Torres del Paine, pretty epic – Day 369 (28,014 miles)

Although there are many other great things about Chile the views of Torres del Paine NP are perhaps some of the most well known images.  We’d had  crappy weather at Fitz Roy but it was pretty good at Los Glaciares, we tried not to get our hopes up, perhaps more blue skies and sunshine were too much to hope for at this time of year.  The weather forecast suggested we could have snow, sleet, cloud, frost and/or sun!

We set off from Puerto Natales a nice little town around 100 miles from the park.  We had treated ourselves to 2 nights in a lovely little B&B, oh the joy of central heating, dry towels Continue reading “Torres del Paine, pretty epic – Day 369 (28,014 miles)”

Dash to the south-Day 362 (27,452 miles)

Our first couple of weeks in Chile and Argentina would mainly be long travelling days and sticking to the most direct route.   The travellers we had been meeting recently were all heading north, bucking the trend and heading south into winter as we were was getting some rather surprised reactions from others!  Surely what we had already experienced in Boliva (-8c) at night had prepared us for the winter in the south?  Would it get even colder?  Would the roads be passable?  Well, we were determined to give it a go and had around 4,000 kms to cover before we reached Patagonia.  Hopefully we would backtrack later and see more of Northern Chile and Argentina after our trip to the south.

We made some plans and did the washing in San Pedro de Atacama (both equally as important) it’s a nice comfortable little town, definitely the tourist hub for visitors to the Atacama desert.

With the exception of the North and South poles the Atacama is the driest place on earth and the meteorite showers in this region are some of the best in the world.  Apart from chores the only thing we did was visit the Meteorite Museo, really interesting and informative.

Our first wild camping in Chile was just behind the Manu del Desierto, one of the ‘must do’ photo stops for overlanders.

We had the added bonus of sharing the evening with Andrea and Thomas.  Great company and we hope to meet up with them again on the Argentian coast or failing that back in Europe!  Dave G, if you are reading this, what a coincidence!

Nice afternoon tea and camping spots.

The circus is coming to Puerto Montt, they even still have a Human Cannonball!

Puerto Montt is the start of the Lake District region of Chile, basically the land south of this point is not continuous but connected by ferry journeys of various lengths over expanses of water.  We spent a day taking 3 different ferries which allowed us to rejoin the road 200km further south and get to see some of the scenery from the water.  It is possible to get 2,000km further south and see more of the fjords but it is mucho pesos and can often be delayed this time of year due to bad weather.

The ferry was modern, clean and very spacious,  out of season it was not even 20% full.

Another great wild camping spot, we drank our morning tea and watched a dolphin swimming around the bay behind us.

Finding a campsite open this time of year is a pretty rare thing and one with a hot shower is a real bonus.  We found one in the small town of Chaiten, the nearby Volcan Chaiten had erupted in 2008 for the first time in 9,000 years.  Fortunately there was enough time between the start of the eruption and the ash reaching the town for all the residents to be evacuated.  It is quite a sad little town, there were around 7,000 residents before the eruption but most settled elsewhere so now only about 1,500 people live there.  There are many properties in the part of town closest to the volcano and the river (which had also flooded due to the ash deposits), that have never been restored.  The pics above show buildings still buried.  The soil all around the area now is basically volcano ash so not at all fertile.

We plugged on with the travelling as the sky turned white and then everything turned white!

At the end of this day we spent an evening on a campsite with an Argentian couple who suggested we may want to get some snow chains for southern Argentina.  We took their advice which unfortunately meant retracing our steps by 70km back to the only largish town in the region.

We did however get to see the mountains that had been obscured by snowy clouds the day before, very nice.

The snowy pass has been at around 700m altitude but we dropped down to close to sea level again so no need for the chains at the moment, however, we are prepared!

At the tiny border crossing of Paso Roballos we entered Argentina, there is 40km of dirt to get here and another 40km or so once in Argentina so not as popular as the borders served by paved roads  It’s so exposed and windy that the guards made no attempt to search the van and we were on our way nice and quick.

This wind plays havoc with your hair!

And then this happened.☹️  John was able to do a temporary repair with some stuff that looked like liquorice to me and we were on our way to El Chalten in the Los Glaciaros NP.

Guanaco on guard.

We spent a night at the trail head of Cerro Fitz Roy which is one of the most famous peaks in Los Glaciaros.  After 24 hours of constant rain, grey skies and chilly winds we gave up.  The pic above was the best view we had.

We stayed within the National Park but headed south towards the Perito Merino glacier.  Luck was on our side and the weather improved hugely, still very cold but the wind dropped and the skies cleared.

Amazing sunrises.

And stunning views of the glacier, along with the creaking and cracking sounds as the ice shifted and the occasional bit fell off.

Does this little bird not know how fussy John is about anyone touching his equipment?

The best shot we got of a Condor.

Neither of us felt it wise to get into the icy water to give you an idea of scale, so you will have to take our word for it that the the height of the glacier above the water is approximately 70 metres!

Sunrise over Lago Argentino.

Patagonia was proving to be as stunning as we had hoped.

Continue reading “Dash to the south-Day 362 (27,452 miles)”

Bye bye Bolivia-Day 340 (23,920 miles)

The random pic below shows wool being spun by hand.  We’ve seen this often on the streets in Peru and Bolivia, it’s mainly done by ladies but we have seen the odd modern man having a go as well!  Often this activity is done while walking, talking, herding sheep and children as well.

We had arrived at the city of Potosi which is one of the highest cities in the world at 4090 metres. It has a pretty enough centre but the main reason to stop here is the area’s mining history.

It was established by the Spanish in 1546 and for several centuries slave labour made up of local Quechua and Aymara people mined more silver than anywhere else in the world.  Now, silver is a small percentage of what is mined but with lead, copper and zinc plus quite recently discovered lithium this is still the only real industry supporting the town.  Currently approximately half the population are involved in the mining industry but is is estimated that in 30 years or so there will not be much left to extract.

Whether to visit one of the working mines is a subject that splits opinion amongst visitors we have met for 2 reasons 1.  Is it fair on the miners, do they benefit from the tours? 2. Safety, some of the articles and reports on-line claim the miners drink 96 percent alcohol all day, dynamite is used while tourists are in the mine, and it is generally a flippin dangerous activity!

Anyhow, we did it.  We chose a tour guide who was an ex-miner and asked him a lot of questions before signing up.  I was a bit worried about any particularly tight squeezes or crawling but nothing they said was particularly worrying.  We also wanted to be sure that the miners where happy for tourists to visit.

Our first stop was at the miners market where you can buy coca leaves, dynamite, cigarettes, 96 percent alcohol, soft drinks and work gloves.  Not your average mini market!  Our guide suggested we take some gifts for the miners but not alcohol or cigarettes, in the mine we visited the alcohol is only drunk on Friday afternoons and the miners are not encouraged to smoke as this can make them more prone to lung disease and the nature of their work increases this risk anyway!

Before entering the mine we visited the refinery plant, as the ore mined contains multiple metals it is broken down and kind of washed over and over to get rid of the unwanted rock content.  It is a noisy place with multiple machines pounding and sifting.  There didn’t seem to be much in the way of safety guards and there were many trip hazards.  I was finding it hard to put aside the HSE type standards we expect at home.

A  sample containing some tiny weeny bits of silver and copper.

The ore is only partly refined here.  This thick mud is as far as it gets in Bolivia, this is loaded into containers and shipped to other parts of the world for further processing.

View of Potosi from Cerro Rico the mountain where all the mines are located.

It certainly is still a very manual process, the ore is loaded into bags by hand, then loaded into wheel barrows and pushed out by the miners.  There is no automation to help this part of the process.

Watch that hole.

We did climb up this very rickety ladder and squeeze through an small opening, still, we didn’t have to carry sacks of rock up and down as the miners do.

We had heard stories from others about tourists being allowed to ignite dynamite!  Maybe it’s true but here we watched a miner drilling the hole for the explosives and we were advised to move on after a couple of minutes as it got really dusty.  Any explosions are carried out during the late afternoon when the tours have finished.

The miners pay their respects to the devil, called Teo in the Quechua language.  The miners believe that as the mines are underground they must be controlled by the Devil and making daily offerings of coca, alcohol and cigarettes to help them prosper.   At the same time offerings are given to Pachamama the Inca earth mother to protect the health of the miners and their families.  We got to taste the 96 percent alcohol, mmm, I prefer a nice gin and tonic personally.

According to our guide who was himself a miner for 15 years the conditions, health and miner’s welfare has improved in the last few years.  The mines are now run as co-operatives and many miners have cut the length of their working day to 6 hours to reduce their exposure to cyanide and asbestos that are present in the mine.  They have 6 monthly health checks including chest  X-rays to monitor their health.  The change to co-operatives allows the miners to earn approximately 3 times the average Bolivian wage, this means more miners are encouraging their children into further education as they are not needed to contribute to supporting the family household.

It doesn’t take away from the fact it is a hard industry but these changes will hopefully improve the average life expectancy which was only 45 a few years ago.

We passed through some colourful rocky scenery to get to Uyuni, home of the very famous salt flats.

So, the salt flats are well, salty.  Although driving across the flats and getting those pics of us and Juanita would be great and sleeping under the stars there would be amazing it’s not what we did.  We want to bring Juanita home and hopefully travel in her for a few more years.  She deserves better than to have salt and salty water in all her little crevices.  Some people say it’s fine, you get the underside of your van sprayed with diesel and then washed afterwards.  We weren’t happy with this, you also hear from some that as water is in short supply (Uyuni is in the desert)the places that wash vehicles recycle salt water!  So we don’t have those photos but we had a fun day out on the salt in someone else’s 4×4.

The graveyard of old trains previously used to ship salt out of Uyuni.

Salar de Uyuni, approximately 11,000 sq kms, the largest salt flats in the world.

Sun glasses and sunscreen were definitely required.

The Dakar passed through here in 2015.

There had to be a couple of silly shots!

Quite stunning.

We have seen such a lot of cactus on this trip but this is the first time we have seen the wood used to make things.

Furry forecourt attendant.

We decided to spend our last few days travelling the Laguna route between Bolivia and Chile.  It is all dirt road and some travellers we had met had said Juanita didn’t have enough clearance and we shouldn’t attempt it.  Anyway more people who’s judgement seemed sound said we would probably be OK if we took it slow.

Our first night’s camping spot.

The same stream the next morning, a little icy.  The temperature gauge inside the van read -8.5c!

Laguna Colorado, borax makes some areas white and algae makes some areas red. Continue reading “Bye bye Bolivia-Day 340 (23,920 miles)”

Ruta Che, Spanish school and socialising – Day 331 (23,483 miles)

Our plan had been to spend less than 30 days in Bolivia, we reckoned on travelling around 1500 km to cover what we wanted to see so considered this to be plenty of time.  But if you can’t change your plans when travelling like this when can you?  So we headed an additional 400km east to the small town of Samaipata to meet other travellers at a Horizons Unlimited get together.

Nice views to begin with.

Ruta 7 had been badly damaged during the 2015/16 rainy season and is still being repaired, this plus fast detoriating weather conditions extended our 7 hour journey to 11 hours.

Not much of a view.

Then they closed the road for 2 hours.😡

Still, it was worth the journey.  Back in 2011 we met our friend John RTW at a Horizons Unlimited meeting in Chiang Mai and had some good times travelling with him in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.  John has continued to travel since then, so glad we managed to catch up with him on this continent.

A great bunch of travellers to swap stories and information with, some like us were travelling through and a few had made South America their home for now.  Pete standing to my right comes from Surrey, that old small world thing!

Drone photography, good fun although it freaked the dogs!

After 4 days of fun, food and drinking we headed off with John to Sucre which was back on our originally planned route.  The route we took from Samaipata to Sucre took us through some beautiful countryside and is known as the Ruta del Che as Che Guevara spent the final months of his life and was subsequently killed in this area.

We made a stop at Vallegrande, Che’s body was rather strangely laid out in the above laundry room at the hospital to prove to the world’s press that he was dead.  Officially you can only visit on a guided tour which we didn’t have time for, the building is still part of the town’s general hospital and not sign posted at all.  We ran around the hospital until we found the building and managed to get some workmen to let us in for a quick look around!

We spent the night on a great little campsite at La Higuera which was the site of the old telegraph station where the telegram advising the authorities that Che had been captured and executed was sent from.

The old school house where he was executed and which is now a museum.

We had caught up with Pete and Franzie who were also travelling to Sucre.  There where some nice photo opportunities in this amazing landscape.

Juanita in the town square at Villa Serrano, Pete, Franzie and John were able to get their bikes into the hotel courtyard and had rooms inside.  The very accommodating staff allowed us to park outside and use the shower and loo for a nominal amount.  It seems like whatever night of the week there is often some kind of parade around the town square in Bolivia, luckily the accompanying brass band didn’t play too late into the night.

Fab pic taken by John RTW, he spotted this lady through a small door as he drove by and she was happy to be photographed.

When discussing Bolivia with other travellers the subject of fuel is one of the big topics. Anyone driving a vehicle that doesn’t have a Bolivia registration plate should officially be charged approximately 8 bolivianos per litre for petrol, as opposed to the rate of 3 bolivianos for local vehicles. In order to sell you fuel the staff have to record a ridiculous amount of information including your name, passport number, address in Bolivia, details of the vehicle, blah, blah, blah. This can result in a variety of scenarios:- They follow the rules and sell to you at the tourist rate and record the information OR will sell “sin factura” (without a receipt) for anything between 3 and 7 bolivianos per litre straight into your tank OR will only sell to you if the fuel goes from the pump into a can then into the vehicle (as shown above) which allows them to bypass the frustrating information logging!  Needless to say getting fuel can take quite a while and be a bit of a lottery.

Sucre is a small, pretty and friendly city that we intended to visit for 4 days and ended up staying for 13 days! John, Pete and Franzie were all basing themselves there for several weeks, some of the other travellers who we had met at the HU meeting were also passing through plus we stayed on a great little campsite and met other nice people, there was just too much good socialising to be had!

In addition John wanted to get to the bottom of Juanita’s juddery acceleration that had been going on for a while.  Previously he had cleaned the injectors, idle control valve and changed the throttle position sensor but not sorted it.  So now it was time to change the spark plugs, all six of them, 3 of which meant quite a lot of bits (my technical term) had to come out of the engine bay.

The spark plugs looked in pretty bad condition so we thought changing them would do the trick.  Unfortunately until John put it all back together there was no way of knowing.  It turned out not to be the fix we had hoped and a local mechanic suggested John should have changed the spark plug leads as well so it all had to come out again!  Anyhow that did the trick, Juanita is now running perfectly and John having now had so much of the contents of the engine bay out (twice) feels he knows how she works pretty well.

This is Christina and Torsten our great neighbours and fellow campers.  Torsten is a mechanic with many years experience and was John’s sounding board when working through Juanita’s issue.  Like John, Torsten could not rest until their van was in perfect working order.  Christina and I had both perfected the facial expression that suggests we are as interested and concerned as they are about that tiny little noise that we really couldn’t even hear!

We also fitted in 20 hours of Spanish language classes. I would like to say it has really improved our conversational skills but it wasn’t enough!  When we just used nouns linked together with a bit of miming we seemed to do OK.  Now we are trying to use the gender appropriate articles and adjectives it seems soooo much harder.😳

A nice relaxing afternoon spent with Franzie and Pete at the Mirador overlooking the town.

Our change of plans had meant we had to extend both our personal visas and temporary import for Juanita, thankfully both were pretty quick and easy to do.  We left Sucre having met and spent time with some great people and could quite happily have stayed a while longer.  But, we needed to get back on the road and continue through Bolivia otherwise we really are going to be getting to Patagonia in the middle of winter🌨💨😬.

🇧🇴Lake Titicaca and into Bolivia – Day 309 (23,076 miles)

Our last day in Peru we meandered through the pretty countryside close to the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Compared to tales from some other travellers we have been lucky up til now as the border crossing into Bolivia was the first time we’ve been asked for “unofficial” payments.  While being stamped out of Peru the official asked for a $20 payment, after us repeating “por que” a couple of times he said it was a “voluntario” payment, we chose not to pay!  On the Bolivian side of the border a policeman asked for $5 for a Peaje (road toll) unfortunately for him his sidekick couldn’t keep a straight face and it was obviously a scam.  So again we chose not to pay, especially as we had to open the barrier ourselves!

Quinoa in it’s raw state, a very pretty crop.

We spent the night in Copacabana the first tourist spot in Bolivia.  Obviously not the same place favoured by Barry Manilow, there were ladies in traditional dress but no show girls.

We took a slow, rather long and boring boat ride to the Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca, the weather on the island didn’t live up to it’s name hence the washed out skies in the pics.

Our photo was taken by Sandy a traveller from Hong Kong who we spent the day with but forgot to get a photo of. ☹️

The usual thing to do on the island is to be dropped at the north end and walk along the ridge for about 4 hours then pick up a boat in the south to head back.  A couple of weeks before we arrived there had been a dispute between villages in the north and south regions to do with damage to some Inca ruins and the north is closed to tourists for now.  Bit of a shame and must be a blow to the islanders involved in the tourist industry.

John showing an unusual interest in some tourist toot.

So much prettier with blue skies.

Our next boat trip on the lake included Juanita as it’s necessary to cross the water to join the road to La Paz.

La Paz, a city that has an interesting centre to walk around although at 3640 metres it’s the highest capital city in the world so the pace was pretty slow.

You’re never too young to work a fruit and veg stall.

Equador, Peru and Boliva all have 100’s of different types of potato.  These brown and white stone like objects are potatoes that have been dried for up to 2 years and are then rehydrated to use is soups or cooked and served with a spicy sauce.  Bolivian equivalent of Smash! Continue reading “🇧🇴Lake Titicaca and into Bolivia – Day 309 (23,076 miles)”

Cusco and Machu Picchu -Day 300 (21,732 miles)

We arrived in Cusco to plan our trip to Machu Picchu, for travellers who fly in a stop here is usual to allow for acclimatisation to the altitude.  Cusco is at 3400m so higher than MP which is 2430m and the other areas in the Sacred Valley passed through enroute.  We’ve been travelling at altitude on and off for months now but altitude sickness can catch you out at anytime so we didn’t take if for granted that we’d be OK.

Our campsite was a couple of Km and a few hundred metres above the city, beautiful views but a hard slog on the way back home that’s when it’s obvious the altitude does make a difference.

Downhill into Cusco, the easy bit.

Every Sunday in Cusco is a Flag Day parade.  I have no idea how big the Peruvian army is but there was a lot of them here on this Sunday.  Also we could hear the music in the square go on until the early hours of Monday morning from our campsite 2kms away.  How on earth do these people get up for work on a Monday!

We had made the decision long ago that we wouldn’t be attempting a multi day hike to Machu Pichhu.  It was going to be the easy way in for us, we just had to decide whether that would be the taking minibuses and a train for the whole journey or driving part of the way followed by an overnight camp and a short train journey.  The drive was only about 80km each way but could take between 5 & 7 hours due to the twisty, hilly terrain.

We went for the cheaper option to drive most of the way along with the lovely bunch below who we met at our campsite.

Our fellow travellers in our little convoy Kahan, Mel, Dante and………….

Simon and Tanya.

 

Interesting old village but here comes the rain.

Spectacular views in the Sacred Valley.  The journey did take us the best part of 7 hours but there were lots of photo and food stops along the way.

This is how we arrived in Agua Calientes (also known as Machu Pichhu Pueblo) from our campsite in Hydra Electrica.  You can walk the 11km along the train track but the 14km walked round and about Machu Picchu was enough for us.

So, we made it to one of those places we had both dreamed of visiting since childhood.  It’s very special, not just the structures but the surrounding landscape as well.

 

The Urubamba river.

If you could just look this way?

This man was removing moss from between the stones with these hand tools.  Slooooow work.

The downside of visiting this time of year is it’s still the end of the rainy season, we were lucky and had a dry and warm day but not much blue sky.  The upside was there would have been many more tourists had it been a few weeks later. 

Back in Cusco we joined a tourist bus and visited a local village, this was the Witch Doctor.  We have no idea what he said (he spoke Cuecha) or whether he put a spell on us but he had an interesting face anyway.😊

Adios amigos.

Continue reading “Cusco and Machu Picchu -Day 300 (21,732 miles)”

Lima and the desert – Day 293 (21200 miles)

Our journey south along the Pacific Highway continued until around midnight, it took a while to get through the town of Huarmey which had been completed flooded.   Temporary river crossings to replace the 3 bridges that had been washed away allowed us to get through eventually.

Our fuel station camp stop guard dog, quite a mean look until you spot the silver earring!

We made it to Lima, traveling with Serge and Tanya had been great and we enjoyed a nice seafood dinner, followed by mucho wine and a late night to celebrate.

We stayed in the grounds of a hostel in Mira Flores a calm, touristy and pretty affluent area of the city, it felt a little strange and very remote from what we had seen over the last week but to be honest it was a relief.

Nice spot if you like playing beach sardines.

The neighbouring distinct of Barranco was a good walk away and full of nice historic buildings, street art and music.

So we can safely say John is bored with the sightseeing, after helping Serge fix his fridge he turned his attention to this motor home owned by a French family.
Continue reading “Lima and the desert – Day 293 (21200 miles)”

Exiting Ecuador 🇪🇨 – Day 273 (19721 miles)

Feels like we haven’t posted for ages so here is how our last week or so in Ecuador went.

Ingapirca is the biggest known Inca site in Ecuador and is sometimes billed as their Machu Picchu.  Perhaps not as dramatic and definitely not as well known but interesting and a whole lot emptier than MP!  The site is actually on the original Inca Royal Road which linked Cusco to Quito back in the day.  Although much of the road has been buried or built on there is still a 40km stretch of Inca Trail in Ecuador.

Clever mortarless Inca building technique.

The Inca Temple of the Sun.

There was a small car park with nice loo’s and security guards so at $3 dollars pp entrance fee including an English speaking guide and free camping it was a bargain excursion.

We were heading into Cuenca which is the 3rd largest city in Ecuador but on the way wanted to spend a couple of days in the Cajas National Park.  We only lasted one night, the weather was so cold, wet and gloomy.  The plan was to do some trout fishing in one of the many lakes but it really was miserable weather although still very pretty scenery.

 

Cuenca is pretty and after a day walking the city we found a really nice Indian restaurant, what a bonus!  Boy have we missed curry.

The main reason for our visit here was some van enhancements.  John had sketched some roof bars and a basket and we found a recommended workshop to make them for us.

Juan and his team (with some supervision from John 😉) did a great job.  We are now ready to carry fuel for any shortages and long stretches without fuel stations that we may encounter, especially in Bolivia.

It turned out another modification was needed as John’s only pair of glasses snapped clean in two across the bridge. Glue didn’t work but we found an optician who managed to drill both sides and pin them back together.  A pretty sturdy fix, fingers crossed it lasts until we get home.

Negra was our campsite pet, very friendly and like most Labs constantly on the look out for food.  We camped under an advocado tree and she liked to eat the skin and fruit then crunch up the stones and leave them for us to step on!

 

We were heading towards the most easterly and smallest border crossing into Peru at La Chonta.

It was a Sunday so on the way we stopped at the small town of Saraguro, it was market day which is attended by local Kitchwa people.

John had been looking for a machete and managed to get the size and type he wanted at the market.  I really should have taken a photo of him with it then but forgot.  So this is him today unfortunately suffering from a bit of a tummy bug.  He doesn’t usually sleep with it next to him I just placed it there for effect!

 A simple, strighforward, no fuss, no queue and no Welcome to Peru signed border crossing.

We have loved Ecuador, the scenery, wildlife and great people we have met.  They will shortly be going through the 2nd round of a General Election as the 1st round didn’t give a conclusive result.  Elections here are notoriously corrupt but we hope for the sake of the people the current ruling party are not re-elected.  At the moment the citizens pay ridiculously high taxes on goods and property, areas that have been effected by natural disasters are not prioritised for regeneration and huge amounts of cash disappear from public funds.  We wish them luck.

Adios amigos.

Quito and Carnival – Day 260 (17940 miles)

After a few days back at the campsite where we had left Juanita while in the Galápagos we had sorted through the hundreds of photos, cleaned the van and caught up on admin.

We headed into Quito’s Historico Centro to take a look around, neither of us were in the mood for museums but wanted to get a feel for the city.  It was a 25km journey and involved a couple of buses, we enjoy it when we use public transport as it takes us out of our own little travel bubble and forces us to use our meagre Spanish/sign language to get around.

Local musicians, and people watching in the main square.

A day walking around the city was enough to make us realise we are ready to get on the road again.

We did however want to meet Carlos who had been introduced to us by Harry a fellow motorbike traveller who we met on the road in 2011.  John had met Carlos very briefly at the Goodwood Festival of Speed a couple of years ago when Carlos visited Harry in the UK.

Carlos and Paola were great company, we ate, took in the views over Quito from Cruz Loma and shopped in a huge craft market.  They did the bartering so we got much better prices than a couple of Gringos would have done on our own!

The view of Quito from Cruz Loma (4,100 metres).

The Teleferiqo took us up the 4,100 metres, just a bit of walking at the top luckily.

Carlos has raced motorbikes for many years and has been Ecuadorian national champion in several different classes,  the championships are held at the racetrack in Ibarra that I had fancied taking Juanita round a couple of blogs ago.

Hopefully we will all meet up again sometime, the Isle of Man races maybe?

We headed south east to Misahualli a small place in the Oriente region, jungly, hot and humid.  We camped in this beautiful spot in a little eco resort run by a group of local ladies.

We headed off in 30c+ temperatures on foot to explore, this is another way of saying “not spend money”.  A lot of the activities here revolve around guided river trips and jungle walks and they are pretty pricey.  After Galápagos we need to be making our own entertainment for a while.

After a few sweaty miles we found the giant Ceiba tree, it is approximately 1500 years old and very tall (not quite sure how tall!) there were no signs, no real path and in fact considering it is one of the things “to do” locally it is pretty hard to find!

Very cheeky Capuchin monkey.  A lady who was enticing it with food so her companion could get a good photo was rewarded by it peeing on her arm!

We carried on heading south but more centrally through the highland areas and camped overlooking the peak below just outside the town of Banos.

Chimborazo is the highest peak in Ecuador at 6310m and due to the earth’s equatorial bulge it’s peak is the furthest point in the world from the centre of the earth.  Unfortunately it was rather cloud but spectacular anyway.

These are Vicuña, a smaller, daintier version of llamas.

We drove above the snow line and up to a refugio where we planned to camp for the night, it was going to be a chance to test out Juanita’s insulation and the clothes and bedding we currently have.  If we were freezing we would need to go shopping well before Patagonia.

As you can see we weren’t suitably dressed to start with!

As the GPS above shows we were going to be camping at close to 16,000ft.  We have been up to 14,000ft fairly regularly and apart from maybe the odd slight headache and the need to take it slow when climbing hills we’d been OK.

So we snuggled up in the van watching some downloaded BBC TV!  John had taken some pills to get rid of a slight headache earlier and by 7pm it was already down to 3c outside so we thought it was likely to be a pretty cold night.  A little bit later I asked John how he felt, his headache was back and quite frankly I felt pretty awful with a headache and was finding it hard to breath deeply.  We decided it was probably not a good idea to fall asleep feeling as we did so packed up the van quickly and set off to a lower altitude.  Not sure if it was the exertion of packing up the van quickly but within a few minutes of setting off both my arms were going numb and breathing was a real effort!  Poor John he was trying to drive down a rutted muddy track in the dark and keep talking to me in case I passed out!

Anyhow we got down to about 14,000ft and the numbness started to wear off and breathing got easier.      We carried on descending and slept at about 11,000ft which was fine.  Big lesson learnt, we need to take longer to acclimatise to altitudes above 14,000ft.

The next day we went back to Chimborazo, only to 14,000ft I hasten to add!  Unfortunately it was shrouded in thick mist that didn’t look likely to clear.  Still, we visited these ladies and bought nice hand made woolly hats and gloves for the next time we’re in such low temperatures.

We stopped at the very small village of Salinas, there  were milk churns everywhere as the village is famous for making cheese and chocolate.  After our experience  the day before we treated ourselves to a good supply of both products (any excuse!)

Rather gruesome!  The rest of the pig was being butchered round the corner.

The last weekend of February is Carnival all over Ecuador, it’s a huge party that seemed to go on from Friday to the following Tuesday.

This young lad and his friend were having a foam fight in a fuel station, his parents didn’t seem at all concerned about the amount getting into their truck.  Within a couple of days we would realise how messy carnival can get.

On Saturday there were small parades along the way as we were travelling to the town of Alausi.  We had picked this town basically because it was in the direction we wanted to go, it’s in a pretty valley and a campsite just outside the town had been recommended to us.

Sunday started with a colourful parade but……..

then the fun started.

We were “encouraged” to join in by some local ladies, they were great fun and very friendly.

Alcohol, a horse and a machete, could be an interesting mix!

We headed back to the campsite, the foam, paint and raw egg made for some cleaning challenges especially on camera lenses!

A fun time and great memories. Continue reading “Quito and Carnival – Day 260 (17940 miles)”