Mum of 2, Ingrid 8 and Scott 5, married to Paul and just turned 40!
Swedish by birth, also lived in France and Switzerland and have spent last 16 years in London.
Adventurous by nature, I love the outdoors, being active and a cup of good coffee.
Now on a journey to discover and experience our beautiful world, enjoy time with my children and husband fully, without the stress and distractions that our busy life in London had become and to rediscovering myself having the courage to go for the things I love and encourage my children and those around me to do the same!
Landing in Sweden felt just like it always does, great happiness to see my childhood country and all the fun memories it brings back. The vast green landscape you can see already from the airplane is filled with pine trees, lakes, farmland and cute red wooden houses. This is the land of plenty, a land of outdoor adventures and a country geared up for families just like ours.
As we came out of the arrivals gate Ingrid and Scott spotted grandpa straight away and ran into his arms in a happy hug and reunion. Last time we were together was 6 months ago in Koh Chang Thailand, where we spent 2 weeks together enjoying amazing tropical beaches and glorious Thai food.
Although I have not lived in Sweden for 20 years, it still strangely feels like coming home. Its the scent of wet tarmac and wild flowers, the silver birches rustling in the wind, empty roads and wild berries, wide open fields and forests and the sound of chirping of birds and happy children that brings it all to life. A year of travels did not change any of that, in fact it made the feeling of familiarity and recognition even more prominent.
This was also the first time in a year that we were going somewhere we actually already knew, somewhere we had been before and the kids were very excited about that and especially about seeing their Aunty, my sister, and their cousins.
Less things, more time
Coming back to Sweden did feel slightly different than usual though….. After a year of living very basic lifestyle on the road I see things we take for granted with new eyes. I now clearly see the abundance of food in the supermarket, a fully functioning and superbly equipped kitchen, reliable electricity and plenty of hot water, houses that are safe and well insulated, endless amount of toys and many fantastic leisure facilities right on your door step.
This is the amazing life people live in Sweden and in many other European countries and on the surface all these material things make our life look very different from typical family life in Bolivia, Nicaragua, China or Vietnam.
But in visiting these countries it has clearly showed us that underneath these material differences people are very much the same in that we all want to live a happy, healthy life among friends and family. The material abundance we typically strive for in the west make little or no difference to peoples general happiness.
While travelling, we have experienced this first hand living out of 2 suitcases with very few belonging and not really missing or pining for any material things. The truth of the matter is that we have actually felt freeer without the burden of owning so many things.
With low cost travel and cheap accommodation we have also learned to make due with less convenience and practicality in living, getting around and doing things.
Rustic accommodation in Vietnam
Getting round on bikes in Thailand
Basic but nice food in China
Sleeper train – hotel and transport in 1 go helps save money
What may seem arduous, mundane time wasting at home has many times been part of the adventure and the fun while away. Simple getting from one place to another that can seem like a waste of precious time in our busy London life was typically the best way of discovering and experiencing new things and places while travelling.
As I think about it and try to understand the difference in how I have come to view and experience these things I keep coming back to time. It is the time we put to our disposal that make all the difference in how we appreciate what we do with it rather than the actual actions themselves.
So, although we have managed with less things over the past year we have had the luxury of more time. With more time comes less of a need to do things quickly and make the most of every minute. Instead, we filled our days with more mundane things such as finding the best playgrounds and fruit stalls, wandering without a destination in mind, looking at insects and animals along the roads, mending our clothes, going to the market and cooking together, playing tickle fights and games etc. In taking our time doing these things we found that we actually enjoyed them more and the need to always use the time wisely and effectively to see the sights and visit the typical tourist attractions decreased.
Simple pleasure that cant be bought
The other change I have started to notice is that counting the pennies on our travel really changed the way we look at consumption and buying things. I increasingly find that I only want to buy what I really need, Paul is doing the same and the kids ask for less too. The endless options and variants in the typical western shops bring no or very little added value to our life and with that insight we are happy to do without it.
It is not the things or food itself that provide the pleasure but simply how we view it and what we make of it. None of the food we bought in the huge supermarket (bar the delicious crisp bread perhaps) could provide any more pleasure than the Perch we caught, gutted, fried and ate while hanging out on lake Hjalmaren with my family.
The pleasure is not really in the size or the taste of the fish but simply having caught it and then sitting down together eating it regardless of the actual taste…something that cannot be achieved with any fish bought in a shop.
Wild strawberries on a straw
No berries could be more delicious than those picked and eaten on my friend, Marias land, or the oranges in our own garden in Bolivia 2 months earlier..even if the actual taste is better when you buy them.
Fishing at sunset
Cycling with the cousins
Digging in the sand
Rowing the boat
So, having done this amazing trip on a shoestring I take more and more pleasure in the little things. The same is true for the time spent in Sweden where I most enjoyed picking wild berries and eating them, digging for worms, fishing, rowing the little rowing boat, digging trenches in the sand on the beach, enjoying a coffee in a sunny sheltered spot and reading Swedish comics to the kids.
The thing that always makes time in Sweden even more special though is just doing all of the above with close family and friends. So I guess this is a good warm up for our next stop and adventure, Glasgow, where we will try living for a year close to family on my husbands side.
There will be exciting and challenging times ahead as we will try to apply the things we have learned on our travels to our everyday life in Scotland…living simply, enjoying the little things in everyday life and freeing up time to do more of the things we really love.
Before heading to Thailand we only knew we wanted to do some climbing in Krabi and probably visit the Northern parts but nothing was set in stone. We found it very easy to travel and make plans on the go in Thailand as tourism is so developed and easily accessible to tourists and with most people connected to tourism speaking basic English. We loved our time in Thailand and could easily have spent more time here, especially in the North where it is easier to get away from the well established tourist trails.
Sadness and happiness, excitement and worry…..these are the mixed emotions we are feeling now that our family gap year has come to an end. Paul has just left Sweden for Scotland to look for a house while the kids and I will spend the last 2 weeks of our round the world trip here with my family. I cannot believe that the year has flown by so quickly. Part of it feels just like a dream, almost as if it never happened, and only when we look through the 10 000+ photos we have taken along the way does it all start to feel real again.
The final few weeks of our trip we spent in a tree houses in the Amazon jungle of Bolivia then La Paz & Arica Chile followed by Buenos Aires, Argentina, Iguazu waterfalls in the cross lands of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil and then finally a few magical days in Rio de Janeiro. The stories from these fantastic places, that made the trip so special right up to the end will follow soon….so keep reading my posts if you want to know more!!
Treehouse in Bolivia
4700m crossing into Chila
I feel excited about going back to the UK but also strangely sad that our magical year together is coming to an end. We are so very tight as a family now having spent so much time together …for 10 months we have pretty much slept all 4 of us together in 1 tiny room with Ingrid and Scott sharing a bed for the most of it.
Not a room, just a bed
Sharing 1 bed in China
Typical 2 bed room
Sleeper train – hotel and transport in 1 go helps save money
What will it be like to go back to a working life with the kids at school and sleeping in separate rooms! I will not miss the sleeping arrangements thats for sure but I will miss the endless quality time together without deadlines or stress.
I will miss not seeing the kids and Paul all the time but Im sure I will also enjoy a bit more me time …. So many mixed emotions. Leaving London and going on a year long family adventure has simply been the best thing ever. It has not always been easy and carefree, but always a totally awesome adventure.
Car roof ride in Nicaragua
Iguazu falls in Argentina
Annapurnas in Nepal
Surfing in Nicaragua
Enjoying the view of Machu Picchu
Bolivian border at 4200m
Great wall of China
Boat taxi Perhentian islands
Chiang Dao trek, Thailad
Sail soup i Vietam
Ingrids school in Nicaragua
Peru, after the floods
Hot air balloo
Local parade i Bolivia
Thats the end of our trip, now what???
We have started to verbalise what we would like our life to be like when we get back to western civilisation. Although we don’t think that we have changed a lot over the past year, things we felt and believed before leaving London has more clearly come to the surface through the experiences and the time we have had together.
We have an even stronger desire now to live life to the full and spend as much as time a possible with our children before they grow up and go out into the world on their own. We feel less of a need to prove ourselves in highflying careers and a decreasing interest in consuming and buying things that don’t really add much to the enjoyment of our lives. What we enjoy the most is simply time together.
Enjoying a campfire
Horse riding with Scott
Climbing with Ingrid
Getting round on bikes in Thailand
Basic but nice food in China
Preparing meals together
Going far away places
Exploring life in other parts of the world
This is of course easier to do when you step out of the usual 9-5 life and just follow your heart. The big question now is how can we continue living our life more like that when we get back to the UK?
No job, no house, no school, try not to worry…..
I had hoped we would somehow have an epiphany along the way as that would make the next phase of our lives easier to orchestrate, but this has yet to happen. Strangely I find that I worry less and less about it although it is now only a few weeks till we arrive in Glasgow and Paul I both are still looking for the right job to get stuck into, a house to live in and a school for Ingrid and Scott.
I really do believe that all pieces in the puzzle will fall into place somehow, things will work out one way or another, they just have to. What we do know is that we are keeping our house in London and our tenants have signed to rent it for another year and that’s a good start!
The plan is to rent a small house or flat in Glasgow, Scotland, close to Pauls family a for a year to see if this is the right place for us. As Scotland is much more affordable than London it will allow us to explore a cheaper lifestyle with perhaps more meaningful jobs. It can give the kids a great sense of belonging too being close to a lot of family after a whole year without. There is good school and healthcare, amazing nature and wildlife to enjoy and many hills to climb in Scotland if we can just bear the typical rainy grey weather.
Life is a big adventure
Is Scotland the long term future for us? I don’t know and right now we just look at it as next phase in our life adventure. I have never lived there and so aim treat it like any other place we have visited and explored on our round the world trip this year. Moving to a new ciry has a different set of challenges to travelling such as getting the kids into a school, identifying the right area to live, finding meaning full jobs that we enjoy or perhaps starting our own business. Then there is also the exciting prospect of getting back into the sports we love and other activities such as music and art plus the upside of spending more time with family and friends.
New friends in Nicaragua
Old friends in Miami
Family time in Chila
Although I am sad about the end of our trip Im also excited about the future and probably need to spend some more time planning it. At the same time I don’t want to use all the time in the last few weeks of our trip on the laptop to try and map it all out. I want to enjoy every moment in the here and now just as I have been doing over the past year. Im sure the next phase will work itself out if we only let it.
We were all amazed at the huge, free playground here. Beautifully built all set in a dinosaur theme with endless sets of monkey bars to keep even the most demanding monkeys happy, swings, climbing frames, spinners, water features and the largest slide we had ever seen on the tail and the neck of a huge dinosaur.
We liked wandering around the town for a few days but got really badly affected by the high level of pollution. As it is one of the more developed cities in Bolivia there are a lot of cars and busses and we found that the streets were full of pollution spewing traffic all day long. We had though about staying here for a few weeks if we liked it to allow Paul and I to start job-hunting. In the end afterjust 3 days in Sucre, 2 of which Ingrid and I were climbing, we were ready to leave.
With lots of travel over the past 2 months formal school work had to take a back seat while learning took the shape of experiences and instead.
Meteorites and space
Family time in Chila
Volcanoes and geography
Hot air balloo
History & geology
History and bilology
History & geography
Ingrid especially like academic work and during times where we have ben doing less of that she has a tendency to become brain bored and start annoying Scott, myself or Paul. Scott on the other hand does not miss formal learning at all. Staying in Samaipata for a month, without any travel would allow us to do another push on school work while living and enjoying rural Bolivia.
Its is always a bit of a struggle for all of us to get back into schoolwork after weeks of travel so to prepare the kids and make them positive about getting back into it we sat down and agreed on a Mon- Fri, 9.30-1 school schedule with the children.
Ingrid made her weekly schedule with Paul in an excel spreadsheet, while Scott and I set up a plan on the wall with a mix of learning and games that he could choose from each day to earn stickers. Ingrid had 3 x 45 min sessions with 3 15m breaks while school did 30 min sessions mixing play and learning.
A school in the mountains that can’t be found
During our first week in Samaipata, this set up worked really well. Breakfast, school, lunch and then a walk exploring the town and surroundings in the afternoon, going to the market and cooking food together in the house. Paul was setting up Ingrids work and managing to do some job searching at the same time. For me however, school with Scott is all consuming leaving me no time to do anything else.
I enjoy it but after 4 hrs of pushing him through the tasks we are both pretty tired of each other.Also, after a week of this much intense time together in the little house, we were all starting to get a bit of cabin fever.
Ideally we had wanted to get the kids into local school as soon as possible, but after a week of inquiring we just had the name of a school up in the mountains for which I had found the Facebook page on-line. However, with no address, contact or any way of finding it we almost decided to give up hope.
The fact that the school was up in the mountains somewhere outside the town also seemed really unpractical for us as we would have no way of getting the kids there and back everyday. In the end we agreed that homeschooling for the duration of our time here would be ok and we’d simply take turns job hunting in the 1 cafe in Samaipata with internet in the afternoons. At least we had a nice little house with enough space for use to teach the kids without getting under each others feet.
We visit Communidad Educativa Flor de Montana
Finally after a discussion with the host of our AirBNB house, she managed to find us the number for the school principle Lilliana on Monday night week 2. I Whatsapped her asking if we could visit the school and our children potentially go there for a month. On Tuesday morning we went there to visit and on Wednesday morning Ingrid and Scott had their first full day in Bolivian school.
15 min in a taxi, up up up on a dirt road just outside town is Communidad Educativa Flor de Montana. I was a bit sceptical having only seen images of a mud house under construction on Facebook and the barbed wired fence and basic building that greeted us did not install much confidence either. We crossed the big playing field and went up to the house to greet Liliana, the head mistress. The school buildings were rustic, built with adobe mud out of the ground and recycled bottles and old broken windowpanes for windows. The green landscape and views were stunning in the cold and fresh the morning breeze. We could hear the wind in the trees, birds chirping and happy children chattering and I was starting to get a good feeling about this.
Scott and Ingrid had both firmly said they would not be going to this school before we got there and they remained apprehensive and shy while Lilliana explained to us that the school was initiated and funded by parents and how recently been fully licensed as a school by the local authorities. She explained the the school ethos was to live happily and creatively in harmony with nature and all living things. Paul and I liked the sound of this but Scott and Ingrid were not interested or impressed.
The magical climbing tree that changes everything
The school has 24 children in 3 classes ages 5-6, 7-8, & 9-11. First we went to see the little preschool class that would be relevant for Scott. On top of the hill in a little room 6 children eagerly eyed up Scott asking him things in Spanish we could not understand. Im not going in said Scott and hid behind me. I managed to have little chat with Scotts teacher in Spanish as she could not speak any English at all. We were still all bit unsure if this could work at all.
We left Scotts class to go see Ingrid potential new class mates. By this time Ingrid was grumpy and her body language completely closed off. Before going in Lilliana pointed out to us the amazing school climbing tree and Ingrids face suddenly lit up. Ingrid loves climbing, mountains, trees, monkey bars…almost anything and by the looks of it, this would be an amazing tree to climb.
Up she went high into the tree up in the rickety treehouse and down she swung on the ring hanging from a big branch. When she came down she peered into the class room and said, I love it. Ingrids teacher did not speak any English either but at that point it didn’t matter. The climbing tree had closed the deal and with Ingrid happy and excited, Scott just followed her lead. We agreed to pay the school a fee in exchange for the children to go there for 4 weeks starting the next morning.
Early morning start for a fully loaded school bus
The next morning we had an early start to catch the school bus on the town square at 7.30 for a 8.00 school start.
We had no real idea what they would need to bring but packed the same bags they’d brought to school in Nicaragua with a pencil and a folder to write in, water, some fruit and crackers hoping that would be enough. Excitement and nerves were playing up in the morning but Ingrid excitement about the climbing tree blew any other doubts away and Scott joined her enthusiasm.
Waiting for the bus at the square in the cold morning air, we recognised 2 children from the day before and introduced ourselves wondering what would happen next. Suddenly a little minibus appeared and the kids all climbed in. Paul got in too and would run back down again after making sure they both got to their class ok.
Coming back Paul told me in amazement that the little minibus pictured below picked up all 24 kids and 5 teachers along the way and got them all safely to school. Now all we had to do was wait for the kids real verdict when they came back from school in the afternoon.
Mixed reports on their 1st day in Bolivian school
We were waiting eagerly at the square as the bus arrived back at 1 o’clock. As it was a Wednesday, Ingrid would go a full day with extra classes of drama and art in the afternoon and only return at 5.30. Scott on the other hand would come back down with the other little ones at 1. The bus arrived at the square but Scott was not there!! A quick call to Liliana only to find out that Scotts teacher thought he was supposed to stay with Ingrid for the full day and so did not let him on the bus. Scotty was a bit upset as I spoke to him on the phone so I took a taxi up to the school straight away to get him.
When I finally got him in the taxi heading home, he was ok but sad that he had not made any new friends! Scott always makes friends regardless of any language barriers so this really got me worried.
Ingrid on the other hand came back home at 5.30 beaming and starving having had a great time making new friends while not understanding a word in class. Great!
In the end they were both happy to go back to school the next day, Scott with some extra words of encouragement and ideas on how to make friends. At the end of day 2 they were both happy and excited about their new school, music class and making pottery as well as new Bolivian friends and Paul and I were happy to finally have some time get into our plans for going back to the UK.
As we were getting into the month of May we needed to settle down somewhere and start thinking about what to do at the end of our year long trip in July. We had started looking for UK jobs already in February while we were living in Nicaragua, only to realise that it was too far out in the future to yield any results. Now was the right time to get into our homecoming plans properly, but where could we settle down for a bit do so?
We had agreed that the country we would stay in would be Bolivia, simply for the reason of cost. Bolivia is one of the cheapest countries in South America still and as we were approaching the end of our 12 month travel, our remaining budget was becoming increasingly important in our decision making. I had done some research about travel in Bolivia during our time in Peru and Chile and was feeling a bit apprehensive about staying here for a a month or more after reading about travellers experiences of unfriendly people, dangerous roads, rubbish food and dangerous dogs. However we know by now not to trust everything we read but rather to follow our own instincts as it always takes a bit of time to adjust to the people and the culture in a new country. After a week here our first impressions of Bolivia did not match the negative things we had read so we thought we’d give it a go and stay.
While exploring Sucre for a few days, we initially thought we might stay there and enjoy the more developed part of Bolivia. However, we quickly decided we didn’t want to stay there due to the pollution and big town feel.
Paul and I had agreed that our the top priority for the next month or so was to stay somewhere cheap with good internet access to help progress with our job hunting but we soon found ourselves doing the exact opposite.
Great advice from local Facebook groups
Back in January I had found some great Nicaraguan and and Costa Rican expats groups on Facebook. The expats in these groups are in may ways similar to us. Families and people that have left the old “western” way of life to enjoy a new and simpler life in other parts of the world.
Ingrids school in Nicaragua
Scott and his school friend Brisa
By simply asking these likeminded people for advice on the best places to live with kids we found a great place to stay and a local school in Granada, Nicaragua.In the end Nicaragua turned out to be one of our favourite parts of our travel so far. So with no ideas of where to go next in Bolivia or what to do for the next 2 months other than avoiding the big cities and living cheaply, I contacted a Bolivian expats group on Facebook for some inspiration and advice from families who had already made the move.
Change of priorities – and plans
Where in Bolivia is a good place to live for a travelling family with primary school age kids? I simply put this question to the few thousand people on the closed Facebook group and only minutes later the advice from friendly folk came thick and fast. Sucre, Cochabamaba, Tarija and Samaipata were the main 4 suggestions with lots of advice and information on why these friendly people through so. Cochabamaba and Sucre we had already ruled out due to size so that left Tarija and Samaipata. Tarija is located in the far southeast on the Argentine border so did not really fit our travel plans, but Samaipata to the east on the Amazon border would not be ideal either.
After reading up about both places and compering the two I instantly felt that little rural Samaipata could be the right place. A small town of 3500 people, lovely climate of 25 degrees, in the mountains full of wildlife, plenty of things to do and see and with a small community of foreigners that we could tap into to for help.
The Samaiapata crowd had also been particularly helpful on Facebook and that felt like a promising start. The main issue was internet coverage. After 2 weeks in Bolivia we already knew how poor internet is here so when we discovered that there is only 1 cafe in Samaipata with decent internet we knew we had to change our plans or our priorities.
Putting the new plan into action
Hours earlier, on Air BNB I had fond a great little house in the centre of Semaipata that was pretty cheap soI contacted the host to check that there was internet in the house. No was the answer, “but you can buy internet data to use on your phone with a Bolivian SIM”…Could we live for a month and look for jobs and houses back in the UK without good Internet access?? We agreed all other things about Samaipata seemed too good to turn down and so agreed we would go for it and make the job hunting process work one way or another.
Once decided, we started looking at how best toget there. Bolivia is not a huge country but the mountainous terrain makes it hard to travel anywhere. From Sucre to Samaipata is about 400km but would take some 12 hrs on bumpy roads in an uncomfortable night bus. The advice I got from my new Facebook friends was “Fly don’t die” and so that is what we did. Only 2 days after posting the question Facebook, we were on our way to Samaipata.
We flew from Sucre to Santa Cruz for about £40 each and then got a mini bus to Samaipata from there. Despite opting out of the bus it was not the easiest of journeys. After weeks in the cold high in the mountains we were also surprised and bit bothered by the heat as we got the bus from the airport to the minibus station in Santa Cruz.
The mini bus schedule ran as most mini busses do in Bolivia, they leave when they are full rather than follow a specific schedule. So we let the first bus go in order to have something to eat and a quick travel break. The next bus didnt leave for another 2 hours when all the places were full. Finally, with one guy practically sitting on the gear stick, we were off to our next Bolivian adventure.
We desperately wanted to go climbing in Bolivia as we had not managed to do any climbing at all in Peru. When we were in Peru the catastrophic floods and landslides made it impossible to reach many climbing areas and unsafe to climb in many places. It had been 4 months since our last outdoor climb in Cat Ba Vietnam and we were itching to get back on the rock. At the same time I was wondering if I still would have enough climbing fitness in me to really enjoy it.
Once we got to Sucre from Potosi and started looking at things to do there, we immediately realised that there is plenty of rock climbing in the Sucre area. Happy days! There are 2 main climbing companies that operate in Sucre and through a friend of climbing friend that met in Lima 2 months earlier, I got in touch with Carlos at ClimbingSucre to se if he could help us out.
By the time Carlos and I got talking we only had 2 days left in Sucre before our flight to Santa Cruz. Luckily Carlos offered to take us out climbing that same afternoon so that we could fit 2 climbing sessions in before leaving. Perfect! With such a long time since our last climb, to fully enjoy it we would need a proper warmup session before trying any harder climbs. We agreed on 2 half days of climbing at BS1000 and headed off out to Sica Sica crag just a few hours later.
Rock climbing at Sica Sica Crag, Bolivia
With only a handful of climbs in the last year in China, Malaysia, Australia, Thailand x 2, and Vietnam. Ingrid and I were lacking our usual climbing strength, especially in our fingers so we were both hoping toenjoy climbing some lower grades than usual.
Carlos met us at our hostel and a taxi buddy of his picked us all up and drove 10min to the crag at the edge of town. How amazing to have such a big wall to climb right on your door step at almost walking distance from the centre of Sucre. No wonder foreigners have settled here to run climbing businesses.
Getting back on the rock after 4 months break
Ingrid was soo excited she was almost hyper. She was skipping along the steep path up the 20 min ascent from the road to the crag and singing non stop. We soon arrived at the gorgeous crag and enjoyed the great view over Sucre right behind us. The 25m wall has a steep path up one side, perfect for setting up top ropes. Carlos went to set up the ropes, while Ingrid and I got our gear out.
As he came back down he was keen to point out that there are a lot of unsafe routes set up by amateurs in Bolivia. 2 routes he pointed out on this wall were set up with unsafe bolts and unless you come here with a guide, you would not know this and perhaps have an accident as a result.Bolts and drills are hard to come by in Bolivia, and although climb Bolivia pay for some of the routes there guys set up, Carlos also explained he and other climbers have invested a lot of money in bolting routes and buying gear that is more expensive in Bolivia than in most European countries.
I was not looking forward to unwrapping our smelly shoes that had been hiding in layers of plastic bags in the bottom of Ingrid backpack for months. Happy to find that they were ok and good to use…my feet however were not as pleased. I got another little bag out with what i thought was chalk, only to discover it was a bag of pasta! What a plonker, a days climbing without chalk as Carlos had not brought his either! At least the crag was in the shade so we would hopefully not be climbing too hard or sweating enough to really need it…
We started easy on a couple of 4s on the giant slab and were happy to find that the technique was still in us. We were also pleased to start the 2 days of climbing on a slab as it meant more leg power and less reliance on our weak fingers and arms. Most of the climbs were along flakes and cracks and friction on this sharp sandstone was good all they way. We continued climbing through the 5bs and 5csand finished on a couple of lovely long 6as. What a lovely afternoon of climbing.
Lead climbing on Garcilazo Crag, Bolivia
Day 2 we headed off at 8 and had only a 15 drive to Garcilazo crag. The driver who’s car was running on something other than petrol was struggling to get the car up the hill to our drops off point, but eventually we made it.
Once there I could not see the crag anywhere…turns out that we were on top of it and the approach was s steep scramble down a slippery hill to the impressive wall of exposed sandstone. Luckily Ingrid is like little mountain goat these days so we managed to get there safely in the end. The Garcilazo crag is a high quality vertical sandstone with long cracks, some tough crimpers and a distinct lack of foot holds.
It is south facing so in summer, this shady spot provides great protection form the sun, but as this is winter it was very cold in the shade so I was glad we had brought our hats and puffers. Yann (one of Ingrid climbing coaches back in London) says cold is good for friction said Ingrid with a smile.
No hanging about, I has asked to lead and that is what I got. I set up the first 5a route and Ingrid second it after me. We were both really suffering with cold fingers, especially the 1st third of every route. It was total agony andsharp rock on our cold weak fingers made for an uncomfortable start.
Fingers apart, I felt really confident leading this route as it had many options for hands and feet. As the crag is approached from the top, all the ropes can be cleaned from the top as we were leaving, meaning could spend more time climbing and less time cleaning routes.
We moved on to top a few other routes of the same line and started to feel the pain building up in our relatively weak finders and feet after months of no climbing. I loved this crag, such a perfectly clean and sharp vertical rock towering up above you and a great mix of comfortable and hared moves. There are also many different routes to climb in a great range of grades from 4 all the way up to 7b+.
The first few moves on all the route were quite reachy and hard so Ingrid opted to second me while I led. Even I struggled to get the first 2 clips in on all routes and was secretly pleased she opted out of leading today. With more recent climbs in the bags I’m sure she could have led these routes with confidence, but lack of regular climbing does quickly take your top performance and climbing confidence out of you.
After 4 leads and 2 top ropes my feet were absolutely killing me and Ingrid was getting hungry. Time to head back into Sucre to meet up with Scott and Paul who had been out to se the dinosaur footprints and park.
Potosi, Bolivia the richest mine in all of world history
We initially through we would stay in Uyuni for a few days to chill out after our 3 day 4×4 adventure across Salar de Uyuni, but quickly changed our mind. Uyuni is not a particular nice place to hang out, just a transit town where the roads from both Argentina and Chile converge before continuing up towards la Paz and all other cities in Bolivia.
We only managed dinner at a really good pizzeria, a visit to the playground in the morning followed by lunch and a 4 hr bus ride up to 4090m, to Potosi, the old silver mining city but that was just about enough.
We could definitely feel the lack of oxygen at this altitude and the pollution from heavy traffic made it even worse. We all suffered light headaches, dehydration, general fatigue and grumpiness. Hostel Realezawas in a good spot right in the heart of the colonial city centre, close to the market and the beautiful town square.
Our first full day here was May 1st, the whole city of Potosi was closed as different unions of miners, farmers, shop keepers, teachers etc marched through the city centre. A great sight to see all the people out marching for their rights, especially the ladies dressed up in the finery and traditional costumes.
After spending the day acclimatising and hanging out at an amazing playground we organised our trip to the mines the following day.
Safety gear for us – dynamite sticks for the miners
The main thing to do in Potosi is to visit the old silver mines so this is what we decided to do. There are a few travel agencies offering a mine tour, but we chose Koala tours, the only tour that takes you into an actual working mine rather than a closed down mine. Early departure in a minibus a few blocks up from the main square then a quick stop to get kitted our with protective clothes. Ingrid and Scott were both excited as Paul had explained to them that going into the mines would be a bit like playing Minecraft. Little did we know……
We all got protective trousers, coats and welly boots. I was surprised that they had wellies just the right size for the kids. Final touch was a protective hat with a head torch and a heavy battery pack clipped into your belt. Just getting dressed and walking in all the gear was hard, especially for Scott. How would he cope walking like this deep inside the mine…..
Next, the minibus took us to the miners market were we bought gifts to take with us to give to the miners we’d meet inside the tunnels. The guide explained that its the part of our tour fee that goes to the miners and the gifts we bring that keep the working miners happy for tourist to come into the mines to see them working. We bought dynamite sticks, ammonium sulphate, detonators, coca leavesand soft drinks that they mix with 96% alcohol while working. Next stop the actual mines!
Feeling scared deep inside in the dark Potosi mines
After a 15 min drive up the hill we were there. Young coca chewing men covered in dust and dirt were having a break outside the mine entrance as we got a safety briefing from our guide. Every now and then a 2ton cart with dirt and stones came hurtling out of the entrance on old rickety train tracks pushed & pulled by 3 young men. These were the carts we would have to avoid at all cost once inside the tunnels.
With our head torches turned on we went into the tunnels covering our mouths with our buffs to limit inhaling the dangerous mining dust. The tunnels were pitch back and very small,much smaller than I had imagined. Only Scott could walk upright the rest of us were folded over trying not to trip on the tracks and stones along the tunnel floor.
In the distance we could hear carts being loaded and pushed down the tracks. “Out of the way” cried the guide and we all had to jump into a niche along the side of the track to avoid being run over. Every 10 min or so another cart came hurtling at us as we stumbled along the dark tunnel, folded in half and sweating profusely in all our heavy gear.
As we got deeper into the tunnels, the oppressing feeling and slight fear was getting to all of us, especially Ingrid who was looking very uncomfortable stumbling along in the little light from her head light. After 40 min of walking, 450 m deep inside the mountain, where more than 10 000 men work everyday, we finally arrived at a resting station. During our 10 min break the guide told us about the hard life of the miners in Potosi and the gods they worship to stay safe.
Each man work for himself in a syndicated group with their earnings depending on the minerals they find. Around 50 miners die every year in accidents and another 50-100 in lung related diseases, their life expectancy is only 40-50, but working the mines earn them more money than any other job they could possibly do here.
Time to get out of the mines – we end the tour early
After the 10 min break we were supposed to head further into the tunnels for another hour of exploring the tunnels deep inside the mines. At this point Ingrid and Scott were starting to feel a bit unwell and so I told the guide we had to take the kids out. To be honest, at this point I did not want to go in any further either.
On the way out we had to wait as carts were filled up with rubble from a shaft in the roof…and all I could think of was the terror of being stuck in the mine behind falling rocks. The guide assured us we were safe, but I certainly did not feel very safe.
Once outside, we waited an hour in a little safety shack before the rest of the group returned. Ingrid almost fainted as we sat down, totally overcome by the stress of being inside the mine for over an hour. I too felt unwell and relieved to be out in the fresh air again. Scott and Ingrid both promised then and there to study hard in school so that they never ever would have to work in a mine.
Trip of lifetime San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni, Bolivia
We had already decided that we would go to Bolivia after Chile, but had yet to decide how to best get there. Our main concern was how the kids would cope with the very high altitude required going over the mountains to Bolivia for either a few hours or a few days depending on the route we chose. Both the 8hr direct transfer and the 3 day jeep tour meant we would have to go over very high passes of around 5000m altitude. We had bern trekking at altitude before, but this would be an entirely different league.
Chiang Dao, Thailand
Blue Valley, Australia
Tiger Leaping gorge China
In the end, after much research it appeared that the risks, beyond feeling unwell with high altitude sickness, were quite small as we had already been acclimatising at 2400m in San Pedro de Atacamafor almost a week with everyone feeling ok. With so much to see on the way to Bolivia and with a relatively small difference in cost, Paul and I agreed that we simply could not miss the chance to do the 3day trip by Jeep. Once decided, the kids were very excited and so were we.
Although many travel agencies offer the exact same trip, I did go to at least 8 different ones before selecting the one for us, Toursimo Caur. Most tour operators appeared to have little experience in taking little children over the mountains despite claiming otherwise. Finally I found one tour operator who seemed to understand the importance of Ingrid and Scotts comfort and wellbeing. Also, Turismo Caur was the only operator I spoke to who went over the mountains on the “alternative route” staying at hostel with hot water and electricity at 3900m in San Juan Puerto the first night rather than the standard cold, hostel without heating and electricity at 4400m. A better night sleep for Ingrid and Scott could make all there difference in the overall happiness and success of the entire trip, so this is what we went for in the end. The alternative route also offer a more varied scenery than the classic route.
Bolivian immigration and breakfast at 4400m
On the outskirts of San Pedro is the Chilean immigration control. We spent 30 min in the freezing cold queueing up only to realise that we did not have our Chile entry cards to show. After pushing the kids to the front with big smiles and apologising profusely for loosing our cards the boarder controller very reluctantly let us through. Phew. 45 min later, 1600m higher up in much colder weather it was time for Bolivian border control at Hilto Cajon.
It was freezing cold hanging around waiting for our turn outside the little building on the side of the mountain. I was glad I had stopped at the San Pedro market the night before to buyhats, gloves and llama wool socks to help us keep warm.
While in the queue, our driver had set up the most delicious alfresco breakfast with hot chocolate, coffee, cheese, salami, avocado and bread. It simply tasted fantastic in the cold air and helped defrost our frozen hands and toes somewhat. With our tummies full it was finally time to take all our gear from the minibus and load up our Jeep. Finally we were going to be on our way!
Soaking in Polques hot springs at 4400m
Just 20 min in the journey we stopped at Laguna Blanca, the white frozen lake. I was already feeling stunned by the amazing landscape and colours of the vast volcanic dessert around us and this frozen lithium lake was simply beautiful.
A similar view at the next stop, followed by the highlight of the day, a hot bath!. Lagunas Polques is a hot spring up high at 4400maltitude with water at a constant 45 degrees celsius. The very cold morning simply melted away as we sat soaking in the hot water gazing out into the desert.
Ingrid and Scott loved it too and we all wanted to stay in longer than the recommended 15min. Im not sure if it was the mineral content, the fumes from water, the change in temperature or simply the high altitude, but we all felt dizzy and lightheaded getting out and dressed ready for lunch.
Yet again, our driver had prepared a great feast while we were enjoying the hot bath. Ingrid and Scott wolfed down the fried chicken and mash…and so did the rest of us. Another quick stop at Laguna Verde before heading up the the highest point of the trip 4995m to look at Geyser Sol de Manana.
Getting out of the car into the sulphur fumes I was surprised not to feel anything of the high altitude except thirst and a bit of breathlessness. We had seen volcanoes in action before, while living in Nicaragua and knew this would be another highlight for the kids. However, Ingrid and Scott did not this as much as the smelly sulphur fumes made them feel ill. Just 5 min was enough to call it a day and head back into the car.
Final stop of the day, the colourful Flamingo Laguna or, Laguna Colorada. You simply have to see it with your own eyes to fully understand how amazing it really is. Bright pink water, flocks of flamingoes, white sand along the water with dark blue mountains towering up against the clear blue skies. We walked 20 min along the beach feeling as though we were walking in a dreamworld.
We reached the hostel in San Juan Puerto a couple of hours later and went for a wonder among the stunning boulders in theValle de Rochasbefore dinner where we discovered a crashed airplane and a sacred cave complete with human sculls.
We were surprised yet again by the great quality of the food. Tea and biscuits as we arrived then a very late dinner of vegetable soup followed by spaghetti bolognese. We all went to bed full and tired and excited about the next days adventures.
After an hours drive and a quick stop by Vinto laguna we reached the main sight for the day. Tucked away behind cliffs and green little fields with grazing llamas we found to the most beautiful hidden pool, the mystical black laguna.
We had a break and a snack up high on the rocks looking down at the strange rocky landscape around us, wishing we could climb all the cool boulders we could see. Before lunch we also managed to stop at the Anaconda Gorge, named after the snake like river at the very bottom.
In an empty town in the middle of nowhere we finally stopped and pulled up by a little house where our driver served us sausage potato bake and some canned tuna. Not quite the meal a starving Ingrid had hoped for, so she spent the rest of the afternoon in a bad mood with a headache.
Our final stop before the Salt hotel was the deserted town and the end of the train line…FinallyIngrid perked up at the sight of some random monkey bars in the deserted playground.
The bright white salt hotel where we spent the night had an amazing hot shower after which we all felt better and ready for the next day adventures. We had a lovely dinner of soup followed by chicken and chips and then an epic game of pass the pigs with our fellow travellers Kevin and William. We retired really early in hoping to avoid a major meltdown at the early start 4.45 for the salt plains sunrise.
Salt, giant cacti and dinosaurs
At 5am we had packed up the jeep and headed out into the dark for 1 hr straight onto the largest salt flats in the world, where no roads exist. Behind us in the dark, a convoy of Jeep headlights all heading the same way to the theIncahuasi Island with giant cacti in the middle of the vast sea of salt . Here we got out and climbed to the top to catch the imminent sunrise. The high altitude, freezing cold and early hour meant Scott was not very happy. He finally perked up once I lent him my coat. At least I still had my llama socks, hat and gloves to keep me a little bit warm.
The sunrise itself was not that spectacular as the horizon was shrouded in clouds but the view over this completely flat while landscape with the cacti was stunning none the less. The giant cacti here grow 1-2 cm per year, so some of them would have been over 300 years old. It felt magical standing on this ancient little slab of land surrounded by these magical ancient trees.
As we came back down again to our jeep, our driver had set out our breakfast on a little table next to the car in the freezing cold. Hot chocolate, coffee, cake plus roughers and rice puffs got our blood pumping again and the air started to warm up too with the sun rising above the horizon.
Ingrid and Scott went for a snooze in the car after breakfast while Paul and I went for a walk out on the salt flat. It was a surreal feeling walking for 30min straight out onto the the big white landscape with nothing in front of us but the vast sea of white. 30 min later and a few km from the Incahuasi island the jeep found us and picked us up for another 10 min drive further out for some funny photos.
End of the trip – Train Cemetery in Uyuni
On the way to the last stop the Bolivian train graveyard we stopped at the local market where we bought some amazing salt crystals and nothing else after being told that all Bolivian handicrafts would be cheaper in La Paz. After another hour in the car we passed through Uyuni on the way to see the trains. …This place was a bit of a dump if you ask me, but of course just the kind of dump that the kids loved. Ingrid and Scott had a great time exploring and climbing up onto the olds trains and stream engines…me not so much.
Our 3 day trip ended in Uyuni at the little local eatery run by our drivers wife. Inside a little building, or perhaps it was their living room, we got sat at a table for our last meal consisting of llama chops and rice. Again, the for was surprisingly good and we felt full, tired and happy when we got our bags out of the jeep to walk 4 blocks to our hostel.
Packing for 3 days in the desert
We did have all our luggage with us as we were going to continue our travels in Bolivia after this trip, but here are the things we brought and kept to hand that proved very useful.
Head torches – for early mornings and late evenings and climbs to see the sunrise
Swimsuits & towels – to enjoy a delightful dip in the hot springs
Sunglasses, suncream & hats – the salt flats are blinding and the sun very strong
Extra batteries – for charging things up as there are only a couple of points where you can get electricity throughout the 3 day trip
Kindles – for the kids to read, as they do get a bit bored staring out of the car window at the amazing views for 3 days.
Travel pillows – so the kids can have a comfortable snooze in the car
Water – 2l per person and day is the minimum
Paracetamol and neurofen – to deal with any headaches or feelings of illness
Warm clothes – wolly hats, socks, gloves, scarfs and layers for very cold nights
Extra snacks – as there are nowhere to buy anything, dinner is served pretty late and the food might not be to your liking.
Lip Balm – Sun, wind and dry air will crack them up for sure
Bolivanos – 250BS per person as you need to pay at immigration and buy tickets to enter some of the national parke
Satellite phones and oxygen tanks are extremely important for emergencies and should be kept in every Jeep – check with your driver before departing
Extremely high altitude with children
We were worried about the effects the extremely hight altitude could have on the kids, especially Scott who is only 5. Before deciding to do this trip we did quite a lot of research on the internet on how to acclimatise and best prevent altitude sickness. As we had been at relatively high altitude before 3200m Nepal, 2200m Thailand and 3400m in Peru without any problems we though the risk of serious illness was slim. However, Paul and I had prior to this only been up over 4000m once and the kinds never so we still need to take all possible precautions. The jeeps doing this off road journey are all equipped with oxygen tanks and masks for emergencies as once you re on route it is 1 to 2 days drive to the nearest hospital.At High altitude in Peru, paul found that drinking coca tea helped, so this we would bring with us, and coca sweets for the children. The actual coca content is minuscule, but the effects very positive at it helps oxygen uptake in to body. After much internet research we decided agains altitude sickness pills as they rarely work. Instead we brought lots of water, paracetamol and neurofen for any headaches or feelings of illness.
We all felt the effect of the altitude, in the way of constant thirst, extremely dry mouth,lips and constantly crusty noses, but at no point did we feel seriously ill. Neither of us got a particularly goos sleep over the 2 nights and the same was true again when we went to Potosi at 4400m a few days later. The effects of the altitude increased throughout the 3 day trip and by the time we got to Uyuni, we were glad to be lower down and started to feel better again. I believe the long period of acclimatising in San Pedro before this trip was the key to our success in adapting to the high altitude ad would recommend the same to anyone thinking of doing this trip with their children.
Our house at the end of a dusty road – Cabana Volcano
It was a 2.5 hr flight from Santiago to Calama then a 1.5 hr bus ride from Calama, in the north east part of Chile on the Bolivian border, toSan Pedro de Atacama. At the end of a dusty bumpy road, 20 min walk from the centre of San Pedro de Atacama we finally arrived at our little cabana for the week. Cabana Volcano!
Cabana Volcano was a very small but cute little house with 2 tiny bedrooms and a fold out bed in the kitchenette/sitting room, bathroom with a hot shower and best of all a terrace with a large BBQ, table and chairs.
This is where we spent most of our time enjoying the with views over snowcapped volcanoes with nothing else to distract us. The cabana was ours for the next week and the kids felt excited about not going anywhere for a while and so did I to be honest. The previous week of exploring towns in Chile had meant a lot of travelling and eating out so we were all ready to settle down in one place for a while and cook our own food.
For Granny Olive and Uncle Adam who had come all the way to Chile from Scotland to see us, this was the main destination of their trip and by far the most exciting part of tour time together. While the kids had some well needed rest mornings and afternoons adapting to the high altitude of 2400m, Granny and Ad went on a coupe of trips on their own.
We spent 6 days here mixing lazy morning with early starts for sunrise excursions and late evening stargazing sessions with strolls into San Pedro de Atacama for food and play in one of the playgrounds.
San Pedro de Atacama is quite a busy little town with tourists in mini busses coming and going everyday as they head out on one of many exciting desert adventures on offer in the many tour offices. Dirt streets are lined with little shops, hostels, restaurants and bars that mainly spring to life after dark. We were glad not to stay in the centre of things and enjoyed the peace and quiet in our cabana 20 min walk from town.
While at the cabana we didn’t do much except cook, eat, play games and enjoy the views on the terrace. We found 2 little bikes round the back of the house that Ingrid and Scott loved whizzing round on in the dust. There was also a friendly builder close by with a dog called Ozzie and a stray puppy that Scotty of course fell in love with.
Exciting Atacama adventures
The sights and excursions we did here were some of the best on our round the world trip so far and with Granny and Uncle Ad here we did more of them than we would have done on our own. It was just the excuse we needed to push the budget a bit to make some magical lifetime memories. Here below is a summary our favourite Atacama desert adventures.
Hot air balloon ride at sunrise
The Atacama is probably the best place in the world to go on a hot air balloon ride..according to our pilot who had been flying balloons all his life in over 25 countries. Unfortunately for Scott you had to be 8 to go, to be able to see out of the basked unaided, so he stayed at home with Paul for a morning of sleep and mine craft. 7.30 pick up from our house then a 20 min ride out into the desert landscape where we were met by the balloon pilot and his crew.
After a thorough safety briefing we go served hot coffee, hot chocolate and croissants while watching the team inflate the balloon. We even got to climb inside it for a quick photo before getting ready to go.
The basket was divided into 4 compartments round the centre compartment with the pilot and gas canisters. Ingrid and I climbed into one compartment next to Granny Olive and Adam. One the other side was a German contingent photographing designer suits. We rose up 300m very fast avoiding the breeze lower down while enjoying the view of the desert as we and the sun rose ever higher in the sky.
From 1000m up we could see our cabana and San Pedro in the desert landscape far below and a few oasis scattered along the dry riverbed. After 1 hr of drifting in the gentle breeze it was time to go down. The basked descended slowly with us sitting down in brace position hoping the basket would not drag along the ground as we landed. Suddenly the basket was standing still on the gourd and we were safely down greeted by champagne and orange juice. What a lovely morning!
Touching Mother Earth at the Meteorite Museum
The little Meteorite museum in San Pedro de Atacama does not look like much from the outside but what a great afternoon we had here. All the magic takes place inside the little dome where a large collection of real meteorites are exhibited along the the wall of the dome shaped tent. Entry of £3 includes a guided tour in English with headphones and some hands on activities at the end. Its well worth the price!
Each meteorite has an exciting story to tell which is explained on little screens next to each meteorite. The language is very scientific, but we all could understand enough to make out how planet earth was formed in the big bang of meteorites 450Bn years ago, how a giant meteorite killed the dinosaurs and how they may impact planet earth and us in the future. All meteors on display here have been found in the Atacama desert by the two brothers who set up the museum ..not because there are more meteorites here but because they are much easier to find here in the stable desert environment than in other places in the world.
The session ended with a lady showing us, and letting us touch a 450Bn years old mother earth meteorite. Mother Earth meteorites are the oldest rock on earth, they are leftovers from the meteorite crash, the big bang that formed planet Earth 450 Bn years ago. The lady also explained how to find and identify a meteorites from a normal stones. The kids especially loved this part and were were all excited to go out and look for our own meteorites to take with us home.
Stargazing and hot chocolate
Perhaps not the easiest activity to do with little children due to the late time and the relatively long time you spend standing around, but we all loved it nonetheless. We went stargazing in an observatory in Australia back in October but this was even better. The english speaking bus from Atacama desert stargazing left San Pedro at 7.30 and arrived at the observatory 20 min later. We all gathered round our extremely knowledgable Canadian guide who was telling us about the star constellations, planets and solar system using a laster beam to point it all out. The light pollution is close to zero here and so the night sky is simply stunning. After 40 min gazing at the stars it was time to see the most interesting planets, stars and galaxies up close on a permanent set up of 11 telescopes, 1 of which is the largest public telescope in all of South America. There were enough telescopes to go round avoiding any queues. Ingrid and Scott loved walking round looking at all the stars and planets, excited about those they could recognise from our session in Australia. It was getting cold and so after 45min of telescopes we were invited into a a little hut for questions and a hot chocolate. Home in bed by 10, what a great evening! Sorry not to post any photos here but it was pitch back and impossible to photograph.
Horse riding in the desert
As Scott was too little to go in the hot air balloons a few days earlier, the two of us went horse riding one late afternoon to make up for it. It was something I had been longing to do and so was very happy to organise our 2 hr desert horseback ride with Rancho Cactus.The actual ranch was just 10 min drive from the centre of San Pedro and offered more stunning views of the landscape with snowcapped volcanoes in the background.
Pablo, Scott and I packed our saddlebags with water and set off. I was worried Scott would get tired or bored but he was such a star, loving every moment.We spend 30 min heading out of town towards the riverbed. I was surprised at how confident and relaxed he was as he had only just had a coupe of 5 min pony rides in London before. Even when packs of wild dogs came running barking at us he stayed cool as a cucumber and so did the horses. We rode along the riverbed for 1 hr letting the horses stop for a drink and a break then spent 30 min getting back to the ranch. After 2 hrs on the back of the horse my bum and I were both ready for a break.
From -8 degrees celcius to +38 at Tatio Geysers
Scott and I did not go to Tatio Geysers as it was a 5am start and a trip up to 4200m altitude. We had a lazy morning doing play-doh instead. Below is an extract out of Ingrid diary from the trip to the Geysers with Paul, Granny and Uncle Ad.
“Toady we woke up early to go to geysers El Tati. We got into the minivan and because the english speaking guide didn’t show up Granny became the guide. When we stopped for the tickets it was freezing outside, it was -8degrees celsius.A t first it didn’t feel that cold but suddenly it was freezing. We forgot to bring my puffer jacket so I was wearing daddays fleece instead.
We got back into the bus and drove to the Geysers. First we had breakfast consisting mostly of hot chocolate and then we went to look at the geysers. It had to be quick otherwise my feet would have frozen completely. We saw one geyser erupting. Back in the car daddy warmed up my feet then it was time for the volcanic hot springs. You could only swim in it for 30 min because of all the minerals from the geyser. Me and daddy got changed and when we walked outside to the water the coldness of the stones burned into my feet. We got into the water and it wasn’t that warm so we swam closer to the geyser and it was amazing. We were next to some Australian and Irish ladies.
After the swim we got dressed and got into the van. We drove for a while until we came to a little village where we had delicious llama skewers and goats cheese empanadas. I loved both of the but my favourite were the empanadas.”
After 6 weeks in Peru we were all excited to be heading into Chile to meet up with Granny Olive and Uncle Adam who were travelling all the way from Scotland to spend 2 weeks with us here. Fantastic to be with family again but less so in the capital Santiago.
We spent 2 days wandering round the huge and quiet city realising that most of Santiagos tourist attractions closes over the Easter weekend unfortunately leaving tourists without much to do.
We found a couple of great playgrounds, wandered to the modern art collection, walked up the central hill and had lunch and dinner in a couple of small eateries. A shock to the system to pay for anything here and eating out was so much more expensive compered to all other places we have been on our trip so far. Thailand still comes up the cheapest still while Chile is similar to London prises.
The best part of Santiago was simply being together with family. Both Scott and Ingrid were so excited at having some of their favourite people to hang out with after months of just the 4 of us. The boutique hostel we stay in was also very good, with a large, well set up roof terrace where we chilled out and had coffee, dinner and snacks, played games and lego while enjoying the view and the sunset over the city.
I did not enjoy Santiago that much. It did not feel like a happy friendly place and after being robbed of my backpack while having lunch and another 2 attempted robberies just walking down the street I felt vulnerable and unsafe for the first time on our round the world trip. I could not wait to leave for Valparaiso. the next city on our list.
Valparaiso – a city full of art and dirt
Valparaiso is a cool costal city a couple of hours bus ride north of Santiago. It is famous for its bohemian culture, colourful street art and stunning views of the sea from the many hills that make up the city. Our hostel Acuarela at the top of a hill was right in the heart of the art district and offered stunning views from the roof as well as short walking distance to many little cafes and restaurants.
The colourful street art makes the city interesting and happy when nor over run by awful graffiti and dirty, run down streets full of stray dogs. The best thing we did here was the Wheres Wally tour, walking and bussing through interesting parts of town with a very knowledgeable guide. We also found a great little walkway through the hills many stairways with a slide right next to a bar with great views and Pisco sours.
Algarrobo – the seaside and largest pool in the world
The last stop before heading to our main Chilean destination the Atacama desert, was a small fishing town 2 hrs down the cost from Valparaiso Algarrobo. A seaside get away for many Santiagians during their summer months. As it was getting into winter when we were there the town was totally deserted.
Over our 2 night stay there we went for long walks on the beach, cooked fresh fish for our dinner and the kids had a cool dip in the pool where we were staying. Unfortunately the pool Paul had his eyes on, the largest swimming pool in the world, the main reason we were here in the first place, was a residence pool only and not available for anyone else …bit more research next time perhaps. Next stop the Atacama desert!
Aquas Calientes – A charmless town built for tourists
The train ride from Ollantayatambo to Aquas Clientes, or Machu Picchu as the town is called these days, is the most expensive train ride per kilometre in the world but its the best way to get to Machu Picchu unless you are hiking there. You are only allowed to bring hand luggage on the train so we left our big bags at the hostel in Ollantaytambo to spend 2 nights and 2 days there.
We went on a Peru rail train with 300 degree panoramic views, meaning you can see out the window and also up through the roof. The view is great even on a cloudy day like ours. The train ride only takes almost 2 hours and on the way you get served drinks and a little something to eat.
The quinoa strudel they served was supposed to be authentic and tasted ok but I would have preferred a simple empanada instead. All in all the journey was not too long and quite comfortable ….as expected when paying top dollars for the tickets
Aguas Calientes town is the gateway for all tourist who come to see Machu Picchu and is very different from Ollantaytambo, the old Inca town. It is built specifically for tourists and so lacks any real charm of the Peru we have grown to love. Streets lined with restaurants and 4-5 story hotels and with the the hot springs at one end and the roaring river at the other. We stayed at Machupicchu Packer, a basic hostel with breakfast is included in the price. For those starting early they give you a parcel with a cheese sandwich, fruit and water to take with you on your way to Machu Picchu.
Unhappy 4.30 wake up call to walk up to Machu Picchu
We had packed 2 small day packs wth essentials the nigh before to allow everyone to sleep as long as possible before the 4.30 am start. 1 bag with raincoats and hats and one with food and drinks. We talked to the kids about the early start the night before, but Scott was still recovering from illness so we were expecting the worst when waking him up in the morning….and he did not disappoint. After very reluctantly getting dressed he went on a huff about not having breakfast before leaving the hostel. I want pancakes he was shouting and he refused to walk.…Nothing we said could change his mood so in the end we just set off with Scott on Paul shoulders and Ingrid and I trailing behind.
We were slightly delayed by the morning tantrum and reached the river crossing 5.15 rather than 5 when it officially opens. As we approach we saw a huge line of people waiting by the river. Oh no, we thought it was the queue up the trail…. but no it was the queue for the taxi:-) Ingrid was laughing wondering why people waiting for the taxi were all wearing hiking outfits and survival gear. With no other hikers in sight we left the streetlights behind, turned on our head torches and started the 2 hr climb up the the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu
Scott was feeling happier but had no intention of walking so Paul set off up the trail in his own pace with 25kg of Scott on his shoulders while Ingrid and I climbed at our own speed…as usual while conversing about her shed and invention workshop she is planning to build when we get back to the UK.
1hr into the the hike, we started passing people who had set off slightly earlier and that helped keep us going for another 45 min until we were finally there. The path of stone steps up to Machu Picchu criss crosses the main road that the taxies and busses use to shift tourists up to the ruins and we had fun waving at tourists in the busses every time we saw one. The views you climb up through the clouds is amazing but nothing compared to the stunning view you get when you enter Machu Picchu itself.
Steep climb to spectacular views
You can only see the actual ruins once you get through the tickets gate and round the corner into the main site. As we were there at 7am the stillness of this majestic place as it appears in the fresh air through the lingering clouds is breathtaking. This must surely be the best time to visit. It felt like it was all ours.
The tickets we had bought a few months earlier gave us entry to Machu Picchu and to climb up Huayna Picchu, the highest and most spectacular viewpoint over Machu Picchu itself. Our time slot to climb up was 7-8 so once inside Machu Picchu we went straight through the ruins to the Huayna Picchu entry point. There is an age limit of 12 to do this steep and slightly dangerous climb that takes about 2 hours up and down. Our plan was for Paul to race up on his own at 7am on the dot while I hung our with the kids by the entrance.
We were assuming he could go up and down in less than 1 hour so that Ingrid and I could still go up before the 8am deadline. Paul came down just before 8 so next up was me and Ingrid. We showed Ingrids passport and luckily the guard only checked the name in the passports against the tickets, not the age, so we were good to go up!
The view was totally amazing climbing up the steep and narrow stone step path. We kept a high pace and passed over 50 people on the way up to the top. Ingrid keeps count. We slowed down through a bottleneck of people just below the top viewpoint where everyone had to climb using hands and feet on the steep, slippery and very narrow steps that wound up ever higher and higher. Finally if was our turn at the very top and the view simply took our breath away.
We found a perfect boulder where we sat for a minute and enjoyed a morning Twix while the clouds scattered revealing the beautiful site of Machu Picchu far below. We didn’t stay long as we were keen to get on the path down before most of the crowds and quickly defended the 500m down to the waiting Paul and Scott. What aglorious morning of hard core climbing!
Exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu
You are not allowed to bring in food or drink to the Machu Picchu site and there are no toilets or resting areas inside the site. I guess it helps keep the crowds moving on as otherwise people would be inclined to linger and spend the whole day there. I liked how it was done as it helps keep the site clean and natural looking without modern buildings or constructions ruining the view or experience.
By the time Ingi and I reached he bottom of Hyanu Picchu it was already 10.30 and high time for a rest and recharge of everyones fading batteries. We went out of the main gat for a toilet break and to enjoy our packed lunch. Scott was tired but gradually we could see his entry levels were on the up soon readyfor some more exploring of the ruins themselves. Some ice-cream and coca cola for a final boost and then we were all ready to get going again.
We entered the site again on the same ticket and joined the marked trail round the ruins, spectacular buildings and sights. A couple of hours later the big crowds started to appear just as we were feeling ready to leave. Paul and Ingrid walked the long trail down while I took a sleepy Scott on the bus.
Finally together again at the bottom we had a celebratory early dinner, giant burgers all round! We had all too been looking forward to this day in macho Picchu and I have to say it did not disappoint.
Travelling on the local bus for 1.5hr from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo I was getting excited about the beautiful mountainous landscape. Such a contrast from the deserts by the coast where we had spent the past 4 weeks. The fresh cooler air I had so longed for since Nicaragua here as well, finally! The local bus from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo cost S10 per person and was very comfortable so we were happy we didn’t pay more to go on one of the big tourist busses.
The route to Ollayntayambo is on good roads across mountain passes and along fields with a view of amazing snowcapped and rugged peaks along the way. We were dropped off on the little town square and walked 2 blocks on ancient cobbled Inca streets to our hostel. The town itself is the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas nestled in the beautiful valley among hillside ruins and streams.
A great place for Scott to rest
Scott was ill since 2 days with diarrhoea and a high temperature and getting worse so we spent our first few days there just resting trying to get him better and adjusting to the high altitude of 3000m watching films on the laptop and reading stories on the kindles.
After our 1st night in a quite expensive hostel I went looking for the best possible place for us to stay for the next 4 nights. To our delight I found a great little family run hostel Hostal Killari for half the price we were paying through booking.com! The winning formula as we know by now is a big room with beds for 4, communal space and a kitchen we can use and this place ticked all the boxes and had a bonus dog and a cat as well! Happy days!
Happiness in the hills with Ingrid
While Scott was resting Paul and I took turns going for walks up the hills with Ingrid, exploring the town and the many ruins scattered down the side of the mountains. I totally fell in love with this place and felt so happy to finally be in the mountains. Streets with traditionally clad woman with wide brimmed hats, carrying children and heavy loads in colourful blankets on their backs under the long black plaits.
Small shops and cafes mixed with houses and hostels. No big hotels or other intrusive buildings here just a food market for the locals and a small handicrafts market for tourists but best of all lots and lots of hiking trails and ruins to explore right on your door step.
On one side of the valley on Pinkullyuna are ruins you can explore for free. There are a few trails up the side of the mountain taking some 400m up to ruins of ancient Incan storehouses overlooking some of the most spectacular views of the Ollantaytambo ruinson the hillson the other side of the valley and town and the whole of the Sacred Valley.
To enter the main ruins of Ollantaytambo on the other side of the valley you have to pay an entrance fee of S70. The structures from the old inca town truly are amazing and definitely worth paying for. At the very back of the ruins Ingrid and I found a hidden trail leading up the mountain. We hiked up for an hour or so tis the trail ended halfway up to the top and headed back down again after a quick rest.
Ingrid was soo in her element while hiking she was skipping along singing and talking about her plans for the future and about the amazing adventures we have had on our trip so far. I love reliving our fantastic hikes in the mountains in Nepal, China, Australia in Thailand and feel excited to add Peru to the list of amazing hikes.
Finally we all go hiking together
After 3 days of illness Scott was still not getting better and with only 2 days left before our train to Machu Picchu we decided to get Scott some antibiotics. The next morning he woke up demanding pancakes! I took him for his first walk in 4 days to the little local market to buy flour and eggs and ended up with some corn on the cob as a special pre-breakfast snack.
Once back at the house we spent a raining morning cooking pancakes in the traditional Inca kitchen belonging to the hostel family. With food in his belly Scott was keen to go out exploring. We all went out for lunch and an afternoon stroll to test the waters. Paul and Scott exploring the ruins at the bottom of the valley while Ingrid took me up high on the other side to show me the secret cave she’d found on her morning hike with Paul. The sun came out and we had such a lovely walk.
The best walk though was on our last day here. Scott was feeling better so after packing for Machu Picchu we all walked up to the top of the trail on Pinkullyuna. Ingrid ran ahed leading the way while Paul and I took turns encouraging Scott to keep going.
Scott made it to the top all by himself and so we all enjoyed the packed lunch we had brought with us marvelling at the views over this very special and Scared Valley. This was the warm up hike and perfect day on the mountain that we all needed before our big hike up to Machu Picchu the following day.
Once safe in Lima we had to decide where to go next. All roads into the mountains, our preferred destination, were still closed due to recent landslides and continuous flood risks so we had to stay by the coast.
One of the few places not to have been flooded was the small coastal village of Paracas, 4 hrs south of Lima. We met a French couple in our hostel in Lima who recommended it and confirmed it was free from floods. Perfect! The next day we were there.
The main attraction in Paracas is the beautiful desert coastline that is the Nature reserve of Paracas and its close location to other interesting towns, ICA, Nasca, and a few km up the coast the larger fishing town of Pisco.
After spending 1 night in in a rubbish little hostel I went looking for a more spacious place to stay. After walking round for half an hour I founda nice cheap little hostel with great communal space, a clean kitchen and fridge, a cat, a dog, a kitten and a little girl called Cielo. Perfect for Scott! Also a little park close by where the local kids hangout with a great set of monkey bars. Perfect for Ingrid. All in all a perfect place to chill out for a few days.
Time to do nothing much
Schoolwork every morning or afternoon, followed by long walks on the beach, cooking together, playing in the park and going on little excursions.
There is an area in Paracas filled with luxury houses and hotels, so eating out is not very cheap but with not much in our schedule here we liked spending time buying ingredients and cooking. Ingrid got her mojo back after her tummy bug and was keen to help me cook. Scott as always loves helping with any meal. A huge batch of Chile con carne got everyone back in great sprits!
The beach in Paracas is a beautiful wildlife sanctuary but not great for swimming as there is quite a lot of seaweed in the water. Instead we loved long walks to the kite surf club and back among flamingos, pelicans, sea lions and many other beautiful wild birds.
Deserts and wildlife while waiting for the mountains
We had a great day swimming in one of the best beaches in Peru, a 15 min drive through the desert from Paracas at Mina beach.
We went there early in the morning after at stop to admire the red beach in the desert landscape along the way. Once at Mina, we climbed down the stairs to the sandy beach tucked away between 2 big sandy hills. Fresh, clearand sparkling clean water, what a great little place for a swim. We paid S70 (£15) for a private car to take us there and wait 3 hrs to then the us back plus S 40 to enter the national park.
Wealso did the mandatory boat trip to see the amazing wildlife our on the Islas Ballistas. The tickets cost S35 per person, but then just before boarding the boat they tell you to pay the national park tax as well S15 per person. 2 hrs of sea lions, pelicans, penguins and boobies with a great guide in a quiet and comfortable speedboat is well worth the money. The roaring herds of Sealions made the most amazing sound as we bobbed along the cliffs in the boat.
So even though we enjoyed our time here, some days hiding for the blowing sand in our room, we would not have stayed here more than a few days under normal circumstance. Given the trauma and illness over the past 2 week in Trujillo and Huanchaco, this was a good place for us to rest and recharge our batteries, just be together and not do too much. We are all ready and excited to finally go into the mountains in Cuzco and Machu Picchu.
We had 2 days on the beach in Huanchaco and a morning of wandering around town before the floods hit us in this town as well! We had tried to follow the unfolding Peru floods on the news, but its amazing how difficult it is to get information without access to the internet.
Through the owners of the hotel we found out that Trujillo, where the roof of our hostel caved in just 2 days earlier, had been badly hit with the first of 7 floods the day we left our hostel there. Everyone we met in Huanchaco were concerned about the floods but not expecting it to be a problem in Huanchaco a few km up the coast from Trujillo.
Worst floods in 30 years hit us in Huanchaco
When the river bursts its bank at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, all the houses and business were caught unprepared. As muddy sludge started making its way down the main street, all we could do was to seek refuge on the roof and watch as the water continued to rise. In the distance we could see the sea turning brown from the outlet of the swollen river.
Mud and sludge filled the streets and the ground floor of our hotel and all the other houses along the water front wiping out electricity, water systems and all the local phone and internet networks.
I felt completely helpless and yet somehow strangely calm as we watch the water fowling and the sun setting over the flooded streets. Time to get our head torches out, cook some spaghetti on the gas cooker and play a game of cards. We went to bed hoping to get some sleep but sirens, rain and worry kept me awake while the kids slept an unsettled sleep and Paul resting but with a high temperature and in pain day 3 of his tummy bug illness.
Stocking up on water and food
The morning after the floods Paul was feeling worse, I was exhausted and the kids naturally stressed about the flooding and situation all around us. Most of the water had subsided and in the hotel, staff and the owners had spent most of the night trying to clear the ground floor of the mud and water. No electricity, no water in the taps but at least we had a gas cooker that worked. I set out to find and stock up on supplies.
With many shops affected by the floods those that were still open were limiting the what you could buy to make sure everyone could get something. I took our big back pack and went round looking for open shops stocking up on water and dry food to last us a few days. Spaghetti, tuna, tomato sauce, biscuits and crackers. I also got some eggs, flour, sugar and milk hey presto pancakes of breakfast to lighten the mood!
After the floods the real nightmare begins
…20-30 cm thick sludge and mud was covering everything where the water had flooded and then subsided…piles of dead fish, plastics, trees and rubble washed up on the beach and streets along with many damaged houses and buildings, some still under water.
Watching the news in a little shop I could see that Trujillo and nearby Chiclayo and many other places were still inundated and that all roads in and out of Trujillo and all of Northern Peru remained closed due to landslides and ongoing floods.
I realised our plans to go further into the mountains Cajamarca and Chachapoyas would not be realised. Disappointed of course as we had all been looking forward to exploring the less touristy mountains and ruins of northern Peru…but what can you do?
Help! – Emergency call to the British Embassy
While the streets remained unsafe filled with dirt and water, Paul was getting worse, no electricity to help the kids pass time reading on the kindles, watch TV or a film…and as boredom kicks in.the kids decide to spend the morning making and running a beauty salon! I just love my kids!
With no means of leaving the flooded area or ability to check our options to fly out I took a taxi to the local little Airport to see if we could somehow buy tickets to fly out somewhere safe. No such luck….
Military planes were evacuating people, locals and gringos had been waiting at the tiny airport for up to 36 hrs to get on a plane to get out. With the airport in chaos and no information or help to be found.
I returned to Huanchaco disheartened and even more worried. Flights could only be bought on line or through a travel agent, but Internet was not working and all travel agents closed due to the floods….
When Paul started vomiting and shaking with 40 degrees temp, the following morning and with only $20 left in cash, no way of getting medicine or money and no where we could go I made a call to our travel agent in London on the hotel owners phone to see if they could help us buy some flights to get out …4 tickets suddenly became available to fly out the next day but Paul was way too ill to travel. Next available tickets were for 6 days later and costing us a small fortune….With the thought of 6 more days in the flood zone I feel panic kick in and decide to make contact with the British Embassy in Lima, to ask for advice and medical help in case Paul would get even worse.They tell me there is a place in Trujillo where ATMs are still working and a functioning private clinic we can go in case of an emergency….
After I made it to a shopping centre where there was still cash, Travel Nation confirmed our flights out 6 days later and I managed to find antibiotics for Paul I was feeling a bit better…that only lasted 1 day until Ingrid suddenly turned really ill as well.
This time I could get antibiotics quickly but was still worried sick about Ingrid who was vomiting and had diarrhoea for 2 days not being able to keep liquids down….I was counting down the days till we could leave…..
Unforgettable lessons in life
Since we started travelling we have, and especially me, practiced being in the moment and not worrying about things that could or might happen. During our 2 weeks in flooded Peru I had to work really hard to keep calm and not get worked up, agitated or frustrated about the situation is which we accidentally found ourselves. The kids are very resilient and adaptable but they take their queue from me and Paul on how to act ad react. Keeping calm and positive was essential for their wellbeing and peace of mind in this very stressful situation.
We help clean the beach
Walking through the aftermath
Scott found many interesting things- especially smelly shoes
We got a first hand experience of a huge natural disaster, it is not something I would wish on anyone but its part of life for many people and something we will never forget.
We were never in a life threatening situation even though some moments felt dangerous and scary. We have talked about it a lot with the kids, made drawings and write ups about it to help process the experience. It has also given us an amazing opportunity to talk about global warming, water flow and rivers, about flooding and city planning, plumbing, recycling, water, volume and the devastating effects of floods.
We wanted to explore and experience the word, show the kids that life in different parts of the world have different challenges. Ingrid and Scott have learned so much from this experience and felt first hand the fear it causes but also the importance of community and solidarity while helping clear up after the floods. I am glad we have managed to finally leave and sad that we didn’t get to see the beautiful north in its full glory, but looking back, its an experience I wouldn’t change.