Posts Tagged With: g-adventures

Epi-BLOG: So this is it… and that was that

MARK/SARAH:  So this is it.   Or perhaps we should say, “that was that”.  This, our last overseas blog post of our epic MASTERS 2015/2016 Round the World Trip.  What do you say on such an auspicious occasion?  To quote Freddie, our Swiss traveller friend, “it was fine”, which translates from Swiss-German into English as “we had a blast”.

A BLAST

A BLAST

Well we had a blast for most of the time. The last few days here in Brazil have in truth been very hard work.  It’s been a bit like the prelude to your Summer holiday when you are running on empty at work and desperately in need of a break.  We need a break from all this travelling and could do with a good holiday.  Two hundred and sixty four days is a long time in anybody’s money and we can’t wait to get home now.  Brazil and South America in general have been good.  The fact that I’m not saying “fantastic or brilliant” says more about our present state of mind rather than the countries we have visited.  You know you have had enough when you stare at the magnificent Iguassu Falls and think to yourself “they’re nice”.  They’re nice for God’s sake, is that all you can say?

Another Rainbow....

Another Rainbow….

Our thoughts are now very much in the future.  Back in the UK, with family and friends.  Looking forward to the next chapter in our life story which promises to be equally as challenging and exciting as the last nine months.  What does that future looks like? The pieces of the jigsaw are now all turned over on the dining room table.  They are ready to be assembled and the dream will become a reality during the months to come.  That there is no doubt.

Turning our World upside down

Turning our World upside down

But back to the here and now for a minute.  This blog is a bit of a “dog’s dinner” in terms of content.  However the format is clear.

Firstly, over to you our dear readers, and a big thanks to all the many people, who after the last blog, sent in their questions about our trip.  We’ll endeavour to answer them jointly in an open and honest way.  Next up is our TOP 5 (or nearly 5) section where we reveal a range of our TOP likes and dislikes.  Then it’s on to the final stats count where we add up all the various methods of transportation from bus to boat, tuk-tuk to train.  That’s it.  All clear?  Good, let’s begin!

Speed King

Speed King

ANY QUESTIONS?

First up a question from Ian P, who I would like to first of all publicly thank for all his personal support during our trip.  Ian is one of those people you need when you are embarking on a trip like this.  He was extremely wise council before we left with various tips, ideas and suggestions.  Together with Linda, they kindly bought us very useful gifts.  And then most importantly he stayed in touch acting as a father figure/mentor through the ups and downs, the highlights and the low-lights. Thanks mate, so looking forward to seeing you.

IAN ASKS:  I have two challenging questions for you both; Firstly, what do you suppose the true cost of your trip has been? I don’t mean Pounds, shillings and pence either but I think you know that.  Secondly what has been the value of the trip to you both – that might be two different answers?

Thanks Ian.  This one made us think very hard at 0630 in the morning flying from Iguassu Foz to Sao Paulo.  We guess you mean by the word “cost”, the downside to the trip.  Or put another way, the “opportunity cost” – what we’ve missed out on by embarking on a trip like this.  We hope this is what you meant?

Now Sir.....

Now Sir…..

In truth, “not a lot” is the first thought that springs to mind.  Good old Yorkshire tea is a starter for ten. We’ve missed the British seasons – chasing the sun has worked – 25 days rain only in 264.  But there’s a lot to be said by the UK’s changing seasons, the Autumn tints and the first signs of Spring.  We suppose you could bring in here the “true cost of friendship” and people we care about who have been thousands of miles away…. But this has been countered to some extent by the hundreds of people we have met around the World and also the great experience of staying with Sarah’s brother Shane and his family over Christmas in Australia.  I have known Shane as my brother-in-law for over 30 years.  But we have never spent more than a couple of days together.  So having the chance to spend “real quality time” to use that awful expression was a real plus….

Shane and Eddie - lads!

Shane and Eddie – lads!

That last statement makes me think we are moving into Part 2 of your question – the value of the trip to you both…

The value is hard to quantify in terms of pounds shillings and pence.  If we had to guess, it would be like the Mastercard Advertisement – PRICELESS.  Do we regret not buying a couple of BMWs, building an extension or putting a sizeable down payment on a holiday home instead?  NO is the simple two letter answer.  We feel much richer than simple material possessions can bring because of the hundreds of positive experiences we’ve had.

The question really is where on Earth (if you pardon the pun) do you begin to start when reviewing each experience and the value there attached?  We’ve experienced the value of seeing so many different cultures at first hand – from poor Buddhist farmers in Nepal to City Bankers (I said bankers) in Hong Kong.  Different landscapes have amazed us at every turn from the Salt Flats of Bolivia to the snow-capped peaks of Mount Everest and the stunning beauty of the Great Barrier Reef.  One of the reasons we wrote the blog was so that we could look back and remember in months and years to come.  Without this aide-memoire, complete with photos we would struggle to take it all in.

Sarah Attenborough

Sarah Attenborough

The value of having time to think cannot be under-estimated.  We managed a year ago to get off the corporate roundabout where we both latterly never really had time to think. Not having to worry about deadlines and targets has been wonderful and yet we are both now ready to revisit the western World of Work, except this time it will be very much on “our terms”.

Finally, we know exactly who and what we are as people and this trip has been valuable in giving us the time and opportunity to confirm this.  In fairness little has changed, we will not be coming back having “seen the light” or wearing sandals, but we know what we like, what we don’t like and this knowledge and experience will guide us in the future in all that we will do.  It will act as a great strength and future sign-post. We won’t be afraid to follow a life path that is of our own making and nobody else’s.

Does that answer your question?

PS:  The “Thingy Thing” you very kindly gave us has been most helpful!  We’ve had a couple of beers or three (opener) and the “saw” was extremely useful when plastic baggage tags had been applied in Vietnam and the only way to get them off was to use the saw!

Smile please

Smile please

SUE ASKS: “I adore seeing sunsets….The passing of another day. Where has been the best and why?” 

Thanks for this Sue!  A really good question.  The sunsets we have seen, have been amazing.  Amazing because they have been simply beautiful and because of their wonderful, often iconic locations.  Some of our favourites have been…..

just missed the birds..... Chitwan in Nepal

just missed the birds….. Chitwan in Nepal

Laos lights

Laos lights

Perfect Peru

Perfect Peru

But our “bestest” and the one we both agreed on independently was when we had our own house boat in Kerala (Southern India).  It was a unique location, we’d just had an amazing dinner cooked by our own personal chef and the backdrop was beautiful.  It was made even more special because next morning we were perfectly placed to see the sunrise again in spectacular fashion.  Special, very special!

House boat sunset part 1

House boat sunset part 1

House boat sunset part 2

House boat sunset part 2

... and in the morning...

… and in the morning…

MARK’S MUM ASKS:   Which has been your favourite country and what difference has this tour made in both your lives?

Hello Mum!  We’re split on this one and so best to refer to the Top 5 below.  Sarah has gone for Laos and New Zealand.  Laos a surprise package and a truly beautiful unspoilt (except for the UXO/80 million unexploded bombs) country.  New Zealand another scenic sensation where you see different beauty at every turn of the road (or sky).

Lovely Laos

Lovely Laos

Mill pond still

Mill pond still

I agree with Sarah’s choices, but for me India is still the Number 1.  It was a powerful power-keg of emotions as far as I was concerned.  The colour, the contrasts, the smells and above all, the people.  Because we travelled over 12,000 miles from the top to the bottom and planned the entire itinerary ourselves I can still remember every place as if it was yesterday. And I’ll never forget Garima and her family at Delhi station.

A great highlight for us - meeting Garima and her family

A great highlight for us – meeting Garima and her family

The harder question to answer is the difference the trip has made to our lives. We both think that time back in England will give us the answer to this question.  Can we come back to you on this one?

MARY ASKS:  What next – both in terms of travel and choice of future employment? I somehow feel the corporate world will not sit comfortably after all you have both seen and experienced.

Hi Mary, a very perceptive question!  We’ve lots of ideas and indeed plans which unfortunately we cannot reveal just yet!  Neither of us are trying to be evasive, it’s just that there are likely to be a number of exciting choices to make in the weeks to come.  The best analogy we can perhaps use is a series of roads which lie ahead rather than a cross roads as we are well past that point on our metaphorical journey.  The corporate world is one I (Mark) still love and I can’t wait to rejoin it, in whatever form that takes.  Sarah meanwhile has had her social conscience pricked many times during the past few months and could well explore this avenue.

What next in terms of travel is an easy one.  We have drawn up our next list of destinations and we’ll aim to knock these off over the next ten years or so. Returning to the UK will be a first in that for the first time in 30 years we have not got an overseas trip (other than Yorkshire) planned.  The MASTERS BUCKET LIST INCLUDES – not in any particular order except the first destination:

  • Vancouver/Portland/Oregon – September 2017 – Court/Linda are you free to put us up as we have run out of money?
  • Japan
  • Lviv – (Ukraine)
  • South Africa
  • Tanzania/Namibia/Ethiopia
  • Costa Rica/Belize
  • Antarctica
  • Rocky Mountain Express and then cruise to Alaska – likely to be when we are in mid 70s as cruising is for old people (controversial).
Planning our next adventure....

Planning our next adventure….

FRANK ASKS:  Apart from “which bit do you think you enjoyed the most?” I think my other question would be “How do you feel about returning to the UK, to “normality”? I’m sure you will be glad to be home in many ways, but how to focus the mind on the daily tasks, that may seem a bit mundane or tame after such an adventure?

Good to have your two-part question Frank!  Hope Radio Frimley Park is going strong!   In terms of the best bit, I’m going to duck that question and refer you to the Top 5 section below which is all jointly agreed.  But I will answer the question another way.  One of the highlights for me was when the wheels of the giant Emirates A380 took off from Heathrow on 31st August 2015.  It was at that precise moment that I knew all the plans were going to happen and there was no going back….

No going back and no point in feeling blue

No going back and no point in feeling blue

The second part of your question is a really interesting point.  I was chatting on Skype to a close friend who warned of the likely feeling of deflation on our return to Frimley… To be frank (not possible I know) we are really looking forward to a little bit of normality.  There has been only five times in nine months where we have been in the same bed for four days or more.  The average is 2.25 nights!  So to banish any negative thoughts, we have a very full programme planned during the first few days of our return.  We then hope that our future plans will come to fruition so we don’t have to endure “normality” for too long.  Sounds all a bit cryptic, so watch this space Frank.

Normality

Normality

KATY ASKS:   Will your sedulous travels have made a difference to your future plans and dreams?

Firstly thank you for all the references to gin on Facebook.  The thought of a proper G & T has kept me going for nine months.  And secondly thanks for using the word sedulous!  Now, your question.  The trip has crystallised rather than changed our future plans.  The job now is to convert the dreams into reality which we both feel better equipped to do having spent so much time away.  What we have learnt, is that if you have a vision/goal and you then commit to it (in writing or publicly), things happen.  We’ve learnt that “us oldies” can still give the younger generation a run for their money and in some ways I am now feeling more competitive and focussed than I did in my mid-20s.  There is only a finite amount of time we are on this mortal coil and experiences such as zip-lining, abseiling and walking the Inca Trail have reinforced the fact that you can do anything you want – if you want to.  People we have met on this trip and indeed people we know in the UK, have said “we couldn’t do that”.  The reality though is somewhat different in our opinion.  If they really wanted to travel the World most of them could – it’s just that they have other priorities, goals and objectives which is fair enough.  Now, where’s that gin before I get too philosophical.

Climb every mountain

Climb every mountain

LINDA ASKS: From all the places you have ticked on your bucket list for this trip, were there any surprises? May be somewhere that has given you a different memory to the one anticipated.

Thanks for this excellent question Linda.  Sarah first: I had two surprises…. The first was Laos, as it was so beautiful and unspoilt and I never realised what a sad history it had and still has. I don’t want to go back again though as I know that in 10 years’ time it will be completely different as mass tourism takes over.

The second is Australia. Having spent time in Australia over 35 years’ ago, I was looking forward to re-visiting old stomping grounds and re-living those 12 months of my life “down under.” However, the highlight for me was spending time with my brother, Shane and his family over Christmas and New Year. With only 13 month’s between us, Shane and I were never really close and growing up, we did everything possible to annoy each other! Maybe at last, maturity has kicked in and we are now able to enjoy each other’s company. (Note; I wrote this (re Shane) independently having not read Mark’s earlier response to Ian!!)

Talking to the 'roo

Talking to the ‘roo – Nephew Eddie

Mark’s turn:  I was surprised and somewhat disappointed at the poor quality of food and service in South America, with one noteable exception.  Having had culinary feasts in China, Indo-China and Malaysia, we assumed Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil would deliver.  Alas no.  Complete lack of customer service in most of Peru and all of Bolivia and a diet of fried meat and not much else everywhere.  The one beacon of excellence was the Inca Trail.  How the hell the porters and chef’s served up such high quality food I will never know and all this on two gas burners.  It just shows what can be achieved.

More tea vicar?

More tea vicar? Harry Porter and the Inca Boys..

MASTERS TOP 5/TOP 10/TOP 15

This took forever to agree, but agree we did.

So, the TOP 5/TOP 10/TOP 15 answers below are not ranked with the exception of the airlines.

TOP COUNTRIES

  • India
  • Laos
  • New Zealand
  • Ecuador
  • Nepal

TOP PEOPLE

  • Indians
  • Nepalese
  • Cambodians
  • Australians
  • Laotians

TOP FOOD

  • India
  • China
  • Vietnam
  • Australia
  • Thailand

TOP EXPERIENCES – MARK

  • Zip lining/Canyonning – Ecuador
  • Train and people spotting – CST – Mumbai – India
  • Flight over Great Barrier Reef – Australia
  • Abseiling -Vietnam
  • Flight x 2 around Mt Everest, Nepal and China

TOP EXPERIENCES – SARAH

  • Snorkelling – Great Barrier Reef
  • Walking the Inca Trail – Peru
  • Flight over Mt Cook and Fox Glacier – New Zealand
  • Riding on a motorbike – Vietnam
  • Floating down the Mekong – Laos

TOP SIGHTS x 15 as could not narrow down

  • Great Barrier Reef, above and on – Australia
  • Mount Cook from above – New Zealand
  • The Great Wall of China
  • Terracotta Warriors – China
  • Golden Temple, Amritsar – India
  • Machu Piccu – Peru
  • Salt Flats, Bolivia
  • Iguassu Falls, Argentina
  • 12 Apostles, Great Ocean Road – Australia
  • Dolphins – New Zealand
  • The Killing Fields – Cambodia
  • Ku Chi Tunnels – Vietnam
  • Mount Everest – Nepal
  • Pantanal – Brazil
  • Where the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef meet

TOP DISAPPOINTMENTS

  • Ankor Wat – Cambodia
  • Nazca Lines – Peru
  • Ayers Rock – Australia
  • Anybody in Bolivia who claims to work in hospitality
  • Food in South America

TOP 5 PHOTOS

NUMBER 1: The bras hit the fan - great drier, but only on slow spin speed!

NUMBER 1: The bras hit the fan – great drier, but only on slow spin speed!

Number 2: Fishing for compliments – nice line Mark!

Number 2: Fishing for compliments – nice line Mark!  Kerala House Boat – sunset – see Sue’s question above

NUMBER 3: The 12 Apostles

NUMBER 3: The 12 Apostles

Great Barrier Reef

NUMBER 4:  Whitsunday Islands, Australia

Made it

NUMBER 5:  Machu Picchu

TOP AIRLINES

  1. Emirates
  2. Air China
  3. LAN
  4. Qantas
  5. Air Asia

 

TRAINS, BOATS AND PLANES –  The Scores on the Doors

Yes we did try to get all the numbers in a straight line below, but failed miserably.  Sorry.  ED.

Bus                                      103

Car/Taxi                                60

Plane                                    39

Metro                                    35

Tuk-tuk                                 28

Ferry                                    26

Boat                                     25

Train                                    19

Rickshaw                               9

Truck                                     8

Cable-car                               6

Tram                                      6

Hire Car                                 5

Bike                                       3

Kayak                                    2

Rib-boat                                 2

4WD                                       2

Monorail                                2

Rowing boat                          1

Tub(ing)                                 1

Motor-bike                             1

Cyclo                                      1

Quad Bike                              1

Golf cart                                 1

Chair-lift                                 1

Toboggan                               1

Horse                                     1

Elephant                                1

Jet Boat                                 1

Jet ski                                    1

Helicopter                             1

Hummer                                1

Funicular                               1

Swing                                    1

Dune Buggy                         1

 

AND SO THE END IS NIGH

MARK:  And so if you have read down to this final paragraph, you must be a true MASTERS follower.  And for that we thank you.  I know we have said it before, but thank you for taking the trouble to keep in touch.  For those that couldn’t or didn’t or wouldn’t, thank you for helping us re-shape our Christmas card list for 2016!  LOL.

Travelling is a strange thing.  You meet many friends, but at the same time it can be very lonely.  Just like the many mountains and valleys, there are highs and there are lows.  For richer for poorer, for better for worse.  The good thing is we will be coming back on the same British Airways plane together and that is probably our biggest highlight and achievement.  Two hundred and sixty four days together, 24 hours a day is a hell of a long time.  Try it for yourself, if you don’t believe me!

However, we don’t want you to think we’ve ended on a downer.  No, we prefer to look at the many hundreds of things we have achieved.

Look at the transport stats (above) for one!  We had just one plane that was cancelled resulting in a 12 hour change of plan.  The rest was spot on.  Not one delay on 39 flights.  Every single hotel booking happened as planned.  There were no mistakes, no cock-ups.  Nothing, zilch.  The many hours of planning paid off big time and the contingency plans and back-ups were never used – a pity that as it would have been good in some ways to have been really put to the test.

So the last word goes to me (Mark).  I have, as you have probably gathered written all but one of these blogs.  Sarah’s “The bra hits the fan…..” however, still goes down as one of the most popular, particularly the photo of that dingy little room in Amritsar.  I may have written many of these words and re-kindled my enjoyment for writing, but Sarah has read and edited every single blog. It has been she that re-works my bad English and grammatical mistakes.  It has been Sarah that tweaks and amends and is the “line in the sand when I go too far…..” and to quote MB further;   “You’re every line, you’re every word, you’re everything…..”   Mx

SARAH:  Remember that I’m still the Editor and of course it’s me that has THE LAST WORD!  T’was ever thus.

THAT’S IT.  Thanks for reading, supporting and commenting.  It was a blast!

THE END!!

THE END!!

MARK AND SARAH – THE MASTERS

 

Categories: South America Blog | Tags: , , , , , , ,

“ASALT” on the SENSES!!!!

WARNING:  THIS IS OUR LONGEST BLOG YET.  SO…. IF YOU CANNOT SLEEP AT NIGHT AND DON’T WANT TO TAKE SLEEPING PILLS, READ IT AS IT’S A GUARANTEED SURE FIRE WAY OF FALLING ASLEEP FAST!

MARK:  Less than three weeks to go on our epic MASTERS20152016 Round the World Trip.  The reality of normality now very much just around the corner! The EU debate, queues of traffic on the M25, the start of the cricket season and hopefully, confirmation that Middlesbrough FC make it back to the Premiership after a nine year absence.  So many things to look forward to.  And ooooh yes, we will see our little Joey when we get back at 1300 on Tuesday May 10, @T5 London Heathrow Airport.  Bunting out in Regent Way Frimley, I can see it now.

Flying!

Flying!

We’re still living in the moment and my goodness me, what a few moments we’ve had in Bolivia over the past few days!  It’s been full on ever since we left the capital La Paz – a fairly interesting, if somewhat boring place.  The highlight for us of this administrative capital was quite literally the fantastic cable car system which transports upwards of 70,000 people a day across the city, at heights of up to 4,000m.

The high life

The high life

We left La Paz after a couple of days at 9.00pm at night, from a dirty smelly street, half a mile from our hotel, on yet another overnight bus.  There was no tread on the tyres.  The bus itself looked 20 years old. And when you got inside, you wondered how you would survive the ten hour, 500km ride to the deep south.  Worse was to follow.  The on-board information leaflet confirmed that 185km would be on “dirt roads”.  Deep joy!  The only thing keeping us going was the knowledge that we were heading to another Geographical Wonder of the World, namely the Bolivian Salt flats!

Time to go - I think????

Time to go – I think????

Sarah was not happy – her knee was still hurting.  Mark was not happy – his shoulder was still hurting.  The bus trundled relentlessly on occasionally hitting an incredibly high top speed of 80kph (49.7mph)!   At 1.00am we shuddered to a halt in some deserted back street. “Banos” was the cry from the driver.  Fellow travellers rushed out obviously feeling the effects of the in-bus served fried cheese balls, rice, cold carrots and beans.  We were hanging on with no ill-effects.  Eight months travelling and no need for Imodium.  Is that a record??  I suppose 28 years of Sarah’s cooking had helped prepare my stomach for this RTW eating extravaganza….

Bacon anyone?

Bacon anyone?

At 0300 the bumping, shaking, rattling and bouncing started.  A glance through the window behind the dirty orange bus curtain, revealed a lunar landscape lit coincidentally by a full moon.  We were in the Bolivian desert and boy did our poor bodies know it.  We had reached the end of the metaled road and the bus’s shock absorbers simply could not cope. But as in all cases, there was light at the end of this mammoth trip when at about 6.00am, rays of blue/orange light pierced the mountains in the distance to reveal a stunning backdrop of nothingness.  We were in an amazing wilderness, with the occasional tuft of tumbleweed blowing through small green bushes that managed to survive in what was a harsh high landscape at an altitude of 3,700m.

Lunar landscape

Lunar landscape

After a delicious (NOT) on-board breakfast of biscuits, cake and yoghurt we arrived in Uyuni, a two-horse town at the head of the Salt Flats.  Miraculously our bags on the public bus had not been stolen thanks to our metal chains and two combination locks, so we disembarked, jumped into a taxi complete with furry dashboard and were transported five minutes later through deserted streets to our hotel.  It was Sunday morning.  Nobody was up except for a scraggy looking black cat that had obviously returned late from a heavy night out on the tiles.

Sunday, sunday

Sunday, Sunday

Line up

Line up

Not expecting much, we were amazed that we had arrived at a reasonable hotel in this Bolivian back water.  We made full use of the warm shower and greedily helped ourselves to scrambled eggs, sugar puffs, vanilla yoghurt and a bread roll.  Yum!

A short time later we were told to be in the hotel reception ready to leave on our three day, 4 Wheel Drive (4WD) trip to the Salt Flats.  Just before we left, a short itinerary was thrust into our hands and it soon became clear that our 4WD adventure was going to be just that, a hard core trip into the unknown.  Both of us had not really studied the main itinerary.  We knew when we booked our trip 18 months ago that we would be in the Bolivian outback but little more than that.  So glancing at the A4 sheets we were surprised and delighted to see that we would be visiting a cemetery for trains, the oldest cemetery in South America (1200AD) for humans, as well as staying in an Eco-hotel made out of salt bricks.  Add on a drive through the mountains visiting geysers and the chance to spot flamingos and there you had it, an action packed 60 hour voyage of discovery.

Driving round town and beyond

Driving round town and beyond

Four 4×4 vehicles were patiently waiting just outside of the hotel.  Two Toyota Land Cruisers (the oldest built in 1995) and two Nissan Patrol vehicles.  Sarah and I were in the lead Land Cruiser together with a 30 year old Aussie called Dayne from Sydney and our inexperienced tour guide, a pleasant 26 year old guy called Nico, who was born in Argentina and whose Dad 25 years ago used to be Uruguay’s International Goal Keeper.  We were in safe hands!

Lead vehicle

Lead vehicle

Our “caravan” of 4x4s eventually set off, with one of the vehicles looking as if it would not make the first corner of the street, never mind a 500+ mile trip through the mountains.

First stop, a visit to the “Train Cemetery” just outside of town.  I was expecting a graveyard full of people who had died building the line through Bolivia to neighbouring Chile.  WRONG with a capital W.  This was a graveyard of old British, French and American steam trains, rusting slightly in the arid desert.  Train buffs – Scott Ford, Ian Jones, James Duckworth, David Parker, Stuart Bailey, Ian Prescott – will have fond memories of Barry Island where old de-commissioned British Rail Steam Engines went to be sold or die/cut up into scrap.  It was just like that, but much, much bigger, plus you could climb all over these giant iron hulks, which had been brought here after the railways closed.  There was even talk that one of the engines was riddled with bullet holes as this was the area of Bolivia where Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid were eventually killed.

Casey Bailey

Casey Bailey

We discovered a 1914 engine built by Vickers and two engines built by a firm called Taylors in the mid 1950s.  One even looked like part of the shell of a Mallard locomotive.  Surely it can’t have been?  I look forward to any comments that can help me identify the steam engines from the shots below.  No prizes for guessing the name of the “old boiler”.

Going loco

Going loco

Sarah had to guard against falling off...

Sarah had to guard against falling off…

End of the line

End of the line

Sad end..

Sad end..

Is this a "Mallard"????

Is this a “Mallard”????

Our “dead good” visit to the cemetery ended all too soon…..

Did not want to leave

Did not want to leave

…and we quickly made our way along well tarmacked roads to a village called Colchani at the edge of the Salt Flats, known for making cooking salt.  We were not particularly enamoured with what we saw.  A small oven heated by wood collected from the local area which in turn dried the salt and hey presto, it was bagged and sold to local shops.  Wow!  What was though much more interesting were the strange assortment of toys and other “bric a brac” which could be purchased outside.  It was just like the car boot sale held in Farnborough on a Sunday morning.  Amongst the wackier items up for sale were green, red and grey dinosaurs ranging from the ferocious ‘T’ Rex to the heavy weight Diplodocus.  Stranger still, our fellow traveller, Col’ Jim, our 73 year old former head of the Canadian Airborne Division in Europe purchased a green ‘T’ Rex.  “You’ll see” he said with a glint in his eye….

Back on board and with thoughts of Jurassic Park flashing through my mind we soon entered a white wonderland.  We were on the World famous Bolivian salt flats and as far as the eye could see stretched a dazzling white carpet of sparkling hexagonal shaped salt crystals.  The only thing I’ve ever seen which remotely comes close was the frozen lake at Zell am Zee in Austria, when it had been covered in six inches of snow back in 1989.  Or put it another way, the perspective views were like a TV studio with white floor and white backing curtains creating that wonderful thing called infinity.

Unbelievable

Unbelievable

Our 4WD caravan did not hang around.  At speeds of around 100kph (62mph) we hammered across the white desert landscape.

Burning up the salt

Burning up the salt

Heading south

Heading south

First stop on our journey was the chance to see a former salt hotel and salt monument dedicated to the Paris-Dhakar rally.

A block of salt

A block of salt

And then, photos snapped we were back in our seats for a 30 minute drive to the centre of the Flats and a chance to take perspective photos.  The Col’s Green 8 inch high ‘T’ Rex suddenly made an appearance and then it dawned on me.  If you took any object (I managed to find a peanut, a bottle of Bolivian red wine and a full bottle of Sprite), you could make all sorts of weird and wonderful photos.  Take a look for yourself…

Pea-nut

Pea-nut

Sarah on top of my sunnies

Sarah on top of my sunnies

Sarah liked dancing on a bottle of sprite

Sarah liked dancing on a bottle of Sprite

A vintage balancing act by MSTJB

A vintage balancing act by MSTJB

We were just like kids.  What a laugh.  What fun!

Suddenly, the light began to fade, the temperature dropped close to zero and it was time to reach our resting place for the night, the interestingly named Ecolodge Tambo Coquesa.  This quite simply was a half-finished series of bedroom units and a central “restaurant area” made from blocks of salt.  Our group on arrival was split up and we shared a room with two 23 year old Belgians – Diet and El’ plus boy wonder Matt, my Inca Trail walking buddy.  It was like we had three new surrogate children as we were affectionately referred to as “Mum and Dad”.

The children ready for bed

The children ready for bed

The room was very warm as the salt blocks had heated up during the day and slowly let out their warmth overnight.  That was all fine, but the toilets were something else! The bowl was divided into two compartments.  Compartment One at the front was for “Number One’s” whilst the hole at the back of the bowl was for “Number Two’s” which if got your aim right fell into a black hole of smelly compost type material some three metres below.  Ummm.  It’s really interesting from a marketing point of view what you can get away with if you include the word “Eco”…. Must remember that sometime.

The restaurant was a simple seating area made out of salt, with salt stools.  And the floor, yes you’ve guessed it, was a carpet of crystallised rock salt.  The food was sadly not much to write home about and Sarah found it mildly amusing that all the dishes served “needed some salt”!! But the bedrooms were warm and cosy as the rain came down.

Pass the salt please

Pass the salt please – the restaurant

Next morning, we had the chance to run down to the edge of the salt flats which were by now partly covered in water from the overnight storm.  There we spotted numerous pink flamingos – officially called “James” Flamingos!!  It was a chance to get some photos and admire Mother Nature yet again:

Near the salt hotel

Near the salt hotel

Flamingoland, North Yorkshire

Flamingoland, North Yorkshire

The group was due to set off at 8.00am on Day 2 and just in the nick of time I made it back to the bedroom block, quickly stuffed my back-pack with my belongings and ran to the idling Land Cruiser which was still freezing cold inside after its’ nightly sleep.

We headed back on to the Salt “Lake” and were told that in parts, the water underneath the salt crust was some 25m deep and it was not uncommon for heavily laden 4×4’s to get stuck and sink.  But before that happened, we arrived at Incahausi Island a small rocky outcrop, 150m high, covered in cacti and offering a great view of the surrounding area despite the grey conditions.  Back down to the salt flats and I “borrowed” what looked like a Union Jack and promptly “claimed” the island for Britain.  Not sure if this jingoistic act was lost on our young Argentinian Guide!

Now British

Now British

Island of pricks

Island of pricks

Island in the salt centre

Island in the salt centre

So you can guess the next bit.  Yes, back in to the vehicles.  Two and a half hours later we arrived in San Juan having seen en-route what appeared to be half of the Bolivian Army training in really harsh terrain.

Left, right left

Left, right left

Tummy’s rumbling and just before lunch, we had the chance to see what was a real highlight for me, the World famous San Juan Cemetery.  We walked through an area of high ground where we could see “bee-hive shaped” tombs dating back to 1200AD and made out of volcanic rock.  The route through the graveyard was clearly marked by white arrows and they directed us to the first tomb which had a 1m square hole in the front.  We peeked in, not quite sure what we might find and boy were we shocked!  Inside was a human skeleton “sat” against the back wall still clothed!  Other tombs revealed foetal positioned skeletons and bodies “stuffed” in clay pots.  It was macabre, fascinating and quite unbelievable.  We made our way to different tombs and were amazed at what we saw…The dry desert like conditions had preserved the mummified bodies so well that you wondered if you might have a conversation with these people from yesteryear.  Take a look for yourself.

The cemetery

The cemetery

A tomb

A tomb

Grave 1

Grave 1

Grave 2

Grave 2

Grave 3

Grave 3

Grave 4

Grave 4

Grave 5

Grave 5

Grave 6

Grave 6

The afternoon journey through the mountains was equally interesting but this time because of the stunning scenery.  The beauty was there for all to behold.  Enough of my words – look at these shots….

Stunner

Stunner

Hello James Flamingo

Hello James Flamingo

The red algae gives the pin to the flamingos

The red algae gives the pink to the flamingos

End of the day

End of the day

That night we stayed in a terrible “hotel” where bread buns were rationed to one each.  I could tell you a whole new story about what happened next, but perhaps that story would be best told over a pint of beer back in the UK… what stays on tour and all that.

It rained all night and the next morning we got up at 0500 in the pitch black to be greeted by now full buckets of water strategically placed along the hall way underneath the dodgy leaking roof. One bread bun later, we clambered slowly back into the lead Land Cruiser, bumped along for 15 minutes and then the lights behind us went out.  We turned round and discovered one of the Nissan’s with its bonnet up.  The alternator had failed.

Not well

Not well

One hour later, the only solution was to “swap out” a battery from the second Nissan – something which they had to do every couple of hours for the next two days.  Not an ideal solution, but at least one that worked.

The remainder of our 4WD tour centred largely around Bolivia’s natural beauty – welcome to Day 3. To our right, about five miles away over the mountain range was Chile.  To our left and 20 miles away was Argentina.  We were at the southerly most point of Bolivia.  We were also very high – above 5,000m and it was cold with plenty of snow.

Snow!!!!!! Coldest we have been in 15 months

Snow!!!!!! Coldest we have been in 15 months

At times we could only travel at a few miles per hour.  Then suddenly we would scream along deserted volcanic plains at high speed.  The rock formations were fascinating.

A rock tree - ok so you have to use your imagination...

A rock tree – ok so you have to use your imagination…

Lakes, like the one below had a myriad of beautiful colours.

Colourful

Colourful

Flamingos were everywhere.

Turning away

Turning away

Even geysers and hot springs made an appearance.

yes, tis I

yes, tis I

It was a fascinating few days and even the five hour journey back to our base hotel in Uyuni near the salt flats wasn’t too bad – just two breakdowns to contend with.

Not well

Not well

So onward now to the city where Silver is King (Potosi), then another bus to Sucre and then over the border to Brazil, Argentina and finally back in to Brazil again.

For those that are interested in reading more about what we have been up to, check out my latest TRIP ADVISOR REVIEWS by going to https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/members/MStJB/.  I am thrilled and delighted to say (sarcasm) that I am still Camberley’s Number #1 contributor a position I would gladly swap for guaranteed promotion to the Premiership.

Stay safe, see you soon and of course #UTB

Where next?

Where next?

Categories: South America Blog | Tags: , , , , , ,

Peruvian People Postcards

MARK:  The sun is going down in Bolivia.  Late evening rays hit the red houses that adorn the mountainside as I look out from our hotel window, here in La Paz.

Peru has been and gone.  A country of highs and lows for us, literally and metaphorically.  After the highs of Machu Piccu we got even higher at Lake Titicaca where we had another really interesting home stay and I met a little friend called Aldo.

We then travelled to the Bolivian Border and subsequently endured the worst bus journey of our lives, as we were bumped and shaken for three hours on roads that really shouldn’t have been called roads.

But this short Photo-Blog is not about Bolivia, more about this fascinating country another day.  No, this missive from Mark focusses on the People of Peru.  You don’t need many words, when you look at the pictures of their etched faces, old and new.  So as we say goodbye to the Land of Paddington Bear, we leave you with some lasting memories from us in the form of a few photo postcards.  Have a good weekend.  Three and a bit weeks to go.  Eeeeeekkkkkkk.

Life's a beach.... full of litter

Life’s a beach…. full of litter

Beatification beckons... Saint Sarah deserves it after eight months!

Beatification beckons… Saint Sarah deserves it after eight months!

The dead centre of Peru

The dead centre of Peru

Baby on tour 1

Baby on tour 1

Baby on Tour 2

Baby on Tour 2

Baby on Tour 3

Baby on Tour 3

Nursery school

Nursery school

Tally ho

Tally ho

Reed Island Dwellers

Reed Island Dwellers

Holding on for dear life

Holding on for dear life with a reed lady

Kiss me quick

Kiss me quick

Happy Days

Happy Days

Nimble mover... why is that I always get picked?

Nimble mover… why is it that I always get picked?

Down town

Down town

Frogs legs anyone?

Frogs legs anyone?

The excitement was intents during the Inca Trail

The excitement was “intents” during the Inca Trail

Fruity

Fruity

A wonderful way of life

A wonderful way of life

Ladies rule where-ever you are in the World

Ladies rule where-ever you are in the World

Found this girl in tears...

Found this girl in tears…

Me and my mate Aldo. He spoke for an hour to me in Spannish - I just said "Si Si Aldo" and he seemed to be happy with that!

Me and my mate Aldo. He spoke for an hour to me in Spanish – I just said “Si Si Aldo” and he seemed to be happy with that!

Group Peru

Group Peru

And it's goodbye to Peru from them

And it’s goodbye to Peru from them

THANKS FOR ALL YOUR BEST WISHES AND COMMENTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND INDEED ON THE MASTERS SITE.  THE GOOD NEWS IS YOU ONLY HAVE TO ENDURE A FEW MORE POSTINGS….

Categories: South America Blog | Tags: , , , , ,

Saved from death by bush – Sarah rocks and then rolls

MARK: For a few awful seconds I thought “Oh my God, I’ve lost Sarah.”  It was a surreal moment.

Doubtless you’ve heard the expression, “it was just like watching in slow motion”. It’s the hackneyed phrase often reported when someone witnesses a road accident or some other terrible event. And for me, it was just like that!

I was following Sarah, a few steps behind her green and white Osprey day pack down a steep ledge on the side of a dormant volcano.  It was Maundy Thursday and we were both high in the Ecuadorian Andes close to the Colombian Border, when suddenly she slipped….

Close to the fall site - 3,900m

Close to the fall site – 3,900m

It was all so different the day before, when we had arrived at our wonderful homestay to be greeted by our hosts Teresa and Luis. The backdrop to their rustic house in San Clemente was the formidable Imbabura Mountain which loomed ominously behind, like a watchful giant. I was glad to hear its last eruption had been some 500 years before as I didn’t particularly like the thought of a Vesuvian style destruction of Pompeii on my doorstep.

Mount Imbabura - 4,600m high

Mount Imbabura – 4,600m high

It was clear from the start that this was going to be nothing like our “disappointing” homestay visit in Laos:

https://masters20152016.com/2015/11/13/exploitation-or-salvation-the-jurys-still-out-on-this-one/

This was the real thing!  Ecuadorian hospitality first hand.

Our group was split into three, Sarah and I, together with our travelling companions Rita and Cheryl were the guests of the Tuquerres Family.  We “bagged” the back bedroom which was accessed by the dining room and began to explore our fascinating surroundings.  Outside the front door, chickens chased, turkeys gobbled, pigs snorted, dogs yapped and I got my shoes covered in what looked like duck poo.  It was quite a menagerie.

Gobble - gobble

Gobble – gobble

All friends

All friends

Tired

Tired

ahh

Ahh…

All around the house, which can be best described as a small holding, crops including corn and beans grew, whilst elsewhere, delicious blackberries were ready for picking and limes hung with droplets of water on their bright green skin.  The only thing missing was the bottle of Gordon’s.

Self-sufficient

Self-sufficient

Ice and a slice...

Ice and a slice…

The house itself was a strange mix of buildings which had been added to over a period of a few years.  The extreme right of the house, featured a joiners workshop, with a decidedly dodgy roof.  Through the courtyard, you came in to a semi-closed off area in the shape of an L.  At one end was a wood fire which doubled sometimes as a stove.  Because we were on the Equator, the temperature at night only fluctuates from 12-15C throughout the year.  However, it was the coldest we had been since leaving the UK and we were glad of the heat.  A “westernised” kitchen looked really out of place, particularly when you saw micro-waves and blenders which were at odds with the simply furnished bedrooms, dining room and “washing” area – the latter looking more like something from the Middle-Ages than anything out of the 21st Century.  They did however have to our surprise an inside toilet and indeed a shower. But it was home and we were made to feel so very welcome.

A bit wooden

A bit wooden

The courtyard entrance

The courtyard entrance

Cheryl, Rita and Sarah keeping warm

Cheryl, Rita and Sarah keeping warm

Inside out

Inside out

Dining room

Dining room

And yes I did do some washing

And yes I did do some washing

Though none of us spoke each other’s respective language, we managed to have great fun at meal times through a mixture of sign language, experimenting with French and German to see if their vocabulary was vaguely similar to our Spanish friends and occasionally using Google Translate when the wifi decided to work.

Meal times - special times

Meal times – special times

Our Group of 14 came together for various joint activities and it was during one of these sessions that Nathalie our Guide offered the wider group the opportunity to climb the forbidding peak Imbabura!

There was some interest, but most people sensibly decided to opt for ploughing the fields with Oxen or cooking dinner with their respective hosts. But Sarah and I had different ideas.  This would be the perfect test of our fitness.  More than that, we would be climbing at high altitude with only two days of acclimatisation since our stay at sea level in the “olde-worlde” Pacific resort of Puerto Lopez. Not the smartest of ideas perhaps, but hey, if we were going to show signs of altitude sickness, then this would be it. If we survived this then the Inca Trail should be a doddle!

Nathalie gave more information. Our homestay was 2,700m (8,900 ft).  At 0500 we would be taken by 4WD truck to the base of Mount Imbabura at 3,100m (10,170ft) with a Guide.  The ascent would start at 0530 and last for four/five hours until we reached the summit of 4,600m (15,100ft).

We said yes. And as the sun went down, we both kept looking at the mountain mesmorised by its size and height and wondering what the hell we had let ourselves in for the next day….

Mean and Moody - the Mountain, not Marco

Mean and Moody – the Mountain, not Marco

We then had one of those nights sleep which is fitful to say the least.  The night you barely sleep, glancing every 15 minutes at the alarm clock to see if it was time to get up.  At 0430 it was, the alarm never went off.  We’d both been awake since 0300.

We packed our bags with all we needed.  Phone for emergencies.  Three litres of water for me, two for Sarah.  Thinking we would have to skip breakfast, we were thrilled and delighted to see the sight of Teresa cooking “bread cakes” over the dying embers of the fire as we came out of our bedroom, the cock crowing just outside our window.  How’s that for hospitality!

The warm bread was packed in our day packs, together with bananas and a coffee flask.  We were ready.

Teresa making us breakfast

Teresa making us breakfast

Lovely bread cakes - made in the open fire

Lovely bread cakes – made in the open fire

It was not long before we picked up our guide, Tupac who we were relieved to hear spoke English.  I’m sure he was thinking that these two old farts wouldn’t make it… But before I had chance to speak, two bright shining eyes stared directly at me as I sat in the front of the 4WD.  It was a Honey Bear, who soon ran away at the throbbing sound of the 3.5 litre Chevrolet engine.  Fifteen minutes and what felt like hundred jolts later, the road petered out into a rough track and the base of the Mountain began to appear into view like the unveiling of a black cape. Dawn was breaking.  It was time for the start of our morning stroll….

It wasn’t long before we were both breathing heavily, the lack of oxygen in the atmosphere making us pant for air.  Heart rates rose.  We’d walked less than half a mile of the seven mile return trip.  God it was hard!  But bit by bit and with regular stops at around 100m of elevation we made our way slowly up the side of what was mainly scrub grass with occasional rocks.  Marvellous views kept us going and after about two hours we were sort of into a rhythm.  Advice given has always been to go at your own pace when climbing mountains and we did just that, stopping to take photos of beautiful scenery and wonderfully small Alpine type plants.

0500 - time to go

0500 – time to go

Sun coming up...

Sun coming up…

and up

and up

Beautiful plants

Beautiful plants

Just as we were getting the hang of this high walking lark, the weather changed.  Within five minutes we were enveloped in mist.  We had got to 3,600m, the next 1,000m we realised would be walking in a permanent drizzle, with visibility down to a 100m.  Suddenly the wind got up, the temperature dropped. We could have been on the Yorkshire Moors, it looked the same.  North Face coats on, we trudged higher, the pathway now rocks and steep terrain which rose at an angle of close to 60 degrees.  This was not what we had signed up for.

Mist moving in - our goal top left

Mist moving in – our goal top left

Miserable

Miserable

Hard to see Tupac on right

Hard to see Tupac on right

And then we hit the 4000m mark.  “Come on, we can do this” I shouted to Sarah, who looked quite forlorn with her little hood up.

Getting there

Getting there

Head for heights

Head for heights

We carried on, but by this time the weather had closed right in, we could see 10m ahead and it was raining.  It was also blowing a gale as we rounded a corner, the wind whistling over the ridge.  The path was narrow rocks, there were steep drops.  Bang!  Vertigo set in.  I inched myself over a large rock that ordinarily I would have climbed with ease.  But with a drop of 500m and stories of the death of a German guy at the same point ringing in my ears, I decided enough was enough.  We were at 4,300m, there was no way I was going any higher, with even greater drops.  We could see nothing, I bottled it.  Sarah meanwhile, was happy to continue, but in true team spirit decided to support her old man and come back down.  I was not ashamed or disappointed because we had got to over 4,300m and this was higher than any point on the Inca-trail. I might have got vertigo, but at least I had no altitude sickness and we had climbed over 1300m straight up with no ill effects.

High enough

High enough

4260 - we went 50m higher and then called it a day

4260m – we went 50m higher and then called it a day

We trudged down, much quicker, but mindful of the extremely slippery rocks, mud and grass.  We both soon realised that going down was going to be arguably even harder, but this time in a different way.

And then it happened.  Sarah slipped and somersaulted twice over the edge of the narrow track.  The angle of the slope here was 70 degrees, the fall down the mountain on rocks and scree some 500 metres.

The slow motion video in my mind kicked in as I saw the whole episode play out in front of me. There was nothing I could do.  In what seemed an age, but was no more than four or five seconds, Sarah managed to break her fall in what appeared to be a Gorse type bush, some three metres across.  To the left, a horrifying drop.

There was no sound, but I quickly realised she was alive and kicking as we managed to pull her out!

Her knee hurt – it had twisted – but apart from that, she was ok!!!!!!!!!!!!

Alive...

Alive…

...and kicking

…and kicking

We continued our descent in a watchful way.  Each step we took gingerly.  I fell twice.  But Tupac our guide fell three times.  Ha, even professionals can get caught out.  In two hours we were down, safe and sound.

That afternoon and evening we shared our experience with the rest of the group as we danced the night away with the friends from the village community.  But I had to do a double take as guess who was the Leader of the Band?  Tupac.  From guide one minute to impresario the next.

Rocking

Rocking

The lovely Meyer

The lovely Meyer

Chezza's birthday

Chezza’s birthday

Cardiff girl cuts her cake

Cardiff girl cuts cake

Temptation

Temptation

Boogey on down

Boogey on down

In serious mode - Marco

In serious mode – Marco – note NOT my hands!

Tupac - Leader of the Band

Tupac – Leader of the Band

The next morning, after a good night’s sleep we got out of bed, only for Sarah to realise that her knee was still causing quite severe pain.  But trooper that she is, she got moving and found that if she walked a bit, ironically the pain eased.

But the smell of breakfast raised our spirits and even Teresa let me make a “Marco,” her name for my cheese and banana deep fried empanada.  Lovely coffee, a blackberry drink, and a bowl of strawberries, mangos and kiwi fruit completed the offering.  What a way to finish our homestay and what a way to end our trip to Ecuador.

Making empanadas

Making empanadas

Beautiful breakfast

Beautiful breakfast

We have sadly left our lovely group – 2 nights early, as we have to fly to Lima to start our 45 day marathon across South America with our next tour group.  Unfortunately, the departure dates did not work in our favour and hence we had to cut short our Ecuadorian experience.

But we leave with many memories.  Our jungle experience, two amazing adrenalin filled days in the Andes, visiting the coast and the “Poor Man’s” Galapagos – another blog in itself, our fantastic homestay and last but not least our superb travelling companions – you know who you are…!

Lovely people

Lovely people

Ecuador – we can both recommend this fascinating country.  Just don’t attempt walks up/down volcanoes!

The End

The End

Categories: South America Blog | Tags: , , , , , ,

I’m NOT a celebrity, let me stay in here cos the Jungle ROCKS!

MARK:  The deafening sound of the torrential rain made it virtually impossible to talk and be heard.  The corrugated metal sheets that made up most of the roof, amplified the sound to such an extent that you’d have thought the Amazon Rain Forest God’s had decided to dump their entire bath water over the top of our small group.

Rain, rain go away...

Rain, rain go away…

The “warm” rain had been pouring incessantly since the early hours of the morning.  The locals estimated that over three inches had fallen, pretty standard for the heart of the Ecuadorian jungle at this time of year.  But even the clucking clutch of chickens, that had been strutting about earlier with an air of arrogance had taken refuge underneath the wooden floor boards of our bedroom, occasionally dipping their beaks in to the muddy puddles for a sip of water.

Bedraggled

Bedraggled

I’d just had a paddy and decided it was easy to write a blog than take part further in trying to create a friendship bracelet….  I literally got tied up in knots and did not have the patience to “plait” together three stupid pieces of gold braid attached to a three inch nail on the makeshift veranda.  It was a daft game.  I wanted to go out to play instead!

Did not nail it

Did not nail it

All that was left after half an hours work

All that was left after half an hours work

Sarah though was much happier.  It probably reminded her of the needlework part of her Domestic Science ‘O’ level.  And then result.  She announced that HER bracelet, complete with red and black seed was for me, to add to my right wrist collection.  I was well chuffed.

Chuffed

Chuffed

Meanwhile the rain continued to fall, the drops now cascading torrents. The occasional flash of lightening and rumble of thunder created an eerie atmosphere. The mountain to my right was shrouded in low cloud, before momentarily clearing as the sun threatened to show before, quickly disappearing again. Tease.

Grey - cloud closing in

Grey – cloud closing in

The day before had been a completely different story.  Our group travelled from Tena (150 miles south west of Quito) in to the steamy jungle to stay with a local family for 2 days.  The old white battered Hyundai van, complete with bags on roof, had started off on metalled roads before soon having to bounce over stones and mud as the green foliage became more dense and civilisation disappeared.

Brakes squealing, gears crunching, the end of the road.  Back packs on, we walked along single file tracks, by the side of three merging streams.

A small clearing revealed a straw building with eight black hammocks gently swaying in the breeze.  Straight ahead, a kitchen and an eating area, to the left a bedroom block.  A quick check confirmed that the “simple” bedrooms did have mozzy nets, much needed as I was soon bitten.  Immediately out came the last of our 90% DEET which was plastered everywhere, irrespective of any potential long term side effects.  No Zika virus for me thank you.

Main play area

Main play area

Had a good time in here

Had a good time in here

Heading to the loos

Heading to the loos

Our host was “Delfin” (Spanish for Dolphin) and his family of 5 children and 7 grandchildren.  They soon made us welcome with a lunch of potato soup and lentils.  An hour later and with welly boots allocated, we marched along a 4m wide clearing.  Then suddenly and without warning “Rolando” our guide veered off in to the jungle proper, machete in hand making swift scything actions as he went.

Now we were talking. Beautiful orchids, giant ants, tarantula spiders, little brown birds, circling black vultures, stunning red heliconia.  Putrid smelling pools of water, dense foliage.

Heliconia can you see the giant ant?

Heliconia – can you see the giant ant?

Circling overhead just in case one of group did not make it

Circling overhead just in case one of group did not make it

Stunning orchid complete with beautiful insect

Stunning orchid complete with beautiful insect

Smelt awful

Smelt awful

And then in a scene from a Bear Grylls documentary we reached the top of a 300ft high cliff overlooking the Jatunyacu River, a main tributary of the Amazon.  I could not help but think of a film – I sadly can’t remember the name of it – where an aircraft crash landed and just four people survived.  The survivors managed over many days to walk through the jungle when they euphorically came across a river for the first time.  They built a raft and escaped!

We found water....

We found water….

.... uilt a raft and made our escape

…. built a raft and made our escape

We retraced our steps before heading off in another direction where Rolando found a small, crystal clear stream.  Grabbing at the bank with his bare hands, he scraped a pile of grey clay from underneath the decaying foliage.  “Who wants some?” he said smiling in his broken English.  It was a natural face pack guaranteed to knock 10 years off your age in just over an hour.  I was first up for it, whilst checking that he had enough left for Sarah as she was going to need “quite a lot” of the polyfilla type gloop – if you know what I mean.  EDITOR:  He was duly slapped for this last comment.

Rolando and a monster

Rolando and a monster

We all looked like creatures from the black lagoon as we headed back to camp, by which time our faces had dried and it was difficult to move our facial muscles.

Difficult to smile

Difficult to smile

How to get it off?  Simple.  You find a stream with a waterfall, get your kit off and get in.  I was joined by a lovely German lady called Curly B who was also up for the natural shower.  And it worked!  We both looked 42 and 40 respectively as the photos show.

And relax

And relax

Me and B'

Me and Curly B

But that was yesterday.  The rain today, Sunday, continued to fall.  This blog got longer.  I put my iPod on.  “It’s raining men” was ironically the first tune that randomly shuffled onto the playlist from my list of 1,902 different tracks.  There was not time for “Bridge over Troubled Water” or “Raindrops keep falling on my head”, because after 30 minutes there was a break in the clouds.  The volume level on the tin roof dropped from 9 out of 10 on the deafenometer to just 3.  The rain WAS stopping!

So lunch was brought slightly forward and after our soup and chicken, jungle activities were resumed.  The afternoon was a hike to discover native plants and to be told by Rolando their use in holistic, natural and homeopathic treatments for various illnesses, ailments and food sources.  A few surprises were also promised along the way.

Happy faces we could go out to play

Happy faces we could go out to play

First up we encountered a wild garlic tree, ideal for stomach problems, quickly followed by a tree whose leaves could be stripped, dried and woven into fine braid.  Ah, so that’s where the bracelet started life.  And then boyish sniggers amongst the men and “secret smiles” from the ladies of the group broke out – we had come across a Red Walking Tree.

Ummmm

Ummmm

The tree we were told does actually walk up to 30cms a year as the roots die on one side of its trunk and then grow on the other, pushing the 75ft high tree across the forest floor at a snails pace.  Enough said!

We walked further, through streams which were now much higher because of the recent rain and stopping periodically to admire weird forms of fungus and other plants.

Fungus

Fungus

Wanted to try but did not

Wanted to try but did not

An occasional bright turquoise Morph butterfly wafted past, too quick to photograph, but worth $500 on the black market if captured for a sick western collector.  Brightly coloured plants adhorned the side of the river. Rubber trees exposed their white sap, a revisited source of revenue once more for Ecuador in light of the oil price collapse, which has been a key component of their current economy.

Not sure what this was

Not sure what this was

Another saviour might be the re-establishment of old gold mines!  Rolando demonstrated perfectly the art of panning. Very hard work for a small return. But he did get a few specs of gold.  Just a few hundred more and he would have a gram worth US$40 in the local market

All that glitters is gold

All that glitters is gold

Back on dry land we headed back passing more amazing insects, plants and trees that housed “witchetty type” grubs.

Nice

Close up with nature

The grubs were about an inch long.  Giant maggots with a dark head that wriggled and squirmed when squeezed.  Duly captured it was dare time.  Nobody would eat them whilst alive and kicking, but after being fried in garlic butter they were truly delicious after you got over the shock of their rubbery skin. In fact I would go so far as to say they were really quite tasty, a unique flavour a cross between bacon and stilton cheese.

Ummmmmmm

Ummmmmmm

Really liked these grubs - honest

Really liked these grubs – honest

Not everybody’s favourite food I grant you, but everyone was quite happy to try another fruit of the forest, this time dark chocolate.  We picked out the small almond sized seeds from within the cocoa plant and left them to dry and ferment.  Then, grabbing a tray of “here’s some we prepared earlier” beans, their fermenting wine smell confirmed they were ready to be placed in a large wok like pan and heated over a wood burning fire. Just ten minutes and the beans were ready to be peeled and crushed to form the cocoa powder.  Three pints of sugary milk was added and then back on the fire until the sickly smelling brown bubbling liquid began to thicken.  Our treat was ready, a chocolate fondue with fresh local bananas.  Happy days.

First take your cocoa bean.....

First take your cocoa bean…..

.... after the beans ferment, heat for five minutes

…. after the beans ferment, heat for five minutes…

... then crush the beans to make powder before adding milk and sugar. Voila!

… then crush the beans to make powder before adding milk and sugar. Voila!

The rain now a distant memory as we were all up for a cultural evening lead by Head of the Family Delfin. Sitting in candlelight as the mozzys began to bite we learnt about the importance of music, Ecuadorian marriage ceremonies and the key role played by local Shamans (doctors) in rural communities.

As the evening progressed various members of the group took part, I had not been chosen, feeling a little like the last kid to be chosen for a kick about game of football in the school playground.  So when a further opportunity came to volunteer I put my hand up.

Delfin who had studied to be a Shaman, told me to sit in front of him, legs stretched out facing my fellow travellers who were sitting round in a “U” shape.  Chanting started, drums banged, incense/perfume filled the air and suddenly what can be best described as a bouquet of tree leaves started hitting my head, neck, arms and face.  I was being cleansed, part of the process of diagnosing major illness. With gradually louder chanting, Delfin started sweeping my body from head to foot as all nasties were banished out of my body through my feet.

A special experience

A special experience

It was a really strange experience but one that at the end of the ten minutes felt strangely relaxing.  I was at peace as if I had been put under a trance or had drunk half a bottle of gin.  I thanked my host, got back on my wooden bench and let my mind float.  In terms of what had happened I am not sure, but I was glad to have done it.  Glad that I wasn’t a celebrity and left with the wish that I wouldn’t be evicted from the jungle in the public vote.  After all I had done the Bush Tucker Trial.

Delfin, the head of the household - very nice man

Delfin, the head of the household – very nice man

 

Alas our two days in the Amazon Jungle came to a far too quick end as the Toyota Land Cruiser pipped its horn signalling our departure – it was Monday morning, 6,000 miles from home.

Categories: South America Blog | Tags: , , , ,

Blog at WordPress.com.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: