Scotland Part 2. Across the Scottish Border country

After a peaceful night’s sleep under the watchful eye of William Wallace, we headed downhill to Dryburgh Abbey.In a glorious setting, the Abbey was built in the 12th century by Premonstratensian canons, and in it’s heyday was home to a large community of religious and lay brothers. It was destroyed by the English in 1544, but remained a sacred, romantic place in it’s idyllic location by the River Tweed. It contains 2 famous, and contrasting graves. The first is a large grave and shrine to Scotland’s great author, Sir Walter Scott.The second is that of General Douglas Haig, commander of the Allied forces in World War One. His headstone is very simple, and is identical to the many, many headstones of his fallen troops in the tombs in France.In the grounds is an ancient yew tree, thought to be over 900 years old!Five miles away is the more complete, and imposing ruin of Melrose Abbey.Built in 1136 by Cistercian monks, it was again attacked by the English in the 14th century, and rebuilt. It fell into disuse around 1590, after the reformation. The architecture is elegant, and features some remarkable carving, including an impressive bagpipe playing pig!Another claim to fame is that the heart of Robert the Bruce is purportedly buried here. (His body is in Dunfermline cathedral).Also in Melrose, we visited Abbotsford, a striking house built by Sir Walter Scott as his family home. In a lovely setting by the River Tweed, it was set up as if he could walk in at any moment.He rose to the Victorian equivalent of megastardom with books like Ivanhoe, Rob Roy and The Lady of the Lake, but in later life was almost bankrupt. A poignant exhibit in the house was his desk and chair where, in later life, he describes being almost a prisoner for many hours each day, forced to turn out ever more books to pay his debts.We left lovely Melrose and headed west. We needed to reach the port of Ardrossan tonight, as we were booked on the morning ferry to the Isle of Arran.One more stop en route.. Traquair House, which is the oldest house in Scotland, continually occupied by the same family.Set in lovely grounds, the house was charming and full of interest. Started in 1107, the Stuart family have lived here since 1491, and their young descendants still do. Many Kings and Queens have visited, but pride of place goes to the fairly simple rooms that Mary Queen of Scots lived in, and the bed in which she gave birth to her son James, who would eventually unite England and Scotland as James I of England and James VI of Scotland. The embroidery on the bed hangings was done by Mary herself.This was his cradle, and these were other possessions of Mary herself.In order to keep houses like this viable, owners must be creative. The father of the present owner discovered an ancient brewery in the cellars. He tried it out and brewed a very good ale. The brewery is still in the cellars, and today produces 4 excellent ales which are exported all around the world…. a few made their way into Boris after some serious tastings!There is also an excellent full height maze that kept us occupied for a while!!The day of heavy rain that was forecast never materialised, although it was very grey all day, so apologies for the picture quality!Then we headed for the coast and our bed for the night on the quayside with a stunning view across to Arran.

A proper Bimble with Boris.. to Scotland Part 1. Heading north!

So, we are on a proper Bimble WITH Boris! I wasn’t planning to write a blog, but 2 different people today asked “Where is the blog?”, so here it is! In big chunks!!

‘To bimble’ means to wander, and we set off from home with nothing booked at all except supper and a pub quiz with Peter and Tracy in Bracknell! Our goal was to head north for Scotland, but with unsettled weather ahead, our itinerary would be flexible to try to chase the sun. Or the bright days. Or even the drier days. Or even the days with a few gaps in the rain!

During an uneventful drive up the M1 and A1, it was decided that our first stop would be Northumberland.

We never seem to make it past this beautiful area without stopping for a few days. Plus the weather there was lovely… less so further north. Having had a few problems with Boris prior to leaving, we wanted the first few nights on campsites just to check everything was ok.

Now winging it is great fun… but this was late May Bank holiday weekend, and the start of school half term… how would we fare getting a pitch?

All the big sites were full or, understandably, wanted a minimum stay of 3 nights. However, we were very lucky and had 1 night at Pippin’s Park, a 5 pitch Caravan and Motorhome club certificated site in a great location about a mile from our favourite place, Low Newton.

Or do I mean our favourite pub… the Ship Inn, with it’s own microbrewery. The pub was fully booked, but Chris’ soulful expression meant they squeezed us in for a fabulous dinner, followed by a glorious evening walk along the cliffs.

The best night’s sleep I have had in ages was followed by a visit to 600 year old Alnwick castle.. a place we had never visited before. Our HHA membership gave us free admission! A true castle residence, it is home to the Percy family, the 12th Duke of Northumberland. We took the free guided tours, and each one was fascinating.

Today’s top trivia… Harry Hotspur was Henry Percy, 5th Earl of Northumberland. He was a medieval superstar on the battlefield, and got his nickname because he rode into battle so fast his spurs got hot!

When a certain football club was formed in 1882, Harry’s attacking spirit saw the north London Tottenham side adopt the term Hotspur in their name.

Alnwick castle has also been used extensively in films and TV, most notably as Hogwarts in Harry Potter… Chris wouldn’t let me have broomstick lessons which were on offer… he said I didn’t need them…..!!

It was also used in series one of Blackadder… no coincidence that Blackadder’s hapless friend was Lord Percy?!

Downton Abbey, Transformers, Robin hood Prince of Thieves… the list goes on.

Next stop was the amazing, huge, Barter bookshop in Alnwick. This is the largest secondhand bookshop in Europe. It is converted from the old railway station, and, much to Chris’ delight, had model railways running round above the shelves!

Not only great books, but a super little cafe, armchairs and open fires means this great spot is busy all the time, and yes, you can take in your old books and barter for replacements! Another claim to fame is that, in a box of books bought at auction, the owner found the original wartime KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON poster that has since been reproduced in thousands of formats!. The original is on display in the shop!!

We had managed to get 2 nights on the Glororum caravan park, a mile from Bamburgh, so after checking in, we caught a bus to Budle Bay, and did the wonderful coast path walk back to Bamburgh.

The castle towered ahead of us, with amazing carpets of pink campion all around.

Next day, and we had booked a boat trip with Billy Shiels from Seahouses, to travel out to the Farne Islands just offshore. We have done this trip several times before, but each time it is sensational. The Farnes are home to literally thousands of breeding seabirds. Even if you are not keen birdwatchers, you cannot fail to be amazed at the spectacle. We sailed past cliffs where every inch of space was occupied by a nest precariously perched on a minute ledge. Their eggs have pointy ends so they roll in a circle and dont fall out!!

Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwake and Shag jostle for space, and fill the skies and the water.

Then, there are the seals… huge and imperious, resting on land, then slipping into the sea and gliding past like rockets!

Finally, the trip lands on Inner Farne, where Arctic tern are nesting everywhere, even on the footpath, and protective parents fly up and pack at the heads of passers by.

Past experience means a) We were a hat. b) the hat was lined with cardboard!! Very effective peck protection. The stars of the show are always the puffins, and standing feet away from these stunning birds is such a privilege. I even managed a photo of one with sand eels in it’s beak!!

On our way back in the boat we were thrilled with what we had seen, when suddenly the captain asked if perhaps seeing some dolphins might be nice! Suddenly a pod of 5 were alongside us, racing the boat. What a brilliant end to the trip.

Our last day in England (!), we visited Bamburgh castle, again free with HHA.

More austere than Alnwick, it is owned by the youngest generation of the Armstrong family, although they no longer live there. Essentially a Victorian reconstruction, on an ancient castle site, pretending to be an ancient castle!

For us, the most fascinating part of the visit was learning about the first Lord Armstrong. He was an amazing inventor and pioneering industrialist.

He built Newcastle’s Swing Bridge and the hydraulic mechanism that operates London’s Tower Bridge. He created Cragside in Northumberland, the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity. He was the Armstrong in Armstrong Siddeley and Armstrong Whitworth, and was involved in designing aircraft, cars and ships.

He was also a great philanthropist, and this role is carried on today.

Leaving Bamburgh, we drove north, crossing the border into Scotland and driving to St Abbs Head.

We then hiked the 5 mile circuit along the beautiful cliffs, again watching colonies of seabirds. There were a lot of ups and downs, and we were walking into a very strong headwind, so by the end we felt as if we had done at least 10, albeit very exhilarating, miles!

The weather on the east coast was deteriorating, so we decided to head inland and find some indoor pursuits for the next day. Filling up with fuel, we realised we were definitely in Scotland!

We drove to Dryburgh and found a super spot to wildcamp… a tiny, hidden car park near a huge statue of William Wallace. Not a sound all night!! Fantastic.

South America Post 16 – Perfect Peru 4, Lima and Farewell.

Our last night in South America was spent in Lima, a huge city of over 10 million people. We had heard conflicting reports, from “Don’t go there”, to “You will love it”. Certainly, it is a troubled city. Like Rio and B.A, it has large shanty towns which are trouble hotspots, exacerbated by Peru opening it’s doors to Venezuelan refugees, and admitting over a million, with, apparently, no background checks at all, so most people we spoke to, feel that a large criminal element have entered as well.

I had found a small B&B in Barranco, a safe coastal part of Lima, famed for it’s architecture, and artistic background.

The B&B was called Second Home, and was exactly that, the second home and studio of artist Victor Delfin. He had sadly died a few years ago, but his wife still lives there. The building is full of his very distinctive artwork, and we were also to find some in Lima the following day.

Our room was lovely, with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Looking along the coast, we decided Lima is very like Bournemouth! Both set on cliffs, with deep Chines cutting down to the sea at intervals, and even a pier!!

Next day we had booked a 1 day tour of Lima before our transfer to the airport, with Peruvian Local friend, Cindy. She was remarkable. So enthusiastic and knowledgeable about her city. We saw Miraflores, full of early 20th century, European summer houses,

and the famous Garden of Love, with Gaudi style walls, and a Victor Delfin statue.

A festival of Love is held each year, with a competition for the longest kiss. 45 minutes is the record! Then onto the Olive park, planted as an oil crop by the Spanish, where some trees are over 300 years old.

Most remarkably, in the heart of the city, are the remains of some huge pyramids, Huaca Pucllana and Huallamarca, built by the Wari people around 500 AD. Built wholly in mud (adobe) bricks, they were solid inside, with a flat top, and were not burial chambers, but probably for meetings, rituals and sacrifices.

The largest would have covered 15 acres! They could be made of mud because they hardly ever get rain here. Also, mud is flexible if earthquakes strike. Lima is the second driest capital in the world, after Cairo. Water shortages are common, and over 10% of the city is not connected to running water. 20% of the city is classed as shanty town.

Then we headed downtown to the old heart of Lima, which was a wonderful surprise of elegant plazas and beautiful colonial buildings.

Founded by Spanish Conquistador, Pisarro in 1535, This city was the most important in South America for many years, controlling trade and Government in all the other conquered countries.

One week previously, the Government had made the central square, Plaza des Armas, pedestrianised, so it was even quite peaceful.

The fountain is very famous. Throughout the trip we have drunk many Pisco sours, based on the grape brandy Pisco. In July, peruvians celebrate Pisco day, when the fountain runs, not with water, but Pisco, and people queue for a free drink!

Government house reminded us of Buckingham Palace… and then we were told they have Changing of the guard each day!

The other main square is Plaza San Martin, named after Jose San Martin, who liberated them from Spanish rule in 1824.

Many of the old houses in Lima were famous for their beautiful wooden balconies.

We also visited the ornate church of Las Nazarenas,

and the Santo Domingo convent, which is where this first University of Lima was founded.

The convents all had beautiful ancient libraries.

This dais is where students had to read out 3 hour, prepared dissertations to their examiners!

The cloisters were beautiful, with original Spanish tiles dating from 1606.

Our next visit was to a the oldest private house in Lima, which has been lived in by the Aliaga family since 1535. It is a living museum, and was beautiful.

Much of the wall covering, and chair backs, was tooled leather.

We visited the old railway station,

and an old hotel bar, with Spanish wall paintings, photos of old Lima, and a barman who has worked there for over 70 years!

The final highlight was the church and monastery San Francisco, with it’s moorish influenced architecture.

It is most famous for the catacombs. Their construction is so strong, that they are a designated earthquake shelter. Tens of thousands of people are buried here, and the bones are all grouped in rather weird ways!! This intricate pattern is in a huge well, and is composed of femurs and skulls!

Despite this rather macabre spot, we loved Lima, and our guide Cindy said she has seen many improvements here during her lifetime.

We knew that in the 70s 80s and 90s Peru was in the dark period of attacks from its rebel Shining Path terrorist, communist party. However we didn’t realise that tourism in Peru did not really get going again until 2007, so is relatively new.

Sadly, now it was time to head to the airport for our flight home, ending this amazing trip.

We know we are so lucky to have been able to explore this captivating and diverse continent. On the flight home we discussed our overall impressions.

Everyone we met was friendly, helpful, proud of their country, and interested in us. We never felt unsafe.

No upset tummies or nasty insect bites!

We met very few other British people, suggesting it is not a mainstream destination for us, which is a shame.

Most countries were similar in price to home for food, accommodation etc.

Travelling was easier than we expected, and food was great however there is immense poverty, and a huge divide in living conditions etc.

Corruption seems to be rife at all levels in society, from Governments downwards.

Women often seemed to work ridiculously hard, but are a long way from having equality in financial remuneration or status.

Despite the vast size and diversity of the continent, we felt we witnessed more similarities than differences between countries!

We covered 29,358 miles and enjoyed everywhere we visited.

We have tried to pick some favourites because that it what everyone asks us, but it is so difficult.

Favourite countries?

Chris: Chile, Ecuador

Anne: Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Cuba, Bolivia… all of them really!

Best overall moments?

Chris: Cape Horn; Under Iguasu Falls in a rib; Machu Pichu; Cloud forest rare birds; Perito Moreno glacier;

Anne: Seeing Machu Pichu from above; Cape Horn in Force 10; Snorkelling with sea lions and sea turtles; The colour, noise and vivacity of Cuba; The remoteness and solitude of Tierra del Fuego/Patagonia.

Favourite Wildlife experience?

Chris: Swimming with sea turtles, Galapagos

Anne: Frigate birds, Galapagos

Favourite scenery experience?

Chris: Iguasu falls, Glacier Alley

Anne: Perito Moreno Glacier,

Where would you most like to go back to?

Chris: Chile

Anne: Argentina and Bolivia

Thank you for reading our diary, and we hope you have enjoyed coming along with us on our trip.

We would recommend any of these countries for a visit, just use common sense, and please, use local tour companies, guides, accommodation and transport whenever you can, so the local community benefit from your visit. See you next time! XX

South America Post 15 Lakes and Legends

Next morning dawned cloudy and showery, so our view was still hazy.

We descended to town and boarded a boat to take us out through the massive reed beds to the Uros Islands.

The Uros people were persecuted in the 19th century, and fled from their shore settlements in their Reed boats. Gradually they evolved the idea of building floating Reed islands, using floating mud blocks containing reed roots as a base, then laying 2 – 3 metres of reeds on top.

There are over 100 islands, and 40% are fully inhabited, with a floating school and health centres. Many of the others are mainly there for tourism. The islands were small, with 5 -8 small huts on each, and between 10 and 20 people from the same family.

The surrounding water is 18 metres deep! We jumped on the reeds, and they were remarkably solid.

The top layer is supplemented every 2 weeks. Fish and bird eggs are primary foods, but they even grow crops on the island- usually potatoes! Reeds are used for everything, including the water tower, and symbolic condor!

Family feuds sometimes occur, and when that happens, the simply saw the island in half!!

A fascinating way of life.

Onshore, we visited the tiny Puno museum, which contained pre Inca, and Inca artefacts. The pottery was mainly Pre Inca,

as was this remarkable weaving.

This amazing gold neck plate was retrieved from the only Inca tomb that was not looted, as were these mummified bodies, buried in a foetal position, in reed wrappings, with food and essential possessions, ready for rebirth.

We next caught a local bus for a 3 hour drive to Bolivia at one end of Lake Titicaca. The lake is the highest navigable lake in the world, and is huge. It is over 120 miles long, and in parts nearly 1000 feet deep!! Jacques Cousteau came here in the 1970’s, and found giant frogs up to 20 inches long, that never left the water. Sadly they are now critically endangered due to pollution, often from illegal mining operations using mercury.

The border crossing is strict. After exiting Peru, we had to walk 200 metres into Bolivia, which was strangely exciting. Bolivian customs were quite grumpy, but we were allowed in. We saw our first bowler hated Bolivian lady!

Adopted by the locals in the 1920’s, when worn by British railway workers, they are now made locally to a variety of designs!

We were staying 1 night in Copacabana, a seaside village on the Bolivian shore, which gave Rio’s Copacabana beach it’s name. It was charming.

Our hotel was the unbelievably quirky Las Olas. 9 very individual rooms, Gaudi style. We were in a huge egg, with a circular bed, a spiral shower, and a great view!

Alpacas and Llamas wandered around freely! This is blurred as it was at night!

Next door, La Cupola restaurant was charming and we enjoyed a lovely supper. Next morning we took an all day boat trip to the Islands of the Moon and Sun. (Our boat was a bit bigger than these!)

It was a gloriously sunny day, full of fascinating history and dramatic landscapes.

These islands were of huge cultural significance to the Pre-Incans, and Incans. There is a legend that Lake Titicaca was once a dry, fertile land where people lived in peace, but they started to argue, and get greedy, so the Apus, or mountain Gods, decided to punish them, and sent Pumas, to destroy them all. Just 2 people escaped, and Inti, the sun God, cried so much that his tears filled the Lake. The two that escaped were the first Incas!

The Island of the Moon contains a temple to the moon goddess, built around 1450.

This was inhabited by Virgins, some of whom would be chosen to be sacrificed. The Incas believed in life after death, and to die in this way was considered honourable (presumably mostly by those who weren’t about to experience it!) The Incas abolished human sacrifice in the 16th century, but today some still sacrifice a black Llama on certain feast days!

This was a very atmospheric place. 3 delineated areas were for worship to the Moon Goddess, and Mother earth – Patcha Mamma.

The Andean cross was adopted by the Incas from earlier civilisations, and represents the Southern cross stars. It is deeply significant to the ancient and modern people. It appears everywhere in ancient Inca ruins, pottery, and in Christian churches and modern art. The four x 3 steps represent the 12 core precepts of Andean life, and the 4 outer sides are the compass points, the 4 major elements found on this planet, earth, air, water and fire and the 4 stars in the constellation. The centre point is Cusco.

We then moved on to Isla de la sol, Sun Island, where an early pre Incan temple survives, with Inca building on top.

Inti, the Sun God, was their most important. This temple had 3 openings. At each equinox, and solstice, the sun would shine directly into a specific opening, signalling to the people to start their new season of harvest, or sowing etc.

800 people live here, and tourism mixes with a traditional way of life.

We watched the donkeys clatter down the steep steps to the shore ready to carry the provisions that were arriving by boat, up to the top of the town.

We climbed high, and the views were stunning.

Returning to Copacabana, we visited the enormous 17th century Basilica which sits proudly above the town.

It was beautiful, but again Inca symbolism was part of it.

A few last evocative images from the town before we had to leave. We loved the humming bird at the flower stall!

We were sad we did not have more time in Bolivia, as we climbed onto the bus to return to Peru and our high up hotel!! We had both experienced the usual difficulties with altitude, shortness of breath and fatigue, but nothing more serious. However I think were both ready to return to sea level!!

Our last morning was spent at Sillustrani, 35km from Puno. En route we saw traditional reed thatched farms, with the rooftop Inca bulls as good luck charms.

We had come to see the Chullpas.

These tall chimney like structures were pre-Inca, and Inca burial towers, which had been looted by the Spanish many years ago. As we saw at the museum, the deceased were buried in the foetal position, with food, drink and treasures… and possibly a few members of their family who were killed and buried with them. Rough stones were pre Inca, smooth were Inca.. but you know that by now!!

Each tower had a small opening to the east, through which their spirit would be reborn to the God of the Sun. This opening was surrounded by a half Andean cross. When the sun rises at the solstice, the shadow makes a full cross. Each Incan leader would have his symbol carved on the tomb, as they had no written language. This is a lizard.

These Incan, and Pre-Incan troughs of water were used to reflect the stars.

It was a fascinating and moving site, perched on a hill above Lake Umayo.

From here we headed to Juliaca and our flight to Lima, for the last day of our amazing trip.

South America Post 14 Perfect Peru Part 2 – Cusco and a special train!

Sad to leave the Sacred Valley, we headed for Cusco, located at 11,510ft, staying 1 night at the lovely old Andean Wings hotel, formerly a Spanish villa. Breathing was noticeably harder here, and most hotels have oxygen available.Cusco means navel, because it was the centre and capital of the Inca kingdom, which at it’s height stretched to Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina. We had just 1 day, so chose to do an excellent walking tour with Inka Milky Way! Our guide was excellent, it is a beautiful city and we learned so much.There were once 15 Inca palaces in Cusco, but when the Spanish came, they demolished them, and used the stones to build Spanish colonial style buildings and churches.One Inca wall remains, plus recently discovered Inca Palace foundations, showing a symmetrical pattern of rooms, and a water system.Outside town is Sacsayhuaman, an Inca citadel with amazing walls all with the mortar less construction.Later, I visited the Cathedral, which is really 3 churches in one. The Gold and silver decoration is dazzling, as were the intricately carved wooden choir stalls and screen.We have been learning how, when the Spanish invaded, they imposed Catholicism on the local people. Many adopted it, but retained their allegiance to their original deities, gods of Sun, Moon and Patcha Mamma, or mother earth. So it is not unusual to see Inca imagery and local customs entwined with Catholic symbolism in churches. In Peru, Guinea pig, or Cuy, is a very popular food. (We have eaten Llama , Alpaca but resisted the temptation of Cuy..partly because it is very expensive!) To return to the cathedral, inside is a huge painting in Rennaissance style, done in about 1750 by local artist Marcos Zapata.However the food in the painting is not fishes and bread, but Guinea pig and potatoes!! No photos were allowed, but I sneaked these!Following our tour, we embarked on a cookery course. Jesus took us on a very informative tour of the market, which was built by Gustav Eiffel! Outside, he explained that street food is a main way to eat in Peru, and many people will take meals this way, especially breakfast.Inside the market, masks were popular. These were designs from the past when the locals mimicked their Spanish rulers, depicting them with big noses and moustaches!These were some of the highlights:The jelly stall… including a creamy cow bone marrow one!Many different potatoes… including ones which are freeze dried by being left outside, high on the altiplano, where it is hot in the day and below freezing at night. They keep forever. Just rehydrate and use.Drying is a very popular method of preservation. This rather unappetizing stall sold very dried fish!Every part of the pig is eaten.And not for the squeamish, aborted Llama fetuses are dried, and sold to be used as offerings to the Gods.Many varieties of Quinoa…. (now we know it is officially pronounced ‘keenwah’), which we saw growing everywhere…it is very pretty crop.55 varieties of corn, and popcorn is hugely popular (excuse the pun!)We bought many exotic fruits and vegetables, and returned to his studio for our cooking class.First, and most important how to make the perfect Pisco Sour.Then we made: 3 types of Ceviche.. raw fish cooked simply by placing it in citrus based marinade. All were gorgeous.Then, a potato souffle, Quinoa Risotto and a 3 fruit dessert.It was good fun and yummy!Next day and another adventure. I had booked tickets on the recently revived 10.5 hour train trip up through the Andes from Cusco up to Puno, on Lake Titicaca (12,650 feet). We splashed out at £150 each, but we had no idea what to expect, and as you know, Chris loves trains, so it was an early Anniversary present.It was fantastic. The time literally flew by! A beautiful train with a partly open observation car made viewing the stunning scenery a real pleasure.As we travelled there was frequent tooting, as there are no level crossings, and people, animals and vehicles freely cross the tracks. Not everyone was happy… dogs howled and many children covered their ears!!Plantain and corn nibbles, plus tea coffee and water were freely available. Then, welcome Pisco sours (at 10.30 am!!), really superb local musicians and dancers who did 2 different shows, and a fashion show of baby alpaca clothing!Audience participation was actively encouraged.The guitarist was a secret rocker, and we had the slightly surreal experience of him launching into Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry numbers between the Panpipes!!A great 3 course lunch, with wine, and afternoon tea were all included in the price.And, the loveliest toilets, kept spotlessly clean throughout. Take note British railways!We also stopped at the highest point on the route, at 4,139 metres or 13,698 feet where we were able to buy some handicrafts made by local people.We passed through Peru’ Guinea pig breeding heartland, and learned that 65 million are consumed here each year!We literally drove though the market in Juliaca, and as we passed, stalls were re-erected on the track. Many things were left between the rails for us to pass over. As soon as the train had gone, the track was filling up again. But Peru, like most South American countries, has a massive poverty problem. A close look showed large sections of the market selling things we would throw away as rubbish.Decrepit housing – 22% of peruvians have no direct water supply! And these shacks are the toilets for the nearby housing.We also saw people washing clothes in the rather murky river.Throughout our trip we have seen terrible poverty, and social divisions, but again in Peru we were told that by using local firms and small businesses, we were helping the economy, and reaching the lower paid in the society.Still, we felt guilty, returning to our lovely journey! We arrived in the city of Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, in the dark, and were taken by taxi to Mirador de Titicaca… our hotel. We knew it was a little out of town, but not that it was up an almost vertical dirt road!!We knew we were high, as we were out of breath just walking to the loo!! It turned out we were just over 4,000 metres! Luckily, apart from a slight headache, tiredness and breathlessness, we escaped the worst side effects of being at such a high altitude. It is a very real problem, and most hotels, and the train, have oxygen cylinders at the ready.Apparently, at this height, oxygen saturation drops to 65-75%. Normally, doctors get worried below 94%! The hotel was lovely, but we would have to wait until morning for a view of the highest navigable lake in the world!

South America Post 13 Perfect Peru Part 1

Arriving to Lima late in the evening, I had booked a night at an airport hotel before our 08.00am flight to Cusco, high in the Andes. At Cusco, we were met by Pablo, who taxied us 90 minutes into the Sacred Valley.

We were staying at a B&B called Lizzi Wasi, in Urubamba. Lizzi, from the US, is married to a Peruvian, and has created a fabulous oasis of rooms in lovely gardens, centrally located in the Sacred Valley.

It is a perfect base from which to explore this Inca heartland, using fairly inexpensive taxis. Located at over 9,000 feet, we ‘rested’ for a few hours before our first trip, to Pisac. A charming village of cobbled streets, gardens and colourful local markets.

After a great lunch at Bistro Terra we drove up the steep valley sides until some remarkable Inca terracing came into view.

We climbed impossibly higher until we reached the old Inca settlement. Walking to the top made us feel about 120 yeas old, as we huffed and puffed due to the altitude. It was incredible to see.

The Incas were active here between 1425 and 1540. They had no written language, and had not invented the wheel, yet their settlements involved transporting building materials over great distances, and up huge mountains, and were quite sophisticated, especially in their water transportation and bathing arrangements! This was a line of separate pools!

This hillside was the cemetery. Each hole is a burial site.

Back to Lizzi Wasi for a good night’s sleep, but en route we also saw many Adobe blocks and Adobe houses being built in the countryside.

Next morning, off to see 3 major Inca sites. The fortress and town at Ollantaytambo was huge and impressive. Climbing to the top was exhausting, but rewarding!

Again, the bathing areas were sophisticated.

The most remarkable structure is the temple de la sol which was never finished. Unused granite slabs litter the ground, and 6 huge monoliths create a wall. However did they get these up here?

This is the huge wall which was built to block the valley, and which they used to dam the river and then flood the valley, in the Incas only significant victory over the advancing Spaniards.

Here we also visited a charity for girls that a friend had worked at some years before. Girls in poor, remote communities in the high Andes often receive no education at all. Thanks to the Sacred Valley Project, they can stay in dormitories under the care if a house mother, go to school and have help with their homework. We were made really welcome!

We also drove high into the mountains again to visit 2 incredible sites. Firstly the Maras Salt mines. A spring here has an unusually salty composition. Since 200 AD local pre-inca people have recognised the potential, and created over 5000 mini salt pans, in terraces down the mountainside.

Over 3,000 are still worked today, and demand is now global. Pink Himalayan salt is hailed as the most healthy, and a recent study has shown that the Pink salt from here is even better! All the pans are still worked by hand, and it was like taking a step back in time nearly 2,000 years! The photos do not do the enormous scale of this justice. From here, we drove to Moray, where another remarkable Inca creation was cut into the earth.

To Get an idea of scale, look for the people in the above picture!!

Much larger, and deeper than the pictures show, this incredible construction appears to have a scientific purpose. It is exposed to all aspects of the sun, shade and wind, and has temperature differences of up to 15 degrees difference from top to bottom. There are various theories as to its purpose, but soil, seed and plant traces have been found on different levels, and different orientations. Most scientists believe that this was an agricultural laboratory for testing crops in different soil’s and microclimate, so they could make the best use of each part of the empire. Even more remarkably, there is evidence that they practised hybridization, developing new strains of vegetables like potatoes that were better suited to prevailing conditions. The outcome is that Peru has over 4,000 varieties of Potato, and they feature in some way in most meals. We were left so impressed by everything we had seen today.

An early start on Wednesday saw us driving back to Ollantaytambo to catch the train to Aguas Calientes, and Machu Picchu. The weather forecast was bad so we prepared ourselves for looking at low cloud and rain and saying “Well that is where it should be!”

The train journey follows the Sacred Valley and was stunning at every turn.

Aguas Calientes reminded us of an Alpine village with cute bins!

It’s little church had an Andean take on the traditional Mary and Jesus statue!

We had to queue for buses to drive up the mountain at our set entry time. The flow of visitors is always increasing – potentially over 2 million visitors per year – and the authorities and UNESCO are constantly battling between protection of this modern wonder of the world, and commercial profitability. We could see the clouds gathering as we ascended and we just hoped the rain would hold off for a while. The road twisted and turned, climbing steadily for 30 minutes. Surely nothing could be up here?

Then, we glimpsed a few terraces, still high above us, with the valley far below.

On entering the site, we chose to climb high above it, up towards the Sun gate, and then walk in down the old Inca trail, seeing it as the original visitors would have done.

This was a great choice. The view from above really gives you a sense of how remarkable this lost city is. I confess, I became quite emotional!

The city was abandoned in 1572 as the Incas fled from the Spanish, who never found it, and it remained undiscovered until the American, Hiram Bingham arrived in 1911. Well, undiscovered except for the 2 tribal families who were living here, totally unaware of it’s significance!! Sadly, during excavations, the treasures were removed and taken to museums around the world, but the city is still remarkably complete.

As we descended to the city itself, the heavens opened, but it allowed us to see Machu Picchu in all her colours, and it was truly atmospheric as cloud swirled around.

Our guide thought looking for shelter was unnecessary, so we learned about life here while getting progressively wetter.

(It didn’t help that one of my boots had torn in Tierra del Fuego, and the repair was failing, AND my trusty Berghaus waterproofs decided 12 years was enough and sprang some leaks!)

Machu Picchu contains housing, temples, meeting areas and an extensive agricultural section of terraces cascading down. They had complex irrigation and drainage systems which we witnessed in action, as water cascaded through gullies and into a central canal. Inca building techniques are remarkable. Machu Picchu was built without metal tools, the wheel or mortar! Granite is cut along natural fault lines, and then polished into blocks using coarse sand. They are smooth, and are fitted together with no mortar at all. The walls all recline slightly, for earthquake resistance!

Astrology and earth rhythms play a huge role in Inca culture. Temples are built to receive shafts of sun through windows on solstice and equinox days . These were used as signs for the next agricultural season. Planting, harvesting etc.

This immense sundial was used in the same way. Unfortunately visitors cannot get close to it, after it was broken by a crane falling on it during the filming of a beer commercial in 2000.

This was a sacrificing table.

This was the temple of the Condor.

This huge slab is cut to be the shape of the sacred mountain behind.

We left this amazing site in mid afternoon, completely awestruck. We had 3 hours to wait for our train back, so we found Mapacho, a recommended cafe / craft brewery, and decided to have a 3 course meal, to spin out the time and let us warm up. Chris was very happy!

The Urubamba river was roaring past the open windows, adding drama!

We moved to the station waiting room, still dripping, and suddenly heard our names being called. On reporting to the man with clipboard and microphone, he told us with great delight that we had been upgraded to the first class carriage. ‘Ooh, comfy seats’ we thought! That was just the start. We were escorted to a Pullman carriage, luxuriously furnished…. and to a table set for dinner! We were served a complimentary 3 course dinner, with Pisco sours, wine and after dinner drinks all included! Despite having eaten a few hours before, we did our best!

It was a delightful end to a wonderful day. We ❤ Peru!

South America Post 11 To the End of the Word

A flurry of posts because of 5 days without wifi, and no chance to upload pictures!From Buenos Aires we flew via Santiago, to Punta Arenas, at the southernmost part of mainland Chile. On the flight we got great views of the Chilean Volcanoes.

Out came the thermals, hats and gloves we had lugged with us!

We had an overnight stay here in a charming air bnb, prior to boarding the Stella Australis ship for our 4 day expedition through the Patagonian and Tierra del Fuego fjords, known locally as the End of the World. It certainly felt like it!

We thought of Punta Arenas as ‘just a stopover’, but we were very wrong! It is a really remote frontier town, with many low, functional buildings designed to withstand ferocious winter winds and cold. However it has some real hidden gems! Two museums display the history of the region, from the original tribes through it’s many roles in the fishing industry, security, oil and gas exploration and even a gold rush.

Today, tourism is a vital component of the economy, and the population is growing! Just outside town is an amazing museum, the Nao Victoria. In a hidden shipyard, dedicated carpenters work on ship reconstructions, all carefully reproduced in 1:1 scale, and related to this part of the world. Their star is the Victoria, Magellans ship on which he discovered the Straits of Magellan in 1520 and on whose shoreline we were standing. At 350 miles long, this was a sheltered shortcut avoiding notorious Cape Horn.

Beware of Spanish soldiers…

Then they have reconstructed the Beagle, captained by Fitzroy, who discovered the Beagle channel in 1830, and who later brought Charles Darwin here, a nice link with our Galapagos visit.

Finally the little lifeboat, the James Caird, which, against impossible odds, carried Shackleton safely from Elephant Island across the worst seas in the world to South Georgia. There he arranged rescue for the men he had to leave behind, 24 months after they set sail for Antarctica.

Their rescue ship, the Ancud, is also reproduced here.

Walking in town, a real highlight is the beautiful wall art.

And did we mention the food? We ate at La Yegua Loca, a newish restaurant highlighting local produce. It was wonderful, and we were grateful for the log burning stoves!!

Then, on Sunday lunchtime everything was closed, until we stumbled upon the Parilla los Ganaderos, or Grill of the Gauchos, full of local families. It was fabulous, and we sat next to the traditional bbq where whole lambs are cooked vertically around the flames.

Next, to our ship, a 100 cabin expedition ship.

We were excited and apprehensive at the same time. Weather forecast was poor, and we were stuck in a sardine tin with lots of other people for 4 days!

We needn’t have worried. Our cabin, and all the public rooms were lovely, and then we were greeted with cocktails and canapes for our briefing!

We would sail through the southern most routes of the continent; the Straits of Magellen and the Beagle channel, into fjords and out into the Pacific.

This was an expedition, not a cruise, so no long dresses were required.. much to Chris’ relief!! However the food seemed worthy of a much grander trip, with three delicious meals a day, and a constantly available buffet of cakes, biscuits, tea coffee.

Oh.. and the fully inclusive bar where I discovered the Pisco Sours and Calafate Sours! We were lucky to share our table with Meghan and Scott from New York. A young couple on their belated honeymoon! They were married last year, and it turned out we had the same Wedding Anniversary. They were delightful, and much fun was had.

Most staff were Chilean, and so friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. Each day was a combination of interesting talks, and trips in the Zodiac ribs.

Our route is shown on this map.

After leaving port, we saw just one other ship, and 2 buildings in 4 days! This is a wild and remote place. A hostile environment in which to survive, due to extreme cold, bitter, strong, unpredictable winds, and precipitation. Vegetation struggles too, and wildlife is limited to sea birds, seals, some fish and a few mammals. However there is evidence that early tribes settled here up to 10,000 years ago. Needless to say the Spanish, British and others tried to ‘civilise’ the tribes, but diseases like smallpox, and persecution almost wiped them out. The Yamaga tribe were most remarkable. Each family lived in an open canoe, with a fire in it which the children kept alight. They were no clothes at all, even in winter with temperatures of -25, using seal fat on their skin to keep warm!

Our first excursion was to Ainsworth Bay which provided a stunning backdrop to a very informative nature walk, learning about the sub Antarctic forest.

Amazing mosses and lichens grow here.

Many parasitic plants too, like this false mistletoe,

and this innocent looking plant which can destroy a shrub in a season.

It is rough but absorbent, and the local tribes used it as toilet paper!

This plant is known as the everlasting plant, because during storms it’s habitat can be flooded with seawater, but it just regrows!

This is the Devil’s Trouble, and is apparently a powerful laxative!

We saw fur seals swimming, and birds.

Introduced species are problematic, especially the beaver which is destroying the environment.

In the afternoon we anchored at Tuckers Islets and bounced across the waves on the zodiacs to see Magellanic penguins. So adorable.

We also saw Caracara and an Imperial cormorant colony.

Next day was cloudy, but we visited the incredible Pia Glacier, one of the few which is advancing rather than retreating.

We hiked uphill for a panoramic view. The glacier was constantly creaking and groaning, and we witnessed several calvings as ice broke off and thundered into the water below.

The zodiac ride was like Dodgems with ice cubes!!

Our ship then sailed down Glacier Alley, past 5 huge glaciers named after European countries.

The waiters appeared with drinks and nibbles for each country as we passed! Then great excitement as some Orcas swam past, and then dolphins.

Our foray out into the Pacific was decidedly bouncy, but during our penultimate night we sailed right out to Cape Horn. We knew the weather forecast was bad, and just before dawn we were told that it was too dangerous to get close or attempt a landing, as winds were Force 10, gusting Force 11! Chris and I went on deck while in the lee of the island. The wind was howling, and the rain lashing down, but we saw Cape Horn in the dim light. Somehow it seemed more fitting to experience it like this, rather than on a calm sunny day.

We were just 595 miles from the Antarctic islands, and have now visited the southern most points in Americas, Africa and Australasia.

Later that day, we went ashore and hiked at Wulaia bay, where Darwin landed and first met natives.

It was also home to the barrel post office. Mariners would leave letters for family at home, and when another ship came by it would take letters addressed to places it was heading to. We popped in a postcard, and took one to deliver!

When Magellan first came, he found huge footprints in the sand. They believed the natives must be giants and named the land Patagonia from the old Portuguese words Pata Guan meaning big foot! Finally we sailed to remote Ushuaia in Argentina.

The whole trip was amazing. My travel pills were exceptional, and after rolling around at Cape Horn in Force 11 gusts, I polished off a hearty breakfast!!

The sense of wilderness and isolation here was immense, and we felt a huge respect for early sailors navigating these unforgiving waters.