Tour Day 1: The Salar de Uyuni – salt flats at 3700m?

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This gallery contains 22 photos.

Hmmm…sea salt at nearly 4000m above sea level? Yes indeed! The Tour we’d booked ages ago would take us from the town of Uyuni, in south-west Bolivia, to the town of San Pedro de Atacama, in north-east Chile, over the … Continue reading

UpsideDownWorld – growing potatoes at 4500m

upside-down-world-logoWe were delighted to note the other day that the excellent website upsidedownworld.org was back online after recovering from a very malicious hack several months ago. UDW has been ‘Covering Activism and Politics in Latin America’ since 2003, and they’ve now moved their archive to a new site & server. See their About page. Obviously their recent news/analysis is pretty sparse and not all sections of the site are running fully yet, but there’s still a wealth of informative writing to peruse.

To celebrate their return, we thought we’d share this article from January 2015: ‘Climate Change Threatens Quechua and Their Crops in Peru’s Andes‘. This refers to their potato & other crops in the mountains near the town of Pisac, in the Cusco region (which we visited in 2014 – see photos). In this area can be found the ‘Parque de la Papa’ (Potato Park), where indigenous communities “are preserving potatoes and biodiversity, along with their spiritual rites and traditional farming techniques” at altitudes of upto 4500m, with a stunning 1460 varieties of potato! Continue reading

Pic of the day 39 – Mount Illimani

wpid-IMG_20140314_131328.jpgMount Illimani sits to the south east of La Paz and towers over the city.

At 6438m high it is Bolivia’s second highest mountain. It is located towards the southern end of the Cordillera Real, a range of mountains that mark the northeastern edge of the Altiplano – which is the (fairly) flat highland area sitting between the two branches of the Andes, and includes Lake Titicaca & La Paz. The Cordillera Real is the most dramatic part of the Cordillera Oriental in Bolivia, with 6 peaks over 6000m. Serious mountain climbers can have a great time here, indeed from La Paz you can take a 4 day trip up Illimani. We will be skipping that option!

Illimani means ‘water bearer’ in Aymara, the dominant local indigenous language, and is considered to be the queen of the mountain gods. We are lucky enough to have a good view of Illimani from the roof of our hostel as we look south east. We’ve been even luckier with the weather, which most days so far has meant warm & sunny daytimes with temperatures into the 20+degrees. Indeed in the morning its been great to watch the mists and clouds that shroud Illimani & the cliffs above La Paz, slowly burn off. This pic was taken from the hostel roof, with our trusty digital camera.

Hello Cusco! Hello Incas!

We made it to Cusco, 3300m up in the Peruvian Andes! This former capital of the Inca empire, and location of some extreme barbarity by the ‘Christian’ Spanish invaders throughout the mid-16th cenutry, sits at the centre of the ‘Sacred Valley’ tourist industry, and is a transit point for many visitors. It is a city steeped in history, that some claim goes back to 5000BC, way before the Incas emerged. Its history is both fascinating and controversial. Its location is absolutely stunning.

Cusco Saturday afternoon

Cusco Saturday afternoon

We arrived here by cama-coach on Saturday 22 February around midday, some 22hours after leaving Lima. We were not in great shape at all! Our journey from Lima had taken us south further along the Peruvian ‘desert coast’, before turning inland at Nasca. By then it was late evening as we drove towards the foothills of the Andes, we could see nothing out the coach window, and a long uncomfortable night awaited us.

Unlike Wednesday night when we were on the fairly straight and flat PanAmerican highway, the road up into the Andes twisted and turned and climbed constantly. As we were moved about in our cama-seats, sleep became a luxury we couldn’t enjoy. And not until about 5.30am could we see a damn thing in the black night, just the lights of other (large) vehicles rushing suddenly past. No wonder the sick-bags had been handed out before lights-out!

7am Sunday

7am Sunday

Daylight brought some relief, although a fag-stop would have been nice too! The stunning countryside passed us by as we continued the slow climb around valleys and over passes. We passed small  indigenous communities, saw agriculture on steep hillsides, and watched rivers rushing by below us…and really hoped we wouldn’t end up in one. At times snow-covered mountain tops peeked through the clouds, and shards of bright sunlight breached the clouds. Awesome.

7am Monday after rain

7am Monday after rain

Rounding another mountain bend we saw Cusco, relief was near at last. On arrival we had a quick smoke in the high altitude air (yeah we know, not sensible!), jumped in a cab, and headed for our hostel. Our reservation here, arranged by phone from Guayaquil by our faraway family member, worked a treat, and the hostel owners are lovely – their son even speaks some English.

Our hostel is in the Santa Anna district of Cusco, about 15minutes walk gently uphill from the main square, and just outside the main tourist area. Its great, we’ll tell you more about it later. The pics here, views out over Cusco, are all taken from the back of our hostel on the second floor. The last pic shows the main square ‘Plaza de Armas’ with its inevitable dominating church.

Pic of the day 19 – Stormclouds over Valentine’s day

On Friday 14 February we travelled back to Guayaquil from Canoa. The journey of approx 250km took us 7 hours, using 2 buses, with numerous stops as ever, even though much of the journey was on an ‘executive’ coach! Guayaquil was as hot and humid as ever, but overcast too, and as the afternoon proceeded the clouds got darker.

wpid-IMG_20140214_192305.jpgThis pic was taken about 6pm just before a storm swept in, with thunder, lightning and rain. We are staying once again with a family member in Samborondon, the heavily gated & secure middle class neighbourhood. They were away for the night, so we sought food and relief from the heat in one of the many shopping malls in the area. Avoiding the expensive restaurants in the area, we found ourselves a vegetarian plate of food & a drink from ‘China Wok’, for $10 in total. This was one of a dozen food outlets set around an open-plan seating plaza inside one of the malls.

The place was rammed with people on Valentine’s night, serenaded by some standard singers covering standard love songs. Looking around we saw these people were not the middle class ‘Spanish’ Ecuadoreans of the area, but the poorer darker-skinned workers – domestic workers, tradesmen, retail workers etc, many with their families. It seemed ironic that these folks, unable to afford the goods in the shops they work in, or live in the houses they clean, should spend their Friday night eating cheap food amidst such opulent shops. But they seemed happy enough for now, perhaps like us they welcomed the coolness of air-conditioning?

Or perhaps they were secretly plotting the overthrow of their masters? Guayaquil is Ecuador’s most divided city along wealth distribution lines. The better off exhibit clear paranoia of the poor millions outside their gated areas, with a real sense they are keeping them ‘back’ from overrunning the wealthy, for now at least. But for how long will both sides accept this situation?

Background article on Guayaquil: http://www.Andes.info.ec.com/en/news/guayaquil-faces-new-york-and-calcutta-single-town.html

Pic of the day no.10 – Beach hut

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On Tuesday we left the heat, humidity and mosquitoes of Guayaquil for the, eh… heat, humidity and mosquitoes of Puerto Lopez…at least here there is a cooling sea breeze. We are staying in a cabin (part of a larger hostel) on the edge of town, just across the road from the beach.

Puerto Lopez is a dusty and chaotic town, part resort for Ecuadorian families and surfers and nature lovers from around the world, and part functioning fishing port. The amazing Frigate birds spend most of the day hanging around the port, waiting to grab a fish or two from the incoming fishing boats. The beach is covered in small crabs, scuttling away and burrowing into the sand as soon as they feel the humans (and many dogs!) getting too close.

Further north from our hostel, there are some posh looking resorts, each with its own slightly hippy, alternative eco vibe. If you head inland just one street, things look very different: half-finished houses, sparsely furnished, with many seeming to run ad-hoc shops or cafes from the front rooms. It’s hard to know if crime is a problem here, but it certainly feels a helluva lot more relaxed than Guayaquil and there is almost no police/security presence here.

Meanwhile, nationwide municipal elections are happening soon and the campaigners of Puerto Lopez have taken the loudest approach we’ve witnessed so far, blaring out music and recorded messages from pick-up trucks and moto-taxis. You get the feeling that it’s a tight race between the various candidates.