A Travellerspoint blog

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca (Peru and Bolivia) 21st – 26th August

We made it back in one piece, as did the car, to Cusco where we`d arranged to meet the car rental man at the airport. Naturally, being Peru, he didn`t turn up and the airport information desk had to phone him to get him out of bed. All this left us late catching our train, but we made it to the freezing cold, coffee-less waiting room of the Andean Explorer (boy, could Peru Rail learn some lessons from Orient Express...or even National Express come to that!).

Feeling optimistic, we tried once again to see if we could get off the train at our hotel (which apparently has a stop which has to be requested), rather than going on into Puno itself. Well, you would have thought we had asked if they could drop us back in London! First it wasn`t allowed, then it was but we should have already gotten special permission, then they could but there might be an additional cost! We`d all but given up, when the train manager pulled something out of the bag (and then remembered he had to pull our bags out of the luggage compartment) and agreed to drop us off.

The Andean Explorer went about as fast as a one-legged tortoise, so took around 10 hours to make the journey. It was a fairly pleasant way to spend the day though, chugging through the stunning Peruvian countryside, eating and drinking, with the odd stop to once again be harangued by locals selling stuff you`d probably never wear, eat or have in your house, or charging to have your photo taken with them. I know that they`re only trying to make a living, but it does get a bit exhausting, especially when you can`t even get away from the hard sell on the train, with the obligatory "fashion and pan pipes show".

The tracks seems to run right through the main high streets of the villages we passed, nudging against people, dogs and market stalls as it ploughed through. We even ran through the middle of a wedding party, and the bride and groom seemed overjoyed to have the train along with dozens of gawping tourists in the background of their wedding pictures!

The train stopped on cue, and the hotel even had a porter alongside the track waiting to take our luggage. For once, we were impressed. It was short lived, however, when we were given the smallest and noisiest room in the hotel. Dave managed to “persuade” them that they weren`t in fact full and they miraculously managed to find us a lake view room before the manager was summoned.

Dave was suffering from a touch of “Alpaca`s Revenge” and I was feeling a bit sad that the next day would be our last together for 6 months, so we decided to get an early night.

The glorious views of the lake from our balcony the next morning lifted our spirits, and we were looking forward to our tour to the Uros Islands, a unique collection of over 50 floating islands in the middle of Lake Titicaca, made entirely of reeds. Lonely Planet describes them as a “reed Disneyland” having become shockingly over-commercialised, and we certainly felt as though we were being taken for a ride.

I wasn`t convinced that the families dressed in garish versions of the local costumes, actually lived on the islands, but it was interesting to hear how the islands were formed of layers of reeds, which had to be replaced on top as they rotted below. Their huts, lookout towers and boats were also made of reeds and it struck me as an accident waiting to happen, especially when cooking over an open flame. I prayed that each island had a no-smoking ban and an asbestos boat moored alongside.

After buying something purportedly “hand crafted” on the islands, we then handed over more money to be taken on a reed boat to another island where we were once again given the hard sell. By this point, I was almost reaching for the lighter!

After our tour we felt obliged to give the town of Puno a once over. It really is a dump with hardly any redeeming features at all, apart from being on the lake. We decided to head back to the hotel and had a lovely walk down to the pier alongside grazing lambs and alpacas, as we watched the sun set.

I bid Dave a tearful goodbye the next morning before crawling back under the duvet for a rare lie-in, and made the most of my last luxury hotel for quite a while. Checking in to my hostel in Puno was pretty depressing, and although the room was clean and comfortable, it felt freezing. I decided that I needed to invest in some warm clothing and added a pair of leggings and some gloves to my winter collection. And I thought South America was supposed to be hot!

I managed to find a pizzeria with a big brick oven to sit by, and then spent a few hours in the internet cafe warming up before going to bed dressed in pjs, socks, fleece and my spare blanket. Good job Dave had gone home, he would have found me hard to resist!

Up early again the next morning to catch the bus to Copacabana (definitely not “the hottest place south of Havana”, but a lakeside town across the Bolivian border). The town itself is quite small, with an interesting tile roofed church. However, it is the embarkation point for boat tours to the Isla de la Sol and Luna, supposedly the birthplaces of the sun and moon in Inca Mythology. I had planned on staying over on the Sun Island, but my hotel in Copa was invitingly warm and cosy, so I decided to base myself there and booked a day trip instead.

The journey takes about 2 to 2 and a half hours, and the boats are cheap but very uncomfortable and I was ready to get up and explore when we arrived at the pretty little port. I was once again suffering the effects of the altitude and had to take it easy walking up the hill to the ruins. The views were rewarding and reminiscent of Italy or Croatia, with terraces sloping down to white sand beaches and turquoise blue water.

The Sacred Rock and the remains of the ancient Inca Sanctuary were set amongst this striking backdrop and made the 2 hour round trip well worthwhile. Back on the boat, we sailed round to the south of the island, where there were more ruins, but sadly we only had time to grab a bite to eat before heading back to town.

Heading off to La Paz tomorrow to meet up with the group I`m joining for a month long tour through the wilds of Bolivia and into Brazil. This will probably be the toughest part of my trip with unforgiving terrain, harsh weather conditions and very basic accommodation, so I`m looking forward to the next few weeks, albeit with some trepidation.

View from the Train

View from the Train


Photo Op

Photo Op


Welcome to the Uros Islands

Welcome to the Uros Islands


Copacabana from my Hotel

Copacabana from my Hotel


Isla De La Sol

Isla De La Sol


Ikea (Cusco Branch)

Ikea (Cusco Branch)


Excuse Us

Excuse Us


Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels


Here Comes The Bride

Here Comes The Bride


Peruvian Countryside

Peruvian Countryside


Level crossing...what level crossing??

Level crossing...what level crossing??


View from the hotel over Lake Titicaca

View from the hotel over Lake Titicaca


Feeling peckish, Dave starts on the island...

Feeling peckish, Dave starts on the island...


Here`s one I made earlier...

Here`s one I made earlier...


Held hostage by the Uros...

Held hostage by the Uros...


Baby Alpaca

Baby Alpaca


Baby lamb

Baby lamb


Lake Titicaca Sunset

Lake Titicaca Sunset


Copacabana Harbour

Copacabana Harbour


Copacabana Scene

Copacabana Scene


Isla De La Sol

Isla De La Sol


Isla Del La Sol

Isla Del La Sol


Temple Doorway - Isla De La Sol

Temple Doorway - Isla De La Sol


Harbour Scene - Isla De La Sol

Harbour Scene - Isla De La Sol


The boat`s on time...my ass!

The boat`s on time...my ass!

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

I`m a Wuss...Get me out of here!

Amazon Rainforest Lodge and Sacred Valley – 16th – 21st August

Up at the crack of dawn to catch our early flight to Puerto Maldonaldo, the gateway town to the Peruvian Amazon and one of South America's finest jungles, according to Lonely Planet. The flight offered great views, and took our minds off the pretty hairy landing on the tiny runway.

Our tour company was there to meet us, along with a group of Italian tourists (here we go again with the Spanish/Italian confusion). They seemed to understand me though, and it was nice to speak a language I felt a bit more confident with. Puerto Maldonaldo was nothing to write home about, and we were soon on our way by road and then along the Tambopata River to our Lodge. A very tasty lunch of vegetarian rice wrapped in a leaf and a bottle of water (Dave wasn`t impressed!) was served on the boat, and it felt very surreal floating down the river surrounded by jungle – spotting parakeets, herons, and other exotic birds along the way along with a baby capibara.

The Inotawa Lodge was a pleasant surprise, and we were allocated a spacious "bungalow" complete with mosquito nets and en-suite shower room. We weren`t so impressed with the cold water and large gaps in the wooden roof and floor - after all...this was the jungle for heaven's sake – anything could (and did) get in. After a cold beer at the bar, we were treated to the up-close spectacle of several squirrel monkeys helping themselves to the bananas left over from breakfast just alongside the dining room. We were horrified to learn that we were unlikely to see any jaguars, as the Russian tourists somehow managed to bend the strict conservation rules governing the national park, and went on shooting parties up-river.

That evening we were invited on a night walk with our guide Carlos, who promised that we should see snakes, spiders and bats (oh joy!). I was already a little uneasy after the news story about the killer vampire bats that had been attacking children in the Northern Peruvian Amazon, only to see a couple roosting in the roof of the dining area. Still, looking like we were about to go down the pit with our headlamps on (we felt we were setting ourselves up as a kind of mobile MacDonalds for bugs), we set up intrepidly into the dark depths of the jungle. Several frogs, tarantulas and other man-killing wasps and ants later, we weren`t too disappointed not to have seen any snakes.

Dave felt quite cosy in our mosquito net covered bed listening to the sounds of the jungle, but I still had the bats on my mind, and woke up with a start when I though I heard scuffling noises in the hut. A few sleepless hours later, we arose for our early morning boat ride to the parrot “hide” up river (there was never a more appropriate use of the word). After a quick wash I nearly fainted when something ran out from under the sink I`d just been using, and I just saw a long rat-like tail disappearing under the shower curtain. Apparently, it would have been a “possum”, but I felt a little spooked nonetheless.

The parrot spotting didn`t go too well, as a large hawk had taken roost in a nearby tree and was scaring them away. We did see a few brave grey headed parakeets and several dozen “weaver birds” (the name given to any bird that Carlos obviously couldn`t identify)! Slightly disappointed, we took the boat back to the lodge for breakfast, before setting off on another journey down the river and then on to the lake, to see if we could spot some giant otters. We did see a white caiman at a distance, which seemed to have his eye on a large otter that was out fishing. The otter clearly could out-swim the caiman and each time he almost caught up to him, the otter would go speeding off leaving the caiman in its wake. Apparently, the caiman wasn`t after the otter, but the remains of the otter`s fish. It was quite funny to watch! The others went fishing for Piranhas while I gave them my best disapproving glare. It was a lovely serene spot though, with multi-coloured butterflies fluttering around us.

The evening`s adventure featured visiting a local farm and it was eye-opening seeing the hard lives the locals faced. A small family of four adults and one child lived in a wooden framed house and had to tend a very large piece of land growing several crops including bananas, mangoes, sugar cane and cotton. They had no running water and had to wash in the river. They did have a radio so at least could keep up with the latest goings on in “The Archers”, no doubt.

On the way back, the mad Carlos was determined that we see a caiman close up, and ventured into the rocks at the side of the river (in his flip flops!) to fish a baby caiman out of his nest. When he brought it struggling onto the boat, most of us nearly jumped off! It was eerie, spotting all the eyes in the light of the torch as we swept down the river.

Feeling in need of a stiff drink once back at the lodge, Dave was amused when I asked for the wine list! Well...it was worth a try.

Another night under the mosquito net (strangely enough, mosquitoes were the last thing I was worried about being bitten by), and up early to catch our boat and bus back to Puerto Maldonaldo.

We arrived back into Cusco around lunchtime, and picked up our hire car. I think Dave was having second thoughts after experiencing Peruvian drivers and roads on the drive in from the airport. He was even more worried when we were told we couldn`t take out fully inclusive insurance and they took a $1000 deposit from his credit card. I did offer to drive, as I thought my driving skills were more up to Peruvian standards, but the look on his face told me that he would have rather gone for a swim with the piranhas and caimans.

My fine navigation skills however, guided us directly into the centre of Cusco, where we passed up on the Guinea Pig pizza (I kid you not) and found a great little cafe run by some Aussies for lunch. We took the opportunity to see Cusco in the daylight but were quickly driven back to the car by the hoards of street vendors trying to sell us everything from massages to jellies. Not particularly feeling the need for either, we set off on our two hour drive to the Sacred Valley.

All went well and we managed to navigate our way through the mad drivers, pot-holed roads and packs of kamikaze dogs, until we somehow missed the turn off we needed and ended up on a wild diversion up a dirt track on the side of a mountain, behind a large lorry. Each time we hit a bend, the lorry would stop and roll backwards. When we finally tried to overtake him, we found a stream of minivans and cars trying to overtake us at the same time!

It was a relief to finally reach the Rio Sagrado, on the banks of the river running through the valley – a very pretty spot, in time to watch the sunset. An ancient ceremony was being staged in the grounds of the hotel – a sort of Harvest Festival – giving thanks to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). The Gods didn`t seem to be too pleased with the offerings, as a strong wind had blown up and was blowing embers from the fire dangerously close to the gathering.

Much as we were enjoying the "Earth, Wind and Fire" show, we were reluctant to become burnt offerings and we beat a hasty retreat to the relative safety of our room. The long day had taken it`s toll, and we enjoyed a luxurious night`s sleep in a room with a solid roof and floor, a hot shower and devoid of bats and other night creatures.

A rare lie-in and we felt brave enough to hit the Peruvian roads again (although it felt more like they were hitting us). Avoiding the pot holes, burst water mains, tuk tuks and dogs we drove to Pisac, a scenic market town along the valley. Much haggling later, Dave emerged with presents of alpaca scarves and shawls and I bought myself a nice jumper with a hood, to keep me warm on the long cold nights in Bolivia.

After a quick relax back at the hotel, we filled up the car at the local petrol station, and were rewarded with our free gift – a loo roll! We wondered what the rest of the collection consisted of. Still, I packed it in my rucksack, feeling sure it would come in far more useful than a set of glasses over the coming weeks.

Hunting down a very well hidden restaurant that was recommended in the guide book, Dave finally succumbed to trying alpaca (a choice he lived to regret over the next few days). Us vegetarians can be very smug sometimes!

An early night as we had to be up at 4am (it gets worse) the next morning for our drive back to Cusco to drop off the car and catch the 8am Andean Explorer train to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Aerial View of the Rainforest

Aerial View of the Rainforest


Monkey Business

Monkey Business


Sunset

Sunset


Guinea Pig Pizza - yum!

Guinea Pig Pizza - yum!


Road to the Sacred Valley

Road to the Sacred Valley


Pisac Market

Pisac Market


Lunch

Lunch


Parrot (not deceased)

Parrot (not deceased)


Tesco Home Delivery - Amazon Style

Tesco Home Delivery - Amazon Style


It`s A Hard Life

It`s A Hard Life


Fungi

Fungi


Dusk

Dusk


The closest we could get to a Jaguar

The closest we could get to a Jaguar


Leafcutter Ants

Leafcutter Ants


On the Lake

On the Lake


Capibara

Capibara


Mads Carlos and the caiman

Mads Carlos and the caiman


Cusco

Cusco


Earth Wind and Fire make a Come-Back

Earth Wind and Fire make a Come-Back


View from our room - Hotel Rio Sagrado

View from our room - Hotel Rio Sagrado


Hotel Rio Sagrado

Hotel Rio Sagrado


The Daily Grind

The Daily Grind

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

A Memorable Birthday

Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru – 13th- 16th August

Woke full of anticipation and excitement as I`d been looking forward to seeing Dave again after a long four months and we were due to meet at Lima. Arriving early at San Jose airport, I made use, once again, of his very practical leaving present of a Lounge Pass card. His flight had arrived earlier at Lima and he was there waiting for me when I made it through to arrivals. I`d arranged a taxi, which failed to turn up, so we jumped in a cab to our hotel in the Miraflores area of the city. The mad driving and heavy traffic didn`t do much to endear me to the place, and I felt glad we were flying straight out the following day.

We had a lovely evening catching up, and even managed to fit in having my laundry done and even a spot of shoe shopping! (Dave had brought out a nice dress for me to wear at the 5* hotels we were about to stay in and I didn`t think that my hiking boots, or my very worn out flip flops would complement my outfit too well).

After the luxury of a comfortable bed, a hot shower, a lie-in and a hearty breakfast, we managed to survive the return journey to the airport for our short flight to Cusco. I had worried about the altitude and must admit to feeling a bit light-headed and short of breath for the first few hours (or maybe that was just seeing Dave???) I had managed to blag a free night at the luxury Orient Express owned Hotel Monasterio, which, as the name suggests was set in an old monastery which would have been a haven of peace and tranquillity in the centre of the city, if it hadn`t been for the fact that a wedding was taking place. It appears that even in Peru everyone has an auntie who turns up at their wedding, drinks a little to much and then proceeds to show the world the latest dance moves. We were tempted to crash the party, but decided to brave the cold to take a stroll through the town instead.

Cusco is set in a valley, and with it`s central Plaza de Armes and cobbled streets, surrounded by mountains, it made a for a very pretty, if a bit chilly, setting. Dave resisted the "cuy" (guinea pig) which apparently is eaten whole, and even felt a bit squeamish about eating the other local delicacy, alpaca. I tried the local potato and cheese stew (was nicer than it sounds).

We tried to sort out our train tickets for the next few days – I`d had to re-arrange our itinerary and discovered that Peru Rail was about as efficient as the Greek Ministry of Finance. Our booking back from Machu Picchu to Cusco had been lost, and we were promised a part train/part bus transfer, although for some unknown reason they were unable to re-issue our tickets. Assuring us we were “on the list”, we had to take their word for this – our doubts were later to be proved correct.

The first part of our rail journey was from Cusco up to Aguas Caliente (the town at the bottom of the Machu Picchu mountain). The scenery on the way up was stunning (unlike the breakfast), and we had some brilliant views of the soaring peaks through the glass windows of the Vistadome. The 100 km journey took just over 3 and a half hours on the single track railway. The town of Aguas Caliente is clearly, solely there for tourists visiting the ruins and was full of tacky souvenir shops and restaurants so Dave loved it. The road up to the site was incredibly steep and quite scary (much like the price of the entrance tickets!).

We arrived at our luxury hang out for the night, The Sanctuary Lodge, which is the only accommodation directly at the entrance to the site. The location was unrivalled and the gardens had amazing views of the mountains and were overlooked by the final part of the Inca Trail. It was quite satisfying lounging in the sunchairs looking up at the hardy travellers finishing their trek. Once checked in to our room, we booked a slot at the Jacuzzi and cracked open the champers that Dave had dragged 9,500 miles from England (well, it was my birthday).

A very relaxing afternoon – and another moment where I had to pinch myself to believe that I really was there – we made our way down to dinner, where I was treated to a rendition of “Happy Birthday” in Peruvian (thankfully without the pan pipes) and a cake. This will be one birthday I won`t forget in a hurry.

We had agreed to try to get into the site as early as possible to view the ruins at sunrise. A queue had already formed by the time we walked out of the hotel at 6am. It was also incredibly cloudy, but we made our way up to one of the highest viewpoints and watched this iconic city gradually emerging out of the mists. We set off exploring, before nipping back to The Lodge for breakfast.

The day turned quite hot, but we managed to get around most of the main structures within 4 hours. By mid afternoon, after providing lunch for the sandflies (I began to regret wearing cropped trousers) we retreated back to the Lodge for a rest.

That evening we made our way back down to the railway station to find that we were not booked on the train we had originally been scheduled to take, but one leaving 20 minutes later, that our seats were in a different carriage to those on our tickets, and oh, what a surprise, there was no record of our names on the passenger list for the bus connection back to Cusco. However, the Peru Rail woman gauged the situation by my reaction and decided it would be safer to let us on the bus anyway – good call!

After a very cold and bumpy journey back to Cusco, we settled into our hotel for a (very) few hours sleep, before heading back to the airport for our flight to Puerto Maldonaldo and our rainforest lodge adventure (feeling very much the intrepid traveller now).

View from the Monasterio

View from the Monasterio


The Train to Machu Picchu

The Train to Machu Picchu


The Sanctuary Lodge

The Sanctuary Lodge


First Glimpse of the Hidden City

First Glimpse of the Hidden City


It`s A Hard Life

It`s A Hard Life


View from the Train

View from the Train


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu


View from our Terrace

View from our Terrace


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu


Cusco By Night

Cusco By Night


Dave pretending to be Alan Wicker

Dave pretending to be Alan Wicker


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Costa (Lot) Rica

Costa Rica 7th – 13th August

After a long day travelling – left Antigua at 4am, to catch my 8am flight to San Jose (luckily the pilot DID know the way to...). As I`d left booking so late, the only seats left were business class, so I did enjoy the luxury of a few inches extra leg room and real cutlery to eat my 3 bits of fruit (I don`t think TACA do vegetarian meals). My shuttle bus didn`t arrive until 3.30pm and I landed at 9.30am, so I had a very long and boring wait at the pick-up point, a very grotty and incredibly dusty restaurant at the side of a road, which served inedible food. Thank goodness for my laptop and several episodes of "Desperate Housewives".

Met a really nice lady from Washington on the bus, who offered me her brother`s loft apartment in Chelsea when I go up to meet Joe in New York in October (ace bit of networking on my behalf, if I say so myself!). Arrived at my final destination, Manuel Antonio (a national park on the Pacific Coast) and found myself sharing a mixed dorm with a very nice young man called Joseph from Australia (if only I were 30 years younger!).

Had an early night as it was very dark, and there was nowhere around that was within easy walking distance. It was kind of nice though, to fall asleep to the sounds of the rain forest (and the torrential rain storm).

Luckily the morning was fine, and I`d arranged to meet Trish (the lady I`d met on the shuttle) to explore the park together. They only allow 300 people in the park each day, and as we queued I must admit was a bit worried we wouldn`t get in. We made it through and joined the hoards of visitors eagerly trying to spot the wildlife. We didn`t have to wait long until a small deer wandered across our path. It did occur to me that the natural habitat was being ruined and the animals seemed far too used to human contact. We even saw someone feeding a monkey Cheetos (hmmm..) Still, it was very exciting to see snakes, spiders, coati mundis, racoons, monkeys, parakeets and sloths right up close.

Once we wandered off the beaten track we were rewarded with some stunning views of deserted beaches and distant coastlines. From what I had seen of Costa Rica, it seemed an incredibly beautiful country and certainly more affluent than the previous places I had visited (most of the population seemed to own a much better class of shack). “A hill of (coffee) beans” obviously amounts to quite a lot around these parts.

Sadly, the beach at the resort didn`t amount to much, so I decided to give it a miss, to go visit El Avion (a bar whose centrepiece was the cargo plane shot down over Nicaragua in the 80`s during the Oliver North “Arms to Iran” scandal). It proved an interesting spot to have a cocktail overlooking the ocean (but unfortunately, not a sunset – damn the rainy season).

Yet another early wakeup call the next morning to take the shuttle to La Fortuna, hopefully to see another active volcano – Arenal. Sadly, once again, the views were spoilt by the weather, and my afternoon tour was spent walking through a rain forest (in the pouring rain). I discovered that am spectacularly bad at spotting wildlife when the guide points something out in the trees. Everyone else eventually sees the parrot/monkey/snake/grey blob in the bush, that is supposedly a sloth - except me, and I`m left having to pretend that I`ve seen it too! And that`s even with my glasses on.

After the disappointing and very wet trek, we were taken to a spot that was allegedly good for viewing lava erupting from the volcano. Their technique of plying us with beer and a locally produced cocktail certainly did the trick and after half an hour standing in the rain, peering at what looked like a mountain covered in cloud, none of us much cared if it exploded or not.

The final stop was at Baldi Hot Springs, one of several water parks set up around the pools that were naturally heated by the volcano. It was a very pretty setting, especially at night, when you could lie in a pool of bath temperature water gazing up at the stars, with the sound of the jungle all around you. It did make me feel quite lonely though, as it was really quite romantic and I felt like I needed someone to soak up the atmosphere (and the alcohol) with.

My third early start in a row – and this time the shuttle was taking me over to the Caribbean coastline, through banana and coffee plantations and a small town called Liverpool. The bus made if through with all 4 wheels and the windows intact, so nothing like the real thing. Puerto Viejo reminded me of Caye Caulker, a tiny little coastal town by the sea, with dirt roads, interesting little shops and cafes and a black sand beach.

My home for the next couple of days was a wooden cabana, complete with mosquito nets and a resident (and quite frankly, larger than I felt comfortable with) spider in the shower. The place has a very Caribbean feel to it – even the people here look and speak differently.

Victor, the owner soon made me feel welcome, and knocked at my door around 6pm with a pineapple daiquiri (I could get used to this!). He offered to share some of their evening meal with my and even agreed to make a vegetarian version. I`d forgotten that everything was done Caribbean style here, so we eventually ate around 10pm! The coconut stew was worth the wait though.

The next morning I planned to get up and catch the bus to the Sloth Sanctuary (which Joe had sent me the link to months ago, with instructions to bring one back for him). Caught the local bus along with some young Americans, and we had almost reached the sanctuary when we hit a police check point. We were all turfed off the bus and they insisted on seeing our passports. Naturally, we weren`t carrying them, and the senior policeman (a right b*%*ard) got very stroppy when we tried to explain in bad Spanish that we were tourists and only wanted to go a few more kilometres down the road. He was insistent that had to go back to Puerto Viejo, and then mimed putting handcuffs on. At this point, we all decided that trying to bribe them might not be the best idea and we had better go back. Very disappointed and very dejected we waited on the opposite side of the road for the bus.

When a jeep sporting a Union Jack appeared, I rushed over and asked if we could have a lift. It turned out to be an American guy who owned a hotel in PV, who was happy to give us a ride back into town, where we quickly got our passports and shared a cab back to the sanctuary (can you guess if they checked our passports this time??), just in time for the last tour.

It proved well worth all the efforts to get there. It was set up by an American couple in the 70s who owned the land, and were brought an injured sloth by some local girls. After looking after “Buttercup” and nursing her back to health, they became known in the area and started the centre to care for abandoned babies and injured adults (usually through climbing the electricity pylons and getting electrocuted).

The tour was fascinating and started with a tranquil canoe ride around the lagoon, where we spotted toucans, kingfishers, eagles, monkeys, lizards and of course, sloths. Then the owner`s grandson (a budding Steve Irwin) showed us some of the adults that had been rescued but weren`t able to be released back into the wild for various reasons. It was great to be able to stroke these friendly and very cuddly creatures, and they seemed to love the attention. We then visited the nursery, but many of the young sloths were asleep, and they limit human interaction, as this might prevent them from integrating back into their natural habitat. So – sorry Joe, I couldn`t pinch one for you.

The rain had held off for most of the day and I spent a relaxing evening eating dinner on the beach.

I had intended to go for a bike ride on my last morning, but woke up to rain. It seemed to ease off, so after breakfast I headed off out of town to the next beach, Punta Uva. I still got soaked, but it was quite refreshing and I felt I needed the exercise. Caught my shuttle back to San Jose, which didn`t look very interesting or pretty and where I was advised not to venture out of the hostel, for my last night in Costa Rica.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park


Monkey Business

Monkey Business


Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano


Puerto Viejo Horses on Beach

Puerto Viejo Horses on Beach


Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary

Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary


Aaaah...

Aaaah...


Worms Can Bite????

Worms Can Bite????


Rain Forest Hike Arenal

Rain Forest Hike Arenal


Arenal Volcano by night

Arenal Volcano by night


El Avion

El Avion


Oh Deer

Oh Deer


Manuel Antonio Monkey

Manuel Antonio Monkey


Manuel Antonio Sloth

Manuel Antonio Sloth


Manuel Antonio Sloth

Manuel Antonio Sloth


Upside down monkey

Upside down monkey


The Giant Sloth

The Giant Sloth


Wild Bananas!

Wild Bananas!


Feeding time

Feeding time


Buttercup

Buttercup


Baby sloth

Baby sloth

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Guatemala

Flores and Antigua, Guatemala 1st – 6th August

Felt sad to be leaving Caye Caulker, but looking forward to adding another country to my list! Took the 7am boat to Belize City (which looked very dodgy when I ventured out of the port in search of an ATM), Got on our "luxury bus" which made the Mexican buses seem wonderful. The air con turned out to be the window being slightly open. We took ages to get going as one of the young backpackers had lost her ticket and another woman had lost her glasses – I honestly don`t know how these people manage to get themselves up in the morning, let alone travel around the world (am I beginning to sound like a veteran traveller now, or what??). So the first half an hour was spent in a stationery sauna.

We made it to the Guatemala border in good time, and again, I was through in about 10 minutes, waiting at the bus on the other side. The border guards even said I was so tanned I looked like a native (or maybe it`s because I`m beginning to look ever so slightly scruffy and have a chipped tooth?). It took over an hour for everyone else to get through; God alone knows what they were doing. Most of them were Dutch, so maybe a bit of drug trafficking???

Anyway, another 2 hours later down mud covered roads, we were all turfed off to get on another smaller minibus into town and our bags were slung unceremoniously onto the roof. I kept nervously looking in the rear-view mirror with visions of seeing my rucksack flying off and being run over by a tractor. When we arrived in Flores, we got the hard sell from the driver to stay at his friend`s hotel and book our tour to Tikal (the local ruins) through his friend`s travel agent. I`m proud to say I stood firm and insisted he take me to the hotel I`d chosen from the internet. It turned out to be a good move, as the hotel was great – my own room, shower and fan (air con was £3 a night extra)! And I can see the lake if I stand outside on the balcony, look sideways and squint. And I managed to get £3.50 knocked off the tour. Every little counts.

Flores turned out to be a very pretty little town on a lake, much like San Cristobal in Mexico but without the music. They even have half decent veggie food (if only my constitution was fit enough to take it). Bean soup probably wasn`t the best choice, the state I was in, but I washed it down with a couple of glasses of Chilean wine and hoped for the best. I felt so comfortable there, I decided to stay another night and have a day catching up on e-mails, updating my blog and after several hours of defragging, deleting files, running scans – I finally sorted out the problem I was having with Skype (basically the new version doesn`t like my laptop).

Booked a very early trip to the famous Tikal ruins for the next day (5am start) – and guessed I would be pretty ruined myself by the time I got back, but hopefully tired enough to sleep on the overnight bus to Guatemala City and then on to Antigua.

The next day got off to a bad start, when I discovered that the only ATM in town had run out of money and I didn`t have quite enough to pay for the entrance fee to the ruins. How bad must it be when I `m having to borrow money off a Guatemalan (the very kind man at the hotel offered to lend me the difference)! The bus that was supposed to collect me at 5am failed to show up, so I ended up hanging around for an hour and getting the 6am bus, which didn`t include a guide. It worked out OK in the end however, as there was an excellent guide on our bus who offered his services (I even ended up having to owe him his fee and pay him back later!) – he was amazing and managed to spot all kinds of wildlife in the park including luring a tarantula out of his hole (well, I did have my suspicions it was a fake one on a piece of string!), coati mundis, spider monkeys and my first ever toucan. The ruins weren`t half bad either – kind of a Mayan version of Manhattan with some of the tallest temples I`ve ever seen. The jungle setting made the view from the top (via some very rickety wooden stairs) of one of the highest temples, absolutely incredible. The early start and the persistent rain saw me returning to town by lunchtime, for a quick snooze.

After my experience with the tour, I felt a bit apprehensive about my seat on the night bus being booked, and was having major worries when it turned up half an hour late. It turned out to be a fairly comfortable, if cold, journey and I woke to a very wet, grey and quite frankly, depressing Guatemala City. Feeling relieved that I wasn`t staying there, we caught the shuttle to Antigua where we just about arrived (bar Saigon, the drivers here win my vote for worst in the world) at 9am. Found my hostel, a lovely little place owned by a Dutch lady, and settled into my home for the next 3 days.

Antigua has one of prettiest settings – cobblestone streets (which turned out to be very difficult to cross for all sorts of reasons) and colourful houses, overlooked by a majestic volcano and green hills. In fact, the town is a UNESCO World Heritage site (did a quick tally and make it the 15th on my trip so far). Guetemala seems to have the world`s biggest collection of vintage US school buses, which have been “pimp-my-bus-ed” to extraordinary lengths. They do make an amazing sight when they are almost running you over as you try to make your way around the city, and are usually packed to the brim and the roofs are covered with baskets of fruit and vegetables and assorted hardware.

The hostel had a very well stocked kitchen, TV/DVD room and roof terrace with stunning views of the volcano (when it wasn`t covered with cloud), so I spent a fair bit of time there chilling out and trying to sort out my plans for Costa Rica. I badly needed to get my hair cut and highlighted and after scouring the town for Antigua`s answer to Trevor Sorbie, I chanced my luck at “Dorka`s Salon”, and hoped I wouldn`t end up as distressed as the walls of the crumbling little shop. I needn`t have worried (although I came equipped with my Spanish Hairdressing Phrase book just in case things got lost in translation) – and was delighted with the finished look and the bill - £20! Feeling boosted by this experience, I also had my ear syringed (blocked since diving) at the local hospital, and now feel as good as new.

It was quite nice to be somewhere slightly cooler, where you didn`t need a fan or a/c – although unfortunately it was the rainy season, and we were treated to several torrential downpours each day. At least there was no seismic activity while I was there (the volcano had erupted only last May) and evidence of the huge earthquake that destroyed the city in 1773 was everywhere. I visited the ruins of several large churches and the convent, which were gradually being restored but proved how powerful the forces of nature can be.

The rain really set in tonight, but hunger forced me out (there`s only so many nights in a row you can eat pot noodles and cuppa soup). Decided to blow my last few Quetzals on a curry (it`s weird using a currency that sounds like a savory snack) – I had discovered Antigua`s Indian restaurant while wandering around today. Got myself hopelessly lost and soaked in the process, but needs must, and I eventually enjoyed a vegetable thali – Guatemalan stylie. I wondered if I would be craving a veggie burrito when I finally make it to Mumbai??? Damp, but happy and full, I hopped home (when it rains here, the cobbles become stepping stones in the rivers they call roads) in my trusty blue rain cape. An early start tomorrow for my flight to Costa Rica.

Flores

Flores


Tikal`s tallest temple

Tikal`s tallest temple


Tikal

Tikal


Pimp My Bus

Pimp My Bus


Antigua Volcano

Antigua Volcano


Flores

Flores


Tarantula Tree (Tikal)

Tarantula Tree (Tikal)


Coati Mundi (Tikal)

Coati Mundi (Tikal)


Tikal

Tikal


Tikal

Tikal


Tikal

Tikal


Tikal

Tikal


Cathedral Antigua

Cathedral Antigua


Volcano Antigua

Volcano Antigua


Ruins Antigua

Ruins Antigua


Ruins Antigua

Ruins Antigua


View from the Cross Antigua

View from the Cross Antigua


Antigua

Antigua


Antiguan Women

Antiguan Women


Nun`s Chambers Convent Ruins

Nun`s Chambers Convent Ruins


Antigua Cathedral

Antigua Cathedral

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

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