November 02, 2005
Jody writes:

and Amy writes:

Us at sunrise over Machu Picchu
See our favourite photos from our 10 months of travelling. Contains 75 pics.

It was a year ago today that we landed in our first destination, Bangkok. We spent an unbelievable 10 months travelling and returned home eight weeks ago. We've moved into a flatshare in west London, both started work again and are enjoying all the fresh veg and milk we can chuck down our throats.

We'd always planned to put together some stats but have only just got round to typing it up, so here goes (all links point to a relevant blog post or photo):

Countries visited: 11.
Blog entries posted: 73.
Combined weight of luggage on our flight home: 49 kilos.
No. of flights taken: 17.
Time spent on buses: 394 hours (or 16.4 solid days).
Buses that broke down: four. (pics of numbers one, two and three).
No. of UNESCO World Heritage Sites visited: 16.
Things stolen: pack of cards.
Things lost: two hats (Amy).
Showdowns with cockroaches: one.
Rats fought: three.
Shoes bought in Buenos Aires: nine pairs between us.
Most popular period of blog activity: June, while we were stranded in La Paz during the protests, tourists who were stuck in other Bolivian cities read our daily updates for news from the capital.
Most talked-about blog post: the Peruivian roast guinea pig dinner.
Strangest achievement: Getting our photos in the Malay Mail.
Aprox. spent each per day in Asia: £10.
Approx. spent each per day in Bolivia: £12.
Approx. spent each per day in Australia: £33.
Approx. no. of photos taken: 6,500.
Approx. no. of photos that were worth keeping: 500.
Christmas spent in: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, feeling out-of-place (few people there celebrate Christmas) and visiting the huge shopping centre beneath the Petronas Towers.
New Year's Eve spent in: Perth, Australia, heading to Kings Park for a great, noisy, drunk time.
Weirdest tour company that we decided to avoid: http://www.soundsnatural.co.nz/ (warning: contains naturists).

Jody's stats
Birthday spent in: Coober Pedy, Australia.
Deaths avoided: plunging to my doom in the Cameron Highlands, deadly snake-bite in the Australian outback, almost run-over in Buenos Aires (the car came so close it clipped my leg, despite me being on a pedestrian crossing).
Best food: Masaman curry (see recipe), eaten at Bee Bee restaurant, on the beach on Ko Lanta, Thailand. Trucha Rellena (stuffed trout) in Emperador restaurant, Cusco, Peru, comes a close second - posh dining for a pittance.
Worst food: Ais Kacang - Malaysia's worst dessert.
Best drink: Chica morada (purple sweetcorn juice, invented by the Incas in Peru).
Average no. of bug bites: one every three-and-a-half days.
Price of 0°C quality sleeping bag: £51.
No. of times sleeping bag used: once.
Lifespan of watch bought in Bangkok: 5 weeks, 6 days.

Amy's stats
Birthday spent in: Valparaiso, Chile.
Deaths avoided: decapitation while asleep on a Cambodian tuk-tuk, slipping off a hill to plummet into the dark jungle during a night-walk in the Amazon.
Best food: Honey Chicken, cooked by Merry Hut guesthouse owner, Noi, on Ko Lanta, Thailand.
Worst food: Stinking durian fruit in Malaysia. Actually, I hated most of the food in Malaysia: curried fish heads are not my thing either.
Best drink: Argentine wine.
Average no. of bug bites: one every 21 hours.

Our most popular photos on flickr:
A cheeky girl called Delphina at Tarabuco market Peru flag Taquile Island girl Petrona Towers Amy spies a caterpillar

Stuff we did
We've had so many great experiences that it's tough picking our favourites, but we thought we'd have a go. We especially enjoyed the weeks we spent in Sucre, Bolivia, teaching English and learning Spanish. We made lots of great friends - natives and fellow gringos alike and will always warmly remember our time there. We also enjoyed the week we spent in Ollantaytambo, exploring the beautiful, working Inca town and cooking and serving food as volunteers in a soup kitchen that served 130 school kids, daily.

We both agree that South America made our trip. Asia was great and we plan to return to see Vietnam and Laos, but having the luxury of five months in South America was incredible and we're sure to return one day to once again see all the friends we made.

    Amy's best experiences
  • Eating pad thai for breakfast on the beach in Ko Phi-Phi.
  • Sleeping beneath a perfect set of southern stars in the Australian outback.
  • Getting drunk on wine ice-cream in Cafayate, Argentina.
  • Aerial views of New Zealand, both from a Helicopter flying over the Fox Glacier and while falling to Earth from a plane while parachuting over Lake Taupo.
  • Sloth-spotting in the Amazon basin.
  • Exploring ancient ruins at Batan Grande, Peru, where we had to get special permission to view the archaeological site.
  • Sitting awe-struck for hours, attempting to burn the image of Machu Picchu into my mind forever.
  • Seeing lots of animals in the wild, such as capybaras, aligators, kangaroos, seals, echidnas, and lots of monkeys.
  • Discovering foul-sounding food that was actually quite nice, such as grubs in Thailand and black pudding and 'morlecas' (heart glands) in Argentina.
  • Making friends with so many people, both locals (hello Jen and Frank, Lily and family, Gael, Delia, Consuelo, Zulma and the other teachers at Fox, Samuel, Leo, Lourdes and Vero) and other travellers (hi to Kate, Ruth and Alex, Roberto and Cyndi, Daniela, Kaleb and Kalpna, Simon and Cathryn, Liron, Ella, Rod, Sara, Tomas, Meta, Kazumi and Rie).
    Amy's worst experiences:
  • Sleazy, fat men in Malaysia.
  • Two horrific bouts of altitude sickness.
  • Missing the Nazca Lines, Peru, because the bus failed to drop us off.
  • Not being able to see for flies, at the Devil's Marbles, Australia.
  • Milford Sound: one of New Zealand's most beautiful fjords. We spent £115 to visit it... and it was shrouded in thick fog.

So that really is it: our final blog post. I hope you enjoyed keeping up with our trip. We had the time of our lives.

Jody and Amy

September 01, 2005
Jody writes:

See our Argentina photos.

Amy and I had been together for almost three years when we set off on this around-the-world trip in November 2004. Having only spent the previous six months living together, nothing prepared us for 10 solid months of barely being out of each other's sight.

We've experienced things that most couples need years of marriage to discover. A lot of which we'd have both prefered to have remained a mystery: there's no hiding from your partner just how much that last meal of chicken-foot soup upset your innards when the bathroom is only feet away from the bed.

Thanks to all the friends who predicted we'd split up before we make it back to England, and although it hasn't always been happy travelling, it looks like our relationship still has a lot of mileage left. Besides, if we were to split, it would take ages to separate all the souvenirs we've bought.

In less than 24 hours, we'll be on a plane bound for Heathrow airport, but we've putting a brave face on returning to reality. We'll miss many things from the 11 countries we've visited, but there's also a lot of stuff we'll be glad to see the back of. Such as gut rot, wearing a money belt 24/7, putting our life on the line with every road crossing, bad coffee, mysterious food, weak beer, fearing tap water, re-packing our rucksack every few bloody days, rabid dogs, staring locals, sharing rooms with rats, con artists, electric death showers, know-it-all travellers, dorms and baggage handlers who demand a huge tip just for lifting your rucksack off a bus.

We're also longing for some home comforts upon our return (strangely, most of them consumable). I'd kill for a glass of fresh milk right now and we're both looking forward to cooking for ourselves, eating fuit and veg with a steady hand, wearing more than five different outfits, English newspapers and listening to music that doesn't involve panpipes and isn't one of the 20 CDs we're carrying. Oh, and of course, seeing friends and family.

It's incredible all the things we've seen and done over the past 10 months. Even though it was just weeks ago, walking breathlessly in the Andes seems like a lifetime away - Asia, eight months back, even further. By the time we get home, will any of it seem real at all? At least we have our journals, lots of photos and this blog to remind us that it was. And if you ever get bored of our plethora of travel anecdotes, perhaps you can all chip in and buy us another around-the-world ticket to get rid of us. Hasta luego.

Amy writes:

Packing in so much seems to be normal for people in Buenos Aires - they're constantly on the go. Our friends here (Veronika, Leo, Lourdes, Virginia) have been keeping us busy by introducing us to what the locals get up to in the city, rather than the tourist haunts.

Jody, worried that he'd come back with bruised feet after a tango lesson with me, was suprised by how quickly we both mastered the initial steps of the passionate Argentine dance. It takes a lot of concentration and despite my aching feet, even as a beginner, you can feel how sexy it is!

Last night, we were taken to a show that couldn't have been more different - performing transvestites! We had to inform our friends that yes, there are trannys in London but whether an all-singing, all-dancing act like that in England could draw such a huge crowd at 2am on a Wednesday night is anyone's guess. Jody was just pleased we weren't sitting in the front row where a straight guy was teased and dragged up on stage, especially because we couldn't understand the jokes, spoken in rapid Spanish.

We've visited pretty much every shopping city and market Buenos Aires has to offer, making our luggage heavier and pockets lighter. But it's the sights that make this city. The re-vamped docks of Puerto Madero where we strolled along the river trying in vain to digest an all-you-can-eat meat feast. The colourful corregated iron houses and shops that make the area of La Boca famous (we'll upload more pictures soon) and Recoleta Cemetary with it's rows of towering, dark mausoleums where famous Argentine figures such as Eva Peron were laid to rest, and the hissing cats that live there follow your every move.

It feels really weird to be coming home. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Like the feeling before you leap from a plane (yes, I did that in New Zealand). You just try not to think about it too much before the event, for fear you'll wet yourself from excitement or get cold feet and not want to get on the plane. But we will be getting on our flight tomorrow whether it's to start our life again at home or plan the next adventure, because all good things come to an end, and this is the end of our good thing, the best thing we've ever done.

August 30, 2005
Jody writes:

See our Buenos Aires photos.

Shopping and eating sums up our experience of Buenos Aires so far. We hated the place for our first couple of days here - it's a big, rowdy, confusing city and we felt totally lost in it. But a city tour and many taxis later and now we feel at home.

Our first hotel was nasty, but overlooked Plaza Mayo where the big, pink, camp Argentine houses of parliament sit. We got a kick out of watching local political TV reports on the news, then rushing onto our balcony to see if we could spot the same number bus we saw on the telly as it drove past our room. And then we plugged the heater in and it started a fire, so we decided to move.

We're now in the nice, posh district of Recoleta, where there are plenty of restaurants and shops. We decided to give up on hotels and hostals and rent a studio flat for our remaining 10 days before we fly back to London on September 2. We meet a lot less tourists this way, but we've made plenty of Argentine friends who are keeping us busy (thanks for all the meat, Veronika and Leo!).

We're going to find it really hard to adjust back to English food. We're so used to being fed until we can't move that I doubt my usual salad for lunch back home will cut it. We went for sushi the other night - it left us satisfied but not I've-just-eaten-a-kilo-of-meat satisfied. By midnight we had to go out and get a takeaway. So yes, we're both coming home fat. The home luxury I've been longing for most is a glass of milk - South America hasn't advanced beyond UHT and it's driving me nuts.

We went to a football match last week: Argentina's Boca Juniors versus Colombia's Once Caldas. It was a lot of noisy fun, with cheerleaders, fireworks and a forest's worth of paper streamers. Only about 20 Colombian fans travelled here for the match and were surrounded by at least 30 cops to keep them separate from the Argentine fans. Boca won 3-1.

Including today, we only have three full days here before we fly home to London on Friday, so we're finally packing in some sight-seeing this afternoon and tango classes this evening. That is, so long as we can be bothered after a big, meaty lunch.

August 27, 2005
Amy writes:

El Anglo meat factory - close up of Victorian generator
See our Uruguay photos.

We've seen some of the greatest landmarks in the world - Ankor Wat, Ayers Rock, Machu Picchu and now, El Anglo meat factory in Fray Bentos.

The factory churned out horrible tinned meat for over 100 years before it closed in 1979. It's now a haunting, decaying complex of buildings in which victorian machinery lies where it was abandoned, under decades of grime. It's hard to believe that at it's peak the factory made this town the richest in South America, slaughtering over 12,000 animals every day.

A huge warehouse of meat hooks lay rusting through one window, ancient machinery covered in dust in another. Cracks in the walls, lots of broken windows, birds nesting in the old packing rooms. A brick chimney towered above us as our guide pointed out the big glass windows of the slaughter house. For somewhere that once employed 5000 people, this was now the loneliest place I'd ever been. In a 'shivers down my spine' way.

The highlights of the on-site museum were the two-headed calf pickled in a jar since 1938 and the exhibit showing the many faces of tinned meat through the ages including the delicous-sounding 'Breakfast Tongues'.

It was enough to put Jody off meat for half a day, which was a good thing too as none of the restaurants in the tiny hamlet of Fray Bentos claimed to have any. While everyone else we met was lovely and friendly, most restaurant owners stared as if we were aliens, tried to avoid serving us, then would say they didn't have any food left while other punters, locals I'm sure, tucked into juicy steaks.

Wanting to escape the weirdness, we holed up in our hotel room (strangely the best we've had in South America) drinking chocolate milk. Like Argentina, the lunch options in Uruguay are limited to hotdogs, burgers and greasy breaded chicken - so chocolate milk actually seemed healthy.

The food in the country's capital, Montevideo, was more than we could have hoped for. In fact, we both agree it's probably the best meat we've ever eaten!

The Mercado del Puerto (translated as 'market by the port') looks like a British train station, was once a meat market and now houses the many restaurants that punters flock to for lunch. We've never seen happier faces! There's the tradional asado favourites (beef, sausages, pork) along with some delicacies you'd never get elsewhere, like Morcilla Dulce (sweet black pudding). I never thought I'd say it, but blood congealed with orange peel is delicious! This meal restored my faith in food. Montevideo was pretty tranquil for a capital city but that was the reason we liked it. A good place to stroll and relax. The calm before the storm.

Where are we? In the storm that is Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital. A sprawling hectic city. And what are we doing? Buying lots of shoes.

August 14, 2005
Jody writes:

See our Esteros del Ibera photos.
See our Iguazu falls photos.

The bus was crap - a small, tin crate on threadbare tires, but at the least when we started our journey to Esteros del Ibera we were driving on tarmac roads. Five minutes later (and for the following three hours), the road turned to dirt and was so bumpy that we were afraid of opening our mouths in case our teeth shook out.

Esteros del Ibera is a nature reserve in north-east Argentina. Not many people go there, which means the animals are extremely friendly, at the cost of crap transport and boulder-filled roads.

We were heading there because Amy was set on seeing a Capybara. It's the world's biggest rodent - imagine a guinea pig the size of a pig-pig and you're there. (More information about the creatures from 'The Happy Capy' website). We didn't need to drive too deep into the park to spot one - a whole family of the giant beasts blocked the road on the way in.

The village we stayed in was so laid back that most of the locals wore slippers 24/7. On our first day, we took a boat out on a lake and spotted loads more Capybaras wading in the mud. The boat got so close to one that we could have stroked it, but the Capybara marked his disapproval by blowing a load of noisy bubbles in the mud with his arse. Perhaps he was unhappy that we ate one of his relatives in Peru.

Aligator, extreme close up
A bloody great aligator

We also got within feet of aligators, an anaconda, birds and deer - few of which gave a damn about our presence. Later in the day we went horse riding and following what happened in the Bolivian pampas, this time I got the crazy horse. The bugger bucked and flinched whenever I tried to steer him and he had it in for another horse in our group, riden by one of two English guys we'd befriended. Not happy with just biting and nudging the other horse, my equestrian nightmare got within striking distance and THUNK; cracked the other horse on the jaw with a headbutt. I spent three hours on horseback, braced to be chucked off in a way that hopefully wouldn't break my back. Eventually, I made it back to the village in one piece.

The previous week we went to Iguazu falls - a mammoth set of falls that we walked around and got soaked from. Before that we spent a few days in Villa General Belgrano - a bizarre German-theme town set up by disgraced German soldiers who were interned in the country during World War Two. I found it a strange place because it celebrates it's heritage by selling souvenirs emblazoned with the name of the warship that took the soldiers to Argentina (the 'Graf Spree' - more info).

An Argentine friend we made pointed to the name on a T-shirt and asked what it meant. "It was a Nazi ship!" I offered, helpfully. The lady in the shop had other ideas. "It wasn't a Nazi ship," she said. "It was mistaken for a Nazi ship." Why is there a statue of a German soldier in the park then, I wondered? Anyway, nice beer there.

Where are we? In Gualeguaychu, which our guidebook describes as "sleepy," but I'd put it closer to "comatose." We're only here to catch a bus into Uruguay later today.

Web cafes are so poor in Argentina that they should all be taken outside and shot. We'll try and blog more before we get home, and hopefully get some photos up. You'll all be hearing our stories for months when we get back to London, so you should all bloody well be pleased by the break.

July 30, 2005
Amy writes:

See our photos from Salta and around.

"If I eat another steak, I'll cry...."

It'll get like that eventually. I'll probably get fed up of the huge, juicy slabs of meat, cooked to perfection. The thing about Argentina is that you are expected to consume half a cow at every meal. And a bottle of wine. There's not much else to the menu. Unsurprisingly, the rate of heart disease here is high. We've already started to ration our steak intake, not just because of health reasons but because it's getting boring. Fillet, sirloin, rump or chicken if you're lucky.

We've only been in the country for a week but have started getting pregnant-woman-like-cravings for something else, different food - anything! Yesterday, Jody and I did the unthinkable. We went on a spending spree in the local fruit and veg market, coming back to the hostel with an array of raw produce and eating it all along with a tin of tuna and glasses of milk. The women working at the hostal looked on amused while tucking into their beef dinner. Tonight though, we're returning to meat for our first Parrilla (pah-ree-ya) - an Argentine speciality. It's a barbecued assortment of beef cuts including offal and tripe (yuk!) along with steak and sausages. Almost a whole cow!

It's all about excess from what we've seen so far. Huge dinners, lots of wine and late nights. We're just back from a two-day tour of the local valleys. Despite a heavy schedule of beautiful views and pretty small towns, we all ended up staying out till dawn drinking wine and cheap beer on the first night, before getting up on the second day for wine-tasting at the local vineyards of Cafayate. No-one was sick. After lunch, we discovered the other Cafayate speciality - wine ice-cream. Beats Mr Whippy hands down but don't give it to the kids. There was a lot of real wine in there. The rest of the afternoon didn't go quite as smoothly as we raced round hairpin bends and bumpy roads on a belly full of Cabernet ice-cream.

July 23, 2005
Jody writes:

See our Peru photos.

"Did you get robbed while in Arequipa?" our cab driver asked as he drove us to collect our bus to Chile.
"No," I replied.
"Oh that's good!" he said. "Lucky!"

We'd heard about Arequipa's reputation as a thief's paradise, but managed to avoid trouble for the few days we were there, despite a lady in the bakery telling us that our hotel was in a bad neighbourhood.

We'd spent the previous two days in the Colca Canyon, but had booked a lazy tour. I was recovering from illness, so didn't feel like a hardcore trek, with only a crumbly path preventing me from plummeting to my death in the world's deepest canyon. Plus we've been on the road for nine months; we're getting lazy; get used to it.

So, our tour didn't feature lots of walking, but it did include breaking down at 4,900 meters above sea level (lots of people were throwing up from oxygen deprivation while the driver tried to fix the bus), and a morning of condor spotting.

We crossed back into Chile yesterday (via the Tacna / Arica border) and it couldn't have been easier. The border officials were particularly slack:

Border guard: "Do you have any fruit in your bag?"
Me: "No."
Border guard: "Do you like drugs?"
Me: "Oh no! I don't like drugs!"
Border guard: "Good! Move along."

Tonight we take a 24-hour bus ride from Arica, Chile, to Argentina. After spending three months in the Andes, I'm sad to finally leave them. True, the air was so thin that we got knackered walking up a short hill, the bus rides were frightening and the food was dull (meat, chips and maybe a leaf of lettuce if you're lucky), but life at sea level seems so plain. The towns all look the same, the locals don't wear silly hats and there's not a llama in sight.

We had some issues with Peru - almost every tour we did was crap, Peruvians struggle to tell the truth, everyone tried to rip us off - but we still had a lot of fun and will never forget the stunning ruins of the Incas and their ancestors. One other thing I'll never forget about Peru is the sheer number of Peruvians who pee on the street. Wet arches adorn the sides of almost every building in Peru, and during Inti Raymi, when Cusco was packed with people, the streets literally flowed with urine.

Strolling through Cusco one afternoon, a Peruvian guy kindly redirected his stream of piss to let Amy and I pass, and later we spotted an old lady squatting in broad daylight on the side of the road. A yellow trickle danced from beneath her traditional-dress skirt and onto the cobble stones, before she straightened her bowler hat and returned to selling peanuts on the side of the road.

Next stop: Salta, Argentina. Expect us to be pretty fat on steaks by the time we get back to London.

July 19, 2005
Amy writes:

See our Arequipa photos.

There was always going to be another bus-ride-from-hell and for me, this was it.

Jody was sick so instead of doing another mammoth bus journey, we were going a relatively short distance: Lima-Nazca (7 hours). I was going to relax by the pool, he was going to spend a day in bed before we did the tourist stuff (Nasca Lines, Chauchilla mummies) and then get another bus further south. Simple, you'd think.

We got the ticket to Nasca, watched as the luggage guys loaded our bags last (the bus was continuing south to Arequipa) and settled in for the ride. The bus was deluxe but still cramped for Jody. He was forced to stick his legs out into the aisle and put up with people tripping over them on their way to the toilet.

Despite my inclination for sleeping on any moving vehicle, Jody being ill meant he needed sleep more than me. I was going to stay awake so we could be ready to jump off when we got there.

18:30 Bus leaves Lima. Jody and Amy read American GQ (bought at great expense)
19:30 Dinner is served. Chicken and rice plus sugary soft drink. Better than airplane food.
20:30 Entire bus takes part in a game of Bingo with stewardess as the caller on a microphone. Jody almost wins but not quite.
21:15 Movie - American film 'School of Rock' dubbed into Spanish
21:17 We buzz stewardess and ask for subtitles in English. She looks annoyed.
21:25 Watch film but can't work out why subtitles are not what actors are saying
21:30 Realise it is director's commentary and quite interesting.
23:00 Film over. Jody already alseep. Feel eyelids drooping so read more GQ and listen to CD player.
00:30 Batteries run out. Have to borrow some from camera. Now have to mime singing to keep brain active and stop me feeling sick on windy roads.
02:30 Play 'count the sand dune'
03:30 Jody wakes up and we discuss why it is taking so long. I say we have to be nearly there as we have been driving through desert for ages.
04:00 We buzz Stewardess and ask how far it still is to Nasca. She looks confused, we get worried. She looks at our ticket and then she looks worried. Goes off to the back.
04:10 She returns, our fears are confirmed. We are way past Nasca - although she and two other people checked the ticket before we boarded, they forgot to drop us off there.
04:13 We don't understand what else she says except that we have no choice but to go another 5 hours to Arequipa, the final stop of the bus.
04:20 Jody goes back to sleep, I sit and fume - now strangely awake.
06:15 A girl comes over, English-speaking to translate for the stewardess. She wants us to transfer buses in an hour and swap to one going back to Nasca. After almost 12 hours, we refuse saying we can't handle a further 8 hours travelling right now.

Eventually some three hours later, we got to Arequipa where we had a confronatation with the bus company, Cruz del Sur. Everyone we told the story to looked shocked and blamed someone else but I was too tired, and Jody too ill to care. We've been here almost a week now. Jody has been in bed most of the time (the longer ride had made him worse) and although, Cruz del Sur gave us tickets to go back to Nazca - it's too late. Like a moody teenager I want to say; "Cruz del Sur - you have ruined my life!" If there was a door to slam, I'd slam it.

On the up side, we booked ourselves into a nice hotel with cable TV and have rested watching terrible 80's movies (Twins, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Ferris Bueller etc). Today we managed some tourist sites such as the beautiful Santa Catalina convent - so huge that there are 80 separate quarters for the nuns and their servants, with streets and plazas connecting them. We'll be out of Peru before the week is out and heading to Argentina for our last six weeks of exploring.

July 09, 2005
Jody writes:

See our 'Moche' photos.

After three months spent in the Andes, we finally flew down to sea level again on Wednesday. Landing in Lima, we immediately caught a bus North to Chiclayo. There are a lot less tourists up north and Peruvians have been staring at us since we arrived.

They stare at us in the street and they stare at us in restaurants. A guy even staged an 11-hour stare-a-thon on our bus journey from Lima, without blinking. Girls and kids find it a novelty and sometimes shout "hello!" at us in the street. Some guys just stare at us as if they're trying to work out how much money is in our pockets.

We've enjoyed a few frantic days of sightseeing, visiting various pre-Inca sites of the Moche and Chimu period (which was roughly from the birth of Christ to 1470). We had to shell out a small fortune for a private tour of the sites, due to the lack of tourists in Chiclayo (the 30 or so people who had booked into our hotel prior to us were Peruvian).

Our guide stumbled through a musuem tour, with little knowledge of what he was talking about and even less knowldege of the English language. At the end of the tour, we sat in a room with a load of kids who were on a school daytrip. After a short wait, a member of museum staff clambered out of a cupboard in his full Moche King gear. 10 minutes of stomping about and chanting culminated in him asking our guide, in Spanish: "Do they speak espanol?"

"A little, I think," our guide replied.

"Well get them to have their photo taken with me so they can give me some money," the Moche King said, setting a fine example to the kids on how to deal with tourists: fleece them for all the cash they have.

We flatly refused to have our photo taken in front of 30 school children, especially when our guide tried to persuade us to wear silly, fake gold headsets. I gave the King one Peruvian Sol anyway - fake gold armour can't come cheap after all.

We arrived in Trujillo yesterday, which is where we'd originally planned to volunteer, before we learnt that the organisation we were going to work for was corrupt. We're glad that we volunteered in Sucre instead. The Peruvian coast appears to be shrouded in a constant fog and the towns have a depressing feeling about them. We also volunteered last week for a few days while in Ollantaytambo, working in a restaurant that served free food to 130 kids each day. It involved lots of chopping veg.

Peruvian food update: I tried ceviche (raw fish) and didn't die. I can't say that I liked the texture, but I'm more likely to eat it again before going back for more roast guinea pig.

We head to Lima in a couple of days, then continue to work our way south to Nazca and Arequipa, before reaching Argentina. I hope everyone back home in London is ok after the blitz. Thanks for contacting us, to those who did.

July 03, 2005
Amy writes:

See our Machu Picchu photos.

As the sun rose and beams of light hit the mountain at Machu Picchu, we got out the camera and finally felt relaxed. A few days before, we hadn't been sure we'd make it to Peru's most famous attraction because I had been struck with a flu-like virus and lay shivering in bed. Now, there I was (with the help of two paracetamol) holding Jody's hand on the dizzying heights of the most beautiful Inca citidel in the world. And it really is...

The setting is just amazing. How they managed to create such a huge complex at the mountain is beyond me. And early in the morning, I really did get a touch of vertigo trying to take it all in. The site is vast and while the buldings are interesting, but it's the setting that gives Machu Picchu the edge.

A funny Inca-sized man (who used 'for example' at the beginning and end of every sentence) gave us a tour of the intricate ritual temples but the best bit for me was the three-and-a-half hours we spent at the viewpoint, both at sunrise and in the afternoon just staring at the beauty of it all from above.

In total, we were there eight-and-a-half hours, wandering on our own,
sitting on the terraces, climbing for more views and not a minute in the gift shop.

See our Inti Raymi photos.

The week before we'd been privy to see the traditional Inca festival of Inti Raymi, where a week of parades culminates in a huge ceremony celebrating the sun on June 24. With it being Andean winter and a few showers in the week, we'd been worried they'd have to re-name it 'Inti Rainy' but in the end the day went off without a hitch.

We'd paid out $60 each (a small fortune here) for seats to watch some hammy actors stumble through the ancient ceremony which culminated in the sacrifice of a llama. The High Priest holds up it's heart and if it's still beating, good fortune is predicted for the coming year. The verdict was delivered in Quechua so we don't have a clue what kind of year it's going to be. After it was all over, we looked underneath the stage to find the llama alive and well. It was obviously a well-trained stunt llama. God knows where they got the heart from?

Where are we? We're back in Cusco, but fly to Lima on Tuesday, where we'll catch a bus up the Northern coast to Chiclayo for more ruins. This time we-ll be poking around pre-Inca relics.

June 23, 2005
Jody writes:

Thailand has it's pad thai and fried insects, Australia has it's kangaroo steaks, but Peru has something even more delicious: roasted guinea pig.

We made a couple of friends in Australia that we've bumped into around the world (they're called Alex and Ruth and they have a website too), so when we met them again in Cusco, we made a pact that we wouldn't leave until we'd eaten guinea pig (or 'cuy' as they call it here).

We've never been confronted by such a terrifying meal. I'm still suspicious whether it actually was a guinea pig - it was HUGE and overhung our plate. Probably a rat. It didn't have much meat on it or taste for that matter, but the tiny scrapings we ate were horrible and pink, like turkey leg dipped in death. Some of the beast's innards were intact, including the kidneys, and any gaps were filled with rancid stuffing.

Amy did a stirling job of getting through our rodent, while I pulled it's dead head into different expressions (depsite it being roasted, it was still possible to make the thing blink and waggle it's tongue). For some reason, me playing with the creature's severed head put Alex and Ruth off their guinea pig, the wimps.

I once told a Bolivian friend we made in La Paz that in the UK, we keep guinea pigs as pets and would never think of eating them. "But why, when they're so tasty?" he replied.

It's unlikely that we'll ever try guinea pig again, though I'd still rather have a second helping of it, than try Peru's other famous dish: ceviche - basically raw fish, with a bit of lemon. Food poisoning, anyone?

June 21, 2005
Jody writes:

See our Lake Titicaca pictures. (30 in total over two pages, including Amy on a horse, 10 children in traditional dress, two silly hats, kittens, llamas and one angry bird).

We'd heard bad things about the Bolivia / Peru border at Desaguadero. Border officials stealing money from tourists; planting drugs in their bags and then threatening them with prison unless they cough up a hefty bribe - you know, the usual.

We'd also heard that the border officials were wise to tourists stowing money in money belts and boots, so we had to stash our cash in a place they'd never look: Amy's bra. She had about $400 dollars rammed in there and she couldn't have looked better.

As it turned out, we passed into Peru and reached our destination of Puno (which I can confirm for Amy's dad, who'd been reading the Home Office website, is crammed with rabid dogs) without any problems at all. From here we spent a couple of days on Lake Titicaca, which was great fun despite the efforts of probably the world's worst guide trying his hardest to ruin it for us.

I won't go into details, so you can look at our Lake Titicaca photos instead (warning: contains a picture of us in silly clothes).

We're now in Cusco, "the naval of the Inca World" as all guidebooks remind us. There's an incredible number of tourists here - everyone's either waiting to see Machu Picchu, or are on their way back from doing it. We can't walk down the street without being chased by a crowd of touts trying to bribe us into their bar, restaurant, or get us to book the bloody Inca Trail with them.

To everyone here, we look like like big, walking wallets (apart from the shoe shine boys, who think we look like big, dirty boots.)

We're being scrooges and boycotting the four-day Inca Trail. It's too expensive and quite frankly, we're lazy and would rather catch the train. We did shell out $60 each today though, for seats at Inti Raymi (more info). It's the annual Inca festival of the sun and features lots of funny costumes and dancing, culminating with the sacrifice of a llama. It's on Friday. We can't wait.

June 18, 2005
Amy writes:

Now that we're safely in Peru, far away from the problems of La Paz and the past few weeks - I think it's safe to reminisce a bit about our time as teachers. Living out our daily lives in Sucre, being settled and not feeling like 'travellers' for a while has been the best bit of South America for me (so far). 61 days in Bolivia and I wouldn't have it any other way. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of TEFL teaching....

Despite originally being given 'the worst class in the school' (to quote one teacher), my overall feelings on teaching were that while challenging, I was actually helping people improve their lives. It was like suddenly turning into Jamie Oliver at a cooking convention. We were the most popular people in the school for a time, even 'teaching the teachers' in a weekly session. The best job satisfaction!

And yes, my original class weren't exactly a joy to teach. They were riotous 10-year-olds who'd much rather run in the playground than have another hour at school. But the lessons sometimes brought unexpected fun like trying to explain the meanings of computer-related titles when I was asked, such as 'Medal of Honour' and 'Power-Point'. Although I had to feign innocence when one of the boys piped up, "what does Vice City mean?"!

For a more challenging teaching experience, I swapped the little terrors for a class of older students who had a lesser grasp of English. In fact, it may have been a godsend that I was actually sent to help them as their normal English teacher was stuggling with the language herself. She later admitted to me that she hadn't actually used her English in about 20 years which was why she was a bit rusty. In this class, we got down to some proper work even with simple things such as distinguishing the meaning and pronounciation between words (such as 'yes', 'chess' and 'cheese' on one occasion).

But it didn't stop there. We also helped in a language exchange most of the week and had that mad weekend where we managed to work day and night to make them that website *another plug*. All in all, we were busier than at home! We just wanted to get stuck in and help as much as possible in the time we had.

Our final day was marked with a promise of a trip to the local karoke bar. We had been a bit concerned about the prospect of singing (in espaƱol) but the teachers seemed so keen we didn't want to disapoint. As they led us down the street, I was trying to find out if they had any songs in English and didn't even notice that they were taking us in the wrong direction and into our favourite steak restaurant... It was such a brilliant evening. We were lost for words that this elabrorate ruse was to thank us for all our hard work. We were presented with so many gifts - flowers, matching fleeces, cards, that we almost decided we didn't want to leave afterall. Even now, we often chat about our time there and plot when we can go back...

Where are we? Just arrived in Cusco - the home of Machu Picchu (very exciting). We'll probably be staying about two weeks which is about enough time to visit the many Inca ruins plus enjoy the big winter solstice festival of Inti Raymi on June 24.

June 11, 2005
Jody writes:

La Paz appears to be back to normal again. The streets are rammed with markets, bus loads of tourists are arriving and you can't cross the road for fear of being run over.

New people checked into our hotel (El Solario) for the first time all week and men are working to repair the ripped up cobble-stone roads (a few days ago, protesters dug them up and piled the bricks for blockades). Hell, it was even warm and sunny today.

Now that the petrol stations are open again there are huge queues for fuel, so bus services aren't back to normal yet. This means that we're stuck here until Monday, before we head to Copacabana.

Although at times things were tense and terrifying, I'm glad that we were here when La Paz was on the brink of civil war. I couldn't imagine a friendlier war zone than Bolivia! It shows the true colours of the people here, that even when they're fleeing tear gas rockets, they still have time to apologise for the mess the streets are in and ask if we need help getting back to our hotel.

We befriended a lot of people here during the trouble, such as shop owners and one person I'm particularly impressed with being on first name terms with - a witch from the witches market (you can see a photo of her here). I'm sure if we run into any other problems in South America, she can help us out by rustling up a plague of locusts, or something.

It's great to see that locals are able to earn a living again. And the sight last week of kids playing football on a street that today is once again choked with traffic, will stay with me for a long time.

From now on, we'll resume normal frequency of blog posts (one every few days), because no one wants to hear about La Paz living up to it's name (in English: 'The Peace').

June 10, 2005
Jody writes:

Potosi is a mining city in southern Bolivia that's full of poor miners who pointlessly dig away inside dangerous caves to try and scrape themselves a scrap of tin. Miners have made up a large number of the protesters since the demonstrations began. Dressed in tin hats that make them resemble World War One vets, they intimidate police and egg on the other demonstrators by throwing dynamite around.

Some traveller knobs revel in it. One told us: "I heard that there were riots in La Paz and I flew right here!" And now you're stuck here you twat, laying in bed at night, hoping that the objects that land on your roof are rocks and not dynamite.

Yesterday police shot dead a miner outside Sucre - surprisingly the first fatality since the protests started a month ago. We awoke this morning to the boom of more dynamite blasts than we'd ever heard before. Miners had flocked in their hundreds to La Paz, but not to fight police. We headed down to the main avenue to see what all the fuss was about (as you do, when you hear TNT going off) and watched as a coffin was carried by a group of miners, flanked by others throwing dynamite on the road as a kind of TNT salute to the deceased.

There has been no violence in the city today and after the head of Bolivia's Supreme Court was appointed president last night (see news story), it seems that the city is slowly returning to normal. Blockades are being cleared, some cars are back on the roads and police are performing routine street patrols again (previously, most of the city was lawless).

For the first time in weeks it's possible to take a cab to the airport in daylight without it getting stoned. We've heard mixed messages from people here, but the word is that petrol is finally making it's way to the airport and flights will resume again shortly.

We've been denied seats on the flight to Cusco tomorrow, but because bus services are rumoured to run again from Sunday, we'll find out tomorrow if we're instead busing it out of here. It'll save us a lot of money and we'll be able to get to Copacabana - the access point for Lake Titicaca.

It's crazy what a difference a day makes. I don't even understand why people have toned down their protests - there's still no chance of gas nationalisation, but perhaps the protesters are pacified by the prospect of a general election (more power to the people, I suppose).

Although we've had a crazy week here - and I don't want to speak too soon, because we haven't left yet - I'm glad that we rode it out. (Exciting traveller boast no.23: "While in Bolivia, we got tear-gassed! It burnt our eyes and throats and was super.").

It's also proved what a fat lot of good foreign embassies are. The US Embassy was so terrified earlier in the week that most of their staff fled back to the States, the bunch of wimps (as this story reports). What about the poor American tourists stuck here?

Taking the protests very seriously, Israel chartered some kind of chicken plane to get their tourists out of La Paz on Wednesday (see story). Military service is compulsory in Israel, so why their government is worried about a crowd of trained killers being in danger when the rocks start to fly, I have no idea.

And how about the British Embassy? Well, we emailed them the other day and their advice was thus: "It would be sensible for those that have not already done so, to have a reserve of tinned food." How very English. Every year at Christmas, the people in my mum's village panic-buy food, knowing that the local shop will be closed for two days. So I suppose the prospect of no more food entering La Paz, ever, is cause enough to get the sardines in. Cheers British Embassy. You may have saved our lives.

June 09, 2005
Amy writes:

After the quiet that was yesterday, we all had our fingers crossed that maybe it was... over?

Some people in our hostel have this crazy idea that it's fun to be stuck in this situation. If someone was paying me, fair enough. If I was working, fair enough. But as a bystander, no thankyou. I'm supposed to be on holiday, not trying to dodge tear gas!

The dynamite explosions to rally the protesters started up again before midday with more intensity and ferocity than before, so we had no choice but to hole up in our hostel. With nothing else to do, I decided to pass some time online. This was fine until all the computers, hovers etc. in our hostel were suddenly cut off, sparking a panic of a city-wide power cut - something that the protesters had been threatening since all the trouble began. After half an hour of thinking we'd have to start living on chocolate and bananas, we got a report from a fellow guest that it was just our block that had no power. Relief all round and we celebrated with a game of cards.

To be honest, I'm still clinging to the vague hope we can leave on Saturday (the agency still haven't confirmed our flight) or that the British Embassy will rescue us if it gets any worse.

From what we've seen in the centre and gringo district, the atmosphere is a lot calmer than it was on Tuesday. We haven't smelt a whiff of tear gas and while many people are congregating in the squares, we haven't seen any marches outside the square, violence or further ripping up of the roads.

While we see some taxis and buses trying to drum up business in the early mornings, the rest of the day the streets are free of cars because of fear that they might get stoned. Even the taxi that brought us from the airport had a big crack across his windscreen after he was ambushed.

Protesters are making speeches along the main avenue but there seems to be a lot less people gathering there than earlier this week. Police presence is concentrated to government buildings and the main squares, and appears minimal elsewhere. Police aren't very popular at the moment so they're trying to stick together.

In Sucre, Congress are meeting today to decide the fate of President Mesa - is he allowed to resign or not? Not that any of this matters to the protesters, getting Mesa out of office doesn't help their cause. It's just a temporary distraction for the government.

Other news: the only time I ventured out today, I had some horrible squat Bolivian man say something rude and blow me a kiss. Urgh! The funny thing is, it's so cold here that I reckon he could only see from my eyebrows to my nose - I'm so wrapped up!

June 08, 2005
Jody writes:

If you want to beat the protestors you have to get up early in the morning. That's because most of them have a long walk from El Alto - the poor suburb that's far away from the city centre and stretches up into the mountains.

So today we were at the post office at 9am, shipping yet another box of woolen products to the UK. Getting Amy out of bed at that time is a war in itself, but we made it.

We saw a few cars making their way through the streets, undisturbed, (yesterday, they would have been stoned) and market stalls were opening. By midday, protesters had gathered on the main avenue, but compared to yesterday's bedlam, all is calm.

This afternoon we discovered shops on our street that previously hid behind wooden boards. We haven't smelt so much as a whiff of tear gas all day. Many market stalls are still closed, but it's an improvement.

It's currently 4pm and there's not a hint of tension in the air. At this time yesterday we were cowering in a shop the size of a shoebox with eight Bolivian people, watching the tear gas fly from our window.

In fact, the most dangerous thing I experienced today was a chicken empanada I bought off the side of the road (after biting the top off, I tipped about a pint of grease out of it before admitting defeat).

Another serious danger is that the longer we stay here, the more crap we end up buying. "Look Amy, that rug's nice," ten minutes later turned into: "Ok, we'll take it!"

Certain foods are becoming so sparse that the burger I ate for lunch appeared to have been sliced down the middle, so that the other half could be sold to another customer. We've stocked up with enough water, snacks and booze to last us until we (hopefully) fly on Saturday. Our seats on the flight will be confirmed or denied tomorrow.

June 07, 2005
Jody writes:

The protests over gas in La Paz have probably hit mainstream news in the UK now, with the President's offer of resignation last night. So we thought we'd start regular updates on the blog to let you know that we're fine.

The protests have taken over the city centre and have fallen into the routine of starting in the main square each morning, before police drive the protestors up to higher ground each afternoon.

The majority of protestors act peacefully, but gather in such overwhelming numbers that the police disperse them with tear gas. (By the way, the affects of tear gas are unpleasant, but not serious. Both Amy and I have been caught in a few clouds of the stuff now and it burns the nostrils, eyes and throat but wears off the minute you get to fresh air. There's more tear gas info on How Stuff Works.com).

We've been grateful for the kindness of the public here. Earlier today we were walking to a flight office and were caught in a crowd fleeing the square to escape the police. Protesters stopped to ask if we were ok, offering us boiled sweets (if needed, they apparently suppress the affects of the gas) and advised us on the best way to get back to our hotel.

Today, shop owners asked if we'd like to shelter in their buildings in case there was more gas released. The police appear to only be armed with tear gas and batons, and no serious injuries have been reported since the protests began weeks ago.

The demonstrations are destroying business in the city. The black market was bustling when we were here last month, but today only a few stalls were open. One hotel receptionist told us that only two tourists were staying at her four-storey hotel. There are no cars on the streets and people play football on the normally-congested main avenue. Restaurants are running out of food and a Bolivian friend we've made told us that the price of eggs in his neighbourhood has risen from 0.20 Boliviano's to 2 Boliviano's.

We're hoping to fly to Peru on Thursday, but many of the airlines are suffering from a fuel shortage because protestors have built blockades on all of the city's access roads. If not, we'll fly on Saturday with LAB airlines, who don't appear to have been affected by the shortage. Who knows - perhaps everything will be back to normal by then. More tomorrow.

June 02, 2005
Jody writes:

See our Sucre pictures

We've fallen into a way of life in Sucre, having spent over a month here. We buy grapefruit juice off the guy in the square and homemade biscuits from the woman with crazy teeth in the Plaza. We take Spanish lessons in the morning, teach English in the evenings and spend nights drinking Havana Club rum with our friends in the hotel. So why the hell we're leaving this sunny paradise for cold, dirty La Paz I've no idea, but we can't stay here forever. Peru beckons and La Paz is the logical stepping stone. Besides, all of our friends have left Sucre now and one of the TV channels has started a Jean-Claude Van Damme season, so we think it's a sign to make a move.

Here's some of the things we'll remember about Sucre:

Teaching English: I've been teaching a class who are mostly around 15 years old, alongside their usual teacher, Delia. Last night was my final class with them and due to an unexpected phonecall from the airline, I didn't get to the class untill it was almost over. I arrived to find that they'd prepared a goodbye party, with pizza, coke and presents. The pizza was cold and everyone had started eating, thinking that I wasn't going to turn up. I felt terrible for being late, but really appreciated the surprise. Fox - the language school - prepared a great send-off for us, but Amy's going to write about that some other time.

In a class a couple of weeks ago, I introduced the term 'used to' to the students. During a discussion about music, I asked them to put it into practice. The conversation turned to Michael Jackson. "I used to like Michael Jackson's music, but not any more," one student said. "Very good," I replied. "Can anyone else add to that?"

Another student piped up and said without any humour: "Michael Jackson used to be black, but now he's white." "That's right. Michaeal Jackson used to be black, but now he's white," I repeated out of protocol.

Watching a Bolivian football match: Bolivia is football crazy and I was expecting a roaring mass of people to be gathered in Sucre's stadium to watch two of the countries top teams battle it out. The reality was a near-empty stadium, mostly made up of kids offering to shine shoes and women flogging peanuts, watching a bunch of amateurs limp around an unkept pitch. The grass was so long in places that I was surprised that they didn't lose the ball.

The world's largest dinosaur footprint site: Wooo hooo! Dino footprints! The site is in a cement factory, which means that the planet's single most important find from the cretaceous period is owned by some corporate swine. He only stopped his men from digging up the prints because the rock they're set in is no good for making cement.

We donned hard-hats and walked around the site, keeping our distance from the prints - not to stop us from touching them, but because heavy machinery was churning up the rock around them. "There are bigger footprints further along," our guide told us. "But we can't go down there today because the workers are blasting with dynamite."

Building a website for Fox: We spent last weekend throwing together a website for The Fox Academy - it's where we volunteered to teach English and learnt Spanish. Fox is doing a great job teaching Bolivians who can't afford to attend the wealthy language schools and their Spanish teachers are top notch, but the evil Latino Schools Sucre is stealing most of the tourists with their flash building. And they're probably spending the money they take from tourists on kitten-torturing factories, the bastards. (In short, we visted Latino Schools; they were rude, overcharge and don't give anything back to the community, so we don't like 'em).

So we thought we'd help bring down The Man and build Fox a kick-arse (if hastilly put together and basic) website: http://www.foxacademysucre.com.

Pollo Rositas: Surely the eight wonder of the world. How can one fast food restaurant sell the equivilant of a KFC bargain bucket for only 70p and still make a profit? The place gets so rammed that they need security guards to calm the crowds. An old American guy in our hotel loved the place and once told us that after a gallant struggle, he finally managed to finish a portion to himself: "It may have taken me three hours, but god damn it I beat that chicken."

Next step, La Paz: There are still protests in the capital, though we've been told that it's not as bad as the media makes out. Thankfully the gringo district where we'll be staying is protest-free and even in the main square, protests are apparently sporadic. The demonstrators blockade roads to gridlock the city, but they're not all that dedicated and sometimes start late after sleeping in and they usually take Sundays off (there's church to attend, you know). Thankfully, the Bolivian public make pretty laid back protestors, it's just the police have no patience for them.

Don't worry mums - it's still safer than London on a Friday night. (And we'll call in a couple of days).

It's likely that we'll fly from La Paz to Cusco, Peru, at the weekend. We have several friends currently in La Paz so we're looking forward to spending the next few days with them.

May 25, 2005
Jody writes:

But here in Sucre you wouldn't even know that there are riots in Bolivia's capital. I don't know if it's made it to the UK news, but just in case I thought I'd say all is fine in Sucre. You can read more about the protests in this news story.

We had planned to return to La Paz this weekend, but we're going to stick around here for a further week and teach some more English at the school. By then the problems should hopefully die down in La Paz and we can continue on our way to Lake Titicaca and Peru.

It's Sucre's anniversary today and we've been watching military and school parades in the streets. One Bolivian spectator told us that their president is here today, and then slid his finger menacingly across his throat. The president is a pretty unpopular man at the moment and who knows, there might even be a revolution next week. Where's Che Guevara when you need him?

May 21, 2005
Jody writes:

We're still in Sucre, learning Spanish and teaching English, and we may be stuck here for a while if the blockades don't let up. The people of Bolivia block the roads whenever the president steps out of line, which they think he did in a big way last week, over the export of Bolivian gas (as this story reports).

Thankfully, Sucre's a lovely place and we have plenty of friends here now. On Sunday we went to Tarabuco market - once a place where people from the surrounding villages met to trade goods, but now a location where tourists get charged crazy prices for tat.

Our bus was held up on the way to the market to allow a bike race to pass. A team of police officers had been employed to stone any stray dogs that wandered onto the road. One dalmation-cross-spaniel came close to causing a cyclist pile-up, but luckily a cop cracked the beast around the head with a pebble just in time. From where I was standing I could see that while the police used stones to drive the dogs over a hill, a bunch of kids stood on the other side, laughing and shooing them back.

When we eventually arrived at the market, we were mobbed by people weighed down with blankets and tapestries. One old lady tied a woven bracelet to my wrist and then demanded money for it. Another approached us, pointed to her bizarre, sparkly, native headgear and said in Spanish: "Look at my hat! You can take my picture for three Boliviano's." I couldn't turn her down.

Photographing people is tough in Bolivia. Everyone wants a picture of a tradionally-dressed lady in a crazy hat and this woman clearly knew her market well. And if you don't ask politely and pay up, you'll only end up with a picture of someone's back.

Laden with handicrafts that will inevitably reveal themselves as a big mistake when we get back to the UK, we returned to Sucre. That evening I became horribly sick. Perhaps it was something I ate. It's the first time I've been ill since leaving the UK last November, so I can finally stop being smug about being immune to native bugs.

May 13, 2005
Amy writes:

You're in a new country, you can't speak the language very well, things occasionally tend to go tits up.

We were in Bolivia's capital, La Paz about to head down to the southern town of Sucre. As we bought the tickets for our comfy bus, we thought it odd that the guy behind the counter was motioning at us to check our backpacks in already when we had ages to go. It's like going on a plane. You check the bags in at a counter and you're given a ticket with which to collect it at the other end. Still it was easier eating horrible 'station cafe' grub without lugging our huge backpacks with us.

So, we headed to board our 7:30pm bus. The first hint of panic came when we handed our tickets to the guard and he stared at us with a shocked look muttering, "salida, salida" and pointing at the door. Jody and I gave each other blank looks but when we headed back to the cashier' s desk to complain about the crazy man, we finally got it.

The bus already left - almost an hour ago! And not only had we wasted our money but our sodding backpacks were still on board! Everything except the clothes we were wearing and passports were in those bags and now there was a distinct possibility we'd never see them again. Complete stupidity turned into blind panic. Our luggage was winging its way across the country on a luxury bus - without us.

The only course of action was to get the next available bus and chase our bags across the country. Unfortunately for us, we were going to have to go 10 hours to Potosi (the highest city in the world and one we'd been trying to avoid) and then find another bus on to Sucre. However, we'd heard so much about the bag thieves in South America that despite the cashier's reassurance that when we got to the other end we'd just have to show the tickets to get the bags back - we were already getting frantic.

And luck definately wasn't on our side. The only other bus leaving that night was a 'normal' coach (very cheap but cramped) and it seemed like every Bolivian in La Paz wanted to get on it. Women with kids, women carrying sacks of Bolivia t-shirts, a group of drunks (who got the back seats and shouted all night) and some old women, who had a row over seats so fierce that the conductor had to get on to calm them down.

When we finally left La Paz two hours late, Jody's legs had already seized up from lack of legroom and we were forced to sit through an hour of a guy screaming through the coach about digestive problems, showing a flip-chart of the internal organs as he tried to flog some 'miracle' cure. I pretended to go to sleep but listened as he was laughed at by the other passengers. Unsurprisingly, nobody bought any. Just as I thought we'd got rid of him and could get some peace, another guy got on selling his answer for back problems.

Eventually, I managed to curl my body onto the seat to doze but I have no trouble sleeping on buses. In fact, I have trouble staying awake! However, the worry of the backpacks kept rousing me and we spent a lot of time disecting the contents of our bag wondering which clothes/books/medicines we'd have trouble living without . Apart from one toilet stop (no loo on board), around 4am at a Bolivian version of a 'Little Chef' (some deserted cafe in the middle of nowhere), at least there were no more disruptions.

Despite the much famed attractions in Potosi, we were so worried about the altitude (4100m) that we practically ran into the bus station there and got the first one we could - staying a possible record of about 15 minutes. We managed to see a few of the city's famous churches as we left. With it being a Sunday, the bus driver treated us to a tape of terrible wannabe singers belting out church songs, probably recorded at his local service the week before. No chance of a nap here then either.

Three hours later, Sucre bus terminal looked deserted. We eventually found a guy manning the 'Trans Copacabana' office and after about five minutes of sign language and us waving the tickets at him, he announced that our bags were in the cargo store across the road. I must have looked thrilled as Jody told me not to relax until we'd seen that they were in fact OUR bags. It was a tense moment, but there at the back of the dusty warehouse were our backpacks. I practically threw the tickets at the man. Sucre's a pretty city, but that day we didn't see any of it - we went straight to bed.

Where are we? Still in Sucre enjoying the warm weather. Someone's bravely given us a voluntary job teaching English to people who can't normally afford to learn. I have a class rowdy 10-year-olds while Jody's teens are angelic by comparison.

April 30, 2005
Jody writes:

See our photos from Rurrenabaque

A tiny, 12-seater plane swept us to the town of Rurrenabaque in the Amazon basin. The views were spectacular as we dodged the Andes mountain range and flew over dense jungle. Three guys at the front of the plane filmed the journey, unwittingly knocking the pilots headset off a few times with their camera lens.

Every gust of wind tossed the plane around and soon we were amidst thick cloud. How does the pilot know where the mountains are? Will we crash land in the jungle and end up eating each other, like in that film Alive? After 15 minutes of dense, milky mist, the pilot saw a break in the clouds and made a dive for it. We touched down on a field in the jungle. An old man raced out waving two fluorescent batons to direct the plane, but managed to drop one in the long grass. By the time he found it again we were climbing out of the plane. Seeing us standing on the grass, the plane motionless, he gave the sticks a little wave anyway.

The airport was a shack - the staff a group of old men drinking lemon juice. The crumbling walls were covered with posters of the Bolivian football team, the contenders for Miss Santa Cruz 2005 and the specifications for a fictional three-storey high Airbus (plane porn). After standing around confused for about an hour, we climbed onto a knackered minibus for a ride into town on a road so rocky it almost shook our eyeballs out.

Rurrenabaque is a great little place full of friendly people, with a few hotels, restaurants and a bar to support the tourists who visit. We ate fish overlooking the River Beni (part of the Amazon river, kinda) and packed ready for the jungle the next day.

Our jungle party - us, an Israeli couple, Carlos our guide, Daniel our translator and Nani our cook - arrived at camp after an hour's boat ride up the River Beni, then an arduous trek through the jungle, lugging multiple boxes full of god-knows-what through brooks and undergrowth. It turned out that the boxes were packed with fresh meat and veg - a firm indication of how well we'd be fed over the next two days. Nani threw together a stunning three-course meal straight away, before we headed off into the jungle.

We spotted venomous ants, puma and jaguar tracks and lots of thorny green stuff before returning to camp for another slap-up meal. Our guide then took us for a night-walk up a hellishly slippery path. Amy struggled to keep her balance in the dark and barely saved herself from falling into a ravine before deciding that enough was enough and that we wouldn't go any further. The others continued, leaving us sitting on a log to wait for their return. While we waited silently, we saw the silhouettes of monkeys in the trees. The rest of the group returned having seen nothing. It seems that rushing through the jungle waving torches isn't the best way to spot nocturnal wildlife.

We slept on some wooden slats, a mosquito net draped over us with a thatched roof on stilts keeping us dry in the event of rain. My god did we need that roof on day two.

Branches snapped from the trees in the high winds and rain poured down in buckets as we spent the second day cowering under our small roof. Our cook managed to drape a tarpaulin over some branches above a fire and cook us an amazing stew. She apologised that there was only one course and no rice.

Daniel, our translator, said he once did a jungle trek where a storm raged for four days. "You're lucky," he told the group. "What's so bloody lucky about being stuck in a squalid camp for four days?" someone piped up, to which Daniel replied: "You're lucky I didn't bring my flute."

The trek back to our boat was tough. The small brooks we'd hopped across had turned into raging streams and Amy and I walked barefoot through the jungle to save our boots from filling up. We discovered our boat full of water, but after some bailing it was shipshape again.

The weather brightened up for our three-day Pampas trip that started the following day, but the roads were as muddy as hell. Other tour groups were amused to see our land rover get stuck in two feet of mud before we were towed out again. The Pampas are the Amazon's grasslands and are popular for wildlife spotting. We saw monkeys, sloths, birds, pink river dolphins and alligators from our boat and went horse-riding (a first for both of us) through swamps and jungle.

Many of the horses were past their best - I was surprised that mine made it through the three hours without collapsing. Amy's horse was preoccupied with eating grass and lagged behind the rest of the group for most of the trip, until our guide persuaded Amy to give it a smack on the arse. Suddenly it turned into Red Rum and raced ahead with a terrified Amy gripping the reigns for dear life. The owner had to gallop to catch her and calm the horse down again. Soon it was back to munching grass and Amy didn't complain again.

Where are we? Back in La Paz, though we catch an overnight bus to Sucre in a few hours. Wish us luck.

April 22, 2005
Jody writes:

See our Salar de Uyuni pictures.

Amy and I left the Chilean desert town of San Pedro a week ago to catch what I'd dubbed The Gringo Bus. It was the only English-speaking Bolivian salt lake tour and carried 13 people - unlike the Land Rover tours that crammed six people in. The main reason we chose the gringo bus was because it was the only tour that carried oxygen to help counter altitude sickness. Little did we know how much we'd need it.

"We climb from 2,800metres to 4,500metres in one hour," our driver warned in Spanish. The acceptable safe level of ascent is only 300metres per day. If we were going to get sick then we'd surely know about it pretty fast.

The Bolivia border control was effortless, despite warnings from our guidebook. "Border officials are likely to give smartly dressed travellers an easier passage," it advised. Are jeans acceptable, I thought. Should I wear a tie? Perhaps I looked particularly dapper that day because the officers couldn't have been friendlier, singing 'Royal Britannia' when one noticed my British passport.

Upon reaching 4,500metres, I jumped off the bus for breakfast, momentarilly losing my balance as the first signs of a lack of oxygen kicked in. I chugged down three cups of coca tea (the local remedy for altitude problems) and felt fine for the rest of the day up until we visited some geysers at 5,000metres. It was nothing special so I bounded back on the bus... and then it hit me. I felt breathless and sick and was given oxygen to pick me up again. What followed was pure hell until we reached a lower altitude the next day.

When we booked the trip we were warned that two out of every 10 people become seriously ill at altitude. Well that was Amy and me.

Arriving at camp, 4,300metres up, I went straight to bed. Amy was feeling ok, so she went for a walk around a lake. Bad idea! She launched her leg straight through the salty crust of the lake and upon return, exhausted herself trying to dry her boot. That's the strange thing about being at a high altitude - even the simplest task becomes a tiring trial.

Our night was spent gasping for breath, taking the occasional blast of oxygen and - as for Amy - spitting sick into a plastic bag. We were lucky that an Australian doctor we met in San Pedro called Kalpna was travelling with us on the tour. Amy dragged her out of bed at 2am when I couldn't sleep because my heart was racing so fast. We were also shivering from the bitter cold - the Andes aren't known as a hot destination.

Several hours later, I dropped off to sleep, dreaming of how nice it would be to beam ourselves back to a Thai beach - fresh sea air and baking sunshine. I hoped we'd fair better at a lower altitude the next day.

Amy writes:

Unfortunately, the second day also passed in a bit of a blur.

At least the guide didn't lie to us. "We still have to go up a little way, then we go down to 3700m and we stay at that", she announced as we dragged ourselves onto the bus that morning.

What we didn't know until later, was that the 'little way' was back up to 5,000metres although that didn't really matter at the time. We were so weak, we took it in turns to get off the bus to take pictures.

At one point, at the famous 'stone tree', Jody got back on the bus and then five minutes later, couldn't remember having got off and had to check the pictures on the camera for proof! See? It really was that bad...

Thankfully by the third day - the climax of our trip and the highlight as we reached the 'Salar de Uyuni' - we were both feeling more human again. Jody was even talking and the others had stopped refering to us as 'the sick group'.

The Salar de Uyuni is a 10,000km square lake of salt. It's not a lake in the conventional sense of the word, you'd have to dig down through six metres of salt to find water.

When we drove through it, water on parts of the thick salt crust surface was ankle-deep, proven by our group's insistance to paddle barefoot. It was like treading on ice! And the salt crust was painfully hard to walk on. I thought the others were exagerating as I struggled to get out of my boots but then I felt my toes start to freeze. Yelling threats at Jody to hurry up and take the bloody picture, the only reason you can't see the pain on my face is because we had to wear sunglasses to counter what is known as 'salt blindness'.

It is unbelievably bright, harsher in some respects than staring at the sun but what a view! A brilliant white plain as far as the eye can see, with snow-capped mountains on the horizon. Half an hour's drive in, another weird spectacle. An island, full of cacti suddenly comes into view. Fish Island, as it is known, is an oasis in the desert. We puffed our way up to the top of it (the altitude making it's appearence felt for the final time) to survey the view. No-one really knows why cacti grow there but they are giant! Some of the cacti are thought to be over 1,000 years old and still growing.

Later, we got some time to run about on the salt and noticed the vast numbers of people taking their clothes off for naked or near-naked photos! Still not sure what that was all about but a group of topless girls did get a lot of attention. Jody and I thankfully kept our clothes on.

On the way out, we visited a hotel made of salt where we were forced to buy over-priced chocolate on the door to gain entrance. A bizarre photo-op ensued of Jody lounging in various chairs/beds made of the stuff and me licking the wall. I know that salt is bad for you, but when surrounded by miles of the stuff, a tiny bit can't hurt.

April 20, 2005
Jody writes:

We were spoilt by the brilliant transport system in Chile. The buses are like spaceships with seats like beds and a host who makes sure you're comfortable by handing out blankets, pillows and food. And don't worry if there's a dispute over luggage at the other end, because the porters have SWORDS. The buses play an endless reel of Hollywood blockbusters (hooray!), sadly dubbed into Spanish (boo!), with silly deep voices (hooray!). Bolivian transport has a lot to answer for, however.

Having just returned from a three-day trek across the Andes to the Bolivian salt lake (more on that another time, but you can see some pictures here) Amy and I contemplated our next move. Should we get the hellish 10-hour bus ride to Sucre (bumpy roads, no toilet stops), or the simple train journey to La Paz? Everyone we met on our salt lake trip was catching the train and I complained that joining them would be taking the easy option and that we should rough it on the bus. Character building and all that. How wrong I was.

We knew that the train ticket office was said to only open an hour or so before the train arrived, so we made a simple plan: enjoy dinner with our new friends, then meander to the station for 10pm, buy tickets, then stroll back to the hotel for our bags, possibly grabbing a drink before boarding the train at midnight.

I will never be able to capture the true despair, boredom, panic and terror of what really happened but I'll try:

8pm - Check station before heading to dinner. Note that people are already queing for tickets. All's well so far.

10pm - Return to station after dinner. Despite the presence of many more hopefully travellers, the ticket booth is still closed. Join the crowd.

10.30pm - Station is filling up fast. Two Brits accuse a large gang of Israeli's of queue jumping. An arguement breaks out. Everyone else is quite pleased with the entertainment.

10.50pm - Two stray dogs enter station and begin fighting. The patient crowd watch silently. I root for the pregnant, white dog. Booth still closed.

10.57pm - I overhear an American describing Machu Pichu as "kinda neat."

11pm - The booth should be open by now. The station is crowded with over 100 cold, frustrated people. Our group grow concerned that if we can't buy tickets soon there won't be enough time to make it back to our hotels to collect backpacks.

11.13pm - I break wind, silently.

11.23pm - Out of complete boredom, the waiting crowd shuffle into a formal queue that leads to a closed ticket booth.

11.24pm - I check my watch for the 58th time.

11.26pm - I contemplate which part of my Swiss Army Knife I've used the least. (Conclusion: probably the toothpick).

11.27pm - Fearing that the space between buying tickets and running to the train will be small, our group organises itself into three teams: one that queues, one that taxis bags from hotels-to-station and another that guards the bags at the station. The process runs like clockwork; the Bolivian train network doesn't.

11.46pm - The train arrives. The ticket booth is still closed.

11.47pm - Ticket booth opens! One man with an ancient ticket-printing machine is all that stands between a crowd of 200 people and a train about to leave in 15 minutes.

11.50pm - A couple of minutes into selling tickets it's apparent that several purchasing cartels have formed - people at the back of the queue are paying those at the front to buy them tickets. Arguements break out, fingers are pointed and 10mins later it's apparent that our group is last in the queue and may not get tickets.

Midnight - The train is due to depart, but being only half full is delayed for 10 minutes. The driver still chuffs up the engine and toots the horn occassionally to send a wave of fear through those still in the queue.

12.15am - Finally, with tickets in hand, our nine-strong group (the only people not already on the train) thunder to the front of the train, toss our bags onto the luggage carriage (with superhuman strength gained from adrenalin), then tear to the other end of the platform, leaping into our carriage as the train pull aways. Some time later when the train reaches it's top speed of 10mph we realise that we could have given it a 15 minute headstart and still caught the bloody thing up.

Where are we? In La Paz, finally. Though we head to the Amazon in a couple of days to get eaten by aligators.

For older entries, see the archives at the top right-hand side of this page.
Jody and Amy have finished their 10 month adventure around the world, that began Nov 2, 2004, and ended Sep 2, 2005. They're back home in London now, doing normal things, like going to work and drinking tap water. You can see a map of what was their planned route, but we didn't quite follow it.
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