A Travellerspoint blog

The road to Buenos Aires

Out of Bolivia we head to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, before crossing the Andes into Argentina: Salta, Cachi, Cafayate and Tucaman.

all seasons in one day 30 °C

Our tour of SW Bolivia finished, we take a jeep through the night to the border crossing and head to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, followed by Salta, Cachi, Cafayate and Tucaman in Argentina where we get an overnight bus to Buenos Aires.

It's 1:30am and we wait in the hotel corridor for our ride. I poke my head out the door to make sure he doesn't miss us, and soon we are piling into our jeep to the border. We're a bit disappointed as this jeep isn't anywhere near as comfortable as the one we had for our tour, and we realise that sleep isn't going to be easy to get as our heads bounce around. And then the cold creeps in...the heating doesn't work and we grab as many clothes as we can to huddle up in. Ice crystals form on the inside of the windows from the moisture in our breath and we brace ourselves for a cold ride. Finally, the sun comes up over the volcanoes, the ice melts and we start to warm.

We've made good time and so stop at the hot springs. These are the same ones we visited on our tour, but this time they are rammed! There are about 30 jeeps from Uyuni - which made us very grateful that we had started from Tupiza. With no time or room to get in, we warm our hands and chat so a few people wallowing in the steaming waters.

At the border crossing we show the exit stamps that we were issued with in Uyuni and change vehicles for the last stretch to San Pedro de Atacama - on a tarmac road!! (It had been a while...) The road was all downhill and as the altitude approached 2000m we enjoyed deep breaths of oxygen.

We found San Pedro to be a well organised, clean and tidy town with some great food (although prices reflected the fact that we were now in a much more developed country). The four of us cycled to Vale de la Luna, had a great meal together accompanied by live music and M&I even managed a run!

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But the time comes for us to part ways - Ben and Tanis were heading back to Lima for a flight and we were heading to Argentina.

Our bus took us over the Andes, through the 'Paso de Jama', down switchbacks, through the edge of the Quebrada de Humahuaca (some very prettily coloured rocky hills) at Purmamarca before we arrive at Salta. By the time we get to Salta it is late, wet and we can't get any Argentinian pesos as the ATM isn't working...luckily we'd pre-booked accommodation and find the hostel's representative at the bus station and he puts us in a taxi.

The following morning is much nicer with the sun out and I get chatting to the woman in reception in Spanish and the next thing I know she's helping us out by phoning the bus station for me and making other tourists wait. It's amazing what some polite chat in Castellano can do!

We wander around Salta (which is a pretty town, but isn't making us want to stay any longer than we need to), get ourselves some pesos (the banks have massive queues), buy our bus tickets to Cachi and do a book swap.

On the bus to Cachi we befriend Cindy, a Greek/American lady travelling on her own while she attempts to meet a friend who's motorbiking South America. Soon we're heading up into the hills (which seem to have a lush tropical side and a dry desert side covered in cactuses). But the rain comes pummelling down again and we spend much of the journey wrapped in cloud. Just before arriving in Cachi the clouds lift and we drive through miles of flat cactus fields and get a brief glimpse of Nevado del Cachi (6380m) which towers over the village.

Cachi is gorgeous; pretty plazas, whitewashed buildings and a laid back vibe. Our first lesson in Argentinian timings comes as our tummies rumble for dinner - nowhere opens before 8pm and so we have to wait. It's worth it though as we eat steak and local dishes; locro (a meat and corn stew) and tomales (corn and dried llama meat wrapped in corn husks and steamed), and drink a fantastic organic malbec from the Nanni vineyard in Cafayate.

There are no buses between Cachi and Cafayate so our choices are between hiring a jeep, hitch-hiking or going back to Salta and getting a bus from there. We opt for hiring a jeep and get a guide thrown in to show us the sights along the way. This is a great decision as we stop in more pretty villages, clamber through the craggy desert landscape, eat a yummy lunch of goat and stop at a bodega (vineyard) before being dropped at our hostel in Cafayate.

Dinner is our first parrilla (argentinian BBQ) - yum! Loads of different cuts of beef, sausage and black pudding accompanied by a small bowl of salad :-)

We fill a day with wine-tasting at the nearby bodegas (vineyards). Nanni gets a look in and we walk away with a couple more bottles to try.

Moving on, a bus takes us over another mountain pass and to the lush fields of Tafi. The scenery is pretty, but we want to get to Buenos Aires, so stop the night and move on first thing to Tucaman. Tucaman is the home of Argentinian rugby, so while most people still follow football, when I say that I'm from "Nuevo Zelandia" I get the response of "El All Blacks! Numero uno en el mundo! Bravo!" which keeps me happy despite sweltering in the 40degree plus heat (not fun with a backpack).

The train to BA is full so we decide to treat ourselves to the best bus possible - a full cama ejectivo! The seats recline to a flat bed and at midnight, we're offered champagne, whiskey or tia maria...nice. An easy 12 hours later we are pulling into Retiro station in BA!

(PS. More photos to be added at a later point - computer problems are hindering their addition now...)

Posted by DebandMatt 16:32 Archived in Argentina Tagged san chile argentina salta cachi de pedro bolivia atacama cafayate tucaman Comments (0)

Tour of Southwest Bolivia, including the Salar del Uyuni

An amazing five day 4WD tour: climbing Volcan Uturuncu (6008m!!), geysers, lakes of many colours, flamingoes, more volcanoes and the worlds largest salt plain.

sunny

Day 1

Early on Sunday morning, all 4 of us, Ben and Tanis, Deb and me, head down to load up the 4x4 Toyota jeep that will be our transport for the next few days. We meet our guide, Alan, and our cook, Carmen, and hit the road. Glad that we decided on a trip for only 4 of us, we all get a window seat, though the back seats are a little cramped, especially for 6 foot 4 Ben! But we stop often for photos and keep swapping around.

First on the trail is the Luna landscape of El Sillar a dry craggy wind scarred landscape of red sandstone.
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Entertainment during a tasty lunch (arranged amazingly quickly by Carmen) was an exploding Coca Cola bottle. Tanis did not get much sympathy, only laughter, but she took it well! During the afternoon, other than many long miles on the road, we explored the desserted ruined town of San Antonio. Here we saw what appeared to be an overgrown rabbit with a curly tail, known as a Viscacha, almost wallaby like in appearance with the way it bounced along. Apparently they are quite tasty, and they clearly knew that as they kept their distance!
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Once we arrive, tea, biscuits and dulce de leche are out for us. Dulce de leche is a sticky sweet caramel spread made from milk and sugar, and very more-ish! As dinner took a little while to arrive, we hit the sack shortly after, all anticipating the tough day ahead!

Day 2

And so the challenging day had arrived, the climb of a volcano over 6,000 metres, Vulcan Uturuncu. After a very bumpy, stoney and steep ride to the starting point, we commenced our climb. Immediately the climb was steep fine scree, painfully difficult to make progress on, as for every 2 steps upwards you made, you slipped back almost as much. We were impressed that Carmen and Alan decided to join us, even though we had hired a local guide. She even brought us snacks for one of the many stops that we had to make along the way. Being above 5,000m was new for all of us, and it soon showed. We were stopping every 10 minutes or so for a rest, and even when climbing, it was slow steps, that lack of oxygen was starting to take its toll. But we persevered, and were eventually rewarded with all of us managing to reach the summit, and wow, was it worth the climb. Being the highest volcano in the area, the 360 degree view we got was awesome.

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After plenty of photos, and snacks to keep the energy up, we started our descent, significantly quicker as we 'surfed' for want of a better word down the scree slopes. The noxious sulphurous fumes soon made us all feel nauseous, but thankfully that had passed by the time we got back to the hostel, and at a mere 4,200m, we were gulping in the oxygen!

Day 3

After exploring the Dali Rocks, bizarre shaped wind sculpted rock statues sticking up in an otherwise barren sandy landscape, we chilled by Laguna Verde, the first of many different coloured lakes, this one being an impossibly light green. Before lunch we visit some hot springs, a great place to chill - in fact Deb and I were the only ones in the hot spring. After lunch the lake we visited (Laguna Colarado) was a deep red/copper colour, and much to our delight, full of flamingoes. While for most of the time, they had their heads in the shallow water feeding, the lake contrast to the pink birds was quite something.

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We also got to explore some active geysers, making Deb feel very much at home, with the eggy smell reminiscent of Rotorua in New Zealand and our night's stay is next to another lake full of flamingos.

Day 4

More lakes full of flamingoes today, and new scenery to explore, each seemingly more amazing than the last, and lots of photo stops again! Lunch was spent in the shade of more bizarre rock formations, listening to Elvis from the jeep (not that our guide was a secret Elvis fan...it actually came from Deb's Zen...), and feeding apple cores to grateful local viscachas. The afternoon was equally eventful with not 1, but 2 tyre blow outs, apparently a regular occurrence, and nothing to do with Alan's driving, which thankfully we are all very happy with (he was definitely not a taxi driver in a previous profession!). Our accommodation tonight was in the Salt Hotel on the edge of the Salt Plains. A building, yes you guessed it, made entirely of salt, even down to the tables and seats! And more importantly for all of us, our first shower for 4 days!

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Day 5

We had all agreed on an early start to catch the sunrise, and it was so worth it. There is simply no where on earth quite like the Salar de Uyuni. At over 4,000 square miles, it is by far the largest salt plain in the world, estimates put the actual quantity of salt at over 10 billion tonnes, and in parts it is 140 metres thick! But perhaps more astonishingly is that over the entire area, the height variation is no more than 1 metre. On the plains are a few craggy islands, and Isla Incahuasi is where we had our breakfast. This outcrop is covered in Cacti, and the elevated summit gives us the perfect place to contemplate the extraordinary sight of the Salar de Uyuni. Incidentally the cacti grow at only 1 centimetre a year, and many are around 8 metres tall! Yes 800 year old cacti!

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The Salt Plains were the perfect surface for driving on and, as many of you know, world land speed records have been acheived on similar surfaces. We took advantage of this, and made our way to the volcano on one side, where we saw some old mummies in a cave. They were left in sitting positions, still have hair, and included children, bizarre and chilling! On our journey back across the salt plains, we stopped off at another salt hotel, played a game or two of twister (yes Deb brought that all the way from England!), and took some fun photos of each other using perspective to confuse the mind's eye!

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Here we also met people travelling by both motorbike and amazingly, bicycle! All with incredible stories to tell, and crazy distances covered! Before we knew it we had arrived in Uyuni, our final destination on this tour. And so we grabbed some lunch, and said our goodbyes to Alan and Carmen, the trip ending all too quickly.....

Posted by DebandMatt 07:20 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia volcanoe uyuni salar tupiza Comments (0)

Horse riding in Tupiza

Galloping on the quebradas, wandering through craggy canyons and admiring the rugged rainbow coloured rocks and colossal cactuses.

On a bright sunny morning I meet my guide Jose (who only speaks spanish and is a youthful 16 years...), get given a cowboy hat and chaps and get taken a few streets away to where Don Rico, a Bay gelding who will be my stead and Mora, a grey mare who Jose rides. The saddle is a metal frame with layers of blankets placed under and over, and topped with a piece of leather. Rather than buckles for the stirrups and girth the leather straps are looped around and through themselves - it took me a couple of times to get used to the hang of it (very different to the wintec saddle I used to use).

We start out riding along the road and railway track. The first trot we do I feel that Don Rico has a slight limp and point this out to Jose. He tells me it's just because the ground is hard. But when we hit the softer desert track the limp remains...hmmm, riding a lame horse for two days isn't cool for either of us.

We arrive at the first sight - a rock archway followed by a canyon of red rocks. I dismount to explore the canyon on foot and leave the horses with Jose.
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On exiting the canyon I see that a number of other riding groups have arrived, including an older guide (on a beautiful chestnut stallion - although that's not the point of this story...). Jose asks him to take a look at Don Rico and a few minutes later he's given me another horse to ride - a grey called Moro who happens to be Mora's brother. We leave the canyon to a tourist calling out "Oi! That's my horse!", I reply "And, you've got mine" and leave the confusion to the guides.

I like Moro. He's cheeky and has spirit. Within minutes Moro gives his sister a nip on the rump and jumps out of the way to miss her kick. Jose throws a concerned glance my way, but when he sees me both still on Moro and laughing it sets the tone for the rest of the ride. I kick Moro on into a canter and when Jose joins me both horses pull forward. I let Moro rip and we start racing along the desert track. We politely stop as we pass another tourist and her guide only to start again when we're a hundred meters ahead of them. A few moments later the sound of horses hooves gets stronger and I notice we're being followed. The four of us stop for lunch and I get chatting to the Dutch girl. She tells me how she wanted a bit of speed but her guide had said no, but when she saw us she decided to go for it, and now she was grinning from ear to ear!

After lunch we part ways - my Dutch friend heads back the way we came while we use the wide, and mainly dry, river bed as our highway. Lots of racing dispersed with some sedate plodding to take in the scenery follows.

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A storm is brewing as we arrive at Quiriza and the heavens open shortly after we've watered the horses and I'm inside enjoying a cold beer. Perfect timing!

I try to teach Jose the 'game with no name', despite my spanish for card games requiring some development. I thought he would help me out a little, guessing what I was trying to say, reading my exuberant sign language, but no, apparently 16 year olds are the same in Bolivia as anywhere else in the world - with few words, a distinct stroppy side that is hard to hide, and bad taste in music (which was at this point blaring from the TV). So after the storm has passed I head out for a wander through this small village. Ten minutes later I'm on the other side...but there are a few points of interest; rocky outcrops, goats being fed their dinner and a church.

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My dinner is a groaning plate of panfried chicken, potato chips, beetroot and tomato that friendly Santina has prepared. Well fed I give my leftovers to the dog, bash my head on the doorframe built for exceptionally short people and decide it's time to get an early night.

Day 2 is fairly similar to day 1...lots of riding and some great desert scenery. We do a bit more on the road, until I spot an opening onto the river bed and head down there ignoring Jose's protests - it's the right direction, looks safe (certainly safer than a road containing lunatic jeep drivers) and apart from the word 'no' I can't understand what he's saying anyway.

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We finish the day with a race along a deserted railway line (where I enjoy an unexpected ditch jump) and splashing through a not so dry section of riverbed to cool down again. A thoroughly enjoyable couple of days!

Posted by DebandMatt 19:26 Archived in Bolivia Tagged horse bolivia riding tupiza Comments (0)

Bolivia (part 1)

Hectic La Paz, restful Coroico, a decidedly non-touristy Oruru, and the cowboy and western town of Tupiza.

sunny 30 °C

We travel from Copacabana to La Paz by bus, with a short break in the journey to cross a narrow channel of Lake Titicaca. The bus goes on a barge alongside cars, cattle and anything else you can think of except for passengers (we jump on a separate little boat).

There are mountains in the distance and villages dotted across the barren plains of the altiplano. One village is a mass of dancing people and we spot what we guess are the bride and groom in the crowd.

All of a sudden there are mud and brick houses as far as we can see - we've just entered El Alto. This is a city that has sprung up on the flat altiplano right next to La Paz and is the area that houses many of the Bolivians that come to La Paz in search of work.

And next comes La Paz itself. The initial glance takes your breath away - the whole valley is filled with houses, skyscrapers pushing up from the valley floor and mountains rise from the desert in the distance. It is an odd feeling being able to look down on the city from the top of the valley.

We've heard that there is great food in La Paz, but it's a Sunday evening and it seems everything is shut. Finally we stumble on a fairly upmarket 'French' restaurant called La Comida, which was a restaurant we'd been recommended, where we eat some great cheviche (raw fish), meat and chocolate mousse.

Unfortunately, something in that meal wasn't so great and the next day was a rather unpleasant one of being sick. Oh well, we hope that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger in the long run.

We decide to head to the town of Coroico - this is a lovely quiet town perched on top of a hill in the 'high jungle'. It's also a much lower altitude (only 1800m! The lowest we will have been since Lima!), so we figure it'll be more conducive to helping us get our strength back than busy, polluted, 3800m La Paz.

We spend our first night in town at a hotel with amazing views down the valley from it's large patio.
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And the patio also proves to be a lovely location for a spot of early morning yoga :) But it's a bit pricey and I've seen some cabanas advertised, so we move a 20min walk out of town to them. There are two little cabanas available at El Rincón Pichilemino and Ben and Tanis, an Oz/Canadian couple we met at the hotel in town, join us for some rest and relaxation in the hammocks and cooking up some yummy, healthy grub :)
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Town is ventured into for groceries, saltenas (a bit like little cornish pasties filled with meat or chicken, egg, olives and potatoes), and helado made by an Italian family (their liquor de naranja was also rather good, especially when mixed with some fresh orange juice, Mmmm) :) Oh and one energetic morning we hiked to the three waterfalls - which were fenced off with barbed wire and not too impressive anyway...maybe we should have stayed in the hammocks.

It would have been very easy to have whiled away a few weeks in Coroico, but as there seemed to be a gap in the blockades that had been going on (and off) and stopping traffic from flowing between north and south Bolivia for the last few weeks, we decided it best to press on south to Oruru via La Paz.

Our time in La Paz was short - just enough to catch the Sunday carnival and fill our tummies. Then it was a bus to Oruru where the plan was to pick up the train to Tupiza. Only problem was that the train (or someone running the train) decided not to run. It took us two days to realise that 'quizás mañana' meant 'you foolish tourists, don't you know that we're not going to run this train for weeks and you're much better on the bus'...so after a couple of days we caught the bus. But in the meantime we explored Oruru. It's a city for locals...there's a great big market full of useful things for around the house, such as buckets, sieves and blankets (which in hindsight would have been perfect for our overnight bus trip) and several pleasant plazas for office workers to have their packed lunch in...and a cinema with a really good icecream bar. I got very excited when I saw there was a Govindas in town - curry! My excitement soon dissipates when the menu turned out to lack anything containing chillies or cumin seeds...soggy veggie lasagne and other types of overcooked pasta were the food of choice for Oruru's Hare Khrishnas.

Anyway, one bumpy and chilly night on a bus later, we arrive in Tupiza.

Tupiza has been plucked right out of a cowboy movie, long wide dusty streets, and even a 'saloon' with swinging wooden doors. The barren desert landscape is striped beige and red and rugged cliffs rise either side of the flat river plain. And just like in those cowboy movies, there's lots of horses :)

It's the start of the wet season and we encounter a couple of short but torrential downpours. But as it's so dry, the rain is soaked into the ground almost instantly and an hour later you are left with just an odd puddle here and there, and maybe a rainbow...
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We're starting our tour of SW Bolivia and the salt plains of Uyuni from Tupiza and have Ben and Tanis joining us in a couple of days...which gives me just enough time for an excursion in the saddle, YEEHA!

Posted by DebandMatt 11:18 Archived in Bolivia Tagged la bolivia paz coroico tupiza oruru Comments (0)

Lake Titicaca

On the Peruvian side of the lake we visit Islas Uros, Amantani and Tequile, and on the Bolivian side we spend time in Copacabana and visit Isla del Sol.

all seasons in one day

Arriving at Puno we enjoyed seeing my name on a board (well near enough anyway with 'Devora'), and this ensured a swift delivery to our hotel (San Antonio, which we would highly recommend). We left our main bags there, munched a massive breakfast and downed some coffee before making our way to the Port and sorting out our tickets on a colectivo boat over to the Islands Uros, Amantani and Tequile. We were impressed by our first views of the lake and by all the bustle of the port. We bought some gifts for our host families on the islands (fruit, rice, tuna and soap) and boarded our boat.
Our skipper on Lake Titicaca

Our skipper on Lake Titicaca


First stop was the floating islands of Uros. These are little islands built of reeds which form a large comunity. The islands are a bit springy and squidgy, rather odd to walk on, and the reeds are used for everything - the houses, food, boats...But it has a bit of a Disney feel about it with the welcome and touristyness of it all. Still, it was worth a peek.
Uros

Uros


Uros, 'Mercedes Benz'

Uros, 'Mercedes Benz'


It's three more hours on the lake over to Amantani. We arrive famished. Our host is Stefani, the wife of our boat's captain. Stefani shows us to our simple but comfy looking room and a few minutes later we are called for lunch - quinoa soup followed by a quechuan style salad, potatoes and 'oka' (like little yams).

Later we walk with Stefani into town and buy her a coke - she seams chuffed by this simple gesture. We then head up to 'Pachamama' for fantastic views over lake Titicaca, back to Mt Saltankay, and our first glimpse of Bolivia and the Cordilleria Real mountain range.
Me on the top of Patchamama, Isla Amantani

Me on the top of Patchamama, Isla Amantani


On the path to Patchamama, Isla Amantani

On the path to Patchamama, Isla Amantani


Matthew and Stefani, Isla Amantani

Matthew and Stefani, Isla Amantani


The next morning we're back on the boat and heading over to Isla Tequile. We are dropped on one side of the steep island and we walk up to the little pueblo slowly. It's hot work and so after traversing Tequile we both take a dip in the lake to cool off. Only 30 seconds in the freezing water is enough for me, but Matthew managing a few minutes more, clearly missing his swimming!

We're the only tourists on the boat who are staying on Tequile and a man on the dock sets us up with a beautiful casa in the hill with great views. Julio and Fransesca are our hosts, but Fransesca is out for the day so Julio walks us into town so we can find some lunch. We're shown to the community restaurant (a co-operative) and are served quinoa soup then trout from the lake - Muy Rico!

It's hot and our search for a shady spot to sit and chill in leads us to a small field shaded by eucalyptus trees where the local pigeons swoop and play. Watching the beautiful sunset over the lake we feel like the luckiest people alive.
The last boat leaves Isla Tequile

The last boat leaves Isla Tequile


A candlelit dinner for two, Isla Tequile

A candlelit dinner for two, Isla Tequile


Sunset, Isla Tequile

Sunset, Isla Tequile


Julio arrives home with 10 litres of water on his back - it is a scarce commodity here, despite being surrounded by an enormous lake. Fransesca greets us with hugs and kisses and then starts work preparing our dinner while we light a candle in the dining area and enjoy the peace and quiet. Without any light pollution the stars are really bright and clear. Que bonito y tranquillo!

Dinner is quinoa soup (yet again, but thankfully a dish we both enjoy), then a spanish omelette, fried potatoes and rice. The salsa that accompanies this looks tame, but packs a punch! We give Fransesca our small pressy of mandarines, tinned tuna, rice and soap. I'm not sure if they really need this, but Fransesca is grateful and I'm sure it will all get used.

We spend the morning eating pancakes and enjoying the views until it's time to board our boat back to Puno where a welcome hot shower is waiting for us.

The following morning we are on a bus across the Bolivian border to Copacabana. The border crossing is easy and after 30mins of queuing in various spots we're back on the bus.

In Copacabana we get a lovely room in a beautiful guesthouse called "La Capula". There is a communal kitchen and we get chatting to some other guests over a cup of tea, then some Bolivian vino and we all head out to the nearest viewpoint for a spectacular sunset over the lake :)
Sunset from 'La Cupala', Copacabana

Sunset from 'La Cupala', Copacabana


New friends made, we all trundle into town for dinner and a few drinks at a bar with great live music. I can't help but have a boogie despite wearing walking boots.

La Capula has hammocks and lounge chairs and so invites us to stay for a lazy day. We also decide to make use of the kitchen and buy lots of fresh veggies for dinner - tomato and avocado starter, veggie stir fry and mangoes for dessert. Giles and Marie join us and provide several different bottles of wine for us to sample. Nick and Melissa join us after dinner and we play cards and drink more wine until well into the early hours.

Armed with hangovers, M and I just make the 8:30am boat to Isla del Sol. The ride is rough and doesn't mix well with last night's wine. But we make it to the north of the island without any messiness.

Walking up the first hill, the sun pounding down on us is tough. We watch a storm in the distance and hope it moves in the opposite direction...but an icy wind arrives and tries its best to sweep us off the exposed ridge we find ourselves on. White tipped waves have formed on the lake and we are grateful that we are not still in the boat. While the 5 hour walk from the north of the island to Yumani isn't as beautiful as we had hoped, it is a great hangover cure!

In the town of Yumani we find a simple room with fantastic lake and mountain views and then stumble on 'Las Velas', a candle lit restaurant that cooks up the best food in town - we have trout cooked in white wine, muy rico!

Back in Copacabana we try La Capula's fondues - the meat fondue comes with a small couldron of boiling oil to cook your beef and chicken in, and the cheese fondue has loads of veggies and bread for dipping and comes with salad and potatoes too - luckily there are six of us to share and devour this yummy feast!

Posted by DebandMatt 08:33 Archived in Peru Tagged and peru lake bolivia titicaca Comments (1)

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