Kruger National Park to the Victoria Falls

I‘m not really an animal person, so it came as a bit of a surprise to my friends when I announced I was heading off to Africa for a safari! But now, having been up close to creatures I’ve only ever seen in zoos or in pictures, I’m something of a convert.


Starting in Johannesburg we headed north through spectacular mountain scenery. Stopping off at the Blyde River Canyon, we viewed the odd-looking Three Rondavels rock creations.

3

4

Our accommodation for the first couple of days in the wild was Nsele Lodge, a compact and tranquil haven deep in a game park.  I had my own thatched lodge complete with an enormous bed and a mosquito net!

60

Not only did hosts Olaf and Stephanie cook delicious food and entertain us, they also took us on our safari within Kruger National Park. Apparently, we were extremely fortunate in having seen all of ‘the big five’ not once but several times. A rare achievement! I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

55

39

52

53

57

56 - Copy

62

26

zz

zzzz

zzzzzzzzzzzzz

z5

z6

z7

z10

Our next stop was the Polokwane Game reserve where we travelled on foot. This was the only disappointing part of the whole trip as we didn’t manage to up close to many animals at all. The termite nests and trees were interesting though! I stayed in a lodge on stilts there.

65

64 (1)

199

67 (1)

Then it was time for the long drive to cross the Limpopo and to Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. The less said about the border crossing the better. I have never been pushed and shoved as much in my life. An absolute nightmare!

Matobo National park could not be more different from Kruger. We travelled on foot accompanied by a chap with a rifle to get up really close to some rhinos who seemed completely oblivious to our presence.

80

83

85

86

We drove to a village and visited the homestead which came first in the best-decorated property contest. The prize? A wheelbarrow and some pots and pans!

100

102

103

108

107

Then it was time to visit the Silozwane cave paintings. ‘They are just up there’ said our guide pointing to the top of a mountain. We clambered crawled, slipped and slithered our way skyward. What awaited us was worth ever puff and every pant. Amazing to think that these images have survived between 1200 and 1500  years exposed as they are to the elements.

112

114

115

120

120xx

Norman our guide was also the leader of a Boy Scout troop based in the park. Baden-Powel wrote Scouting for Boys there, so setting in place the worldwide organisation which still thrives today. We went to the camp for a buffet lunch. Nice.

89

98

97

96

95


Matobo National contains many gravity-defying balancing rocks. I kept well clear!

139
We stayed in the Travellers Guest House, a simple yet delightful lodge decorated with fantastic modern art.

140

Time to move on again, this time to Victoria Falls. We stayed at the Sprayview hotel, a bit of luxury and opulence that was most welcome. The first night we enjoyed a wonderful sunset cruise along the Zambezi and were treated to a gourmet meal and unlimited alcohol!

 

145

146 (1)

141

151

Spot the alligator!

149

What can I say about the Victoria Falls? Words can’t do it justice. Neither can my photos. The grandeur, the noise, the spray that soaked us to the skin…!

163 - Copy

165

166

169

170

171

173

180

196

198

An African adventure that ended too soon.

I can’t finish without sending a huge thank you to my travelling companions You made this trip extra special! Kevin and Ann Marie from the US, Derek and Michele from Australia, and of course my new friend  Izzy from New Zealand via Leeds UK!, Thanks also to our host, guide and companion Simon.

152


200 (2)I travelled with 
Acacia Africa and can recommend them most highly.

Advertisements

My Chinese Odessy

I am fortunate in having seen a lot of the world in the last few years. Gradually my wish list (I hate the term ‘bucket’ list) is getting shorter as I cross off more and more of the greatest sights known to mankind. I always felt I ought to visit China. The Terracotta Army, the Great Wall. But I couldn’t get enthusiastic about it. I thought I would be underwhelmed. How wrong preconceptions can be. I’ve been home for ten days at the time of writing this, and my mind is still buzzing with the sights I saw and the things I experienced. I will try to give you a flavour of what I savoured through pictures, for words alone, no matter how eloquent could not possibly do my trip justice.

0cover (750x389)

aAt five forty-five in the morning, I trudged walked towards the exit of Beijing Airport dragging my luggage behind me. I suddenly spotted a beaming girl bobbing up and down holding a card with my name on it! And so I met Stephanie Tong who was to be our guide during my stay in China. A couple of hours later I was at a very smart hotel where I had chosen to share a room with a fellow traveller and total stranger. As I stood at reception, a call was made to find out if my roommate was ‘at home’. There was no reply so it was assumed he was out. I walked into the room just he stepped out of the shower. And so I met Daniel in the most unusual of circumstances!

Beijing is big, very big. And so is the population. Beijing has been inhabited for 27,000 years and is host to 21 million people; that is three times the population of London.  In no time at ou get used to being pushed and bumped into. The sound of spitting becomes a normal part of the ever-present noise which pervades the crowded streets. A permanent mistiness shrouds the tops of buildings; pollution caused by industry and coal powered power stations which surround the city. So that’s the negative bit out of the way. The rest is awesome!

t1 (750x465)

Tiananmen Square is vast. Standing in the centre I had a strange sense of déjà vu which is odd since I’m sure I’ve not been there before – not in this life anyway! I suppose it’s because I’ve seen it so often on TV, from the man and a tank in ‘84, to the military marches of the present day. Every day an almost endless queue of people snakes its way to the Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao at the south side of the square where Chairman Mao’s body lies. At the centre of the square is a granite column known as the Monument to the People’s Heroes. On the west side, the Great Hall of the People and to the east the China Museum. Then to the north stands one of the most photographed buildings in Beijing, the Gate of Heavenly Peace on which sits its famous portrait of Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

t6 (750x534)

We went through a gate and found ourselves in the Forbidden City, a vast complex of courtyards, temples and halls. The colours are awesome, and the buildings ornate beyond description. There are said to 9999 rooms in the city not that we attempted to count them!

fc8 (2) (950x487)

fc13 (2) (950x873)

fc20 (950x770)

a1

a2

a3

a5One afternoon we were taken on a frantic rickshaw ride through the back streets of ancient Beijing. They are known as the Hutongs. What a lovely word – ‘Hutongs’! There, the low grey brick buildings date back some 360 years and we even crammed ourselves into a little dwelling and perched on tiny stools, visiting a couple who lived there, an artist and his good lady.

a6

a7

a8

Each day on our coach we were given a little lesson in Chinese by Stephanie. After eight days I could say hello, ni hao, and goodbye, zaijian. Nothing else though – I always was a slow learner!

The Summer Palace sits on Kumming Lake. It is said that when the Dowager Empress Cixi visited in 1905 she was met by 458 eunuchs. We weren’t met by any – at least I don’t think so! The most impressive structure is an outdoor covered corridor 730 metres long featuring endless scenes from Chinese history. It goes on and on and on! Pretty though. Also, there is a marble boat – not sure how that works!

a13

a11

a12

Most of the pictures I had seen of The Great Wall of China showed it deserted. The reality is very different! And so we joined hordes of tourists at Badaling and set off up steep slopes and near vertical steps, climbing our way to one of the 10,000 beacon towers.  It was hot; upper 20’sC. And being away from the city we were treated to a cloudless blue sky. But it was worth all the effort and the subsequent aches and pains. Ready for this? Let’s go!

a25

a21

a23

a24

Stephanie also gave a daily joke which was normally met with a unanimous groan! Here’s an example. A Chinese man, an American and French man are lost in the desert. They come across a chest. They open it and out pops a genie. He offers them three wishes each. The American wishes for money, more money, and to return home to the US. The French man wishes for money, more money and to return home to France. The Chinese man wishes for Fire Water (an alcoholic drink – more about that later!) more Fire Water and for the American and the French man to come back to the dessert. Boom boom! I did warn you! .

Food was to play a major part in our trip. I saw nothing that even resembled the fare I’m used to seeing in my local Chinese restaurant. One evening we visited the snack market on Wangfujing Street. It comprised a seemingly never-ending row of state-owned food stalls which offered such delicacies as fried scorpions, skewered live snakes and pig’s ‘doo-dahs’. Delightful! The ultimate Chinese takeaway.

a34

a33

a32

a31

It was time to change cities, and travel overnight by train on a 1200km journey to Xi’an. We were grouped in four-person sleeper compartments in which each bed had the luxury of an individual TV – none of which worked! Not that it mattered. Having the entire carriage to ourselves meant that we could have a somewhat boozy party in the corridor well into the early hours! 

a36

a37

Eventually, I retired to my bunk, a bottom one. The next thing I remembered was waking up in total darkness in what felt like a box! There were vertical surface either side of me and others behind my head and at my feet. My immediate thought was that I’d died and been popped into a coffin! I then realised that I’d fallen off my bunk and was on the floor surrounded by suitcases and a door!

Xi’an was a total contrast to Beijing. What can I tell you without totally boring you? Well, it’s a large city enclosed within a tall and wide wall. Some of our group chose to cycle round it. I opted not to and instead enjoyed a stroll which allowed me time to peer over the edge now and again at the beautiful parks and gardens at its base. I should point out that I did not walk all nine miles

a38

a39

a40

Before I went to China I was not very good with chopsticks. I could ping a prawn across a room with ease! But by the end, I was pretty good at it. The use of such implements probably explains their preference for sticky rice; far easier to pick up than lots of grains. How long will it be before they have sticky soup I wonder? By the way, chopsticks are known by the nickname ‘busy little friends’ -in Chinese of course!
.

The Teracotta Warriers. Well, what can I say in a few words which can possibly sum up this amazing spectacle? There are about 7000 life-sized figures, each one with a totally different face. They are housed beneath a massive aircraft hanger structure (not original of course!) and are still being discovered to this day. They were discovered in 1974 by a farmer who was digging a well. Now, he spends almost every day sitting at a desk signing copies of the book about his astonishing discovery.

a41

a42

a44

a45

We were warned before we went to the Shaanxi Rare Wildlife Rescue and Breeding Centre (What a mouthful! It’s even longer in Chinese) that we might not see any pandas. As it was a fairly expensive ‘bolt-on’ to the trip, I really hoped we would. And we jolly well did. Loads of the black and white beauties. And to our delight, they weren’t all penned up in cramped cages, but wandering around relatively free.

a51 - Copy

a55

a56

There were a few cages and pens about for other residents, and they were terribly small. The little red pandas were imprisoned as well as yaks, monkeys, vultures, eagles and leopards – by the look of those teeth, it was probably a good thing! 

a57

a58

a59

The Big Wild Goose Pagoda was quite something. Not much else I can say really, but the surrounding gardens were beautiful. 

a70

a71

a73

a76

Having spent the previous night in a reasonable hotel, it was time to board the sleeper train again, this time for the 1600km ride to Shanghai.  I treated the suggestion that I should be tied into my bunk with the contempt it deserved! We partied again, of course!

Sizzling Shanghai they call it. Some call it Hu! Mmmm. Odd. Anyway, I’m not going to drone on with statistics and other such things. Except for this; with over 24 million souls, it has the largest city population in the world. It’s vast. And opulent. I don’t know where I’ve seen more big flashy cars bumper to bumper. Until 1949 it had been very much the place for foreigners to live. On one side of the Huangpu River which flows through its middle, the buildings are very grandiose and colonial having been largely built by those damned British! After Mao’s Communist Party seized power, it all changed. To remind the Chinese that Shanghai really did belong to them, lots of red Chinese flags were flown from the roofs, a feature which remains to this day.

a80

a81

On the other side of the waterway, however, modern Shanghai has appeared. There are skyscrapers the likes of which I’ve never seen before.

a88

a89

At their centre is the weird and wonderful Pearl Tower. A trip to the top ‘ball’ allows a view of the city from all angles and the brave can even venture onto a glass floor to have a snap of themselves taken apparently flying! What fun! 

a93

a94

a95

At this point, I should pause to tell you about one of the national drinks. Apparently half of all alcoholic consumed in China is via a  wicked concoction called Fire Water. It’s 56% proof, tastes foul and is ridiculously cheap. I loved it! I recently read it’s predicted that within 10 years it will be sold in every bar in the UK. Bring it on I say! Do you know what? I think I’ll have a drop now, so if any of my photos are upside down from now on you’ll know why!

The most charming part of the city is the retail area known as – I’ve forgotten! Anyway, the buildings are fantastic and the little shops fascinating – if you like shopping that is!

a96

a97

a98

And adjacent to this area is the wonderful Yuyuan Garden. It is a strangely tranquil place away from the hustle and bustle a few steps away.

a100

a105

a106

a107

a108a109

Standing on the outside deck of a river cruiser taking photos of the night-time Shanghai skyline was a soggy experience indeed; that evening we had our first rain of the tour. But it was well worth all the dripping and squelching.

a110

We had lots of interesting meals on our trip. Most of the food was foreign to me – well it would be I suppose! Many menus had English translations. We came across such delicacies as Dry pot of small yellow croaker, Discharge of salt and pepper, Butter a large bone and Smoked skeleton all washed down with Girl juice! 

120

a121

a122

a123

Although China is an atheist state, religion is tolerated. This is the Jade Buddha Temple.

a125

a126

a127

On our last organised day, we went to Suzhou. We travelled on the legendary bullet train which propelled us along at over 300 km per hour. It didn’t feel like it though so I’ll just have to take their word for it! 

a130

a131

a132

When we arrived I could not believe we were in the same country. We found ourselves in a sort of oriental Venice with crisscrossing waterways and little bridges. Charming – and wet again. My goodness, it did rain!

a140

a141

a140

a143

a144

a145

Fortunately, the rain abated when we left our little canal boat and we went to what for me was one of the minor highlights of the trip. We went to the Unesco listed gardens. I like gardening. And I love a flower or two, but what I saw here was a garden like no other.

a146

a147

a148

a149

a150

a151

Only too soon it was time to get on the train for a rapid trip back to Shanghai. And that was it. On the last evening, we did the usual hugging a pecking we always do when saying goodbye to travelling companions.

 A few of us, me included had the whole of the following day to ourselves due to late flights home and it was great just to wander without a guide constantly telling me to keep up. Having been treated to exceptional weather for most of the trip (exceptionally good that is) it was inevitable that I should eventually get wet, and on that last day get wet I did! The Shanghai waterside walk is known as The Bund, and that’s where I headed for. Take a wander with me.

a160

a161

a162

a200

a300

I’ve got a few odd pictures which don’t fit with anything I’ve written. Here they are!

a163

a164

a165

a166

a167

a168

a169

a170

So let’s pick a few words to sum up China. Crowded, fascinating, delicious, surprising, and awesome. Yes, that about does it!

a180Finally, I must give a big thank you to host Stephanie and all the team at On The Go Tours who ensured that this wonderful trip ran like clockwork! I cannot recommend them more highly.

whitezzz

Turkish Delight!

The Republic of Turkey straddles Eastern Europe and Western Asia and is country steeped in ancient history. I travelled with ten fellow explorers from Antalya in the south to the northern city of Istanbul, pausing in various fascinating places and six different hotels along the way!

 

zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

One of the first places we visited was Phasellis, an ancient city ranged on a peninsula surrounded by three small bays.  We walked along the grand Harbour Way past the elaborate Roman baths, an Agora, and the small but beautiful theatre.  Some of my companions went swimming; I didn’t!

DSCF4050

DSCF4062

DSCF4045 (1)

DSCF4047 (1)

We spent one night in Antalya staying inside the old city which is crisscrossed with narrow streets and surrounded by fortified walls.

DSCF4014

Antalya Museum has exhibitions covering everything from the Stone and Bronze Ages to Byzantium. There are exhibits from ancient cities and evocative statues of some 15 Olympian gods, many of them in near-perfect condition.

DSCF4001

We travelled to Kas, a relatively unspoilt town on the southern bulge of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

DSCF4092

DSCF4089

DSCF4085 (1)

DSCF4093

Did you know?
In some villages when a daughter reaches a marriageable age her father stands a milk bottle on the roof. Any man who can knock the milk bottle off the roof may ask for the daughters hand in marriage. The father then assesses the suitor’s financial position and the ability to provide for his daughter and any children they might have.

One day we had a boat trip! We floated around bays and inlets and looked down the remains of a sunken city below the clear water. We also went ashore to visit the remote township of Simena and climbed up hundreds of steep steps behind the village houses to reach the castle.

DSCF4110

DSCF4120

DSCF4125

DSCF4140

DSCF4146

DSCF4152

In the Roman spa city of Pamukkale hot calcium-laden waters spring from the ground and cascade over a cliff where they cool and form dramatic travertines of rock-hard  brilliant white calcium. From a distance it looked like snow; it couldn’t have been more different! At sunset, we shared a bottle of wine then took off our shoes and walked through the pools of warm water down the steep slope to the town below.

DSCF4187

DSCF4201

DSCF4205

The highlight of the trip for me was our visit to what is considered to be the greatest Greco-Roman site in the world, the city of Ephesus.

DSCF4253

Founded by the Greeks in 10bc it is a treasure trove of ancient history. We walked along streets once trodden by Anthony and Cleopatra, and clambered over the remains of magnificent houses, community buildings, temples, the library and stadiums. We sat in the enormous amphitheatre and visited one of the world’s oldest public toilets! I’ll let my pictures tell the story!

DSCF4245

DSCF4239

DSCF4241

DSCF4250

DSCF4249

DSCF4248

DSCF4243

We stayed in nearby Selcuk where I climbed via the ruins of St John’s Basilica to the hilltop fortress.

DSCF4217

DSCF4218

DSCF4225

DSCF4226

DSCF4233

Did you know?

zzzzzzThe Nazar Boncugu or Evil Eye Pendant is a stone bead worn to protect oneself from evil looks. They hang in front of houses and offices, from the necks of newborn children and farm animals. They are also inserted into the foundations of modern offices.

The majority of my companions were from Australia, so it was no surprise that we spent a day in Gallipoli and visited Anzac Cove, a few of the cemeteries, the battlefields and trenches. Somehow the impression has taken root that in the terrible Battle of Gallipoli in 1915 only the Anzac troops fought and suffered in Turkey. The reality is very different but the overwhelming attention that Australia and New Zealand place on Gallipoli is understandable.

DSCF4322

DSCF4323

DSCF4325

DSCF4335

The figures are horrifying. In just nine months, 330,000 were injured or missing of whom 24,000 were from Australia and New Zealand, and those killed numbered a staggering 110,000 of whom 10,100 were Australasian. The vast majority were from The British Empire and Turkey.

Did you know?

turkish-tea-glassAlthough Turkish coffee is famous, tea is the national drink. It is traditionally brewed samovar-style, with a small pot of very strong tea kept hot atop a larger vessel of boiling water. A small amount of strong tea is poured into a little tulip-shaped glass and cut to the desired strength with hot water.

Troy was an interesting place. Between 3000BC and 400AD there were no less than nine settlements each built one above the other. Thanks to excavation we were able to see the remains of each of them.

DSCF4289 - Copy

The legend of the Trojan Horse is represented by a replica of the wooden beast. Whether it was fact or fantasy has never been established!

DSCF4294 - Copy

DSCF4276 - Copy

DSCF4283 - Copy

DSCF4288 - Copy

DSCF4279 - Copy

DSCF4273

DSCF4275

And then I found myself in Istanbul! I had literally just a few hours there before taking to the air, but it was long enough for me to visit the Blue Mosque and wander around a few cobbled backstreets. I have made my mind up to return for a short break sometime in the future.

DSCF4387 (1)

DSCF4378

DSCF4399 (1)

 

DSCF4401 (1)

Finally, I must thank our amenable and informative host Suleyman of Peregrine Adventures and my travelling companions.

DSCF4299

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures!

 

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

 

Tomato greenhouses

DSCF4072

Local resident St Nicholas aka Father Christmas

 

DSCF4397 (1)

Turkish delight
zzxxxz

Thanks for joining me.

 

Peru, Machu Picchu (and a little bit of Bolivia!)

I had a dream that one day I would visit Peru, and Machu Picchu in particular. But I always thought it would be impossible for them to live up to the hype that surrounded them. My dream came true and I was wrong. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that was very wrong! Join me on my journey and hopefully, I can convey some of the magic I experienced during those two wonderful weeks. I promise not to be too teacher like!

p1

We started our adventure in the ancient capital of Peru, Lima. It was built by the Spanish in the fifteen hundreds, and despite a devastating earthquake in 1746, many of the grand Colonial buildings survived and others rebuilt. You have however to search for them as most of this sprawling desert city on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, is a mass of uninspiring grey buildings. In the centre of the city, we spent time in the grand Plaza Mayor, once the venue for bullfights and a market. Now it is a square surrounded by government buildings and the cathedral.

p2

p3

The cathedral was originally constructed in 1624 and has suffered four major earthquakes and undergone several reconstructions. Although the cathedral appears to be built of stone, much of it is in fact made from bamboo and mud then rendered which allows it a certain amount of flexibility. The palace and government buildings are relatively new dating back to the mid-1900’s.

60% of the vehicles in Lima are Toyota’s earning it the nickname Toyota City!

We, however, were fittingly based in the upmarket area of Miraflores which I believe means see flowers or smell flowers – something like that! In contrast to the main parts of Lima, this area is ultra modern with upmarket shops, smart hotels and hoards of restaurants.

p4

p5

Its other claim to fame is the Love Park – El Parque del Amor! This small area is a mass of flowers surrounded by a Gaudi style low tiled wall featuring romantic words and sentences. At the centre is a massive statue of embracing lovers. Romantic couples leave messages on the bows of the trees. I decided not to!

p8

p7

p6

p9We flew to the Inca capital of Cusco. To drive would have been a hairy journey taking sixteen hours, but our flight took just one. This beautiful city is considered to be the archaeological capital of the Americas and here we had our first view of the Inca walls that were to feature regularly during the rest of our stay. These walls were constructed in the 1200’s AD from huge granite blocks which perfectly together without the aid of mortar beds like giant pieces of a massive puzzle. When the Spanish arrived some 300 years later they built on top of on these walls when creating their Spanish city. It’s a tribute to the skill of the Inca builders that although the Spanish walls collapsed and needed rebuilding after several earthquakes, their Inca foundations remain undamaged to this day.

Cusco also gave our first experience of thin mountain air. Being situated 3360 metres above sea level we immediately experienced a shortage of breath and lightheadedness. Although the effect lessened after a few days, it stayed with us during the remainder of our trip

When walking up inclines and steps we needed to pause every now and again to slow our breathing – except one of our group, 77-year-old Stan who regularly had to wait for us!

Cusco was to be our base for several days. From its main square the Plaza de Armas, overlooked by its magnificent Catholic cathedral, narrow cobbled streets and alleys lined with artisan shops and stalls rise high above the city.

p10

p11

 

p12

 

High in the hills above the city, we visited Sacsayhuaman with its stunning Inca walls and disinterested llamas!

p13

p14
We went to the Sacred Valley through which runs the Urubamba (Sacred) River with its dams and irrigation systems which serve the fertile land along its banks.

Then we had our first serious climb!

Our challenge was to climb up the Inca terraces at Ollyantaytambo. We climbed a few steps at a time huffing and puffing our way to the top. I’m breathing more heavily just thinking about it! But it was worth it as you can see from my pictures.

p15

p16

…..but it was great to come down again!

p17

p18

p19

We travelled by minibus along a poorly maintained winding dirt track to the salt mines. I expected to see people digging salt from the ground but I was wrong! Salt water rushes down the mountainside where it collects in shallow ponds. The water evaporates leaving layers of salt. That’s it! Why they are called mines I know not!

p20

p21

Later that day we visited an Inca agricultural ‘laboratory’; a bowl of terraces where the temperature at the bottom is twelve degrees different from the top terrace. Some of course claim it was created by aliens!

p22

Machu Picchu is an Inca city 2400 metres above sea level and many people reach it by a four-day climb along the Inca Trail. But not us! We let the train take the strain!

p23

We had a fabulous ride alongside the river through a valley to the town of Aguas Calientes which was to be our base, then a bumpy trip up a track in a bus to the magnificent Machu Picchu which is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Words are not necessary – the pictures say it all!

p24

p25

p26

p27

p30

p29

p31

 

Right now I’m feeling a little hungry so maybe it’s time to talk about food and drink!

Peruvian cuisine is simply outstanding. Every menu leaves you spoilt for choice. Okay, so pet lovers may have a bit of difficulty with my first photo which is Peru’s national dish, guinea pig, but there is so much more to tempt the taste buds. Llama steaks and alpaca; kingfish and ceviche – raw fish marinated in lime.

p32

p33

p34

Then there is chicken and beef and pasta, and for the less adventurous, the best pizzas I’ve tasted in years!

At weddings, the bride and groom are often given a pair of guinea pigs as a present as they are prolific breeders and a great source of food.

p35Meals are usually preceded by a glass of pisco sour, a cocktail concocted from pisco, a local clear spirit, sugar syrup and egg white. It’s shaken not stirred then topped with a few drops of bitters. The local wines are typically South American and the beers excellent – if you like lager! My favourite was Cusquena (there should be a wiggly line above the N but I can’t find it on my keyboard!) It was available in massive one and a half pint bottles for around £2. The most popular drink has to be Coca Tea. This is prepared by simply submerging coca leaves in hot water. In case you are wondering, these are the same leaves that are used in the production of cocaine, although in their raw form they are no more of a stimulant than coffee. Even so, I could not have got them through customs even if I’d wanted to! And then there’s Inca Cola, a bright yellow sweet liquid which tastes like bubblegum!

Inca Cola was invented by a British immigrant to Peru in 1935. It became so popular that Coca Cola bought the right to produce it across South America except for in Peru where they would not let go as they consider the drink to be a source of national pride!  Coke has a small stake there, but it remains well and truly Peruvian in Peru! As far as I’m concerned this strange smelling beverage is it’s less of an Inca Drinka and more an Inca Stinker!

We took a ten hour coach ride to our forth hotel which was in Puno, a lively and colourful town on the shore of Lake Titicaca. Along the way, we stopped several times at places of interest including the highest spot of our trip at 4445 metres, La Raya, and at the remains of an Inca Adobe temple.

p36

p37

p38The following morning we left our hotel in Puna by trishaw, a sort of three wheel cycle on which you sit in a basket at the front like a bag of shopping!

We were taken to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, where we hopped on a little motor boat and glided across the water to one of sixty-four floating reed islands. Everything on them including houses and boats and the ground you walk on is made from totara reed.

p39

p40

p41

The island we visited was shamelessly commercialised, but who can blame them?

All over Peru, we met people trying to sell us something. Our eyes were constantly assaulted by vivid colours splashed across ponchos, scarves and bags and rugs. Take a look at some of the market stalls and the people we encountered.

p42

Yes, those dolls really are breastfeeding!
p43

p46

p47

p48

You would be forgiven for thinking that the traditional national costume is just worn for the sake of tourists.  However, you’d be mistaken! In the country districts, it is the normal attire, albeit a little less fussy, and those who move to the towns continue to don a traditional dress.

p49

And then it was time to trawl along the shore of Lake Titicaca and cross the border into Bolivia.

p144

 

En route we stopped at the remarkable ancient ruins of Tiahuanaco. It was the site of a technologically advanced and self-sustaining civilisation starting in 500 BC which mysteriously vanished 1200AD. They are considered by many ‘romantic’ archaeologists to be the oldest ruins in the world. In fact, the city was already in ruins when the Incas first came upon the scene and adopted it. There we saw temples, statues, sun gates and terraced pyramids. For me, the most intriguing part was the Sunken Temple, a sort of open courtyard several steps down. Around its walls are 175 carved heads, many of which appear alien. This has led to much speculation by those who believe much of the building in this region was in fact carried out by beings from another world. They back their claims up by pointing out the precise cutting of embellishing details with their precise angles and holes which would be difficult to replicate even with today’s technology. Whatever! The ceremonial complex is, by the way, thought to date back to the eighth century BC.

p145

p146

p147

We were to spend a couple of days in the crazy city of La Paz! Whilst La Paz has often referred the highest capital in the world this is only half true as Bolivia has two capitals! Sucre is the constitutional capital and La Paz the administrative one! Don’t ask me why! We were all told not to carry cameras, take next to no money, hold hands when walking and huddle together when standing still ( I may be exaggerating slightly) but we managed to avoid being attacked mugged jumped upon whilst there! The weirdest things I saw were people dressed as zebras helping folk to cross the road!  From everywhere in the city, you can see the snow-capped peak of Mount Ilimanni which towers to 6439 metres above sea level.

p149

p150

p151

p152

 

p155

p156

La Paz boasts the world’s highest football stadium and many national teams have tried to have the venue banned as the Bolivians are thought to have an unfair advantage being used to altitude! 

One of the most fascinating areas of La Paz is its famous (or infamous depending on your viewpoint!) Witches Market where you can buy all sorts of weird potions and lotions as well as dried llama foetuses which are said to process peculiar powers.

p158

p159

In La Paz, every way is up! The steep and narrow streets are awash with colour from the heaped market stalls selling clothes, and air filled with unusual smells some pleasant some not! Much of the city is modern with hotels soaring high into the sky.

And so for our final visit, the Valley of the Moon, a strange eroded maze of canyons and one of the oddest landscapes I’ve ever seen.

p160

And so, I go back to the start of my piece where I said that this trip exceeded all my expectations. As well as the sights and sounds I experienced, the trip was made all the more memorable by the superb hosting skills of our constant companion Diana. My fellow travellers John, Marilyn, Sue, Betsy and Stan, and Jan and Peter were a diverse a bunch of people I could ever wish to meet and great company! I’m sure they join me in saying  – Peregrine Adventures, thanks for the trip of a lifetime!

p157