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.