What does adventure mean to me?

What does adventure mean to me? It means discovering something new, challenging myself out of my comfort zone, taking calculated risks, trying new foods, and learning about a new place and its culture.

What does adventure mean to me?

In Bolivia, I rode a mountain bike down the world’s most dangerous road, known as Death Road, connecting La Paz to Coroico. Take a look at us jumping with joy to still be alive during the 64km downhill ride. The sheer drop from the single lane pot-holed gravel road was hundreds of metres, straight down, with no barrier protection. One unlucky skid and it could have been all over. Frightening? Absolutely terrifying. Exhilarating? You bet. To ride through the scenery that started at 4700 metres above sea level surrounded by glaciers and ice-whipping wind and finished 1200 metres above sea level amid humid lush tropical rain forests was simply spectacular.

Adventure also means getting away from it all, as the red-earthed dirt road in the Gascoyne, central Western Australia, depicts. Or taking a boat trip in Vietnam to visit a remote outdoor coconut candy factory to sample their wares.

Food is also an adventure – wherever and whenever possible, I eat like the locals. I have found myself buying tomatoes, cheese and bread to make myself a panini from a market in Palermo, enjoying a bowl of steaming Pho Bo from a street food stall in Hanoi, and sitting in a cosy pub in Edinburgh tucking into a hearty meal.

What does adventure mean to you?

FACT FILE:

Southern Cross Travel Insurance is running a competition for bloggers to win $2000 towards their next adventure and other great prizes. Competition closes 30 November.  More details can be found here

The Challenge

As the entry conditions clearly state, I challenge two other bloggers to share with us what adventure means to them:

The Skinny Perth & Eat Meets West. I know these two bloggers have plenty of adventure stories they could share – and they both have great blogs if you want to check them out ;)

 

Packing!

For someone that has done as much travel as I have, I have to be the world’s worst packer. Seriously. It takes me ages, I um and ah over every single item, panic that I don’t have enough (as if!), and what is worse still, I procrastinate instead of just getting on with it! I annoy myself sometimes!

I am quite proud of this packing effort thus far, and this list includes what I’ll be wearing on the day:

  • 2 x light travel trousers
  • 2 x shorts
  • 2 x summer dresses
  • 5 x t-shirts / tops
  • 4 x singlets / tank tops
  • 1white long sleeve shirt
  • 1 jumper
  • 1 long sleeve top
  • 1 skirt
  • 1 x 3/4 leggings
  • sarong & swimmers
  • thongs
  • ballet flats
  • sandals
  • runners (wearing)
  • light coat / trench
  • 1x jeans
  • 1 x belt
  • sheer black jacket cardigan top for going out
  • PJs

Not bad ‘eh? Now it’s just my hand luggage and toiletries I need to finish packing. Ok, I’m going to finish packing. Ciao ciaoooo!

I can not tell you how excited I am!!!!  Oh – and today I booked tickets to the Live Site in Hyde Park in London to watch the Olympics opening ceremony on the big screen – and it includes a concert featuring Snow Patrol, Stereophonics and Duran Duran! How awesome!  And I’ve just made a date to see my lovely girlfriend Cat in Rome next Wednesday.  So much to look forward to!

My next post will be from overseas! See you on the flip side!

Me in Tuscany in 2010

Death Road, Bolivia. The world’s most dangerous road and I mountain biked it

Hubs and I getting ready for Death Road

I finally found my Death Road photos 18 months after finishing the South American trip.

Looking back at these photos, I can not believe I moutain biked downhill for 65km along the world’s most dangerous road, nicknamed Death Road in Bolivia, South America.  And I’ve got the t-shirt to prove it!

The first 20km of Death Road is tarmac, the remaining 45km is gravel. Loose, gravel.  Hit the brakes too sharply and there’s  a good chance you’ll skid and keep skidding right over the edge.

The views from the top of Death Road, a 65km downhill road that finishes 1200m below in altitude to where it starts. Incredible.

The ride starts near glaciers and finishes 1200m below in the tropics.

It was pretty cool seeing the terrain change on the way down.  I was keep a close eye on the terrain on the edge of the road that’s for sure.

About half way into the ride, I remember relaxing into it and really enjoying it. The first half I was a white knuckled scaredy cat!

Part of the 45km gravel stage of Death Road – no barriers and sheer drops down

Some buses and trucks still use this road, which makes things interesting if not hairy.

It’s not called Death Road for nothing…

This one above is a reassuring sight…not!

Look at that drop – OMG – I can’t believe I rode this AND enjoyed it!

This photo freaks me out. I still can’t believe I did this.

The edge of the road and the view

This is just one section of Death Road with a sheer ‘holy cow’ cliff drop

Death Road is carved into the side of the mountain

The little white speck in that photo above is a van.  That’ll put this photo into perspective.

Death Road in Boliva, absolute Madness.

Madness Bolivia are one of the better tour companies offering moutain biking down Death Road.  My advice, DONT skimp on this tour – choose a quality tour operator. You’ve seen the sheers cliffs above – do you really want a rubbish mountain bike with brakes that stick or worse, don’t work at all?  I didn’t think so… !

FACT FILE:

Death Road Tours run by Madness Tours
www.madness-bolivia.com
Av 16 de Julio (El Prado), Edif avenida No 1490 PB, La Paz
Tel: 591-2 239 1810
info@madness-bolivia.com

Cinque Terre dreaming…

In ten days we will be leaving for Italia and I can not WAIT! After an overnight stop over in Dubai, our first Italian stop is Monterosso on the Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre is a series of five small villages built into ridiculously steep cliffs along 18km of the Ligurian coast from Levante to La Spezia.  You can actually walk between each village along a 15th Century coastal path, the shortest walk taking approximately 3-4 hours and the longest 9 hours or more.

How glorious does this look?

Courtesy of Parco Nazionale Cinque Terre

The five villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.

I’ll be sure to tell you more about after we arrive.  I’m getting so excited now!

Buenos Aires

Over night buses are the worst in the world! Hubs can (and does) sleep on them really well, I just can’t. Even though we had a full bed on the bus that lies down flat, I still had a crap night’s sleep and felt absolutely shattered when we got to Buenos Aires.  To make matters worse, we arrived at 7.30am and couldn’t check into our apartment until 10am.  Urgh!

We found a cafe a few doors up from what was to be our new home and basically just sat there for a couple of hours, then decided to go for a walk.  We left our luggage at a hotel next door to our apartment entrance and spent about an hour walking around.  Then I was well and truly stuffed – so tired.

Carlos, our oriental / Argentinean land lord met us and it took almost two hours to get all the paperwork done for our month long stay.  Hubs booked the apartment but would not sign the contract in Spanish, instead asking for an English version.  Fair enough.  The agent had an English contract but not with him.  Sigh. Annoying.  Anyways, we got it all sorted and then Hubs and I spent the day getting our shit together – grocery shopping, etc.  It was so nice to have a home – no more buses, no more moving, no more packing, no more rushing around sightseeing…

The day after we arrived it was Hub’s birthday.  I bought her a book by an author she really likes, a jar of Dulce de Lecce (sweetened condensed milk like caramel that the Argie shave on everything from toast to desserts), and a couple of cakes / chocolates.  I also bought her dinner in a private closed door restaurant.

Yes, in BA, there is quite a big underground dining scene, where you go and have dinner at someone’s house.  Raquel who we met in Cordoba told me about this, so I googled it and was surprised by how many places there are!  I chose Casa Salt Shaker – because Raquel was going to be there and it sounded good.

We had dinner in Dan’s apartment in Recoletta with two Russian tango dancers (living in LA) in BA to perfect their technique at tango school, Raquel and her two Spanish friends, American couple from the Bahamas (boring), a gay couple from NYC, and a single NYC woman. It was fun. The theme of the dinner was chocolate, so every dish had chocolate in it.  They cheated a little bit – making pastry with coca butter to me does not constitute chocolate! Still, it was a fun night and something different!

Mum and Dad arrived three days after we arrived and were staying with us for four nights.  They have just finished their South American trip and came to stay with me for a few days before heading back to Australia.  It was great hanging out with them. Because Hubs likes her own room and because our apartment wasn’t’ huge, she moved our to the hotel next door for four nights while mum and dad moved into her room.

We went to Palermo for lunch and shopping, and along the marina for a disappointing Italian lunch one day.  When Mum and Dad were in Buenos Aires with their tour, they stayed in a hotel walking distance from our apartment and ate at a great Italian restaurant near there. Dad was being all sooky – ‘oh i don’t want to go far for dinner, just get something local’ – the problem was we were staying in the heart of the city and tourist area.  So all the places to eat were likely to be tourist traps and rubbish – and I hate eating rubbish! I’d rather be hungry!

Off we walked then towards Filo, and admittedly I was a little sceptical.  As it turned out, I had the best pizza I’ve had in South America and mum and dad really enjoyed their meals too.  The cute waitress was very friendly and sweet, trying hard to understand us and speak English to us.  Hubs and I dubbed Filo our local and we ended up eating four or five meals there!  Each one of mine was pizza!

We went shopping quite a bit and helped mum choose herself a leather jacket – so nice – and dad some shoes.  Hubs even took dad for a gamble at the casino when mum and I went shopping one day!  They both had a ball and walked out more or less even. It was so nice to spend time with mum and dad.  Wish we could do it more often.

I had such grand plans for my time in Buenos Aires – Spanish lessons, tango lessons…did nothing.  Hubs and I literally spent one month doing nothing but hanging out, sleeping late, and basically doing whatever we wanted.

After mum and dad left I did join a gym for a month and went most days. If I didn’t gym it, then usually I did a lot of walking or cycling. There are two different city cycling tours you can do in BA – one to Palermo and Recoletta, and the other to San Telmo and La Boca – we did both tours and both of them were really nice afternoons out.

Hubba discovered the Black Eyed Peas were playing in BA while we were there – so we put our heads together and booked tickets online (in Spanish). – in the end Hubs figured it all out and booked us two tickets!  We opted for VIP tickets for A$130 each – still cheap to go to a concert.

The Black Eyed Peas rocked! The whole process of attending that event was easy.  We found the ticket pick up place easily and they had our tickets waiting for us.   There was no queue to get into the concert, just walked straight in.  The only negative is that we had to queue for ages for an average big-event type hamburger and a drink and the Peas were on late.  They had this very lame Australian DJ mixing tunes that were not turning on the crowd – until he played ‘no parlo americano’ then the crowd went nuts. So he played it twice and looked like more of a knob.

The concert was so much fun! We were less than 10 metres from Furgie and Will Am I on stage and only two or three rows from the front – yes, in the mosh pit!  It was great and the music was awesome.  Hubs and I listened to the Peas on her iPod with my iPod speaker for about two weeks straight!  Great night.

The night after the Peas was a tango show.  Mum and Dad recommended this show to us saying the dancing and the dinner were both very good.  Unfortunately we were sat on long tables, squished between Ma and Pa Queeeeensland, and some German old couple I made no effort to speak with.  The tango dancing was good and so was dinner – nice steak.  The singing in the tango show was not so great and I found myself getting a bit bored.  I think because we were on such a rocking high from the Peas that everything else just paled in comparison.

Our Swiss friends we met in La Paz on the Death Road bike ride were meeting us in Buenos Aires and we spent some time with them – hanging out at markets, going to dinner, etc.  Christina and Manu are great fun, and Manu has an Argentinean friend in BA, the lovely Sandra Ros who looks late thirties, but is actually 47!  She looks amazing!  Manu wasn’t in BA for long before heading back to Switzerland, but another of Christina’s friends joined our possie – Mariana.  It was fun to hang out with some friends for a week.

I shopped by little heart out in BA – 8 pairs of shoes, 4 leather jackets (only one for me!), 3 leather bags, 12 belts, 4 trousers, two dresses, two jackets, 6 t shirts, etc etc.  I also bought a new suitcase to fit it all in! I wanted to buy so much more including things for the house, but it just was not possible.

The 18 Nov was the worldwide release of Harry Potter 7 and Hubs and I went and saw it the day it came out. It was great!  But it’s only the first half of the last book, so the film finished mid-story which was hard to swallow.  Still very entertaining – Hubs went back and saw it again!

BA is a city that reminds me of Melbourne.  Some really green leafy areas with beautiful houses / buildings / shops, the mad city centre with pedestrianised shopping streets and theatres everywhere (the area we lived in – Centro). The neighbourhoods of BA are like this:

Recoletta = South Yarra

Palermo = St Kilda without the beach

San Telmo is the oldest neighbourhood and area with colonial architecture

La Boca:  and old Carlton, where all the Italians used to live.  They worked painting ships in the harbour, so when they finished the ships, they would use the left over paint to paint their corrugated iron houses.  La Boca as an area is really colourful.  But dangerous at night, so we never ventured there after dark.

Lima and a surprise catch up with mum and dad

Lovely Lima.  This city was heaps nicer than I expected. I thought it was going to be rough and dirty like La Paz in Bolivia, but instead, it was clean, fairly modern, retaining some of the old architecture from yesteryear.

A couple of days ago after getting an email from Mum and Dad, I realised that we were both going to be in the same city on the same day!  After some email exchanges, we agreed to meet up in Lima and I was super excited!  I even made a restaurant booking in Peru’s best restaurant, Astrid y Gaston www.astridygaston.com for the next night.

Our hotel was a little odd – no sign out the front, just a travel agency business and a big metal gate.  For A$40 per night each for our  own room, was a good price for this nicely located little three star gem.  www.hotelmiraflores.com Hotel Miraflores was fine for two nights – my room was big, my bed was big, I had a fridge, free bottle of water, TV, desk, wifi, what more could I want.

Hubs and I went for a walk before it got dark, getting some money and something to eat – we found a Tony Romas in the shopping precinct near the beach.  I was SO excited!  In Perth, Tony Romas was where the old media team headed by the other Andrew the Greek in my life, Andrew Kikiros used to take us every so often for a big lunch of delicious ribs and corona.  I had been having a rib craving for ages – and now it was about to be satiated.  Hubs was also being initiated into the world of amazing ribs by Tony Roma.  And they didn’t disappoint.  We both had a full rack and they were yum yum yum!! My God I was full by the end though.

The next day Dad called me nice and early and we made a plan to meet at their posh hotel at 10.45am.  Yay!  They had to be back at the hotel by 1.45pm to do their oldies tour of Lima.    It was so good to see them again!!  We sat in their hotel for 15 mins or so just catching up quickly – then we went for a walk. Dad wanted to show me the shoe street, a street that only has shoe shops on it.  Uh-o danger.  And since when has Dad encouraged me to go shopping anyway?  He must have missed me!!

We found a shoe smith and dad got his shoe repaired, and I took them to the beach shopping precinct and we had Peru’s most expensive coffee and all shared a wedge of chocolate cake.  We did a bit of shopping for mum who wanted some flat leather closed shoes and a long sleeve shirt for the jungle.  It was very nice. On our way walking back to their hotel, we bumped into Hubs!  I said good bye to mum and dad and made plan to meet them at their hotel from 6.30pm onwards. Dinner was booked at 7.45 at Astrid y Gaston, which happened to be less than a block from Mum and Dad’s hotel.

Hubs and I went to the most boring museum in the world, called the ceramic museum – where there was supposed to be a huge collection of ancient erotic pottery.  The erotic stuff was only a small portion of the museum, and all pretty tame really.  On display were works showing intercourse between man and woman, anal intercourse between man and woman, and men masturbating.  Nothing gay. Nothing involving animals or objects – all pretty tame and boring.

Dinner on the other hand was far from boring.  At mum and dad’s posh hotel Casa Andina, I had a cocktail while waiting for them to return from their oldies tour – a speciality of the house – Andina Pisco Sour.  Holy cow it was strong – and happy hour so I got two for one.  When mum and dad arrived, mum had the other cocktail and it nearly put us both on our arses!  So strong!  Mum and Dad’s Nambucca friends they are travelling with Chris and Glenn joined us too.

Astrid y Gaston was a delight.  Great service and great food.   We were welcomed with complimentary hors d’oeuvres that were delicious.  For starters I had amazing duck ravioli served in a broth of some sort that was nothing short of magnificent.  So delicious, tasty, well presented – a Master Chef 10.  Mains I had two type of beef steak – again sensational and beautifully presented – but I was already almost full by then that I could really only taste it.  I would put this meal up with one of best meals in my life. Certainly the best meal in South America so far.  Dad said that same thing.  It was a really fun night with lots of Peruvian red wine flowing, people passing bite size pieces of their food to others for tasting – it was really fun! for dessert, none of us could do it.  The waiter put a tower of drawers on the table – inside each draw were different flavoured chocolates – oh yes, my type of dessert!  This was also complimentary.   Needless to say, I rolled out of that restaurant quite boozed and totally full – after Dad was his generous self and picked up the tab.  Thanks Dad!!

Hubs and I went back to our hotel, picked up our bags and headed to the airport for another joyful night of travel.

Next stop, Salvador in Brasil.

FACT FILE

Astrid y Gaston
Calle canturrias 175
Miraflores, Lima, Perú
Tel: +(511) 242 5387 or +(511) 242 4422

Bookings advisable

Paracas – the Galapagos of Peru

Hubs and I have dubbed Paracas ‘the most under-rated destination’ on our epic journey because it amazed both of us.

I tried to be a brave traveller and caught the overnight bus from Arequipa to Pisco – a crap hole that was only about 20 minutes by taxi to Paracas which was meant to be gorgeous.

The overnight bus was hard work. I mean, the buses are as luxurious as you can get – big almost sofa like seats that recline, and there’s also a slanted leg and foot rest. So they are comfortable.  It was a long journey. I hardly slept, and arrived at Pisco earlier than scheduled at 6am.  Urgh 6am!!! Luckily there was a taxi there and he drove me 20 minutes to our luxury hotel – Hotel Hacienda.  This was five star luxury – right on the beach, a massive pool with little bridge walkways over it, comfy sun lounges and the like.  But because I was there so damn early I could not check in until 12pm – or I could pay A$80 to check in early.  A$80 for five hours – no friggin way!!!  So they offered me another room for 5 hours, so I had somewhere to sleep, that was A$30.  Fine.  I took it.  I was so dog tired, I just had to lie down.

I slept for a couple of hours until the work men began banging away and jack hammering through cement.  Oh my God – you have got to be kidding!!!

Tired and grumpy, I had a great and long shower then enjoyed a very delicious breakfast buffet.  I tried to go back to bed…

The second room was beautiful – it opened up with french doors to the pool area, near the restaurant, it had its own built in outdoor lounge, big fluffy beds with quality bed linen – yes, it was lovely.  Hubs was due to arrive about 6pm.  Paracas is a resort town and once in a resort, there’s not much to do except hang out there.  I was too knackered to go for any big walks, so I sun bathed, read, and relaxed.

Seeing Hubs again was a happy reunion.  She had a great time in Columbia and was happy to have the opportunity to go there. She loved Cartegna on the coast, a beautiful relaxed picturesque beach town, saying that she could live there.   Botoga she didn’t rave about so much.

Over dinner at Hotel Hacienda’s restaurant, we swapped stories and enjoyed a nice meal.  That night, apparently I snored, making Hubs very unhappy with me in the morning.  She declared that from here on she wanted her own room – she could afford it and wanted to get a good night’s sleep every night.  Fine by me! I loved my own space and not having a non-morning person in my room every time I woke up suited me just fine.  I know I must’ve been snoring because I did not sleep the night before on the night bus.

I had booked Hubs and I into a Paracas boat trip – the whole reason why people come to Paracas.  We went out to sea on a boat and saw the most incredible amount of birds I have seen in my life!  There must have been a million birds out there – all kinds from sea gulls to cormorars to pelicans.  All manner of fish eating birds were flying and diving, in a feeding frenzy of anchovies.  There is an amazing amount of fish in this area that it attracts all the fish-eating birds.  This boat trip surpassed our expectations by miles.  We didn’t see this number of birds in the Galapagos – in fact, I haven’t seen this number of birds in any one spot ever in my life.  Spectacular!!

The boat trip continued around some rocky islands that are inhabited by sea lions, seals, penguins and of course birds.  The boat trip was all over in three hours and I seriously could have stayed out there all day, just watching.   Amazing.

The rest of the day was spent chilling out, reading, and making the most of the beautiful resort.

Next stop: Lima and catching up with Mum and Dad!

Sorata, nestled in the Bolivian mountains

Catching one of those mini van from Corioco back to La Paz was set to be two hours of extreme uncomfortable-ness, an experience I could do without.  I had a look at the van, the size of the seats, and how many people they expected to get in there.  The ticket seller said that if I wanted more space, I could buy more seats.   Hmm, I thought about this. This trip was going to cost me US$4.    I looked up and there was the biggest mamma I’ve seen in ages – I mean, her ass went half way up her back and was almost as wide as the mini van bench seat that was set to seat three people!   No frigging way was I going to get squashed next to that!!  So I promptly bought two seats and thought for US$8, it was a good investment!

The bus ride to La Paz offered beautiful mountain scenery.  It was a pity that there was so much burning off going on in the jungle that a veil of smoke meant the views weren’t so clear.

Once in La Paz, I caught a taxi across town to where the mini buses for Sorata were parked. They wait until they are full, which at the most takes an hour.  Again, I checked out the various mini buses and like the van from Corioco, I thought the seats were way too small for the number of people they wanted to get in.   Next to the driver, they expected two people to sit.  At 15 Bolivianos or US$2 per seat, I promptly bought the two front seats and felt very happy I’d made the right decision.  Until of course until we set off, then I had the best view in the house of the crazy-ass driving on crappy Bolivian roads. Oh dear.  The motion made me nod off, and an hour or so later, I woke and saw how heavy the drivers eye lids had become.  Oh no!! I made a point of looking straight at him – he sensed what I was doing and opened his window fully, and was really concentrating hard on staying awake.  Good! That’s his job.

We made it to Sorata alive. The main square was ok – nothing really worth writing about.  I did find the only internet place in town and checked emails, then bought a bottle of water and caught a taxi to my Sorata home, www.altaioasis.com

What a great home I was set to have for the next three days.  Altai Oasis was joy.  It was away from town and set amongst three hectares of beautiful lush natural gardens.   All around it were mountain, some snow capped, and a river ran along the back of the property. They had a huge vege garden, a couple of toucans, geese, ducks, a llama, a cow, rabbits, dogs and a cute as a button little puppy.  There was a bbq area, an outdoor kitchen for the campers, a restaurant, a cool bar, a pool, hammocks everywhere, outdoor tables scattered throughout the grounds, and loads of paths to go walking.   I had a double ensuite cabin and whilst it was simple, I could not have been happier.

ah, the pool

The owners were a gorgeous family.  Roxanne was the gardener, her husband Johnny was the builder, and their 25 year old son Simon was a trained chef, about to move to Germany to study a masters in hotel management and tourism.  Roxanne was not only a green thumb but a whizz in the kitchen.  I ate every meal there during my three day stay – including having the tomato soup three times!  It was homemade and amazingly delicious.

Roxanne and Johnny built Altai Oasis over 30 years and you can see and feel the love that’s gone into the place.  Loads of natural wood, mud bricks – very organic.  Johnny built everything himself.   They use the produce from their vege garden in the kitchen, although this is not enough so they also buy what they need.  Roxanne makes the peach marmalade that is served at breakfast and it was delicious!  10kg of peaches peeled and sliced, sprinkled with 4kg of sugar and left overnight.  The next day it all goes into a huge pot and cooks on low heat for about 5 hours.  She freezes her marmalade to eliminate the risk of it going mouldy or rancid.

Johnny, Simon, and Roxanne - the nicest Bolivian hosts ever!

I was the only guest on my first night there. I was tired from travelling and hungry too, so I had an early dinner and turned in for an early night.  The next day I walked up the biggest mother-f… hill you have ever seen into town.  It was so steep!  I bought a few supplies and walked back to my lovely Sorata home.   When I got back, my friend Viv had just arrived.   I met South African Viv in Copacobana and we decided to keep in touch as Viv was expectantly suddenly travelling on her own.  Her travel buddy had to rush home for family reasons.

Viv and I had lunch and hung out by the pool chilling out.  It was a very lazy and relaxing afternoon.  After a late siesta, we had dinner at the Altai Oasis restaurant along with a couple of beers, and then went across to the Bar where Simon was working. He made us a couple of cocktails and we spent a lovely few hours chatting away.

The next day was hiking day.  Viv and I planned to hike to San Pedro, a big cave about 2 hours away.  We were advised that we could get dropped off by the look out and hike for two hours to the cave, and then from the cave, two hours home.  That all sounded do-able, so that was our plan.  Our stupid idiotic plan! We ordered a taxi that took us to the lookout.  We arrived there, high up on a peak, and took in the splendid view.  Mountains, valleys, roads and rivers surrounded us. With me I had a big bottle of water, a hat, insect spray, lip balm, and one very crap map that was drawn on an A4 piece of paper showing some lines that were the tracks we should follow.

Off we set.  The first hour of the walk was lovely.  We saw a couple of Condors flying around and that was awesome to see.  The scenery was just beautiful.  There was not another soul around as Viv and I followed a little dirt track in the direction of our destination.  Then we came across another dirt track, and another.  Which one do we take?  There were dirt tracks everywhere and we had no idea which track we should be following.  Viv and I both recalled Roxanne saying that we will be able to see the winding road below us when walking along the peak.


We could see the twisty windy road and decided that our best tactic is to head down towards that road.  We walked and walked.  Over three hours of walking and that road was not getting much closer.  I was tired and starting to feel a bit panicked.   The mountain was really steep on both sides of the peak we were walking along.  There was nothing around us.  Nothing. Just land, the occasional llama, and that’s it.  We didn’t see a living soul.  Eventually, we decided to try to head down the steep slope and make it to the road.

I was wearing my Merrell runners and Viv had a pair of runners on too.  We needed hiking boots, safety harnesses, ropes, and an experienced mountain climbing guide to make it down safely and alive.  Sadly, we didn’t have any of those things that we needed and just had to make do on our own.   The climb down was ridiculously dangerously steep and the ground was covered in gravel like loose stones – making it extremely slippery.    I tried to place each step by a tuft of mountain grass, to at least have something to help stop me from slipping.  It didnt’ really help all that much.  Viv was so brave, leading the way. She was determined to get to the road.  Finally, after about 30 minutes of truly crapping myself, we made it to the road.  I almost got down on all fours to kiss it – just like the Pope does when he gets off the plane.

Happy happy happy hiker I was. Finally on a road that had a sensible gradient.  We walked for about another hour and made it to the cave.  The cave was more impressive than Viv and I were anticipating.  It was massive inside and had a big lake in it – the lake was so big that they had paddle boats for tourists available for rent.

After our visit to San Pedro’s cave, we thanked God that a taxi was out the front and available.  Once back at Altai Oasis, I had a long hot shower and slept for about two hours!  Later in the afternoon, I lay in hammock reading My Sister’s Keeper, every now and then raising my head to take in the beautiful gardens around me.

Viv and I had dinner again at Altai Oasis and headed into the bar where Johnny and his wife Roxanne entertained us over a couple of cocktails.  The following day it was Viv’s birthday, so it was my shout for drinks.  Feeling rather merry, I tottered off to bed and slept like a log, dragging myself out of bed at 8am so I could have breakfast with Viv on her birthday before she left for a day of mountain biking.  I had to head back to Lima so I could catch a plane to Arequipa in Peru the following day.

It was so hard saying good bye to the lovely folk of Altai Oasis – Johnny, Roxanne and their son Simon had been wonderful hosts – they really made my stay there memorable.  I hope they have a chance to visit Australia sometime.

The bus to Lima was – urgh – just another dirty coach that took longer than I wanted it to to arrive.  I checked into a new hotel, hotel Rosario, that the lovely Swiss guys I met in Corioco recommended.   They gave Hotel Rosario such a good wrap that I was a bit disaapointed when I got there – it was just average.  At least my shower was hot and more than a trickle.  For that, I was grateful.

After going for a short walk whilst there was some daylight, I repacked my backpack and had an absolutely cracker of a meal in the hotel restaurant.  Delicious fish on a bed of mashed beans, presented in a fine dining first class way.  I was more than impressed.  And for about A$12 that included a glass of white wine, it was sensational.  I was so happy!

Next stop, Arequipa in Peru.

Corioco, Bolivia

I arrived safely at Sol y Luna www.solyluna-bolivia.com, a 20-minute walk from Corioco town.  Big jolly Maria arrived to check me in 15 minutes later, and I killed time waiting for her by chatting to an Italian couple who were now living in Sucre in Bolivia.  Originally, he was from Avellino, where my mum is from, and knows of mum’s town Leone! He also knows the surname DiConza!  Small, small world.

My room was a massive room right at the back of the steep jungle property.  It was a work out just to get to my room!  But once I got there, I thought it was worth it and I was happy to have shelled out an extra $3 per night to get a bigger place with a private bathroom.  Attached next door to the meditation room, I had a two story rustic place with two single beds, a fridge and shelves downstairs, and upstairs was a double bed with a mosquito net.    Outside I had two hammocks to myself, an old and rough looking outdoor kitchen, a shower and separate toilet, and a little area where I could build a fire. Surrounding me was jungle-like forest, heaps of birds and some squirrel looking tree rat things.  The gardens were natural, not manicured, yet gorgeous.  It was so lush, peaceful, and relaxing. Yeah, this place would do nicely for a couple of days.

After settling into mi casa, I took my camera and went for wander. I found both pools, the children’s play area, the look out, the group campfire area, and loads of gorgeous plants and flowers.  It was so so so peaceful and the property was big. While I was walking around I bumped into two older Swiss chaps who had also done the world’s most dangerous bike ride today, but with a different company.  They asked if I was on my own, which I replied yet, and they very kindly invited me to join them for dinner at Sol y Luna’s restaurant.  Great!  It was a date.

Before dinner I lay in a hammock and  was reading my great book, The Lovely Bones.  The food at Sol y Luna was nothing really special. I ordered safely and went for chicken milanese – crumbed chicken.  However, the company was great.  The guys, whose names went in one ear and out the other, have been friends since school and were in Bolivia to climb a mountain, something they love to do. This was their 50th birthday present to themselves.  Their wives and children were at home – and both families were great friends.  It sounds like they have a nice life in Switzerland.

They guys kindly walked me back to my remote uphill temporary Corioco home. I tucked myself into bed, started to read and then just dozed off, sleeping like an absolute log.

I woke up feeling rested and headed down to the restaurant for breakfast. I found my Swiss dinner companions and had breakfast with them.  They were leaving Corioco today and were planning on a short hike after breakfast before heading back to La Paz. They did give me a good hotel recommendation in La Paz, The Rosario Hotel, commenting on the hotel’s comfortable rooms, great showers and really good restaurant.  A step up from my previous La Paz hotel –which had a central location, but a CRAP shower and it was quite noisy at night.

After breakfast I walked into town and decided to make the rest of my solo travel plans.  I needed to change my reservation at Altai Oasis in Sorata, change my flight to take me to Arequipa, book Hotel Rosario in La Paz, and find then book a hotel in Arequipa.  With a list of things to do, I headed to an internet / call centre place and got to work, after checking it was ok to ring the USA.  The phone calls to Expedia in the USA, the website I used to book my flight, were expensive – half way through my call when I was about to change my flight – the line goes dead.  It just cuts off.  GRRRR.  The silly girl behind the counter said that the line ran out of credit.  In my best broken Spanish I curtly told her that i checked with her first that it was ok to call the USA and she said yes. Now I have to call again and start the whole process again.

The second time I called Expedia, the operator had such a thick Mexican accent that it was difficult to understand her, and then she couldn’t change my flight because the previous operator had my details open which meant she could not access it.  I asked her to message her colleague to tell her I was on the line again – no, she couldn’t do that. I asked her to put me through to her colleague, no she couldn’t do that either.  I asked her for a solution, and there appeared that there weren’t any. So I was paying for this call for nothing. So I asked for the manager, dammit. I was put on hold for ages, and when the cost of the call reached US$10, I hung up, totally frustrated.

I then asked the girl working there, who by now had finished filing her nails and was starting to polish them, if these phones could accept calls coming in and what the number was. Her vague response, pointing to a scratched number side the cubicle did not instil me with confidence, so I asked her again, reading the number out.  Yes yes she said.

Third time lucky. I again called Expedia, I went through the ‘please hold your call is important to us’, and the operator’s security questions.  The operator did ask me for a number in which she could call me back on in case this call was cut off.  Cool, I gave her the number in my booth.  Easy.   Just as she was about to change my flights, again, the line went dead and I was cut off.  GRR GRR GRR!  Oh well, at least she had my number, so I thought.

The silly girl behind the counter then added credit to the line, and dialled the scratched number in my booth from her mobile.  It didn’t work. I could hear the operator’s Spanish voice say that the number didn’t exist, and the girl’s body language shrink like a dog with it’s tail tucked in between its legs.  I almost lost it at that point and told the girl that I HAD ASKED her for the number!  TWICE! I also added that i was not going to pay the 170 Bolivianos cost (US$23) for the three phone calls – that it was totally unfair and I was not paying it.  Bear in mind that this was more expensive than one night in my two story Corioco home at Sol y Luna – so in Bolivian terms, it was really expensive.  She said she would call the police, to which I replied, please, please call the police I want to explain to them why I am not paying.

She rang her boss instead and started crying down the phone.  Ohhh pul-lease!  I was not falling for those crocodile tears for one second.   Just before her boss arrive, my booth rang.  It was the travel agent in the USA. She said that tried to call me on the number I gave her and failed and then started trying different end digits – 1, 2, 3, etc until she got the right one.  So we finished changing my flight and I thanked her profusely for going the extra mile to try to get in touch with me.

By the time I was off the phone, the boss had arrived.  In Spanish, I said it was not fair for me that because their lines ran out of credit that I should pay for all those calls. I never would have had to make all those calls had their lines been functioning. He seemed to nod, understanding my point, and again asked for the full amount to be paid.  Meanwhile, he turned to a lady customer and started serving her.  Fed up, I slammed 100 Bolivianos on the counter and said I was not paying a cent more and stormed out, past the silly girl who was now crying hard and sitting on the steps outside the shop.  Whatever kid, do your job properly and you won’t have upset customers – sympathy level zero.

Crapping myself a little bit, thinking the Bolivian mafia might come after me, I headed to the bus station, just out of the main area of town, to arrange a bus back to La Paz the next day.  I then went to a different calling centre / internet place and finished all my other tasks.  I had a delicious lunch of soup with fresh pasta, and found a gourmet shop run by a quietly spoken British woman, called The Pine Farm.  She had a nice selection of cheeses, crackers, chocolate, and wine among other things.  I bought supplies and planned a night by my very own fire at Sol y Luna.   Too tired to walk up the hill back to my hotel, I caught a cab and arranged for him to pick me up the next morning and take me to the terminal.  Easy!  The Bolivian mafia never caught up with me :).

I got home, and started collecting fire wood and building my fire for later on.  I must admit, I did a stirling job.  At 4.30pm, I settled into one of my two hammocks and started getting lost in my great book, The Lovely Bones.  An hour later, getting peckish and a bit cold,  went inside, grabbed a blanket, my wine, and some crackers with vegemite and settled back into my hammock reading.   The Italian from Avellino came past and invited me to join him and his girlfriend for dinner.  My response was positive but non committal – if I was starving, I could find myself back at the restaurant, but I had my heart set on a night in front of my very own fire.

The red wine, a syrah from Mendoza in Argentina (cost US$5) was delicious and smooth. A gorgeous red wine in fact. Mmm-mmm!  At 6.30pm I had 30 minutes before it was pitch black and dark, so I built my fire.  It was roaring and I was so pleased!  Grabbing the cheese and more crackers, I lay back in the hammock and had 100 per cent thoroughly enjoyed my night in.  I was in heaven!  Great wine, yummy cheese, crunchy crackers, a warm roaring fire, a great book I could hardly put down, and I was all cosy under a blanket with no one around to disturb me. There was no way I was making it to the restaurant to join the Italians.  I was having too much fun on my own!  Every so often I had to pry myself out of the hammock to add wood to the fire, but other than that, I stayed there for three hours or so, finishing the wine, finishing the cheese, and feeling totally content.

The next day I was up early, ready to get to La Paz, catch a taxi across town to the other bus station (a term I use loosely – more like buses parked on the side of the road), and head to Sorata.

The world’s most dangerous bike ride!

Bolivia had the world’s most dangerous road and someone thought it would be good idea to run a mountain biking trip along it!  It starts from outside La Paz and heads down down down for 62km of tight twisty road to Corioco.  Needless to say, there are no safety barriers and the drop, should you go off the road, is about 60 metres!   Hubs kept reassuring me that this would fun.  Staying alive – now that would be fun!

After a boring and non descript cafe breakfast, our group were all allocated our riding gear – helmets, gloves, trousers to go over our own trousers, and a safety vest.  We were then driven about 45 minutes to the start of our downhill journey.  There was a safety briefing and we were allocated our bikes, with a few technicians on hand to help adjust seats, etc.  We practiced riding our bikes and importantly using the brakes on a large flat gravel area high in the mountains. We were currently 4800m above sea level.  REALLY high!  Around us were mountain peaks covered in glaciers.  It was cold, but not as freezing as I had anticipated.

Hubs and I before the world's most dangerous bike ride

Then it was time to set off!!  The first 22km were easy, downhill on a tarmac road. There was some traffic, but besides one idiot car driver and one bus, no one came too close to us.  That part of the downhill was fun!  The road was being worked on, so there were pot holes and gravel patches which we had to watch out for and negotiate around.  At the start of the ride, we stopped frequently to check that everyone was ok.  That was good and I think gave everyone peace of mind.

Then it was time to hit the gravel, all 40km of it.  Uh-o.  It was downhill and gravel.  I kept having visions of me or someone else skidding off the edge of the road and falling into oblivion!  This road, whilst it is now supposed to be closed off to traffic, it isn’t.  There are still cars and mini buses that (illegally) use it.   The first half hour was scary, no doubt about it.  My brakes were always engaged and I took it pretty easy. I had nothing to prove and there was no way I was going to take any unnecessary risks.  TI noticed that the scenery was absolutely stunning, when I didn’t have imminent hair pin bends to negotiate and I could look up!

After the first half an hour, I began to relax a bit and realised that if I took it easy, I’d be fine.  There were times when the brakes weren’t on and I felt as if I was flying down that mountain – yew!!  What a rush!   We stopped several times – once for photos, once for empanadas and a drink, and once for a toilet break.  Two Swiss girls on the ride, Christina and Emmanuela were great fun!  They also did the Galapagos Islands on the same boat as us, Yolita II, and had Washington as their guide!  The difference being, they like Washington much more than Hubs and I did.

Towards of the end of the ride we actually had to use our pedals and ride for a while.  I enjoyed that too because I felt as if I was getting a work out!  The ride ended through a watersplash, wetting our shoes and the bottom of our trousers.  What fun!!

Lunch was organised in a hotel in Yulosa where we had showers, and if we wanted, a swim.  A shower was enough and did the trick for me.  I enjoyed lunch and chatting with some of the people from our group.  Then it was time to go. I was being dropped off and from that point would get a taxi to Corioco, and Hubs was heading back to La Paz.

See ya Hubs! Travel safe, see you in 10 days at our posh hotel in Paracas!