From Peru to Bolivia

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This story could also be called ‘how unlucky can we get’ or ‘why do buses hate us?’ let me explain…

So the two day Puno bus strike that kept us for longer than we liked in this tiny town was finally over and we‘d changed our tickets so were guaranteed to be the first outta there. At 7am we were waiting at the bus terminal to catch our ride to La Paz, where we had planned to stay one night before starting the Bolivian salt flat tour.

The bus arrived – hurrah – and a few hours later we pulled up to the Peru – Bolivia border and got off to be able to sort out formalities to cross into Bolivia. Now this is my first ever experience of a land border, having always crossed into countries by air, and from reading the guidebooks I knew to expect a wait, surly guards and possible added fees tacked on. What I didn’t expect was to wait for 2 hours standing in a line in the sun with no shade, toilets or places to sit. Bugger.

Apparently it isn’t usually this bad but the strike had had a knock on effect so every tom, dick and harry wanted to pass through the border. Eventually we filed into this tiny office where a harassed man quickly stamped us out of Peru and after a short walk up a hill plus another 20minute wait we had got our Bolivian stamp yay!

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We got back on the bus that had been waiting for us and got going feeling tired but excited to now be in Bolivia. Until 10 minutes later when the bus spluttered to a halt and everyone had to get off as the driver had forgot to put enough petrol in, even though he had been sat waiting for 3 hours doing nothing rarghghg!

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Someone managed to stop a passing minibus as the red faced bus driver said it could be sometime to wait for petrol and by this point we just wanted to get there. Packing 12 people in what was made for 8 passengers we uncurled ourselves in Copacabana, a pretty town on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, and headed to the bus office to see when we could get the connection to La Paz only to find out there was a road block by the dairy farmers who were apparently beating up and whipping anyone who tried to pass!

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So after a quick dash to find a hostel we spent an unplanned but nice night in Copacabana before finally making our way to La Paz the next afternoon. This journey was thankfully shorter but still random as we had to take a rickety boat to cross the lake and as there are no bridges our huge bus also had to be put on a worn down boat to make the journey. God I did not think it would be this difficult in getting to Bolivia I just hope it’s worth it!

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VIPs On A Private Island

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After a 7 hour bus ride from Cusco we arrived into Puno, a tiny town seemingly with the main attraction of Lake Titicaca – the highest navigable lake in the world full of tiny floating reed islands. Of course the chance to sleep on one of these islands was top of our list and after a little research we booked a night on Uros Khantati for an authentic homestay experience after reading great reviews and cuts out the third party travel agent.

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A tiny motor boat picked us as we waited by the side of the still lake ready for our adventure. Along with a lovely German couple, Fabien and Carolin, we whizzed down the reed waterways in about 20minutes until we arrived at the island we were calling home for one night. The island that I should rename as paradise.

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After the busyness of Cusco this sunny and weirdly tropical place full of tiny adorable huts, hammocks and even a pet flamingo was such an unexpected treat I felt like I was in a dream. Just the sound of the water lapping the reeds and exotic birds chatting to each other was the only noise. Bliss.

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We spent the afternoon catching fish, chopping down reeds (as they need to add an extra layer a few times a month) and relaxing on a handmade boat (made of plastic bottles and yep you’ve guessed it – reeds!). Then just after lunch we heard that the bus drivers in Puno were planning on going on a 2 day strike so things changed. As we didn’t have concrete plans we weren’t affected but the German couple needed to get to their Machu Picchu trip meaning they had to rush back to the mainland to make it before the strike started. So then we were alone.

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Just us on this tiny island with only four members of the family that live here. Lucky or what?

The only problem was as fantastic as this place was in the warm sun as soon as it set it got cold. Real cold. For warmth we tried on traditional Peruvian clothes and huddled inside drinking tea before an early night which was made more bearable by a hot water bottle being added to the bed by the kind family.

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The sun woke us up the next morning and after a quick breakfast we were soon back on the water making our way back to the town. It was such a fab experience to sleep on a floating island, especially as VIP’s, but all good things come to an end and the lure of a hot shower also has its bonuses!

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Food You Must Try In Peru

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Ah food glorious food. All you foodies out there you will surely agree that travelling to new and exotic destinations is not just brilliant to experience different cultures but to test your taste buds too aka stuffing your face without feeling guilty as it is all in the name of *ahem* research.

Trying new foods with names you can’t pronounce and half the time don’t actually know what it is you will be eating is all part of the package of travel. And I bloody love it! If you are ever in Peru then these are the top dishes I urge you to prepare your palate for, you can thank me after.

Lomo Saltado: Tender strips of beef marinated in a tangy sauce with onion, peppers and tomatoes is a staple dish here served with white rice and chips, ah man gotta love those carbs. Many places offer other meat such as chicken or duck prepared in the same way. Real tummy filler food.

Cuy: If any of you are up in the old Spanish lingo then you will know that this means guinea pig. Yep those cute furry pets that many of us will have owned and loved at one point is a real Peruvian delicacy. In fact in one of the cathedrals in Cusco there is a large painting of the last supper and sat on a platter in front of Christ is none other than a cuy! Usually saved for special occasions as it is pricy compared to other meat, you can get a full roasted cuy where you are expected to eat everything, and I mean every part of its anatomy or just slices of cuy meat which isn’t plentiful and tastes like warm rubber. But when in Rome and all that (just maybe close your eyes to avoid the whole teeth/hair still attached).

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Alpaca: You cannot only buy jumpers made from soft alpaca wool but also enjoy a juicy steak. Still don’t really know the difference between an alpaca and a llama (something to do with the size of their noses?) anyhoo I can tell you that alpaca steak tastes (in my humble opinion) like ruddy nice pork.

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Ceviche – It gets so cold here that spices are added to quite a lot of dishes none more so than ceviche, a popular seafood dish usually made with raw salt water fish. Although it is served cold it packs a punch with chillies and peppers that will have you gulping down water but in a good way.

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Avocado – So technically this isn’t just a Peruvian treat but trust me when I say the avocados here are the best I have ever eaten. Pick up a few from the local markets, after haggling of course, and eat that day or the next as they are perfectly ripe and so tasty.

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Strange Fruit – I think is called Picante but enlighten me if you know different! – A fruit that’s the size of an orange, the insides of a peach but tastes like melon. Random but really juicy and refreshing.

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Arroz con Leche – Translated as rice and milk but this is no boring school dinner style rice pudding but instead is laden with cream or condensed milk making it super sweet with the tangy after-taste of cinnamon cloves dotted throughout.

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Empanada - Greggs the Bakers needs to add this to their pastry laden repertoire, pop it right next to the greasy sausage rolls, as empanadas are big news over here. These savoury snacks are usually filled with meat, chicken or ham and cheese and best served warm making them the perfect comfort food when you are so far from home.

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Have you got any fave Peruvian/South American dishes that I need to try whilst I am here? I would love to know!

Remember you can tweet me @notwedordead or find me on facebook too!

Giving Something Back (Volunteering in Cusco)

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Walking into a dusty rock filled ‘playground’ as adorable smiling Peruvian children run up to hug you and drag you into their small classroom to play games whilst chatting away in fast Spanish is how the past few days have started off.

As well as learning Spanish in Cusco we are also spending time volunteering at a charity funded school with cheeky monkeys aged from 3 to 6 years old. We have to catch a bus that takes around 25 minutes to reach the very outskirts of the city so already the day is off to an adventure (check out that post for why!). We are there to assist the teacher in the crowded tiny one room ‘school’ which also doubles up as the kitchen in the corner. From playing games, teaching them ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes,’ and chatting to them in our still not so great Spanish, I can’t tell you how tired we are at the end of each day!

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It is a world away from the children and school I used to teach English in back in France. We have learnt not to bat an eyelid when squawking chickens run across the yard and got used to swatting away flies when we are sat with the kids teaching them to count.

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The children are so happy and keen to learn that the teacher has little trouble controlling them when she gives lessons. They are constantly taking your hand, running up and giving huge cuddles and trying to give you a kiss that I have on a few times wondered how easy the adoption process would be…… (Relax mum and dad if you’re reading, don’t worry I won’t be coming back with a new addition to the family!)

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Before lessons start they sit and pray for all the teachers in the world, the abandoned children and sick people (and other things which i haven’t worked out in their fast Spanish!) which is heart meltingly adorable. We have the task of washing their tiny hands before the morning snack so it’s out to the yard where a bucket of water and a jug waits for us to rub in soap and wash it off trying not to get soaked with water as they enthusiastically air their hands dry. The snack is usually a cup of hot milky rice and a cracker, that surprisingly fills you up, although one day it was a grey boiled egg and a boiled potato that we quickly munched down for fear of offending them.

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After some more games, dancing and singing it is time to clean their teeth! They each have a plastic cup and toothbrush that we squeeze toothpaste on and fill the cup with water as they stand in the yard brushing their teeth and spitting out onto the ground. I had to hold back the giggles when it first happened as 20 or so kids hacking up toothpaste was a sight I have never seen before.

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Have you ever spent time volunteering when travelling?

Road Wars

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You have three main forms of transport in Cusco – take the bus, grab a taxi or walk – and all three comes with its own perils! I have never experienced road (non-existent) safety like it here.

Walking – Great for those on a budget, stretching your legs and soaking up the atmosphere on street level. Bad for your breathing and I’m not just talking about the altitude difference. Just a five minute stroll on the busy Avenida de Cultura (whilst shuffling past hordes of school children and eager sellers) leaves you with a mouth full of grit and dust in your eyes from the pollution.

There are traffic lights here which helpfully count down the seconds you have to race across the street but for a lot of drivers a red light is more of a hindrance than a legal stop! My dad has a theory when you are swimming in the sea that you should always ensure there is someone swimming further than you so any sharks will get them first. Cheerful chap my dad! But this advice has been well used here when we are stood on a dirty dusty corner waiting for the traffic to stop briefly enough for us to cross, only to follow ‘shark bait’ as when they think it’s safe to go then so do we!

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Buses – These come in all shapes and sizes from luxury coaches to pimped up minibuses that have crammed as many cheap seats in. Costing less than 20p to travel over 25minutes it is great for getting around longer distances. There are no bells to ding when you want to stop but some guy/girl will hang out of the open door shouting out the names of the stops and you have to call out ‘baja’ when you want to get off. Then exit as fast as you can whilst they are screaming at you to hurry up! They pack the buses as full as possible race down the roads and stop at the last minute meaning if you are not holding onto something you will soon be flying into a Peruvian old man’s lap.

Taxis- When we arrived at the Spanish school we were told that a number of illegal taxis roam the streets and unwitting tourists have been driven to the middle of nowhere and mugged. Welcome to Cusco! However, there are plenty of ‘safe taxis’ that have a large plastic sign on the roof and as long as you agree a fare before you get in (there are no meters here) they will take you where you need to go.

Who thought something as mundane as crossing a road would become such an adventure!

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