Friday 13 November 2015

Essential packing

The Chickens told me that they used previous blogs’ pictures to figure out what to pack for this expedition, so I thought I’ll make it easy for the next guys and make a list of what to pack and what not to pack. Here are the Chooks’ one essential and one waste-of-space items, and also a bonus tip:

Brooke: My fat Victorinox Swiss Army knife!
Nanna: My wax earplugs.
Mollie: Ooh, Branston Pickle and English Mustard.
Sue-Dog: My corkscrews.
Jody: Mozzie spray!
Julie: My sun hat!
Christianne: My head torch.
Carol: My universal adapter electricity plug.
Jan Jnr: All my things were equally important.
Jan Snr: My extra pair of glasses.
Frank: My sun hat.
Tom: My long silk underwear.

Nanna: My bags of condoms.
Mollie: My two Swiss Army knives!
Sue-Dog: I never wore my thermal underwear.
Jody: My snorkel and flippers.
Julie: My skirt – I never wore it.
Christianne: An extra cell phone.
Carol: All my extra coffee.
Jan Jnr: I am a Dutch engineer; I packed only what I needed, and nothing more.
Jan Snr: Too many trousers!
Frank: That fifth pair of underwear.
Tom: Shorts.

Nanna: Always bring your own condoms!
Mollie: Pitch your tent away from the snorers and bring a universal bath plug.
Sue-Dog: Sometimes you just need to get your own room; and it’s fine!
Jody: Pack lite.
Julie: Patience, patience, patience, and just go with the flow.
Christianne: Do a trip into the dunes at Nazca.
Carol: If you do one activity, do the Bonito snorkeling!
Jan Snr: Tripadvisor is a good tool to find a restaurant that you will like.
Frank: Stick to your baggage allowance!

Tom: Bring a really warm sleeping bag.


3 November – San Pedro
We had an interesting border crossing yesterday. The Bolivian customs building is a little shack in the middle of nowhere, and the Chilean building is much bigger and forty kilometres down the road, three thousand metres lower in altitude. This lower altitude made sense later on, when they made us unpack the whole truck to make sure we had no vegetables in our tent bags. It would have been an exhausting exercise to do all of that at five thousand metres.

After Tom hinted that he was interested in an upgrade, the group unanimously decided that an upgrade was in order for all. The Altiplano left us all dusty and we were not out of the desert yet – San Pedro is a brown town with mud brick buildings and gravel streets. Brooke quickly found a suitable hotel and made a deal to suit our pockets (or rather kitty’s pocket).

There are lots of activities to do in San Pedro, but most of us opted for a day of relaxing. Jan and Christianne went on a sunset trip to The Lunar Landscape – a desolate valley on the edge of town.

5 November - Antofagasta
Another surprise waited for us at Antofagasta. We were booked in at a super fancy hotel. We all got rooms with sea facing balconies. Next to the hotel was a big shopping mall; selling things we forgot we needed. There are also some old English buildings and a train station to check out. And then of course the wharf and fish market.

More dead trains on the way


Fish market

View from our rooms
6 November – Pan Azucar
For our second last camping night we came to the Pan Azucar National Park. It is a coastal park with campsites in the desert on the beachfront. It is beautiful in its desolation.

Of course all the smaller roads leading into the park were washed out, so we had to drive right around it to find the main road going in. Tonight we will do our last braai for the trip. We bought some big Uruguayan fillets and chorizo to go with our potjie chocolate and dulce de leche cake.

The Hand of God

Pan de Azucar


Ithaca on the beach

7 November – Guanaqueros 
We were meant to stay at a campsite in La Serena, but when we got to the address, the campsite was a brand new apartment building. Luckily it was still early in the day and we headed off in search of something else. Bush camping in this part of Chile is not easy. There are only fenced-in roads and private properties. We realised soon enough that we were heading towards more developed lands than what we have become used to.

Not far from La Serena we found a little village with a campsite right on the beach. It was perfect for our last camping night of the trip.

8 November – Valparaiso  
Valparaiso does not look like much of great place when you drive in – it’s a bit dirty, there are lots of hoboes around, it was cloudy and windy, and everything seemed a bit desolate and closed (we came in on a Sunday afternoon).

But when we left the hotel on Monday morning it was a different city. It was alive and bustling and suddenly very interesting. It is built on steep hills with a busy shipping port at the bottom. You can walk for two minutes and you will be lost in the old town. There are cobbled streets, countless restaurants, crafts shops, street vendors, and “ascensors”. These are old (the oldest one is one hundred and forty years old) funiculars taking you up the hills about fifty metres at a time.


Or stairs?

Who dares pass?

Container building
10 November – Santiago
On the way to Santiago we went looking for a nice wine farm to do a last group activity. We found Emiliana, an organic wine farm. The vineyard tour and wine tasting they offer there is very good. Even for a seasoned wine tourer there is much to learn about the effects of African chickens and different herbs growing in your vineyard.

Santiago is a big modern city. We got to our last hotel easily and Ithaca could park right outside the front door. We are all going our separate ways tomorrow morning – Maggie and Nanna are meeting Stuart and Alie’s Chair to be whizzed off for a week of spoiling, Sue-dawg is off to the Galapagos Islands, Jan will relax in the spa, Frank and Julie are staying in Santiago for a couple of days before also going to the Galapagos, Jan and Christianne are relaxing here for a week before going home to relax there for two weeks, Jodie is off to a volunteering camp in Peru, Tom is leaving super early in the morning to get a flight out to his aunt, and David and Carol are catching a flight back to Tasmania.

I must say we will miss the Spring Chickens.

Brooke and I will ponder in Santiago for a week or so before heading over to Buenos Aires, to start the epic South American Explorer expedition – six months of action through just about every country on this continent.

Adios Amigos!

Wine tasting
Julie & Frank
Last truck lunch

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Peru & Bolivia

Well here comes a long blog with lots of pictures. Long, because I’m doing Peru and Bolivia in one, and lots of pictures because they are two awesome countries. If you don’t want to read more than one hundred words, just look at the pictures.

8 October – Porto Maldonado
We crossed into Peru without any hassles at the border. Porto Maldonado is our base for our three day Amazon jungle stay. We stayed here one night before going into the jungle, and we are staying tonight again. The town has developed to what it is today mainly because of tourism that has increased significantly after the completion of a highway linking Lima with Brazil.

On the first morning an English-speaking guide picked us up. He showed us the town and while we were at it a tropical downpour persuaded everybody to buy a poncho for $1 (we haven´t worn them yet). Then we were off to the jetty to board a long boat that took us down river to the lodge. It took just over an hour.

The lodge was full board and all our activities there were also included. Some of us went on jungle walks and boat rides, and some of us relaxed at the pool. At night the jungle came to life with noise, and early in the mornings the howler monkeys woke us up.

11 October – Quincemil
To get to Cusco, we have to cross the Andes Mountains. It’s a long drive over a high mountain range, so we are stopping for the night in Quincemil. It is a small town just before the road starts going up. Brooke booked us in at a big house above the town. Previously, it belonged to an army officer that worked at the nearby base. It Has a nice stoep right around the house, and we are relaxing in rocking chairs with a glass of wine while our lovely host is preparing dinner for us.

12 October – Cusco
We made it to Cusco! We reached a significant four thousand seven hundred metres above sea level. After spending most of the last month and a bit at sea level, this altitude gain hit some of us quite hard. For now we are taking it easy to get used to it all. We will spend the next month or so at high altitude. We are all feeling it when we do anything at all!

Crossing the Andes was quite spectacular. We have been travelling from Rio through mostly flat lands below one thousand metres above sea level, and suddenly in one day we went up to almost five thousand metres. The road is an engineering masterpiece (or it tries to be, at least – there are road works all along the way trying to keep it all together).

Cusco is one of those mysterious cities with narrow one-way streets, steep uphills, old colonial buildings, lots of tourists, and countless hidden gems. We arrived at the city late in the afternoon. We were all glad to be staying here for six nights. It has been our base to go out to Machu Pichu and some other old ruins around the city.

Ithaca, our truck, not Calypso, was booked in for a big service at the local Volvo service station.

The whole group decided not to do the big walk, but instead took the train up to Agua Calientes and then on the ruins. It was a wise decision – the high altitude took its toll on all of us.

After that Christianne and Jan went cycling, some of us went to the salt terraces, and the girls and Jan went shopping.

By the end of the week, Ithaca needed some extra work done, so Brooke took the group on to Nazca in a local bus, and Jan and I are staying in Cusco, planning to meet up with them in Arequipa or Puno.

Salt terraces

Aguas Calientes

19 October – Nazca and Arequipa
It all worked out quite well in the end. We are all in Puno now. Taking the bus to Nazca gave the other guys an extra day there, so Brooke organized a desert tour in custom-built four by fours. They went to the Chauchilla cemetery, sand boarding, and did scenic flights over the Nazca Lines.

After Nazca, they caught a bus to Arequipa. Some of the group did a one-day tour to Colca Canyon (they got up at 2 am for it!). The rest wandered around town and visited the monastery and some other museums. Then they caught another bus to Puno, our last stop in Peru. I am sure they were all happy to see Jan and me again, and of course Ithaca! A couple of days without the truck sure makes you appreciate the comforts that come with it.

Jan and I did what we could in Cusco, and then headed down to Puno. It was slow going – there was protesting on the route we took. It was peaceful, but the locals blocked the main roads in several places.

Flying above the Nazca lines

Heading off for some sandboarding


The girls

24 Ocotber – Puno
Puno is of course on the shore of Lake Titikaka, a big high altitude lake with several habituated islands. We are staying here to visit the floating reed islands. We are also going to one of bigger islands for a walk and lunch.

Lady making soap

26 October – La Paz 
Getting into Bolivia was interesting. The border town on the Peruvian side decided to do some road works in the town. By now we know that South Americans have a unique way of thinking about things, and this place was no exception. They dug up all the roads in town, and put big rocks at the entrances of all the other paths. It took some maneuvering to get to the border bridge, but we made it, only to find the customs guy away on lunch. No problem, we waited for him to come back. On the Bolivian side, they decided to slap Tom and me with costly visas, and we could pay mine only in local currency, and Tom’s only in US dollars. Unique thinking.

Driving into La Paz is quite cool. The whole city sits in a valley and there is a ring road going all around the upper edge. Once in the city the local drivers are of course crazy and the local merchants more crazy. The cars squeeze through impossible gaps between trucks and buses and the merchants pack their wares on the pavements and half the road as well. It’s a wonderful city!

Half of us went cycling on the Death Road (we all survived), half of us went on the free city walking tour, we all went out to a great steak house restaurant, and we all explored the streets and markets.

Zebra crossing

Death Road

Living on the edge!

29 October – Potosi
The drive to Potosi was good. Bolivia is an incredibly scenic country. The landscape is out of this world. Potosi is an old Spanish colonial town with streets too narrow for Ithaca. We drove to the edge of town and got a local bus to take us to our hotel. The town used to be the most populated and prosperous town in the world, making Spain rich with its vast silver deposits. Most of it is mined now, but there is still fifteen thousand miners making a living off the stuff – still using the old methods! They have a life expectancy of forty-something. Brooke and Jody and I decided to go into one of the mines to see how they are making a living. It was very uncomfortable with all the crouching and dust, but also very interesting to talk to the miners. They are all working hard to support their families and to give their children better lives than they have. It is strange to see how these guys accept their mortality, but dare not talk about it while they are deep under the ground.

Silver plant



31 October – Uyuni
Uyuni is on the edge of Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats. We did a day-trip onto the flats to visit a salt factory, a train cemetery, the cactus island, and to take silly perspective pictures on the flat white surface.

Kalahari surfer


Driving through Bolivia

2 November – THE ALTIPLANO!
I have been looking forward to crossing the Altiplano ever since Brooke and I met Pete and Kirsten in South Africa to discuss route possibilities four months ago. This place is the Cursed Earth. It is vast and inhospitable. It is littered with gigantic volcanoes. The wind does not want you there. The flamingoes are evil. And the earth blows steam in your face.

The pizza man at Uyuni suggested taking a guide to make sure we make it through alive. Our maps gave us no hope. Our host lady at Uyuni told us to stock up with weeks of food.

We ignored it all and took Ithaca straight into the dragon’s mouth.

What an amazing place! Words cannot describe it. We got stuck in the sand, camped in the howling wind, washed our travel worn bodies in hot springs, lunched next to steaming geysers, rattled over bumpy tracks, gazed upon strangely colored lakes, and celebrated Crazy Nanner’s birthday!

River crossing

River crossing
Dust clouds

Nico & Brooke 
Which way?
Adobe town
Stuck for a while...
Breakfast Nanna
Kitchen tent up
Nanna's birthday outfits

Laguna Colorada

Laguna Chalviri
Hot spring

Bolivia border post

Photo Credits

I have been meaning to do this from the beginning, but I didn’t, so I will do it now. The pictures in the blog are mostly not mine. I’ve been using everybody else’s pictures where I could. Most of the pictures come from Brooke, Carol and David, and some come from Sue Dawg and me. Thanks!