In month 9, I was joined by a friend from El Salvador, who injected an immense energy into the trip and made me smile a lot. I have found it incredibly difficult to order the top 5 in this list as they were all just so wonderful that how can I choose between them? Anyway, making this list is just for fun, so I’ll stop getting so wound up about it… Let’s just say month 9 was another special month for sure….
10: So many birds… Islas Ballestas, Paracas, Peru
We wanted to head out of the city (Lima) quickly after my friend arrived so we could be somewhere nice for his birthday. Somehow we ended up in Pisco, thinking it would be fun, what with it sharing the same name as an alcoholic beverage. However, it’s not that fun really and we had a rat in our swimming pool in the hotel, which was hilarious but not that nice. Rats can swim really well. Anyway, we’re both wildlife lovers so made the most of the time there by going to the Islas Ballestas. I heard it is sometimes called the poor man’s galapagos – it’s really not, but it’s still great to see.
I think I am spoilt with having seem too many amazing wildlife spots because I’ve become a bit picky – so I say pretentious things like ‘it’s lovely, but the Galapagos is better’, or… ‘well that was a pretty bird, but there are loads more in [enter name of quaint jungle village here]’. Anyway, generally my feeling was that, like a lot of things in Peru, it was a little touristy and we were crammed into a boat with too many people, and the tour was a bit too quick – BUT – it’s one of my favourite things from the month, because the rocks are literally swarming with penguins, blue footed boobies and sea lions and they are just always going to make me smile. We also saw El Candalabro on the way too, which is incredible. I just don’t understand how it is still there after all this time and how the sand doesn’t just swallow it in a day.
9. Return to Quito
7. Floating Islands, Lake Titicaca, The Peru side
Lake titicaca is going to feature heavily in my favourites from this month, of course – it’s the highest altitude lake in the world, and I WAS THERE!! I’m still excited about this.
Lets face facts, the Peru side is not as nice as the Bolivian side. Puno is OK, I liked it more than I thought and the walk along the lake is unavoidably romantic in the evening as the sun is going down, but there isn’t much there. Visiting the floating islands is touristy, but it’s very cool. Like with all things from history in this part of the world, I was filled with awe and questions – how on earth did they do that?? Why don’t they just float away? Or sink? The people who built the islands were fleeing from a brutal war happening on the mainland and they built islands from reeds. FROM REEDS!!
As you step onto an island it bounces because it isn’t attached to the ground, it is just layers of mud and reeds and this is an amazing thing. We didn’t see much that wasn’t set up for tourists when we were there. However, people do still live there and it’s mind boggling to go and see. One of the best things about travelling is seeing how many people live differently to the way we think is the ‘right’ way. It’s great and inspiring… I think I’ll go and build an island in the middle of the Thames and live on it….
6. Bus journey to Copacabana from Puno
This originally began as being about Isla del Sol specifically, but I had to change it, as the bus journey you take to get to Bolivia in order to be there is insanely great, so I had to include it. OK ignore the fact you have to stand in a border queue for ages, well 2 border queues… When you enter Bolivia and start heading to Copacabana, the bus turns a corner and you can see the lake from high up in a mountain, so the view is simply spectacular. The bus then keeps turning more corners and filling your eyes with even more beautiful views of mountains and lake and therefore I can’t help but say this was one of my favourite days. Sometimes the journey to a place, can be just as exciting as the place itself because the anticipation is streaming through your body. The journey to La Paz is awesome too – you have to take a boat across the lake at one point and the bus has to take a boat too. You wait to catch the bus again as the bus boat is slower than the people boat, so you have time to eat fresh fish and talk to the stray dogs. Good times. Travelling is the best.
5. Wax Palms in the Cocora Valley, Colombia
The Cocora valley is a day of walking. I had heard of the wax palms and seen pictures a friend had taken, but nothing can prepare you for their grand stature in real life.
I walked all morning and didn’t see one. The walk follows streaming rivers, passed waterfalls and cute little bridges, before having hot chocolate and cheese at a local mans house along with some hummingbirds. Carrying on up the hill I thought maybe I had come to the wrong place as I ate my lunch. I was tired and had enjoyed my day, but was feeling a little disappointed not to see a wax palm. Then I carried on and suddenly… there they were.
It’s weird how exciting it was when I was there – they are essentially only really tall palm trees after all. But the view is stunning and they are really just very cool.
The day was excellent and then in the evening, we found some of those Salento Cowboys dancing salsa in a bar. Saucy.
4. Sand-boarding in Huacachina, Peru
I nearly didn’t ‘do’ the desert in Peru, but I thought it was something my friend would really enjoy, and now I am so so glad I did. Huacachina is a tiny place filled with tourist restaurants and very basic hotels, but it’s charm centres around a very small lake in the centre and the sand dunes looming over everything.
Literally everywhere you look there is sand. For some reason looking at this much sand is absolutely stunning. I don’t think it’s possible to get bored of it. I wanted to stare at it all day.
The main activities while here are sitting by the pool looking at the sand dunes, trying to climb the sand dune and getting in a buggy to go into the sand dunes and fly down them on a board before trying to climb up it again. I think climbing a sand dune rivals climbing a volcano for difficulty levels. It will leave you out of breath and with buns of steel.
The buggy is insanely fun and a bit crazy. It goes really fast over the sand and it feels like being on a rollercoaster. Once you’ve driven into the dunes, there is no more sign of human life (apart from other buggys with screaming passengers) – it’s just sand dunes everywhere.
I was really rubbish at sandboarding. I like to think it’s because I’m very small and light (ha ha) and so therefore I don’t really get the pace up and sort of sink into the sand half way down the dune while others come flying passed me. It’s still one of the most fun things I have attempted in a long time.
It’s also the warmest place I went in Peru – no llama jumpers necessary here for the whole four days that we stayed – hurrah.
3. Soaking in the Coffee in Salento, Colombia
I went here for the fabulous Colombian coffee… what I got was coffee with artisans and beautiful views – some of my favourite things really. I love Salento. It’s like being in a toy town, with colourful houses and cowboys going passed on horses.
I stayed on a farm, which made it even more special.
I learnt from an Italian living there (and who doesn’t trust an italian when it comes to coffee?), that the best coffee from Colombia is sadly exported so you don’t generally get to drink it while you are there. The really good news for me going back to the UK though is that he said Waitrose sell it pretty cheaply… so I know where I’ll be going when I get back.
I did drink some good coffee while I was there though in one of the several coffee shops. The farm I stayed on was also a coffee plantation and I did the tour to learn about the making process. Lets just say a lot of work goes into making that one cup of coffee – a lot – so I will be appreciating that a little more from now on.
2. Celebrating women on Isla de la Luna, Bolivia
This island is a spiritual place. The ancient buildings have many mythical connections and the meanings behind them relate to Gods from the three layers of the world (sky, land, underground). People still come to leave offerings to the Gods to ask for something, such as wealth, fertility, prosperity, success in a job – you know all those important life things.
I was so lucky on the day we stopped by Isla de la Luna on the way to Isla del sol because it was a special day for the local people and a ritual was taking place to say thank you for the water that allows them to grow food, and to celebrate women and fertility. The island was full of colour, clothes, emotion and tradition and they carefully included us in the ceremony, allowing us to spectate and join in as much as we wanted.
There were many elements to the ritual, some for the women and some for the men that were on the island that day. A small group of women prepared an offering to the lake, consisting many types of foods; corn, fruits and herbs. These were blessed in Aymara, which is the indigenous language of the region. Each woman there, including myself, put something into the pot so that we were all involved.
This pot was later taken on a boat and offered to the lake. People were incredibly emotional on the island, crying and intently watching what was happening. I can’t really put all of it here because it was very complex, and I have to say I didn’t understand everything but it was just a very powerful and special day to have been a part of.
The men were also brought together in a group. I wasn’t allowed to join the group, but was later informed that he essentially told the men how they should appreciate and love all the women in their lives and how important women were in the world. Well I couldn’t argue with that…
1. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Of course my favourite thing is the Salt Flats and the tour in Salar de Uyuni. This is one of the best things to do in life, ever. I honestly think if you have only time and money to go to one place in the rest of your life, you should go here. I think I’ll have to do a post just for this because I could go on forever, but we essentially did a three day tour in a jeep, where you pass the most incredible and ridiculous landscapes I have ever seen.
I thought it was impossible to be more impressed by this point of my travels as I had seen so much, but apparently there are still more places that are blowing my mind! There are red lakes and volcanoes, flamingos wandering around munching on algae and cacti that have randomly lived in the middle of nowhere for hundreds and hundreds of years. And that isn’t even mentioning the actual salt lake…
Visiting this place has to be one of the best things I ever did in my whole life, not just this month. Thank you world for giving me this opportunity.