Homeward Bound

Trip Start Jan 03, 2007
Trip End Apr 05, 2007

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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Posting by Louise 03 April:

Hi Folks .... our adventure is coming to a close so this will be the last e mail! We have been going at hectic speed to try and fit in all we wanted to see - hence sporadic contact!

From the lazy beaches of Arica (Chile), where grey desert meets sea we entered Peru - to the White City of Arequipa that boasts superb colonial buildings and the famed frozen mummy of 14 year old Juanita who was sacrificed on the highest mountain top to the Gods in the Inca period!

Intrepid explorers that we are, we decided to trek into the world's deepest canyon (well second to a neighbouring one by 163m!). It took 3 days through rugged terrain. On the last day in a rush to see the Condors catching the thermals it was suggested that I go on a mule. I was spared the mortification as all mules were taken .... and then promptly proved to one and all that I could climb at the normal speed, arriving well in time to see the soaring Condors!

Although very attractive with its slate roofs, character houses, cobbled streets and splendid plazas Cusco was rather a disappointment. It has a unique history in being the centre of the Inca empire that spread (over a 100 years) from Ecuador to Chile/Argentina. It was too touristy (we got hassled) and rather dank and wet. However we were very active taking horse rides to the ruins, a two day river rafting expedition and four day alternative trek to Machu Pichu! We really enjoyed the rafting on roaring muddy waters of the Urubamba. I battled with the trek not being well ... both flu and runny belly ... but it was worth it when we arrived at MP. It is magnificent! Not only the sheer ingenuity and splendour of the architecture but in terms of the dramatic environment .... steep steep conical mountains soar to the sky. It amazed me to think anyone would want to build a city on the very crest !

Lake Titicaca was beautiful! As promised the air was translucent, with glorious views of mountains overlooking the lake and vivid skies and cloud formations. We visited floating islands that are made out of reed beds tied to together. The Amyaras took to the lake when the Incas invaded, which was also a safe haven from the conquistadors. Everything including their boats are made with the reeds, the roots of which they even eat! There are fourty islands which are well organised, some allowing tourists for additional income.

Upon entering Bolivia we stayed at Copacabana on the shores of LakeTiticaca at an altitude of 3800m. We hiked to a small island, taking a short cut en route that proved to be anything but a short cut!!! We found ourselves stuck on a sheer cliff falling into the sea! In desperation we rock climbed up a crevice! Les gals gave me moral support as I scrambled up the rocks clinging for deaf life onto small plants! To make matters worse there was a downpour that left us drenched! Finally we made a deal with a farmer who rowed us across to the Ilha del Sol! The Andes weather is constantly changing except always cold! Sarah actually swam in the lake when the sun was out only to wake the next morning to snow!

La Paz is hectic and crazy, with no traffic rules and street vendors on every pavement! It has a good buzz about it. It is situated in a bowl with mountains and weird rock formations surrounding the city. Houses are one on top of the other as they scramble up the sheer mountain side. We battled with the altitude ... nothing serious but climbing up the narrow streets we were constantly out of breath!

It was sad to say goodbye to Jules who left us in La Paz in an absolute downpour! We huddled under a street vendorīs umbrella whilst trying to decipher which minibus would take her to the airport!

I have been told that March/April is the best time ... after the rains and before it is too cold. However this year has seen torrential rains, especially in Bolivia. The constant battle is to keep dry and warm. The Andes are cold and houses seem ill fitted for warmth! BUT the Andes and the altiplano are truly magnificent with young vibrant fold mountains soaring to the sky in all colours, whilst still being overlooked by snow capped volcanoes.

It was with great relief that Sarah and I escaped the cold and wet and altitude of the Andes / La Paz, delighting to be in the heat and humidity of the jungle! (and where I was finally able to throw off my cold) .... In return we became a feast for the mosquitoes and sand flies (the latter being the worst, leaving welts and itching for days!)

In the Bolivian Amazon we went on a 'pampas' tour .... essentially boating and wading through swamps and lakes on the edge of the jungle proper. Here one actually sees more animals and birds and we had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of swimming with pink dolphins (that nibbled our feet in play!!) and catching piranhas!

We gave ourselves a treat by going on a jungle tour deep in the heart of a national park - Madidi - famed for its abundant diversity - to a lodge that is community owned and run and which supports indigenous life style and practices. The community built it in traditional reed & wood style on the edge of a lake. All guides speak English and ours is a renowned birding expert ... and there were amazing birds when one could make them out amid the density of the jungle! Since the start of the project 12 years ago all the community have had training. Their leadership and egalitarian democracy is laudable, with everyone given opportunity and all profits going to the community. They in fact job share. Life in the jungle (human, animal and plant) is quite fascinating and we learnt lots, whilst being treated to local dishes and copious fruit and spice drinks!

From the attractive jungle centre of Rurrenabaque we took our own inspired route, right off the beaten track. We delighted in only seeing one other (Brazilian) traveller! Given the flooding in the lowlands of Bolivia from the rains in the Andean cordillera (which we have been trying to skirt for two months!) we flew in small 12 seater to the capital of the Beni province, Trinidad. We could see the massive flooding .... rivers overflowing to make one endless lake with only treetops visible. Luckily it is not heavily populated, but communities were transferred to Trinidad and put up in blue plastic tents around the city. I was taken under the wing of a fellow passenger and we went eating, drinking and singing for the night, speeding around on the backs of motorcycles. Karaoke is a hot favourite ... whether you can sing or not!! Sarah was nursing a delhi belly and decided not to assault her stomach ... or ears!

Yet again we flew over the flooded Amazon and neighbouring plains and arrived in the small heat sodden Bolvian/Brazilian border town of Guyaramerin, being driven around in little tripeds. From there we crossed the Mamore river, which like all the many rivers flowing into the Amazon slowly winds it way like a glistening brown snake curving a path through the verdant jungle.

For all the water, water everywhere ... we hit it lucky for our whole Amazon visit, with glorious weather before the onset of the dry season and soaring temperatures!

Brazil reminds me of SA ... the economic power house of the region. It was a bit like crossing from Lesotho into SA where suddenly shops were full of goods and it was no longer possible to find the street vendor selling fresh squeezed fruit juice and snacks!

It took all day by bus to get to Rio Branco, stopping at the frontier towns that have just sprung up with migrants looking for work and riches. Little wooden houses are erected wherever and the land is cleared for hardwood timber and then cattle ranching. We saw very little agriculture ... not even the famous soya bean which is now the primary reason for land clearing, threatening the Amazon ecosystem. (Brazil is the world's largest soya producer).

Rio Branco is rough and tough and energetic! It is the capital of a province (Acre) that was taken forcibly from Bolivia by the frontiersmen! We had one of the tastiest meals of the whole trip from a street vendor, whilst all around Evangelical churches clapped and sung, doing their damnest to cajole people into being saved!

Crossing the Amazon jungle to Brasilia was awesome .... it is immense! ... and that is but a wee part on the edge of the basin! We flew for 3 hours only seeing the occasional homestead. It is all a matter of roads. They are the catalyst for opening up the jungle and possibility of income (mostly illicit!). I can actually understand how the local people find it hard to reconcile how their bit of land clearing can make any difference in the greater scheme of things!!

On arrival in Brasilia Annabel and Maria generously picked us up at the airport ... a welcome treat! (Annabel is with the SA Embassy) What a pleasure not to have to hassle with buses and searching for the best value cheap hostel, whilst carrying our heavier and heavier packs!

I must say it is wonderful to be cossetted with all the comforts we take for granted! Annabel and Maria are treating us to the lap of luxury with our own rooms and bathrooms, music playing, access to computer/internet and kitchen for copious cups of tea, being driven around et al!! I am washing and airing out all my mouldy clothes (whether clean or not they got fungi!!!)

Brasilia is on a plain (a la highveld) with wonderful temperate climate ... and expansive sky with majestic cloud formations. For all its artificiality it is clean and spacious, with tree lined dual highways, strictly demarcated residential areas, shopping malls, an enormous man-made lake and large open spaces. The centre houses parliament and government. The vegetation and tranquility and government dominated existence is not unlike Pretoria.

It has been a lifetime experience ... and I have my very special nieces to thank! It is one in millions that would share travelling with their old auntie. They were fun, adventurous, curious, organised, caring and truly great companions!

Have much to get back to!!! Actually rather intimidating .. after so long!! South Africa ... the world .... and work seem so remote!

So a final hasta luego!
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