The Rules of Travelling

During our trip in South America we always joked about the Rules of Travelling: basic rules of thumb that ensure that you get the most out of your travels with the least amount of hassle/pain/irritation, especially when backpacking. These will also work on city trips.

The Rules have been developed and refined on the numerous trips we’ve collectively made throughout the last 30-or-so years. As my last post, I want to share them with you.

  1. Drink water whenever you can. Sub rule: Always take a water bottle with you wherever you go.
  2. Use the toilet whenever you can. You never know when/what the next toilet is going to be like.  Sub rule: Always carry toilet paper and antiseptic hand gel on you.
  3. Withdraw/exchange money whenever you can.
  4. Sleep whenever you can. You never know when the next comfortable bed will be available.
  5. Eat whenever you can. Sub rule: Always carry snacks with you, ideally enough to cover one whole meal.
  6. Always take a water/wind proof jacket with you. It can rain/blow even in the most unlikely places.
  7. Always have basic medication with you to last two days. Someone is going to need it.
  8. If in doubt, add more sun tan lotion. You get burned in the most unlikely places.
  9. If in doubt, take the photo. You can always delete it later. Subrule: Upload the photos whenever you can. The next internet caf is likely to have a really slow connection 🙂
  10. Finally a top tip for preventing “holiday hangover”: start planning your next trip while travelling. Even better if you can book it before you go!

P.S. Check out our 50 favourite photos from the trip

Lake Titicaca

We just got back from a cool trip on Lake Titicaca, the famous body of water that borders Bolivia and Peru. We took a boat out and visited the man made reed Islands of Uros, and then continued on to the lovely Island of Amantaní, where we stayed with a local family that put us up for the night.

Life is very basic on this island, but the people seem happy and are very hospitable. Our adoptive mother cooked us amazing local food in the most basic of kitchens, which would put most of us with our fancy kitchens to shame! We played football against the locals (not sure who won really), then we had a really fun dancing party in the evening where the locals dressed us up in traditional clothes for the occasion. The womens garments were really beautiful and colourful, whilst the men had to make do with ponchos (i quite liked mine) and those silly pointed woollen hats that abound in the Andes. We had a really good night, bit of wine and dancing with the locals to music from the local bands which included 2 kids from our family. 

The family we stayed with where really nice, and had 4 kids, including their 5 year old son Oscar who was a real character. It definitely was a worthwhile experience and once again showed us how different life can be around the world.

Now we are back in Puno, and the next stops will be Cuzco, the Amazon jungle and Machu Picchu – cant wait!

World’s Most Dangerous Road

We’ve just had the most exhilarating, scary, amazing and mind numbingly mystifying experience possible. After chilling for one day in La Paz (world’s highest capital at 3,600m above sea level), we decided that it was time for some action.

Yungas Road, also known as the World’s Most Dangerous Road, has more fatalities per km than any other road in the world.  The 64km single-lane gravel road has a straight dropoff of 400m on the left, and a straight mountain wall on the right. It has no guardrails, and due to it’s twisty nature you can’t see the opposing traffic.

It was replaced by a new, wide, paved road so most of the motor traffic is now gone, leaving the Yungas road for the mountain bikers.  Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking has one of the best safety records for organising mountain biking trips down the Yungas road, and until last Saturday, they had not had any fatalities during their 10 years of existence…

Us and 12 other travellers with a slight death wish met with our two guides Dale and Jube at 7am to start what has got to be one, if not THE, scariest thing I’ve ever done. 

By 9:30am we were at 4,700m high in the Bolivian Andes and started our 4,5hr ride down the mountain. The first 5km were on the new road (the wide, paved one), which was otherwise fine except we were going down at 40km/hr, overtaking trucks and other bikers. And that was the easy part.

Due to the recent accident (56-yo American guy fell off his bike and 400m down),  our guides were pretty paranoid about the safety and scared us to death with their horror stories of how long it would take to get the helicopter/ambulance to the road should any of us fall down the mountain. On a positive side it made sure that all the adrenaline nutters in our group also slowed down!!!

The next 3,5 hrs we drove down this amazing, beautiful, mystical mountain road, riding through water falls and stopping every now and then to admire the most awesome forest covered mountains everywhere . It truly was like Jurassic Parc – you half expected a dinosaur to stand on the road after the next turn.

Fortunately no dinosaurs, cars, people, animals or indeed anything else was standing on the road (at least not on our group’s path) and we got down the whlo 64km without incidents. During the three hour decent from 4,7km to 1,1km we peeled off layer after layer of clothing as the climate at the bottom is tropical.

Our efforts (four hours of squeezing the breaks and standing on the pedals at high altitude!) we were rewarded by cold beer and a nice lunch buffet at the local animal sanctuary. Photos to follow (sorry, still not able to upload any), but in the meanwhile have a look at some of the photos on the Gravity website.

Uyuni, Uyuuniiii!

After Potosi we took off for Uyuni and the Salt Flats, it was another 6 hour bus journey through bumpy gravel roads, but the scenery was really spectacular – amazing mountain ranges and lamas all over the place!

Uyuni is a town out in the middle of salty nowhere, not much going on apart from the tours to the salt flats and the amazing pizza (see below).

You wont believe the salt flats until you see them – huge expanses of bright white salt, stretching out for miles. We cruised into them in our 4WD jeeps, it was so much fun. We stopped off for lunch at a small salt hotel (made from salt bricks), it reminded me of the Police song “Tea in the Sahara”. After that we did our first round of taking crazy photos – basically you get really weird effects with the aid of well placed props and people because you dont get a sense of perspective out there. Check out our photos soon for some crazy shots!

We also went to visit some really cool caves nearby which had fossiled coral in them, and an ancient Indian burial cave (cue poltergeist music), a sort of island in the middle of the flats that had crazy giant cacti, and stayed the night in a salt hotel – which was actually remarkably comfortable!

Oh, and for the Pizza lovers out there, this town has AMAZING PIZZA. We stayed in the Tonito hotel, and as its restaurant it has a brilliant bar/restaurant that makes killer pizzas. Its owned by an American guy, i think he ran some pizzerias in Italy too. Man, he knows his stuff! Sanni and I highly recommend the spicy Llama pizza.

Think your job is hard…?

Then try mining for silver in Bolivia!

In Potosi we had the opportunity to visit the local silver mines to experience what life is like for miners in Bolivia. Just before leaving Sucre we watched a movie called “The Devils Miner“, which gave us some background on just how hard life can be, especially for orphaned children in mining towns.

Basically life is grim. The people in these towns are generally very poor, and even more so in the mining communities. You even get young teenage kids working the mines to support their families, which is really heartbraking. They have to buy all their own equipment, and unless they are first class miners (bosses of cooperatives) they wont get medical compensation, which is a bummer as after a few years of working the mines you start to get silicosis in your lungs. On a good day miners can expect to earn about 3GBP per day. Kids still work the mines, on out tour we saw two 14 year old boys pushing a heavy mining cart down in the tunnels. It is back breaking work, we were sweating and panting just from going around the mine for an hour or two, and the miners spend 8 hours a day there!

Each mine also has a Tio, which is a statue of a kind of devil to which the miners give offerings so that the devil doesnt kill them in the mines. Quite scary, even worse than some bosses I have had!

Despite all that we really thought the tour was worth taking, you get to buy presents for the miners (Coca leaves, cigarettes, snacks, and DYNAMITE!!), you get to crawl around tiny tunnels and see how they follow the veins to extract minerals (silver, zinc, lead), and in the end we got to detonate some dynamite. Fun!

Pictures to follow as soon as possible, its just that the connections after Brazil have gotten really slow, so we dont have time to upload them. But we will try!!

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore

We arrived in Bolivia last Friday and spent the first night in the wealthy city of Santa Cruz. The hotel was supposed to have a sauna and a swimming pool, but the former wasn´t on, and the latter was ice cold but we bravely had a swim nevertheless.  It was like swimming in a lake in Finland in the winter, but without the sauna. Brrrr….

The next day we continued to Sucre, a pretty colonial style town where all the buildings are painted white. Sucre is 2,700m above sea level and you really feel it. It´s a weird feeling trying to walk up a couple of flights of stairs and feeling really light headed and out of breach immediately! On the first night I got altitude sickness in the form of a banging headache.  The next day we bought a bag of coca leaves from the local market, and have been having several cups of coca tea every day since, which seems to be working well so we´ve both been feeling fine since. 

Everything and everyone looks very different here, it feels like like being in one of the Tintin books. The local indigenous women carry their babies in beautiful coloured cloths on their backs, and wear the black hats – it´s like reading a National Geographic magazine.

We had a couple of days taking it easy in Sucre to acclimatise for Potosi and La Paz (which are at 4,000m), so we just lazied around, ate lots of excellent food (the locals have a dish called “Mountain of food” – mmm) and drank the lovely local wine. On Monday night we ended up in a local club/karaoke bar where yours truly performed an excellent rendition of the Dancing Queen 🙂

The bus trip to Potosi yesterday was a bit of a nightmare as the bus driver was speeding down this twisty-turny mountain road, and then he blew a tyre.  The locals started screaming and the bus slowed down to a halt. As Ville and I had heard the very sad news about the bus crash in Malaga (10 Finnish holiday makers died, several more were injured) we were both quite worried about the rest of the journey, as the replacement tyre (or indeed any of the tyres) had very little surface left on them…

We got to Potosi (a mining town with a very sad past) in the end, and for the first time on the journey I felt like we were far, far away from home. “Toto, we´re not in Kansas anymore”.

Welcome to the jungle

I am writing this in the border town of Corumba, which has excellent pizza al forno and is very charming, we are going to fly into Bolivia in a few hours time, so it will be bye bye Brazil!

We spent the last few days in the wetlands of the Pantanal, staying in jungle lodges by the riverside, surrounded by wildlife. On the first day we fished for Piranhas (photos coming up!), the second day we went walking through the pantanal wetlands in flip flops, so you cant really get more involved than that. As if that was´nt enough, we also took a horse ride through the wetlands, which was a very odd experience, being knee high in water most of the time. This could have been avoided if the Gauchos had given me a steed worthy of my height, but I guess it was their little idea of a joke. Apparently I looked very amusing from the back when my horse decided to spring off on one of many random gallops!

It was great to spend a little time out of the cities and in some nature, even if every night we were awoken to the sounds of the local Howler monkeys having some sort of rave in the communal areas of our resort. Sanni has perfected an impression which I´m sure she will demonstrate on our return.

We are sad to leave Brazil as the people are great and we have seen so many amazing things during the past 2/3 weeks here, but we are also looking forward to the next leg of our adventure.

Muy Bonito!

After hot Asuncion we headed to back to Brazil. The bus had airconditioning this time, so in principle the 5-6 hr journey was going to more comfortable than the cattle-car experience previously.

Only the driver decided to earn a few extra guaranis and the coach stopped literally every 5-10 minutes to pick up a few ‘extra’ locals, who stood in the aisle as the bus was fully booked. During the trip (which in the end lasted 7 hours due to the extra stops), over 30 additional passengers with all their luggage boarded and got off the bus. Some had small children in their laps, there was even a whole family with 3 kids.  Amongst all this,  people selling drinks, snacks, sun glasses, watches, DVDs or razor blades would occasionally get on the coach and negotiate their way past all the passengers and get off at the next stop.  All part of the Latin America experience!!

Instead of the quick overnight stay at the completely unremarkable border town Ponta Bora, we ended up spending the morning waiting for the federal police (who also act as the immigration office) to finish the aftermath of a big drug bust from the previous night. All part of the…

We finally arrived in Bonito (‘pretty’ in Portuguese), which is true to its name – nice, small relaxing little town after the big, busy cities.  A lot of Brasilians come here on holiday e.g. from Sao Paulo.

Today we went snorkeling down Rio da Prata, a crystal clear shallow river which is full of freshwater fish.  Slowly drifting down the warm waters (+24C) for over an hour spotting fish, occasionally popping your head out of the water to see birds and other animals on the river banks was easily the best snorkeling experience we´ve had.  Photos on the Rio da Prata site.

It’s a shame to leave Bonito already tomorrow, as there would have been loads of other good day trips to do here!