 4 hours. Aiming for an 11 O’clock bus we allowed 4.5 hours and so set of at 06:30. Thankfully it was fairly cool as the sun hadn’t yet managed to creep over the edge and down into the canyon, but Emma waking with a migraine in the night meant we took it easy, knowing we had a back up bus at 13:00. Climbing up, enjoying the views, we had a pleasant surprise when we reached the top after just over 2 hours and managed to catch a bus at 09:15, which we hadn’t known about, and meant we could make an early start for the journey back. Colca canyon was another beautiful and fantastic landscape on our journey, and well worth the effort of making our way there.

Having earnt the right to refuel properly, back in Arequipa, we returned to our favourite pasta restaurant and cake maker for a good feed. As a city, the people were in the full flow of Christmas spirit, with a huge tree, lights display and variety performance on stage in the main square helping us to feel a little more festive. Our final day we strolled around the pretty streets again, enjoyed a local market, before writing one of our earlier blogs and waiting for another nightbus to make our way north. Alexz’s personal highlight of the day, was witnessing their garbage disposal system, which consisted of a big green bin lorry driving around and blasting the theme tune to the little mermaid (under da sea) on repeat! This way, people knew to stop what they were doing and run into the street with their rubbish, and tip it into the back of the lorry themselves! And this is the second largest city of Peru!

Because we walked up over 3,500ft in just 3 miles, it made us sing this…

Day 36 – 42: Around Cusco & Machu Picchu, South Peru 25/11/19 – 01/12/19

Walking out from the airport in Cusco, we were greeted by angry driving, car horns, exhaust fumes and a tribe of taxi drivers trying to bundle us into their heavily dented cars for inflated gringo prices. We realised, since our one night stay in Santiago six weeks previously, this was the first time we had visited a major city on our travels having dodged most of them due to riots. Our first impressions quickly changed however, as we entered the city centre, we saw beautiful buildings and a city surrounded on all sides by impressive mountains. In this basin, Cusco sits at over 3000m up, making walking up stairs and hills significantly more difficult. More importantly, whilst being a great place to visit in itself, it also acts as the base from which to explore surrounding ruins, landscapes and Machu Picchu.

We spent our first day walking around the beautiful city centre, grabbing lunch and a good coffee with Gladys and Thibault, before organising how we would tackle the next few days, including Machu Picchu. The main options are via extortionately expensive train, a notoriously dangerous car journey, or five days trekking on foot. Short on time and money, we were just about to sign up for the dangerous car option, when we were approached by a tour seller in the street… there were no nike airs, no gold teeth and we made sure this chap had no ties to Fatima back in Bolivia. He explained that we might enjoy the jungle trek, 3 days and 2 nights spent mountain biking, white water rafting, ziplining and trekking our way to Machu Picchu. We haggled the price down, got a great deal for everything included, so decided to go for it in a couple of days time so that we could explore around Cusco first. Fingers crossed.

One of most famous tourist attractions in this area is rainbow mountain, only discovered in the last 7 years as (sadly) the snow continues to melt, revealing a beautiful landscape of striped colours. However, Gladys and Thibault had heard of an equally beautiful mountain visited by 30 rather than 1000 tourists a day, and had organised a car there the following morning. It was the same price for two or four people, so we hopped on board, split the cost, and headed there early the next morning.

A three hour drive from Cusco, through local villages which looked like they were from a previous time, up a muddy mountain road, we finally arrived at Palcoyo mountain. Walking slowly to the top, as it sits at just shy of 5000m, we were left breathless by both the views and the altitude. Lucky enough to be the only ones there, and Alexz the only one in shorts, we tried to capture it on film with our french friends. We had a beautiful morning and Emma suggested one pose which was a little oo la la…

Another day and unable to shake the french pair – Reading this hopefully they can now take the hint! – Gladys suggested a local animal rescue centre doing good work, before we moved on to the Inca ruins around Cusco. A half hour minivan costing £1 each pulled up outside what looked like a disappointing prospect, but we paid the £4 to enter given that we had made the effort. Again, our first impressions were way off, and it turned out to be a highlight of our time in Cusco. A local chap called Peter introduced himself as our guide, and in perfect English, took the four of us around all of the animals they had, telling us each of their individual stories as to why they were there, and if they had any hope of one day making it back to the wild. Sadly, many of the animals were here as the result of tourism, such as Spectacled Bears and Puma who were sedated for petting, Parrots, Toucan and Condor in illegal pet trade, and Coati for their tails as superstitious charms. It was great to see the good work being done and to have the chance to see such beautiful animals up close. Condors in flight and a-Llama-ingly good selfies.

Cusco is surrounded by a number of Inca ruins, with four major sites very close to both the animal rescue centre and the city centre, and so we thought it best to make an effort to take in some historical culture. There wasn’t much to say about the first 3 ruins, all relatively small and well… ruined. It also seemed in an attempt to squeeze more money from tourists, there were no information signs to tell you about what you were looking at, almost forcing your hand to pay one of the many guides loitering nearby. The highlights of the first three ruins was a beautiful walk to the third ruin, through some very beautiful and peaceful countryside, and the puppy we met during lunch who we both fell in love with, to the point we were googling how to bring dogs back to the UK! The fourth and final ruin called Sacsayhuaman or as it is known by tourists “sexy woman” due to its challenging pronunciation (hopefully this explains the photo below). This was definitely the more spectacular of the ruins, despite only 20% of the ruins remaining as the Spanish demolished the buildings and used the rock to build houses with back in the city of Cusco. Heading down the final stretch back into the city, the weather took a turn, big black clouds rolling in over the mountains and the first splattings of rain landing. At that point, as if by fate, we were stood outside a rooftop bar from the guidebook with happy hour on Pisco sour cocktails. Upstairs, in comfy chairs and watching on through full length windows, we sipped cocktails and watched as huge bolts of lightning streaked the sky and lighted up the city of Cusco below us.

An early start the following morning saw us hop into a minivan to start making our way the Machu Picchu via our Inca jungle trek. After a few hours of windy roads through the spectacular sacred valley, we climbed out at over 13,000ft up and were handed a mountain bike each and bag of protective clothing. Impressed with the gear provided, looking like a two man SWAT team we, headed off down the winding mountain pass. Nearly 2 hours of flying over 5000ft downhill, passing through streams, overlooking the valley and winding around hair pin turns was incredible fun and some way to start our journey. The temperature change over our descent was huge, as towards the end, we entered the jungle once more, greeted by the same humid heat and hungry mosquitoes as our previous adventures. Fortunately, the fun wasn’t over for the day as we soon arrived to the river where we would be whitewater rafting. As a raft of 6 people plus our guide, we had a little practice of the important instructions, before jumping in and heading down stream. We went through varying levels of difficulty, all enjoying the more severe level 3 white waters, where we were thrown around inside the raft and had to hang on with every finger and toe. The last stretch of river, the guide decided to test this grip, slamming on the brakes into a sharp turn. Emma particularly enjoyed the look on Alexz’s face, as caught unaware, he managed to stay in the boat by the finest margin scrabbling to grab onto anything possible. That evening we played pool and chatted to our tour mates over a few beers, listening to the swarms of parakeets living in the surrounding jungle.

After breakfast, we made our way to our next activity, huge ziplines across the valley! The roads here were again narrow, windy, with no tarmac and had a several thousand foot drop on one side. Thankfully, the rain held off, as this area is prone to heavy rains and even heavier mud slides during this season.

We spent the next few hours zooming and flying across and along the valley, before moving on to start our trek to Aguas Calientes, the town at the bottom of the mountain from Machu Picchu. The trek was alongside the tracks where the luxury trains pass, carrying far richer people to Machu Picchu, overlooking the river, surrounding mountains and us peasants slogging alongside on foot. Aguas Calientes has boomed into a tourist town because of it’s close relationship to Machu Picchu, almost completely surrounded on all sides by steep lush green mountains, only allowing access via the narrow break in the ring of mountains. This is, in part, why Machu Picchu took so long to be discovered.

Another unsociably alarm clock started our day, this time at 03:30am, to start our walk up the mountain. Whilst we expected a reasonable climb to the top, we got far more than we bargained for, with none stop big rocky steps upward, in humid heat, we were dripping and soaked through by the time we saw the entrance at the top. To make matters worse, dense cloud had seated itself firmly over the mountain, robbing us of the supposedly spectacular views that should greet you after the gruelling climb. We started the tour with our guide, learning about the ingenious ways the Incas constructed their fortress and some of the theories as to why they left it uninhabited so suddenly, all the time looking out into the white of a persistent cloud. The guide assured us it would clear in 20 minutes. After making the same prediction for 2 hours, he was finally proved correct, as the cloud parted and we were greeted with a view of Machu Picchu, bathed in sunlight, that lived up to the significant hype. With the sun beating down, it rapidly became sweltering hot, made worse by the constant battle with other people to get a good photo! There were several nearly combative moments between tourists trying to get the perfect insta photo! We looked around the ancient temples, school and houses before making our way back down the mountain, back along the train tracks and into a 6 hour minivan ride back to Cusco.

Our last day in Cusco, the 1st of December, was Emma’s birthday! Worn out from the last few days, we spent it eating as much good food as possible, looking around the markets and sites of Cusco and treating ourselves to an hour long Inca massage! We found two fantastic restaurants for lunch and dinner, eating some great peruvian food, before meeting Gladys and Thibault for the last time and having a few drinks. That evening we boarded the 12 hour overnight bus to Arequipa, our next stop and the end of a brilliant week in Cusco, a place we would really recommend to anyone.

For obvious reasons…

Day 27 – 35: Rurrenabaque and The Amazon Rainforest, North Bolivia 16/11/19 – 24/11/19

Coming into Rurrenabaque airport, the small plane made a hard banking left turn, seemingly skimming the tops of the green mountains before landing on a runway surrounded by dense jungle. Stepping of the plane, we were greeted by a wall of humid heat, like opening an oven door and forgetting to lean back for a moment before peering in. Not only that, but the air was also rich with the sound of insects, frogs and birds providing a constant background hum that didn’t miss a beat for the entirety of our stay. The overall effect was we both couldn’t stop grinning, knowing we were finally somewhere we had both dreamed of visiting at some point in our lives, to the extent Emma was close to tears on her way to the baggage claim! Waiting at the smallest airport either of us had been to, our luggage was carted over by a moped pulling a small trailer, and given out by hand. The taxi to our hostel stopped 20 metres from the airport and pointed out Capybara bathing in the river, the wildlife spotting had already begun!

The main benefit of our distinct lack of detailed planning for this trip has been our ability to be flexible and change plans based on recommendations… and to dodge political riots. Rurrenabaque has several tour operators offering tours to the jungle and wetlands, but our friends Pascal and Nina from the Salt flats had specifically recommended Madidi travel, as they were the only operator heading to their own private reserve. The reserve, called Serere, was set up by a local conservationist who wanted to encourage the local indigenous people to preserve the habitat and animals by working with tourists rather than exploiting the resources by logging and hunting. Therefore, all proceeds go back into conservation rather than a tour operators pocket who don’t practice in a sustainable way. The animals are not fed here to guarantee satisfied tourists, there is no electric, and so spotting wildlife is on more of a luck basis. Fingers crossed, we organised to head into the jungle for 5 days, the maximum stay possible. Kit recommendations were insect repellent, torches and long sleeve tops that could come out worse for wear. Not possessing the latter, we headed into the town to see what we could find, and ended up with two second hand, male, long sleeve cotton shirts each, for the bargain total of £7. It must be noted, jungle fashion is not the same as high street, however we didn’t look good in either world.

The next day we arrived at the reserve’s office, provided with a 2 litre bottle of water and a pair of wellie boots, before boarding the longboat. Along with two Dutch boys, we sat in single file for three hours, headed north down the river Beni and into the jungle. Whilst we cruised down the muddy brown river we saw an plenty of vultures, egrets, eagles, hawks, terrapin and caiman, before reaching our destination. Here, we were greeted at the muddy bank by a few guys pulling a trailer to collect supplies needed to keep us fed and watered for the week, along with our guide. His name was Alex, as all great men are, and he grew up in the jungle as part of the indigenous people before moving into more conventional civilisation, learning English and Spanish, and becoming a guide. A pretty good chap to have show you around the jungle.

Our room was a lovely but basic cabana, raised from the jungle floor on stilts, with no solid walls, just netting allowing a 360 degree view of the jungle around us. There was no electric, but we had candles, one for the cold shower of lake water, and one for the main room. Finally, the most essential piece of kit, a large mosquito net over the double bed. At first glance, it looked a romantic spot, however any thoughts of that kind are rapidly cooked at 40 degrees Celsius with 98% humidity. The advantage of the netting quickly became clear however, as we heard rustling and watched as a pregnant Tapir snuffled her way through the undergrowth next to our hut.

One of the benefits to the political troubles in Bolivia, was that we had this part of the jungle to share between just 6 of us. The two dutch boys mentioned earlier, ourselves and a French couple who we would end up sharing much of the next 2 weeks with. After introducing ourselves to Gladys and Thibault (french couple), we got chatting about the different places we had already seen in Bolivia and neighbouring countries. Having been our most recent stop, we mentioned the salt flats of Uyuni, at which point they started telling us about their trip to Uyuni and the problems they had had with their tour. Whilst searching for a reputable and reliable tour operator, a short bolivian lady in nike airs with gold teeth had pounced upon them, promising them much… We were not Fatima’s first (and we doubt last!) victims!

That afternoon we went for a short walk, learning some basic survival tips from Alex, including how to identify edible termites which tasted surprisingly like basel, and some things to avoid, such as the Devil tree which provides a home to fire ants! He told us how in the past criminals, such as robbers, would be tied to this tree for several hours as punishment while the fire ants defended their home. Emma learnt this lesson the hard way, but via bad luck rather than burglary. We were also lucky enough to have a troop of black faced spider monkeys noisely make their way through the trees above us. In the evening we headed out onto the lake with torches, spotting caiman by their reflective red eyes. However the light had to be used in short bursts, as it was the night of a mass insect hatching, any glimmer of light quickly swarmed by millions of bugs who found their way into every orifice and crack in your clothing. Looking across the lake it was difficult to spot a clean patch of water for drowning bugs and the ripples of fish helping themselves to the buffet. It was then time for our lights to go out, and the most incredible light show of the night to begin. The light from the fireflies in the treetops so bright, and numbers so abundant, at times it was easy to confuse them for stars and constellations above the treeline. This was one of the things that cannot be caught on camera, and if it could, wouldn’t come close to doing it justice. So we just sat in the quiet, on the lake, taking in the jungle disco.

We were skeptical as to how good the food would be in the jungle, with no electricity, cooked by one indigenous woman called Amy over an open fire. Our first night was catfish goujons and chips. Every single meal, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner, was 3 courses and always amazing. From fish, to lentil curry, roasted plantain, fresh dohnuts and empanadas, veggie burgers and packed lunches of omelette wrapped up in a giant leaf as the lunch box, we were spoilt and stuffed every time. They actually had a fruit and veg plantation over the other side of the lake, where they would head each evening to get fresh produce for each meal. We needn’t have worried.

our packed lunch

Our next two days were full, exhausting days spent trekking deeper into the reserve to spot wildlife and learn what the plants of the jungle can provide for indigenous people. Each day we followed our guide Alex, equipped with machete, knife and powered by a ball of coca leaf in his cheek with teeth worn flat, showing a lifetime habbit. He chopped our path forward and shared his knowledge about spirits the indigenous people believe in, the plants they use for different medicinal purposes and how they bang tree roots as a way to communicate over vast distances in the jungle. He shared some of his much beloved coca leaf and sweet ash with Alexz, although Alexz didn’t find it quite as enjoyable as our guide, as it just added to the already excessive sweating. When in need of water, Alex cut down a length of vine called “Cat’s claw” in Spanish due to its thorns, before sharpening one end with his machete. He would then hold the vine above our heads and fresh water, filtered by the plant, would pour out of the sharpened end and give us all a much needed drink. This was the only water Alex drank during the day trips, unlike us he wasn’t also carrying a two litre water bottle, desperate to rehydrate at any opportunity. We visited the 3 other lakes within the reserve and tried our hand at piranha fishing on hand lines, however this wasn’t very successful and only Alex the guide was able to catch a couple. These two piranha were then added as a fourth course to our dinner that night. We were lucky enough to see red squirrels, frogs, more tarantula’s, Coati, cappuccino & squirrel monkey’s and hummingbird’s. We even saw the spider monkeys again, although this time, they weren’t so pleased to see us and we scattered when a shower of monkey urine began to rain down on us.

On the second night, already after a full day hike, we set out for a night walk with our guide in the hope of spotting some bigger animals and potentially a big cat (Puma or Jaguar). Before we set off, we were talking to Alex about the dangers of the Jaguar and Caiman, at which point he was insistent the real king of the jungle was actually the giant anteater. With claws several inches long, incredibly strong back muscles and their tail/head ends looking similar to other animals, he explained how they have been known to kill Jaguar, especially if with their young. The reserve had rescued a young giant anteater in previous years and Alex told us how even as a baby, it had once got hold of his leg under the table and was impossible to remove and left scars on his leg. At that point, one of the other workers ran in whispering hurriedly in spanish… the anteater was passing through. Later that night we went looking for Jaguar, we found deadly poisonous spiders and got covered in biting ants, yet none of this slightly bothered our guide… but this half grown giant anteater passing through had Alex in a tizz and he was always on his toes as we watched this incredible animal pass through. We did see Jaguar paw prints during our stay but that night, un/fortunately depending how you look at it (literally), we did not spot any Puma or Jaguar but did hear an Ocelot as it took off in the undergrowth.

Our third day was far more relaxed, spent sitting lakeside crafting rings and bracelets from coconut wood and colourful seeds found on our walks, with a big breakfast and lunch either side. Whilst sat their a troop of cappucino and squirrel monkeys came through and we got to watch their mischief for a while. However, they then turned their attention to the rescue parrot, a beautiful blue and yellow macaw, that had got himself stuck up a tree and refused to come down. Alex and the other workers then spent the next hour throwing seeds and stones at the monkeys trying to eat the parrot, before making a long pole from bamboo and climbing the tree in a rescue attempt.

That afternoon we headed out onto the lake next to the main house in a final attempt to land a piranha for dinner…

In the evening of our last night, there was a brief electrical storm, with torrential rain and lightning. At first, we were grateful, as a cool breeze rolled in the humidity dropped we thought we would be in for a good night’s sleep. However, we discovered the critters of the rainforest seek shelter during these downpours and on returning to our room, we were very much not alone. Climbing the steps into our room, we turned off our headtorch to minimise the number of bugs following us in. Alexz headed up and into the room, however the pitch black prevented Emma from finding the third and final step, and so she called out for the light to come back on. As the spotlight illuminated the third step, it seemed to have grown eight legs and fur, as an enormous Tarantula was trying to invite herself in. That was the first of many close encounters. One side of the bed netting was being weighed down by an enormous tree frog, which we politely moved on. Getting ready for bed, we dodged plenty of enormous cockroaches as we cleaned our teeth… all but one which decided to attach itself to Alexz’s big toe. Neither of us knew Alexz could jive so well… and scream simultaneously. Turns out men can multitask. Finally going to climb into bed, with a bad case of the heebie-jeebies, Alexz was greeted with one last (we thought) challenge. On his side of the bed, preventing him from getting in, was a particularly large and evil looking hair grey spider. Between us, armed with a wellington boot and fan made from palm leaf, we swept Mr Wolfspider into the boot and ran to the door, and tried to empty him outside. As he didn’t want to leave, we cut our losses and left the boot outside for night so he could leave in his own time. We were now finally in bed, and glad it wasn’t our first night, as we were now feeling slightly uneasy with every move of the bed sheet and every itch. At half past two that morning, Emma had to brave the darkness and head to the toilet, only to then have to wake Alexz for some emergency bug removal, as her third tick of the week had attached itself to her hip. Alexz, tick free until this point, looked at his own wrist whilst removing Emma’s, to find he was no longer tick free.

At 6am on the final morning (Not well rested and ticked off) before the long boat back, we set off looking for the Howler monkeys that we had been hearing each morning. Around sunrise and sunset each day, the forest had sounded like there was a gale force wind whaling through the trees despite the air being still, a troop of Howler monkeys living up to their name and making an incredible noise which can be heard for up to 3 miles. Sadly, they had decided to have an off day and instead we found a very quiet group of bats snoozing in the hollow remains of a tree trunk. We crossed the lake and looked around the plantation where all the foot is grown, before being real life Tarzan/Jane and swinging from vines. Alex shouted “vamos chicos” for the last time and we headed back to civilization after both realising a long held dream of visiting the Amazon rainforest. We loved every second, it’s a phenomenal place, but far from a comfortable one.

Once back in Rurrenabaque, we found the protests in La Paz were still raging and this meant there were no buses back and into Peru. The airlines had responded as they would and sky rocketed the prices, leaving us in the town for 4 additional days awaiting an affordable flight. We met up with our new french friends, Gladys and Thibault, and had a few days to relax with good food, cards, cocktails and paying nicer hotels than we could afford to use their pool for the day.

We booked the same flights as Gladys and Thibault, heading to La Paz one evening and into Cusco, Peru, the next morning. Due to roadblocks preventing access to the airport, this meant a night on the airport floor. Thankfully, Gladys and Thibault had already had this problem once, and so knew all the best wifi spots, coffee shops and a closed down store where you could peel back the boarding to give us a luxurious private room for a night…

Stuck in both our heads during the treks, feeling like Aliens in a foreign place…

Day 22 – 26: Salar de Uyuni, South Bolivia 11/11/19 – 15/11/19

A 10 hour bus journey, crossing the Chile/Bolivia border, we arrived in the very windy and dusty town of Uyuni which acts primarily as the start point for tours out onto the salt flats. We headed out straight away with our guidebook to find a reputable tour operator, with our book suggesting a few good ones. We found the place we wanted, closed, and stood deliberating whether to wait until the morning or try someone else. Clearly sensing an opportunity and our hesitancy, a short bolivian woman appeared complete with a gleaming smile, as every tooth was lined with gold. Fatima, her name, assured us she operated the best tours in town, and who were we to disagree, particularly as she had some returning tourists in tow who happily agreed they had had a good time with their driver and guide Fernando. The drivers for these tours are really very important as they are not only your driver through some sketchy terrain, but also your guide, cook, and photographer. Furthermore, many of them in the area have drinking problems and so cruise around well over the limit for both speed and booze. Fernando sounded great, English speaking, good cook, doesn’t drink, can take a great photo and with the ongoing Bolivian political problems, tourism was at a low, giving us the position of negotiating a good discounted price. Deal. 

The next morning we were at the agreed location at the agreed time. Fatima was not. After 40 minutes we found her and our driver, who strangely did not answer to his name Fernando. Turns out that was because his name was Juan. We met the other two couples we would be sharing the 4×4 with, Pol, Mamon, Pascal and Nina, who were also poached by the infamous Fatima. 

The first stop was the train graveyard, which looked like a movie set, rusted locomotives and carriages covered in colourful graffiti strewn across the desert tracks. This was more a stop for instagramming than any cultural or historical reasons. We moved on to a small market where we had lunch and the first of the days car malfunctions, before we drove into the centre of the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats. Crunchy white salt in hexagonal slabs stretched to the horizon for a 360 view of nothingness, making it difficult to see where the horizon was sitting. This is where the famous perspective photos are made and where Juan came into his own. After multiple failed attempts to do our own, Juan insisted he took over, getting props from the boot and a mat so he could lie on his belly for perfect camera angulation. Having barely said a word prior to this point, he came to life, directing where to stand, which faces to pull and demonstrating every emotion. He took lots of group photos and then took us off for separate couple shoots, which seemed to go on forever. Each time we would say great thanks, thinking we were done, before Juan would insist on one more! When we all thought we were finally finished he decided to direct two videos! 

What we thought would be the final stop of the day was an island in the middle of the flats, inhabited by Cacti, hundreds of years old. These cacti provided wood to build basic structures once used for refuge for those crossing the flats from the harsh dust storms. They truly looked like islands in a sea of salt, with cars pulled up like mooring boats. Just as we started to head home for the night, an electrical storm rolled in and stole away the sunset. It was at this point we had our unexpected and final stop of the day. The 4×4 started to lose power, electrics starting to go out, when Pol decided to lower his electric window it was the final straw and we rapidly came to a halt. The window stuck down, cold winds picking up carrying dust and nothing to see but the dimming salt flats. The hour and a half we were stuck here could have been pretty rubbish were it not for the fact we were getting on so well with the other two couples in our car, making the whole thing pretty funny.

Some of our photo shoot…

Waking up early in the prison block like hostel Fatima provided, we were looking forward to the luxurious breakfast promised. A bread roll each and an instant coffee with powdered milk failed to live up to billing, another lie told by Fatima or maybe she just had low standards for breakfast? Sometimes you have to laugh and we remembered we were cruising around South America together, it was just fuel for what the day was really about.

We found Juan had been replaced by Qintin, an equally talkative chap, in an even worse looking 4×4. He didn’t respond fondly when we questioned the reliability of his car, so we left that there.

The day was spent looking at volcanoes over 6000m tall, lagoons, thousands of flamingos and the amazing Lago Rojo (Red lake) before sleeping in a mountain village at over 4300m up. The main selling points for these tours are the salt flats, but the surrounding scenery in Bolivia was stunning. There are no roads and the landscape stretches out in a wash of blended colours like a watercolour painting.

The accommodation was basic and we shared a 6 man dorm with our new found friends, on beds made from concrete topped with an old mattress and blankets. It was comfy enough but thankfully we took thermals and sleeping bag liners as the temperatures dropped to below freezing at this altitude. After a good dinner and a shared bottle of Bolivian wine, we went to bed early ready for a 4am start the next day.

The surprisingly comfortable concrete beds were unsurpringly difficult to leave at 4am, 4300m up, surrounded by 4 strangers in temperatures of -7 degrees. The breakfast of pancakes and coffee with the promise of sunrise over the worlds highest geysers and hot springs made it easier.

Another geyser field, like in San Pedro, but still an amazing sight as the sun came up and the moon still visible amongst the steam. We had them to ourselves before moving to the hot spring pools, where the temperature of the water was a perfect hot bath amongst the cold air, so this time we were more than happy to enjoy them.

Shortly after this we parted ways with our fantastic group, as the other 4 continued south to continue their adventure in Chile, whilst we returned North to carry on ours. We exchanged details, agreed to meet up if any of us are ever in England/France/Germany/Switzerland/Greece, and said a final few words about Fatima.

On the way back, Qintin stopped at a beautiful spot for lunch. Amongst barren volcanic rocks were hidden channels of green, providing an oasis for Llama to graze. We took a short walk to the Lago Negro (Black lake) and were lucky enough to see Viscacha and Vicuna, animals only found in South America.

Despite the shortcomings, the trip was brilliant and we were both surprised at just how beautiful and rich the landscape around this part of Bolivia was. We had a great time with the others in our car and this really made it good fun.

We had planned to head North via bus to the capital of La paz, a 12 hour journey costing around £12, before moving to the Amazon via the town of Rurrenabaque. However, ongoing protests in Bolivia with roadblocks and attacks on buses meant that this was no longer an option. In order to carry on safely we booked (another expensive) flight for the next day. The protests that day escalated, preventing airport staff being able to man our flight, and so it was cancelled until the following morning. This gave us one more night in Uyuni, which we used to chill out, eat some good food and play cards with a few beers.

Next stop, the Amazon jungle of Bolivia.

Blasting this through the AUX in the 4×4, as we sped across the salt flats and the dust storm rolled in, shortly before we broke down.

Day 16 – 21: San Pedro de Atacama, Northern Chile 05/11/19 – 10/11/19

Arriving in San Pedro was a major change from our previous stops in Chile, being the driest place on earth set in the Atacama desert, San Pedro acts as an oasis town from where you can go and explore the surrounding areas. Although a desert, this place was far more beautiful and less barren than you might picture, with daytime temperatures in November up to 30 degrees celcius and 6% humidity before cooling to below 10 degrees at night. Sat at 2500m, we were also significantly higher than in Patagonia, surrounded by Volcanoes reaching over 6000m. It also seems we have mentioned or befriended many canine thus far, and as our last stop in Chile, it seems worth mentioning that as a country there are SO MANY dogs, most of which are ‘owned’ but are free to roam as they please in gangs. San Pedro probably took the (dog) biscuit for the most though, with 2.6 dogs per person!

After our overnight flight we were very tired but as there was so much to do in San Pedro, we went straight out to start booking some tours on the main street. The first of which was an astronomy tour, which we managed to book for 9pm the same day, as the Atacama is famous for possibly the best stargazing in the world oweing to clear nights, altitude and low humidity. Arriving in what looked like someones back garden, we had our concerns that we wouldn’t be learning from professionals. Thankfully, this was not the case, and we had three hours of stargazing and tuition! With only 3 nights until the full moon, the milky way was dampened but, we had a great view of the moon through one of the telescopes and learnt about its history. The other telescopes were trained at Saturn with its rings, a binary star and another cluster of stars. The tour was really interesting and we learnt a lot, including how to use a sky map, but the best bit had to be the red wine and cheese at the end!

Our second and first full day we had booked a tour of Valley de la Luna and Valley de Marte, translated to the Valley of the Moon and the valley of Mars oweing to the unearthly landscapes, starting in the afternoon. After nearly 3 weeks with no strenuous exercise, we decided to do a half an hour HIIT workout in our hostel room. Both feeling refreshed after showering we headed out for some lunch, Vegetable Quesadillas with a good coffee, overlooking the pretty main square for people watching. It felt like the best food we’d eaten in a long time!

Our tour guide taught us a lot about how the rock formations were made, the different mountain ranges in the area, and how it was all the results of tectonic plates and a hugely volcanic area. One side, the salt mountains, the other side the Andes, with 2500 volcanoes in Chile! After climbing to the view point overlooking what looked like the surface of Mars, we were invited to rediscover our inner child, and run head first down the sand dune. To end the tour, we headed up a ridge and watched the sunset turn the landscape to a pinky-red colour, just like we imagine it might look on Mars.

The next day, we had a full day tour with a 6am pick from our hostel, taking us to the salt flats, local villages, volcanic lagoons and the red mountains. The slat flats include the national Flamingo reserve, so we got to see these beautiful birds up close and learnt about the different species living here. There was the Andean, with their black tails fishing with their beaks, and the Chilean, completely pink and stirring up shrimp with dancing feet. The next stop was Socaire, a little village at an altitude of 3,500m, where we got to see locals weaving blankets and table cloths from Llama wool and learnt about the mountains medicinal plants. Stepping off the bus at the Lagoons we could barely walk, and thought it must be the altitude, before realising our earlier workout at altitude had taken a heavy toll. Sadly none of the medicinal plants could help, at least not the legal ones. The lagoons were beautiful, once one large lagoon now separated by lava flow, and surrounded by Vicuna (wild Alpaca that live at altitude) and volcanoes. We learnt the white crust around the edge was actually Arsenic deposits, the yellow mounds on the hills Sulphur, and the red streaks were veins of Iron. The idea of this tour was also to help us adjust to the altitude, gradually climbing to a height of over 4500m. At one point we both felt slight throbbing headaches, which thankfully passed, and Alexz’ finger tips turned white. Others in our group were not so lucky, with blue finger tips, Nausea and significant headaches.

Day 3 was a very early start, pick up at 5:30 am, to catch the sunrise at the 3rd largest and the highest Geyser field in the world. Travelling straight from 2500m to an altitude of 4350m in the Andes, the previous days acclimatisation proved important. Temperatures at that time were -4 degrees and so we were wrapped up tightly! The Geysers were beautiful and surprisingly big, with massive billows of steam continuously covering the hillside. We learnt that one woman last year had suffered a steamy end, stepping back too closely in an attempt for the ultimate selfie, before the ground below her gave way. Our guide told us below was a significant network of boiling water channels, never mapped and that no one knows the thickness of the ground on which we stood. Therefore, this place may no longer remain a tourist attraction for long. We had the option to don swimwear and take a dip in a volcanic pool, however with a water temperature of about 25 degrees and outside temperature of -4 degrees, we chickened out…

On the way back we stopped in wetlands, learnt about the birds, and enjoyed a short gorge walk. The gorge was lined by Cacti, which only grow 1-2cm a year, placing these at around 400 years old.

Day 4, and our final day in San Pedro, we rented mountain bikes to go and visit the Garganta Del Diablo which translates to English as ‘devil’s throat’. It was a beautiful ride which followed the path of a dried out river canyon. As the name suggests, the ride through the gorge was particularly hot, with very little flora or fauna on show but plenty of red rock towering high into the clear blue sky. The formations created a maze of paths with tunnels and overhangs which provided us some much needed shade. In parts it was more challenging with sand, that took some getting used to, and a few steep, rocky trails which Alexz thoroughly enjoyed but Emma literally squealed her way down. That evening, we cooked dinner at the hostel before Emma put mascara on for the first time in nearly three weeks, and headed out for some drinks (we had been advised not to drink before the high altitude tours – and therefore, we were now in great need). Buying just an alcoholic drink in San Pedro isn’t that simple as it has been outlawed without the purchase of food, meaning we were required to share the cheapest starter on the menu before we could order the local cocktail of a Pisco Sour. We then moved onto local wine and played cards whilst watching a traditional band play Andean music around the restaurant’s fire-pit.

The next day we headed for the border and into Bolivia. Thank you Chile.

The lyrics couldn’t be better for the Atacama desert…

On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds
The heat was hot and the ground was dry
But the air was full of sound
I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
La, la
After two days in the desert sun
My skin began to turn red
After three days in the desert fun
I was looking at a river bed
And the story it told of a river that flowed
Made me sad to think it was dead
You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
La, la
After nine days I let the horse run free
‘Cause the desert had turned to sea
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
there was sand and hills and rings
The ocean is a desert with it’s life underground
And a perfect disguise above
Under the cities lies a heart made of ground
But the humans will give no love
You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
La, la

Day 9 – 15: Torres del Paine, Patagonia 30/10/19 – 04/11/19

Torres del Paine is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful national parks on the planet, and so despite it being so far south we knew we had to make the effort to get ourselves there (51° S, 73.4° W). 

After taxi’s, buses, walking, a flight and a coach, we arrived in Puerto Natales, a town which acts as the gateway to the national park 2hours away (Still!) by bus. We arrived around 1am and were met by our hostel owner, Alejandro, who greeted us with cold beers and so things were already off to a strong start. 

We used our first day in Puerto Natales to get a clear plan from our host as to how best cover the park in the days we had, stock up on food to take, and sort out renting the tent with super extra double thick sleeping bags at Emma’s request. We had one stove, one pot, one small kettle and one flask, so we tried to plan some basic meals around this. This ended up being lots of pasta, grade 2 rice (more on that later) plus beer and wine to provide warmth in the evening, purely thinking from a survival point of view. The park is most famous for the ‘W-trek’ (4-5days) and the ‘O-circuit’ (10-12days) due to the shape the routes draw on a map. However, sleeping inside the park is insanely expensive as this place has become more popular with international tourists, with one campsite quoting us around £100 a night for a tent! Therefore, the plan given to us by our hostel host, was his alternative way to get the most out of the park, with a little more effort, but significantly less money. Basically, camping in the areas surrounding the park, and trekking/hitchiking to it each day. 

Seeing as we spent a few days here with some bigs treks and incredible scenery, we’ve divided this post into days. Therefore it’s a bit of a long one so you might want to make yourself a cuppa and settle in… 

Day 1: Las Torres

The two hour bus from Puerto Natales to the park dropped us off around 9:30am, and we had managed to convinve the bus driver to let us out 2km early, where we would be setting up camp for the night, at a much more reasonable £12. On the bus journey, excitement was building, as the scenery came into sight and we started to see wildlife, such as Guanacos (like a wild Llama) and Rhea (like an Ostrich). Once our basecamp was set, we managed to hitchhike our way to the main gate of the park, and then again with another car to cover the 7km to where the trekking paths began. 

Initially, the mountain was welcoming, with blue skies and a rainbow to start our trek. However, throughout the course of the day we experienced rain, sleet, hail, snow, severe winds before working our way back down to sunshine by the time we finished. 

The aim of this particular route is to reach Las Torres (The Towers), three granite spires towering over a blue lake, which have become the poster picture for Torres del Paine. Nearing the view point, the weather was coming in, becoming heavy snow with thick cloud and obscuring the view. We started to worry that after around 4 hours of walking up steep rocky mountain side, we would be having a repeat of Puerto Varas, with a view of the inside of a cloud. We made it there, sat down, and started having lunch. The towers were slightly obscured, but we had a good view, and you really couldn’t miss these enormous granite structures… until after 10 minutes of eating sarnies Alexz mentioned how amazing they were to Emma, only for her to turn around and say “Ohhhh that’s the towers, I’ve been looking over there at that blank bit!”

After our lunch we thought we would make the most of the photo oppotunity- just like the other visitors. Alexz asked a man if he would be able to take a photograph of us on top of a well positioned rock. Emma carefully climbled the two large rocks leading to the posing spot. Alexz, ever the aspiring athlete, decided that unlike everyone else cautiously climbing the rocks for their photo’s, he would jump… Needless to say, this didn’t work out as imagined, failing to make the huge distance between the rocks and clattering his shin straight into it with an audible thud. Alexz, as there were so many onlookers, had to play it cool and hide the obvious pain he was in. Emma, on the other hand, did not hide her fits of laughter.

Thankfully the way back passed uneventfully, and between some extra walking and a little more hitchiking, we made it back to our tent for lentil curry (sounds better than it was) and red wine from a carton (tasted as bad as it sounds). 

Day 2: Moving base-camp and Mirador Condor

The aim of day 2 was to pack down and move base camp to the west side of the park from which we could base ourselves for the next 3 days. We caught the bus to an alternative park entrance, from where we had a 7km trek along the lakeside to our new temporary home. Doesn’t sound to bad in practice, however when you have a pack full of kit, food and foolishly a crate of beer, a bottle of wine, plus another wine carton, it’s not easy. Add in a few hills, strong winds and heat, you’ve got yourself a particularly unpleasant way to spent 2 hours. This was the first time hitchhiking had truly failed us. The less said about this part the better. 

After finally setting up camp, we head out for a short walk to some waterfalls, but most importantly Mirador (viewpoint) Condor. From here, we caught some great views of Andean Condors riding the powerful wind currents, before tucking down into the cliff side to take shelter when it got too strong. Upon reaching the top of the hill, we found out why even the birds had given up on flying that afternoon, as we nearly took off for the first time. Other trekkers we met mentioned the winds had reached up to 160km/hr at times and they had been advised not to park their vehicles in the car parks as the wind had been known to shatter windows. It tested the loyalty of the remaining hairs on Alexz’ head (not all were found to be faithful) and allowed Emma to impersonate Michael Jackson in smooth criminal, walking at 45 degrees. 

Dinner that night was tuna pasta, cooked over our fire, with a few cold beers. Much better than the previous night. 

Day 3: Valley de Frances

On this morning we awoke to find a colder outside, the strong winds from the previous day having carried in clouds and a chill. At this point, if you made a cuppa at the start of this, it’s probably about perfect sipping temperature. And that is exactly what we fancied on this bitter morning, to use one of the precious 12 yorkshire teabags we carried to South America to make a flask for the cold summit overlooking the glacier. Emma forgot the teabags, they were back in the hostel.

We set off with our bags full of layers, lunch and a flask of cheap instant coffee to walk, but hopefully hitchike, the 7km to where we could catch the (extortionately overpriced) catamaran across Lago Grey to the start of our trek. This was the second time hitchiking failed us but thankfully this time our packs were about 25kg lighter and we strolled along the lakeside to the boat.

The trek was beautiful, taking around 4 hours to reach the lookout, overlooking the Glacier de Frances, where we stopped for lunch. On the way up, hidden in the trees, we had heard the ominous rumbles of thunder and prepared to get drenched, but this never materialised. Now sat, with a flask not of tea, looking out onto the mountain and glacier we heard the rumble again. It turned out to be parts of the glacier melting and tumbling down into the valley, causing avalanches as it went. During our half an hour break we got to watch five avalanches thunder down to where the glacier became water and was sustaining the rivers during summer.

Sadly on the route home, we had to make a couple stops as Emma’s boots had started to cause some nasty blisters, which we did our best to sort out but meant she had to limp tip-toe on one side. The positive of this was that after the boat back toward home and before our 7km return leg, a couple driving past took sympathy on the walking wounded and offered a lift all the way back to our campsite, and our faith in hitchhiking was restored.

Dinner that night was a rice Jambalaya, made with veg stock, tomato passata, carton veg and grade 2 rice. Having never seen grade 2 rice for sale in the UK, and trying to get back on track with our already blown budget, we opted for grade 2 rice. If given this option again, we would not go for grade 2 rice. It’s looks like rice, but seems to be filled with gravel, and so never goes soft. So far 1 out of 3 for good camp meals, but bettered by the rest of our cold beers.

Day 4: The Grey Glacier

During the night, we had both woken up to question whether the tent could survive the hurricane raging outside, or if we were perhaps already airborne. The winds had ramped up another level, and the temperature sunk further. What was worse, Emma couldn’t walk on her blisters as they were too painful, and so had to stay at the tent. We discussed whether to both have an off day but decided after travelling all that way, it was best if Alexz persevered on alone. That meant a late start, and so a jog/march so as not to miss the boat, literally.

Hiking to Mirador Grey once gave you a view over the top of the glacier, however with global warming, the glacier has retreated back, leaving you a view of some ice in the distance. To get to this point is a 7 hour round trek from the boat, but if you can press on you get to cross two wooden suspension bridges and get up next to the glacier and where it is dropping ice bergs into Lago Grey. That meant a very tiring day for Alexz, jogging/marching around 27miles, to ensure he did not miss the last boat back but it was well worth the effort.

Meanwhile, back in camp, Emma named her day a “campsite spa day” to make herself feel better. This consisted of luxuries such as braving the cold to have a shower, napping and reading in the tent with every layer on possible, including a hat, snood and gloves! Later on she headed over to the campsite restaurant to treat herself to a beer, and watched on jealously as large tour groups tucked into hot food. After getting kicked of the table due to a large group of Chinese tourists arriving she made her way over to the campsite reception and had a hot chocolate next to the fire before retreating back to the campsite to await Alexz’s return.

Tea that night was pesto pasta with parmesan, saved the best till last. Hungry and cold, we both looked forward to this one, and once the pasta was ready Alexz started to drain the pasta from the pot using the lid. However, cold hands don’t work so surely, the lid slipped and half the pasta fell onto the muddy floor. What remained was the best meal so far, and left us both wanting more, to the point Alexz continued to spoon pesto into his mouth. Final score, 1.5 out of 4 for camp meals.

Day 5: The Exit

On our final morning we packed down, made some coffee and boiled a couple eggs for breakfast. However, a couple of eggs quickly became one when a cheeky Caracara decided he fancied it for his breakfast and swooped down to rob us. We managed to hitchhike half of the final 7km journey, which was particularly good as the wind was now so strong it had taken Emma off the path, off her feet, and into the gutter.

Back in Puerto Natales we had a bus booked to take us onto our overnight flight, heading all the way from the South of Chile to the North, a distance the same as Norway to Nigeria and with it a huge change in climate. While awaiting our bus, we looked around for some food, and both had a craving for McDonalds. A quick google maps search revealed the nearest one was only 1,250km away, which shows how remote this place is!

Overall, despite the sarcasm written here and the mishaps, we both had an incredible time here and those things just made us laugh. We saw so much wildlife, including Condors, Rhea, Fox, Guanaco, Caracara, brown hare, Huemul along with so many other beautiful birds which we’ve kept a list of. We had no phone signal, stunning landscapes, our sturdy little tent and actually really enjoyed getting to experience such extremes of the elements, particularly standing at the top of Condor point leaning into the wind, arms outstretched. We think this place has beauty that is hard to match but we still have a while left to keep looking!

In reference to the 7km trek from hell…

Day 6-8: Puerto Varas 27-29/10/2019

Puerto Varas is part of a beautiful area referred to as the Lakes district, with enormous lakes (shocker), waterfalls, national parks and Volcanoes dotted around. We were using this as a scenic stopover on our journey to the far South of Chile, Patagonia, as our flight was leaving from Puerto Montt, which was 20 minutes away and the guidebook had listed its multiple exit points as its most endearing feature…

We were unable to get our first choice hostel and so headed to Hostal Casa Margouya. It’s a difficult place to paint with words but we will try. From the outside, the building does look as though it has been built straight, however on entering its difficult not to roll downhill into the small central common area with paper mache doors perforating the wafer thin walls. Earplugs were a must, with loud, albeit good, music going until 2am and some pretty interesting characters lurking. For example a french bloke who ate rotting veg and sold bracelets, another bloke travelling with his disobedient parrot on his shoulder (sometimes) and an odd Argentinian hairdresser living in the cupboard under the stairs who seemed to want to see ALL of Alexz’s hairs. In fairness everyone was very friendly, some Argentinians perhaps too much, and it gave us a base to explore from.

The weather here is pretty rainy all year round owing to the mountains, but if you are lucky enough to be here on a bluebird day you have views of lakes and snowy topped conical volcanoes. Sadly, we did not get these views and so spent a fair bit of time trying out the various cake and coffee shops and playing cards, but we didn’t regret this part one bit. From our window seats, we could watch the ongoing protests march on, all peaceful and musical despite most shops being boarded up.

On our only full day here we caught the little blue bus, packed with locals on their way to work, to see the waterfalls and trek up the side of a volcano hoping for a break in the cloud. We spent some time at Saltos de Petrohue waterfalls and lovers lagoon, a beautiful spot which exceeded expectations, before heading onto the Volcano Osorno (Active, 2652m).

Starting at Toddos los Santos lake we were treated to a distant view of the huge Volcano Tronador, and hoped the weather would hold off for a couple hours longer. After around 4 miles of steep sandy uphill, the clouds rolled in and made themselves comfortable in the valley, opening up and teaching us to put waterproof trousers on earlier next time! The view point became pointless but we still enjoyed it, with a few more of mans best friend deciding to join us for walkies, eating local empanadas and possibly the best bar of Milka chocolate we’ve ever had with our flask. Tired and wet, knowing we had Patagonia to come, we headed back to rest up.

As we were awaiting a lift to the airport the next morning, the hostel owner was playing some great old school tunes, this being one of them and it seemed the most appropriate.

Days 2-5: Isla de Chiloé 23-27/10/2019

We landed in Castro, the main town of Chiloé, having escaped the chaos unfolding in Santiago and headed to our hostel “La Minga”. After dropping our big bags into our little room, we set out to start exploring!

The landscape of Chiloé is very much like that of Dartmoor, rolling green hills covered in the yellow gauze flowers of spring, running to meet the coastline of Cornwall but with far fewer people. Add into the mix beautiful houses and Churches of painted larch wood, an abundance of wildlife and the weather to match England in early spring.

Chiloé is a traditional island with an extensive history of folklore relating to witches, souls of the dead and the ocean from which many people earn their living, famed for its UNESCO world heritage wooden Churches. The Larch wood, grown on the island, is used to make tiles for the outside of homes and churches due to its waterproofing qualities. Also, houses are built raised from the ground below them, to protect from flooding, make them more earthquake resistant, but also so that houses can easily be picked up and driven or taken by boat to live somewhere new! This practice is called “La Minga” and so we discovered our hostel was not named after an ugly Chilean person.

On our first full day, we travelled by bus to a village called Tenaún, known in Spanish as “the place where houses sail” due to the practice of La Minga and houses travelling by boat. From here, we walked through some beautiful countryside to the waterfalls of Tocoihue, along with a new furry friend who insisted on leading us all the way there. Throughout the 6 mile walk we kept encouraging our new amigo Perry to head home as we were worried that at some point we would be leaving her, but despite Alexz shouting “vamos” several times, she stayed by our side. We spent some time at the waterfall, which we had entirely to ourselves, with flask of Yorkshire tea before heading back. We had been told that buses were infrequent, but hitchhiking easy, so decided to give it a go. The first car we tried pulled over! However, this was now the point we were worried about, as Perry would be alone. We had to jump in the car but looked back long enough to see her looking around for us. We reassured ourselves that because she clearly knew the way to the waterfall, this was a route she often took with tourists and that she would easily find her way back home. In the car were a friendly older couple, who thought we were journalists, and happily took us to the ferry port to continue our day onto the smaller neighbouring islands.

Stood awaiting the ferry, with not much of a plan as to how to carry on, another couple in a car called out to us and offered us a lift to our destination of Achao! After a conversation in broken English and Spanish from both sides, we learnt their names were Andres and Mirza, and they lived in Achao. Clearly proud of their island, they insisted that not only they give us a lift to their home in Achao, but they would take the scenic route and onward past their home to see the rest of island! Unfortunately a recent car accident had left the locking mechanism of their rear passenger door somewhat lacking, and what little function remained continued to decline as we exited the car each time for photos. However, Andres was not to be defeated from being our tour guide, and insisted on making do with a reel of cellotape to hold the door shut. It did not make do and Emma clung on to the door for the right hand bends. We asked if we could buy them a beer or give some money toward the ferry crossing, but they insisted they wanted to bless our travels and that was enough for them. Good people.

Our island guides – Andres and Mirza

Our second day was less jam packed and didn’t go quite so smoothly. We visited the national park of Chiloé, an area of wetland home to an array of wildlife. After our hour long bus, we hopped off to see the gate locked shut with “Cerrado” (closed) across it. However, this was day 3 and we were now seasoned travellers and expert hitch-hikers, so over the gate we went. Turns out it was closed due to excessive mud and a distinct lack of critters at this time of year…

On our final day before moving on, we travelled to a hostel in the northern town of Ancud, called Submarino Amarillo. As the name suggests, the building itself was bright yellow, although not a submarine, and run by a dreadlocked Beatles fanatic and his partner. That afternoon we had a fantastic boat trip to see the bird colonies out at sea, including the nesting site for the Homboldt and Magallanes penguins. Alongside the penguins, we saw sea lions, Turkey and Black vultures, steamer ducks, red leg cormorants, sea geese, buff-necked ibis, kelp gulls, chimunga caracara and a ringed kingfisher. We had a great laugh with the hostel owners who came along to translate for us, and afterwards, they invited us to a craft beer festival for some 8% local stout and tapas. As these things go, it escalated to drinking neat Araucano, an equivalent to Jagermeister but made using only herbs and spices from Chile. When it came to pay the bill, the bar were unable to give us all our change, and so decided to pay us the remainder in pieces of local chocolate, which by Emma’s account was a fair deal.

Shazam’d in the car on the way home from the boat trip