Europe, North America, South America · 89 Days · 113 Moments · January 2017

JCB - South and Central America


16 April 2017

We were only in San Salvador for a day but we were all feeling very tired and so, apart from another long walk to a supermarket, we stayed inside all day, did planning for Guatemala, and prepared ourselves for a 6am bus the following day. JP

15 April 2017

We had a bus at 11 the next day so this was more than enough time to sample a great many of the pancakes that we were told were free. As it turns out, free doesn't necessarily mean that you're allowed as many as you would like and as Ben went up for something like his 7th, was told that you were only really allowed 2 or 3. We begrudgingly went back to our room, packed, and left to get a long bus to San Salvador. The journey went without incident apart from the immigration officials forgetting to stamp Ben's passport on the way in which caused some problems as he tried to leave. Eventually everything seemed to be fine and we were allowed to get going. We arrived late into San Salvador and we're happy to find an 8 bed dorm all to ourselves. JP

14 April 2017

The following morning we went to the lake which we hadn't seen yet despite it only being a 5 minute walk away. This was nice although we had to get a chicken bus to Managua during the early afternoon so could not stay long. We managed to arrive at the bus station just as a bus was leaving and hopped on for a ride of an hour or two to Managua. We arrived at our hostel after an extremely sweaty bus ride and all almost immediately climbed in the shower. That night we made chicken burgers and ate them with the backdrop of 'Brave' in Spanish. JP

13 April 2017

We saw lots of costumes and some dancing contests of which I am sure that charlie and I would have won if we'd shown them our tango. Ben then headed back to ensure everything was alright at the hostel (we had been offered to sleep on mattresses on their entrance's floor for $5 after struggling to find other accommodation) and charlie and I stayed out for a while. When we got back we found the mattresses all laid out and they were even surprisingly comfortable. JP
During our second day in Granada we had to go back to the bus station to book the bus, this time we managed to bring our passports and to book a bus the day after we had originally hoped. After another trip to the supermarket the morning had run away with us again and it was mid afternoon by the time we had finished lunch. We decided to go out to see a church in the afternoon because we had heard and read that the view from the bell tower was excellent. After visiting this we went back into town to take advantage of some more 2 for 1 food. This time the deal was on burgers (we are so cultural) and so after dining on two burgers each, we decided to stay out and see what was happening in the Main Street. We settled into a cocktail establishment and watched as it got more and more lively. JP

12 April 2017

The following day we had a lie in and then walked to the supermarket (which was miles away) to get some breakfast. This seemed to take up most of the morning and it was lunch time before we knew it. After lunch we tried to get our bus to San Salvador sorted out. Originally we wanted to get the bus on Good Friday but after an even longer walk to the Tika Bus office we were told that not only were there no buses running, we also had managed to forget our passports so could not book a bus anyway. Disheartened we walked back into town to take advantage of some extraordinary cheap cocktails and have a Lebanese supper which was delicious. The streets were very busy as it was getting close to Easter and we wandered around for a bit before heading back to the hostel. JP

11 April 2017

After Monteverde it was time to head up to Nicaragua, and specifically Granada. We were told by the hostel to take the local bus down the hill and to wait on the pan American highway for a bus travelling to Peñas Blanca. However after 2 hours of waiting in the heat with countless buses passing us and not stopping we decided to hop on a bus to Liberia instead. From there we headed to the border. The border crossing went without incident although it was more difficult to follow all the procedures and buildings than many before had been. After passing into Nicaragua we were told that there were no buses to Granada however after having our bag lashed to the roof, we took a chicken bus to Rivas. We missed the bus from Rivas to Granada by minutes which resulted in an hour and a half wait in a metal bus in the blistering heat. This was extremely unpleasant although for $1 each, it was hard to complain. We arrived in Granada in the late evening and feasted on 2 for 1 tacos and cheap beers. JP

10 April 2017

Today we did 'Monteverde Canopy Extremo', a series of zip wires, a Tarzan swing and two 'superman's. This was a lot of fun and concluded our time in Costa Rica, tomorrow we are heading off early to Granada in Nicaragua.

9 April 2017

In the evening we had booked a night walk in the forest so, armed with torches, we headed out with a guide in search of interesting fauna. We ended up seeing two sloths, two snakes, one frog, a porcupine, two toucans, a stick insect, a 'small spider' (that was bigger than the biggest ones at home), a tarantula, and an animal called a kingkajou (probably spelled wrong) that we were apparently very lucky to see. This was exciting and a very worthwhile trip. After this we were convinced to go out and visited 'Amigos', a strange cross between a bar, a club and a dancehall. JP
We did a lot in our first day in Monteverde. We started by heading to the Monteverde Cloud Forest and had a walk around the trails which allowed us to see the amazing forest as well as some wildlife. We had read about a ficus tree that you could climb somewhere nearby and so that afternoon we headed of in search. A ficus tree grows like a parasite on its host tree and eventually blocks all of the sunlight and water from the host tree. The host tree then dies and, in this case, completely decomposed leaving a 'tunnel' to scramble up. As such you didn't really realise how high you were until emerging at the top and being probably 25 metres up.

8 April 2017

After our stay in Santa Teresa we had a day of travelling on local buses to Monteverde. The highlight was the wheels of the first bus, containing just us, leaving the ground over a lump in the road due to what we presume was negligence and excessive speed although it could have just been the driver wishing to throw around us stupid tourists. After another bus, a ferry and yet another bus we found our way to Monteverde.
For the last 9 days we've been in Santa Teresa on Playa Carmen. It has been an idyllic time apart from a couple of days in the middle of the stay sheltering from the sun and sweltering heat after getting horrendously burnt. However this was easily offset by being able to surf with a backdrop of the incredible sunsets. Usually we headed out early morning for a surf, then sheltered in the house to avoid the midday heat before heading out again in the evening. One evening we decided to experiment with making a paella. This worked surprisingly well which was good, as due to overestimating the quantity of expensive ingredients, we ended up having paella four times. Overall it was an amazing week and definitely one of our favourite yet. JP

30 March 2017

Another early start this morning for the bus to Santa Teresa. The kind people in our BnB said we were welcome to make some scrambled eggs before we left however we were unable to find matches or a lighter anywhere! As three exhausted and very hungry boys who were fearing not eating on the bus journey we reached a point of desperation. luckily at this point we all had the ingenious fail safe plan of using the toaster to make fire!! One flaming cocktail stick later and the hob was ablaze!! (and fortunately the rest of the kitchen wasn't) BB

29 March 2017

Rainy Bogota

28 March 2017

The exterior of the club couldn't have looked more run down if it tried! After finding no signs of life at reception we snuck cautiously up the stairs towards the sound of music. To our relief it opened out into a large space with a stage at one end and a bar at the other, with the lights it looked immensely similar to the dance floor in moulin rouge El tango de Roxanne!! There was a small group in a circle who looked as though they had just started a lesson so we jumped in to join them. None of them could have possibly been prepared for the immense dancing prowess of Mr James Padkin! Not even being the only person in the building in flip flops could distract him from his passionate focus as he strutted his beautiful parter (Charlie) around the floor! Sadly for Charlie, Jamie refused to swap the gender roles as he claimed "they'd become too deep in their roles to change now" which left Charlie as a competent tangoer but a competent female tangoer!! BB
Today we treated ourselves to a slightly lazy morning. Charlie spent his morning popping in and out of breakfast, first accompanying Jamie then heading back for round 2 with me slightly later on. We headed out and took the underground (subt) to another area of town where we enjoyed a very Argentinian lunch ordering a round of empanadas then two things we'd never heard of. One was very nice and was made up with lentils and chorizo, the other was nice but not quite as nice as the first. I believe it was the pigs trotters and some other questionable meat we found in it that caused our concerns!! With full stomachs we headed off to the national art gallery of Argentina and saw a lot of amazing statues and some pretty famous paintings from Monet, Van Gogh and Rubens. Once we had meandered round the gallery it was nearing supper time which meant we had a place to be! The tango club!! BB

27 March 2017

After the cafe we headed to Cemetario Ricoletta that, among the mausoleums of some of the richest people in the city (1 square metre costs $6000), houses the mausoleum of Eva Peron of Evita fame. This was very interesting and some of the structures were incredible. From the Cemetary we headed to La Bomba de Tiempo, a drumming show that had been highly recommended by everyone that we had met having been to BA. We did enjoy this although we hadn't eaten supper yet so, after around two hours we unadventurously returned to the same restaurant as yesterday as we were very tired and needed some easy sustenance.
Buenos Aires day 2: We woke up even earlier than the previous day in the hope to get a better pick of the breakfast, however it was not quite up to the same standard. Charlie and I still enjoyed a particularly leisurely breakfast which was delightful. We decided to go for a shop in the morning to look for flip flops, some caps and new shirts. Charlie and Ben were both happy with both their hat and shirt purchases and, with this done, we headed to Cafe Palermo. This is one of the oldest cafes in Buenos Aires and they have tried to keep everything as it was in the late 1800's with waiters wearing dinner jackets and with a lovely decor. We ordered lunch as well as submarinos (very hot milk with a bar of chocolate that you drop in to melt and make chocolate milk) and churros to dip in as was recommended on the tour.

26 March 2017

Buenos Aires day 1: We awoke early to make the most of the hotel breakfast. Despite Charlie's initial reservations, it was the best provided breakfast so far with Dulce de Leche pastries, cereal and fruit among other things. After breakfast we did some research on Buenos Aires before heading out on a walking tour. This was very informative and set us up nicely with activities for the days ahead. For supper we had to go out due to the lack of a kitchen in the hotel. Charlie and I both ordered a steak and Ben ordered a pasta meal. The steaks were unfortunately, likely through the sizeable language barrier, well done and so not as god as we were hoping although Ben Ben very much enjoyed his pasta. We went back to the hostel and, after unsuccessfully enquiring about tango lessons, went to bed. JP

25 March 2017

✈️ Flight from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires

24 March 2017

Ushuaia day 2: This morning we once again raided the breakfast buffet to the extreme. Following this we moved to a hostel we had booked before we left for South America, so that we had a night booked before our flight. We decided to venture out into town to wonder down the quayside and scout out the museums. However, the museums looked rather overpriced, and so we soon headed back to the hostel. Once again we felt a bit awkward walking round the town with the various Falkland Islands references around. In the evening we had a wild night in playing scrabble. We were joined by a fellow Brit called James from Grimsby who was off to visit Antarctica on one of the 10 day tours. He was quite an inspiring guy, revealing that he has a brain tumour and so is fulfilling a bucket list, and was a former army medic. CC

23 March 2017

Ushuaia day 1: Today we spent most of the day at the hostel. The extremely temperamental wifi network forced Jamie to take matters into his own hands and turn the router on and off again. In what was a fairly uneventful day, our only other highlight was being able to place nearly every item of clothing in the hostel laundry service. The last laundry was a month ago in Córdoba. It should be noted we had been washing clothes where we could with soap. In the evening we used our first working oven to cook sausages. I quickly became attached to the hostels dog, a huge, white husky. CC

22 March 2017

Puerto Natales 🇨🇱 to Ushuaia 🇦🇷 - Despite, a very short nights sleep we managed to get out the door (nearly) on time. From Puerto Natales we had to first take a bus that would allow us to board another bus down to Ushuaia. Although we had no idea where or when we would catch this bus. All we knew that this was going to be our final set of buses in South America. Much to our dismay the bus dropped us, and some other bemused tourists, in the middle of nowhere. After waiting half an hour playing frisbee with our hats on the roadside, the bus finally arrived. After a short drive we reached the ferry that would help us cross the sea to another road to take us into Argentina. Unfortunately, our border crossing took over 2 hours but we made up ground quickly. The remaining drive into Ushuaia was fantastic, with autumnal trees surrounding the hillside. On arrival we were greeted with a large sign reading 'Malvinas Argentinas'. We soon gauged the theme of this rather quiet city. CC

21 March 2017

Return to Puerto Natales 🇨🇱 - Thanks to our travel agent back home (Tim), our onward bus journey was all booked for us! What a luxury! However, the early start the following morning, meant we needed to be swift in sorting ourselves out. Prior to leaving Puerto Natales we ensured that all was set up to make things easier on our return. Despite this, things couldn't have gone more wrong. Nico, the owner of the hostel we had stayed in for the whole of our stay in PN, clearly had forgotten to book us in (even though we asked him 3 times). Although, Nico was trying to ring another hostel in town, there was no answer. To top it off, the pasta and sauce we had left at the hostel, all named, had been raided. We were now tired, frustrated and most importantly hungry! However, within 30 mins things thankfully improved. Nico found us a hostel and got the owner to pick us up in his car. The hostel was close to where I had to go return the camping stove, and a supermarket was open. CC
The next day was a long one with a reported 10 hours of walking and around 1.5 miles of climb. Despite this, it was a very enjoyable day although we were all extremely tired as we entered Refugio Paine Grande and we're happy to see that there was an outhouse specifically designed for camping stove cooking similar to last night. After eating we collapsed on some extremely comfortable chairs before having an early night. The following day was to see Glacier Grey and, although the weather when we set off was very pleasant, our remarkably good weather for the rest of the trip failed to hold up. It was extremely windy and kept trying to rain. We also managed to leave the bread for our lunch at the hostel. However we managed to make it there and back well before our ferry in the evening and with more than enough time for Ben and I to fall deeply asleep in front of a wood burning stove at the Refugio. JP
W-Trek 'Glacier Grey'

19 March 2017

Even the idea of using shower water to cook the pasta was probably the lowest moment of the trip so far and we were saved from doing anything rash by a little bit of sweet talking the kitchen. They, although strictly not allowed to help, went above and beyond. Not only did they supply us with boiling water, they cooked and buttered the pasta for us, al dente and all. The following day we managed to cook our porridge in a similar manner before heading off. This day was an easy one as it was all downhill and not too much distance at all. In fact we needn't have set off at 8am as we arrived at midday and then spent the afternoon playing Uno, Poker, Perudo and Scrabble from the extensive collection of games that they had at the second Refugio. Thankfully we could cook at Refugio Cuernos and they had a room especially for it. JP

18 March 2017

Today we started the 4 day, 3 night W-trek and we're surprised and delighted to find out that we were to be staying in refugios instead of camping. The first day was an early start to catch the bus to Torres del Paine followed by an uphill struggle with heavy backpacks to Refugio Chileno. There we left our packs and continued up to the Torres themselves. This was an incredible view and we stayed there for a good hour before heading back down to the Refugio. However, upon arriving, we were told that due to the recent fire that burnt down 7% of the park, we were not permitted to cook (boil water) at, or in the surrounding area to, the refugio. This posed a problem as we had a lot of pasta and not a lot else to fill us up. Ben and I were pondering the matter and, both ravenous, struck upon a 'genius' idea while having a scoldingly hot shower. JP

15 March 2017

Wishing to get things in order before starting the W-trek in Torres del Paine, we arrived in Puerto Natales a few days early although swiftly realised that there was little to get sorted and little to do in Puerto Natales. We were in an adventurous mood and so decided to experiment, move away from pasta for a meal, and attempt a beef and mushroom stew with mashed potatoes. This, perhaps surprisingly, went remarkably well and we even managed to be particularly grown-up and freeze some for the following day. Over the next couple of days, we relaxed in the hostel and made sure everything was ready for the trek. JP

13 March 2017

The attraction of El Calafate was the proximity to the Perito Moreno glacier so we made certain to head to it as soon as possible and were not disappointed. Although a glacier the size of BA with a 60m high face was very cool (if you'll pardon the pun), the highlight of the day was seeing enormous chunks of ice shearing from it and falling into the lake. An interesting fact was that this glacier is apparently one of the very few that is in equilibrium, not getting larger or smaller, and has been since 1917. After sampling some brownies at the cafe we headed back to El Calafate ready for our bus the following day to Puerto Natales. JP

11 March 2017

El Chalten 🇦🇷 - Laguna Torre

10 March 2017

30 hour bus journey ✅ - Prior to purchasing our bus ticket to El Chaltén, we were initially advised (by the guidebooks) that the journey would be a two day trip. We were however delighted to hear that the trip would ONLY be 24 hours. All was going ok, until both Jamie and I woke up (at separate times) checked maps.me, only to find we were on the other coast at'Rio Gallegos'. Thus, we had either missed our stop, and the bus had continued on, or we had taken a huge, unnecessary detour. Despite us both realising this, neither of us decided to wake the other one up to break this horrific news, and simply went back to sleep. After eventually arriving in El Chaltén, we overheard that the road had apparently been washed away. Strange seeming the road "Ruta 40" is advertised everywhere as if to give off the impression it is as grand as Route 66. Perhaps, like most of the continent, it has some way to go till it rivals USA. In the evening we ate in front of Wales v. Ireland. CC
After Bariloche we travelled by an extortionately priced bus to El Chalten: the 'trekking capital' of Patagonia. However the bus journey was very alarming due to a collapsed road and consequentially both charlie and I waking up with the bus nearing Rio Gallegos, around 300 miles too far south. Eventually we made it and settled into our hostel slightly worried about the blustery weather outside. The following day we embarked on a trek to Laguna Torre at the base of Cerro Torre. This was an amazing walk with an incredible view at the end and we all very much enjoyed it (although we were all unhappy that we missed the England v Scotland game of the six nations). The day after we waited for our bus to El Calafate playing a mixture of poker and Monopoly. JP

8 March 2017

Today, despite being warned about rain, we went on 27km cycle ride around the national park near Bariloche. The first three quarters was beautiful with amazing views and good weather in abundance. However after lunch the rain closed in and it was extremely wet, although we soldiered on back to the hire shop. When we were back we met a couple who lived in Clifton and shared tea and biscuits with them while sheltering from the rain in true English style. We then headed back to the hostel and are eagerly awaiting the vegan meal (cooked by the hostel) that we signed up for this morning. JP

7 March 2017

Bariloche day 3: We we're going to climb Cerro Lopez which is a mountain 2076m high, 3 hours each way and is apparently quite a scramble at the end. However 'unfortunately' we got off the bus at the wrong bus stop and so decided to take a ski lift (Bariloche is a resort in the winter) to the top of Cerro Campanario instead which was much more civilised. There were some amazing views even while being attacked by wasps after our picnic. JP

6 March 2017

Bariloche day 2 - Checked out from our previous hostel at 11 to move to a cheaper hostel down the road. Headed into town to sort out a bus down to El Chaltén and buy a local transport card. However, our plans were thwarted by Argentina's bizarre working hours, ticketing agencies closed at 2pm. We were eventually able to get a local 'SUBE' card. Although we have no idea how we managed to get it free. Following this we went into the various chocolate shops around, Bariloche being basically Switzerland, getting free samples at each one. Later we returned to successfully get our bus ticket and were able to get into the previously closed agencies. Following this we decided that we should treat ourselves to some famous Argentinan steak and went out for an amazing meal. CC

5 March 2017

Santiago 🇨🇱 to Bariloche 🇦🇷

4 March 2017

Santiago walking tour

28 February 2017

Today was pancake day and we dined accordingly buying a kilogram of sugar (the smallest bag we could find) and eating pancakes for breakfast and supper. In the day we went for a wander around Valparaiso and did more exploring. In the evening we made stir fry and then had a lovely time with an English girl and an Australian couple that were staying in our hostel.
Valparaiso walking tour

27 February 2017

We arrived in Valparaiso early in the morning and set off for our hostel which was around half an hours walk away. Along the way we made friends with a dog who followed us the whole way there and even stopped with us when we checked the map. Once we arrived at the hostel we were made aware that arrival could only happen from 8.30 onwards and so we slept on the street outside for a couple of hours. After this we had a relaxing day until doing a walking tour in the afternoon which was extremely enjoyable. We were told all about Valparaiso and it's history and we also rode a fernicular that was built in the 1920's.

26 February 2017

Today was a magical day! After weeks of not being able to find our favourite drink sweet maracuya we found the holy grail in maracuya ice cream! The sweet tones of the heavenly fruit complimented the subtle sweet flavour of of the ice cream. The refreshing qualities were endless! We ate it happily in a huge Park infront of a swimming race in the Lake. Another spectacle today was watching Charlie going full vegan and eating a lettuce like an apple... BB

25 February 2017

Wine tasting in Mendoza - Headed off with Tash and Kirsty from the U.K. Whom we had met at the BBQ the previous night. They were joined by Lucas from Argentina who was able to act as our interpreter for the day. To get across to the nearby town of Maipu to start the 'grape escape' we needed to take the train. However, this required us to get a transport card, which was negotiated by our interpreter. After waiting for ages for the train we travelled the short distance to Maipu. Here we stopped at a cycle tour company and met a couple from Israel who joined us for the day. The first winery was extremely posh. After waiting for a while for a tour we were given a free glass of wine. Soon we were on a tour observing the massive scale of the winery. The highlight to the completely free tour was however two glasses of wine to taste! Following this we rode in glorious sunshine to another winery down a very rocky 'road'. Here we paid to having a short wine tasting session. C

23 February 2017

22 February 2017

After two days of relaxing and doing fairly minimal activities, we decided to head out into Córdoba and do some exploring, we walked along the 'Cultural mile' which is a stretch of road (guess how long) that contains a multitude of museums and other things to see and do. We decided to go into two separate art galleries and then, the highlight, a natural history museum, the best kind of museum. However, the walk was incredibly hot and sweaty and the heat was blistering. As such we had to seek refuge in various air conditioned establishments on the way there and the way back. On the way back, we passed a large stand with some men in military uniform, a lot of reference to the falklands and the Union flag incorporating a swastika. We tried to conceal our English accents and moved swiftly past. We finished the day off with rice, chicken, a kind of creamy sauce and some vino tinto.

21 February 2017

18 February 2017

Soon the floors were surprisingly dry. Our host then offered us a free night as a thank you for our help. Unfortunately, we had booked a bus the next day to Córdoba and so we had to politely decline. Instead, we were gifted 3, litre sized bottles of beer. For the rest of the evening we sat drinking our beer and playing table tennis. Although, one of the other guests smashed a light whilst playing Ben, thus bringing the table tennis to an end. Although, another storm passed through the hostel stood firm. After a very entertaining evening we turned in, still slightly apprehensive of the flood defences.
However after a few minutes of this tactic, the two of them changed course and started pushing the water through the kitchen, and out the door leading to a balcony. Meanwhile I was draining the pasta, uncertain whether anyone would be around to help eat what was enough food for a small village. Soon the water was flooding the whole kitchen and I decided to enlist reinforcements in the form of Jamie. So I gingerly negotiated the small waterfall flowing down the stairs and shouted across to him, "pasta is ready, but there's quite a lot of water on the floor. Could you come up and help". 5 minutes later the three of them had quite a chain going on to push the water out. I on the other hand was sat in the corner tucking into the now cold pasta. After eating for a couple of minutes we would switch round. After about an hour upstairs was looking quite dry. So we headed downstairs to see the damage. Sadly downstairs was still sodden. So we got to work again.
However, shortly after returning from the supermarket with a kilo of ravioli a large storm was brewing. Having been in Peru during the rainy season we were no strangers to South American storms by now. This storm was something else. The thunder boomed all across the fairly empty hostel. However all was calm inside the hostel. Jamie was downstairs on FaceTime, Ben was trying to capture the ferocity of the storm on film and I was 'cooking' the pasta. However after about 10 minutes I pointed out to Ben that the water was starting to accumulate just outside the kitchen. The problem being that the doors, leading to a large 'patio area' outside, were unable to close. After staring at the pond by the kitchen Ben and I decided to probably alert our host. 5 minutes later the large woman in charge marched upstairs absolutely drenched, and handed Ben a mop-like utensil directing him to push the water down the stairs.
After being rather rudely kicked out of 7 Duendes, despite checking out early, we set out on a hunt for an alternative hostel. At our first stop we were told by the man at the desk that this was a hostel "for old people" and so although he would love us to stay we should find somewhere else where we could "meet more chicks". So we continued on down the street. However, our next two stops proved to be equally expensive. We were running out of options fast. That was until we passed a sandwich board outside a hostel quoting nearly half what we paid at 7 Duendes (£5 including breakfast!). So we headed inside and asked if we could look around. The bedrooms were clean, the bathrooms were better than our previous hostel and the wifi was absolutely incredible. Thus we were hooked. We hung around the massive communal area, fitted with table tennis table for much of the rest of the day.

17 February 2017

The journey then led us through what can only be described as a cousin of the Grand Canyon. The road meandered through the cactus covered rock faces of the valley, following the path of the dried up river. Soon we were back amongst green hills with climbing up the mountains. Eventually we arrived in Salta and walked the short distance to our fairly unappealing hostel. Supper - a few kilos of ravioli and tomato sauce. Despite our room being incredibly warm and being constantly bitten by pesky mosquitos we fell asleep relatively early.
Despite waking early to catch our 8:40 bus to Salta in Argentina, unfortunately the shop down the road did not open till 8, preventing us from buying our usual breakfast. However, we wolfed our 12 eggs down in double quick time, and arrived at the station with 10 minutes to spare. The night before Jamie had found out that the bus route from San Pedro to Salta was supposedly one of the worlds most beautiful bus journeys. I'm still wandering which weird bus forums he is looking at. Nevertheless, Jamie's forum was absolutely spot on. The journey lead us through more of the Martian like landscape of the Atacama, till we reached the boarder crossing with Argentina. After a long wait till we were able to actually enter the building, the customs checks took even longer. The Christmas tree on top of one of the x-ray machines suggested this isn't one of the most efficient of offices around. After a long 3 hours we continued on, getting extremely overexcited when sandwiches were handed out.

16 February 2017

Charlie was probably the fastest due to his refusal to turn and decision instead to just head straight down! During our introduction our instructor had described such a technique as "kamikaze" however this did not dissuade our brave Charlie. Jamie's claim to fame was definitely looking best in the helmet ! He loved it so much he wore it in the bus all the way there! I decided that before we finished I would have managed the jump at the bottom of the dune. I managed a few tame jumps but on the last run I desided to go for some "narly air"! Sadly all I gained for my efforts was a face full of sand! As it turned out I wasn't the only one to be overly ambitious with my last run. Charlie took it upon himself to break the land speed record and ended in a very similar position to myself! Despite falling on most of them Jamie could boast a flawless last run (as well as a perfectly fitting helmet). BB
After being forced to stay here for another day as there were no buses until Friday we decided we would make the most of it. We made our way around the town getting quotes for different activities to try and get the cheapest. Initially we were planning to rent bikes and cycle to the lunar valley however we were advised against this as apparently it is pretty dangerous. So instead we went sandboarding in death valley!! From there we saw the lunar valley anyway so it was a win win. After being kitted up and climbing to the top of the dune (an exhausting activity we'd have to do many times) we were given a few tips. Regrettably it got out that I had snowboarded before which meant I was to got first! Sand is far slower than snow. My first run was almost comically slow! Jamie and Charlie shortly followed both having successful runs. Every time we went higher and faster with all of us wiping out at some point and getting mouthfuls of sand! BB

15 February 2017

Our short drive down to Chile immediately introduced us to the difference between the two countries, our bus driving down an absolutely immaculate road. However, our short journey on the carpet road was over no sooner than it had begun. After passing customs and immigration the bus continued to the centre of the town of San Pedro de Atacama. Or as our bus driver called it 'Gringo central', evident from the fully certified 'North Face' shop, instead of the usual genuine fake market stalls. After a short walk we reached our hostel and settled in, using wifi for the first time in a while. However, we were soon out the door again to try and book a bus to Salta in Argentina. Despite, normally being able to book buses for the next day in most places, we were stunned there was no space till Friday on a very expensive bus. To cheer us up we cooked a hearty dinner of sausage pasta, resisting the temptation to buy ice cream having gone grossly over budget with our grossly overpriced bus. C
Following another early rising I was surprised that I was feeling the perkiest out of the boys. The effects of their wild night under the stars being evident from the loud groans spreading across the room. However we were all at breakfast on time, and enjoyed some delicious pancakes! Shortly afterwards we were on the road, passing the now extremely busy hot springs. After a short drive we stopped on the roadside to admire the barren red landscape around us. We soon continued on, driving towards an imposing volcano in the distance. After a short drive across this Martian landscape we arrived at a lagoon at the foot of the volcano, our final stop on the trip. After one final group photo we said our goodbyes to half the group going back to Uyuni. As for the other half we continued on with the 4x4s to the Bolivian border. After an unusual border crossing, whereby Carlos (one of the guides) simply took our passports to get stamped, we carried on to a transfer bus to take us to Chile.

14 February 2017

That evening we dined on soup and spaghetti bolognese which, unfortunately, charlie wasn't able to enjoy as he was feeling particularly ill. The highlight of the hostel was the immediate proximity to some hot springs and so we all sympathetically left charlie to it and headed down. These were amazing and definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far. It was extremely dark which made the stars incredibly clear and the enjoyment was further heightened by a couple of bottles of wine that we had purchased earlier. We stayed there from around 8 to almost midnight, witnessed a moonrise and chatted to a variety of people that were in the hot springs as well. Red Planet were great as the hot springs were, for the most part, fairly empty while we were there and nothing like the 'gringo soup' of the next morning. JP
The following day was an early wake up which was lovely after I'd had a double room to myself. We had a filling breakfast and then got back into the 4x4 for our longest driving day. We started driving into the Atacama desert and saw some more smaller salt flats. We soon reached our lunch spot and devoured some chicken schnitzel and quinoa. After this we went to a lagoon full of flamingos but unfortunately they were too far away to photograph well. Following this we went to more desert, however this part contained massive rocks which we took the opportunity to climb. Then we went to the 'red lagoon' so called because of an algae that lived there, coloured because of their beta-carotene. Mrs Patterson would be so impressed. After visiting some hot springs at 5000m we descended a little to our hostel, which we had been told would be abysmal but turned out to be fine. JP

13 February 2017

We started by going to a yard of wrecked trains. These were relics of when bolivia used to export minerals, however the prices then dropped hugely and so the trains were just left. After this we went to a salt factory where we ate lunch and learned about how the salt is turned from the salt on the surface of the flats to table salt. After this we were taken to the salt flats and then further in to take photos. This lasted around an hour, after which we went to an 'island' in the middle of the flats where there were numerous cacti which apparently took a year to grow even a single centimetre. After enjoying the sunset nearby we headed to our hostal for the night. JP
The following day we checked out and then went to ride the La Paz cable cars, which are amazing, and then going to the largest flea market in South America which sold absolutely everything from car engine fans to budgies. After this we headed back to the hostel to make supper before heading out to get a night bus to Uyuni to start the salt flat tour at 11 the next day. We arrived bright and early to Uyuni and went straight to the Red Planet for the tour.

12 February 2017

The concert was longer than expected but, even at 2.5 hours, was very enjoyable. We were treated to three different soloists who, at the end joined for a grand finale. The first man was a connoisseur of the traditional recorder and was really very good. The second man played he double sided guitar, with a traditional one on one side and a twelve string one on the other. The third man seemed to be more of a comedian but we had to judge this by the laughter around the room as we had no idea what was going on. However he was also very good at the mini mandolin. We then had managed to score some free drink tokens from our hostel for a bar down the road and went to redeem them. We ended up getting two of the most horrible drinks we had ever had each so finished them and left quickly despite the lovely view of La Paz. JP

11 February 2017

After a breakfast of more eggs and some sausages left over from last night, we headed out to a musical instrument museum, spoken of very highly by the man at the desk of our hostel. An entrance fee of £0.50 each yielded us with some very interesting exhibits and even some interactive instruments. After this we headed to an English pub to watch the rugby and met some lovely retirees with the same idea. The English supporters among us were very happy with the result but it was a tense 80 minutes. After this we headed to the supermarket and then back to the hostel through the witch markets where I purchased some presents for people back home. We returned to the hostel and are planning an early supper as we are planning to attend a traditional concert tonight at the instrument museum starting at 7pm. JP

10 February 2017

After waking up late, as a consequence of our travelling the day before, we set out to make a filling breakfast to help our various illnesses. Trekking the hill to the shops certainly got the heart rate going, but we returned triumphantly with eggs, bread and cereal. Following this we headed out to the surrounding markets. Jamie and Ben were both keen to find a pair of stylish 'ray buns', in preparation for our salt flat excursion. Following their successful purchase we continued on to find a supermarket, having struggled the day before. On the way however, stumbled across a tour office representing "red planet", the company whom we had been targeting to use for a trip to the salt flats. Despite struggling to find an ATM with any money it, we soon paid for the trip and continued on towards the supermarket. In the evening we cooked yet another massive portion of sausage pasta. Of course no meal would be complete without ice cream, which we ate in front of the Julian Assange film. C

9 February 2017

The border crossing into Bolivia was far more relaxed than the Ecuador Peru one. It involved standing in a queue outside a little building where you got a passport stamp then walking across the board unter an archway and into another queue where you got a Bolivian stamp. Walking the 200m across the boarder we felt like hostages being traded like in the film bridge of spies! once we were all stamped we got back on our bus and headed to Copacabana were we had to swap buses for the last leg. The best part of this journey was when they kicked us all off the bus and put us all on a tiny boat to cross lake titica. The funniest thing about this was watching our large bus get onto a very small raft and be ferried across aswell with the little raft barely afloat under the weight of the bus! After crashing into our hostel in la Paz we were shown to our lovely little room by a very friendly man who pointed out the TV and all the dvds proudly announcing "90% English 100% pirated!" BB
Today we barely did a thing... Our bus was a 10pm so we spent the day in the hostel planning things for Costa Rica and other parts of our trip, we also engaged in match after match of table football! In the cab to the bus terminal we were once again made nervous by the questionable driving going on and we're not at all reassured when our cab clipped wingmirrors with a cab going the opposite direction! Once on the bus we had hoped to just sleep all the way however the quality if roads and the immense speed bumps kept us up quite late. The next morning we had to get a bud from puno to la paz and this felt very dodgy. We were told we had to go to a cathetiria to get the tickets as the terminal was closed however this just turned out to be a hostal and the guy who had told us to come was going to sell us the tickets. We haggled him down massively so it ended up okay but we still felt quite uncomfortable! BB

7 February 2017

Other than honing our table football skills the only other thing worth a mention today was our absolute triumph of a supper. We went full out private school and created a wonderful quinoa tabbouleh (pronounced keenwaaaa taboolay). We thought it was extremely fitting as quinoa was eaten by the inkas and also can be bought very cheaply from a place down the road! BB

6 February 2017

We returned to the hostel, hungry and exhausted. Here we relaxed for a couple of hours waiting to board our train. The gentle rock of the train soon sending us to sleep. Arriving into Ollantaytambo we bargained another taxi to 55 soles. Despite leaving in bright sunshine, a storm soon engulfed the area battering the car and turning the roads into rivers. We however arrived back at the hostel in one piece, still delighted with our extremely successful day. Another massive stir fry was the order of the day, no ice cream this time though. The perfect day! CC
The previous evening we had thought long and hard about potential poses for photo opportunities. Our meticulous planning had developed what we called 'the totem pole' a simple but stunning design. All we needed was a window of opportunity. Standing on one of the many 'levels' that lead up the hills, we concluded this was to be the spot. Unfortunately the level above was packed with a large group of Japanese tourists listening intently to a guide, thus preventing anyone from taking the photo from the level above. Suddenly the talk ended and the group dispersed to take photos. This was our moment. We moved in perfect formation, Jamie handing over his phone. Within seconds of our glorious creation being made we were told to get down. Jamie had chosen his cameraman well however and the snap was complete. Following this we stopped acting like our usual idiotic selves and toured this amazing site, in awe of where we were. After another hour or so we headed back down, all beaming. CC
Unfortunately, it became apparent that Ben's brisk pace for much of the final section of the ascent was not just determination to beat the others, but to beat Mother Nature, whom had descended on him rather abruptly. Annoyingly the W/C was not to be opened until 6. Therefore, our efforts to beat the swarm of buses were largely in vain as the loos didn't actually open for another 5-10 mins the buses arrived. Despite this unfortunate interlude we were soon on our way into the site, which was still completely covered by cloud. Unsure of where to go we followed a sign for "sun gate", which lead us uphill again. Eventually after another 20 minutes we reached the top to see towering mountains now above the cloud cover. Soon the clouds revealed Machu Picchu itself, basking it in sunlight. After staying at this spectacular viewpoint for a while we headed back down to get to the main site and the ruins. Passing a migration of llamas we headed for the main photo spots. CC
However, at 5am on the dot, the security guards came to unlock the gate. Once on the other side of the bridge, the handful of people in front of us dithered, unsure of which way to go. There was no stopping us, as we left them in our dust. As we hit the very front we kept up a fast pace powering up the cobbled steps. Despite only stopping for two quick water breaks we were eventually caught by a far fitter French man. He did inform us that the rest of the pack were far further down the hill, but we ignored the temptation to slow down and kept powering through. Soon our torch lights were no longer needed as dawn broke, the cloud cover still obscured most of the surrounding scenery. Eventually after 40 minutes of brutal uphill we could see the faint amber glow of a light amongst the trees. Spurred on by sheer determination we practically ran up the final few meters. Exhausted, but beaming with pride we reached the top before 6am, the French man the only person ahead of us. CC
Our most anticipated day of the trip so far started early, 3:15 to be exact. Feeling remarkably fresh we dined on a healthy, and nutritious bowl of cereal we still had from Ecuador, and chocolate UHT milk. Leaving the hostel at 4am we checked ourselves out by leaving our key at the lobby. Walking briskly through the streets of Aguas Caliente we picked up the pace to a jog when we saw a mass of torch lights ahead. However, our progress was halted when we were made to stop at a large bridge going over the river. Much to our dismay, we were told the bridge was not opened until 5am, so much for our 4am leave time. Although we were strangely comforted that the queue for the lead round the bend into the darkness within 15 minutes. 4:55 and there seemed to be little activity from the two security guards in their hut; still engrossed in their film on a TV. Overthrow the tyrants we thought, there are enough walking sticks and bottles of insect spray around. CC

5 February 2017

Despite the extortionate cost of the "train" it was absolutely spectacular. With luxury seats, free snacks and drinks, it made a first GWR train look rather shabby. No change I suppose. The scenery was however the star of the show, the small train carriage humbled by the towering mountains. Arriving in the town of Aguas Caliente, we swiftly made it across to our hostel. The town is pretty unremarkable, as we were expecting so we relaxed at the hostel for a while. We then headed out to the shops in search supplies for supper, and were again rather underwhelmed by what the town had to offer. After turning out nose up at the fly covered meat and veg at the nearby "supermarkets" we resorted to the Barnes special of tuna mayo (no sweet corn!) pasta. Following supper we relaxed in our extremely posh room and set the alarms early for the next morning. CC
A very quiet day to day travelling to Aguas Caliente, the nearest town to Machu Picchu. Setting the alarms early we got up and packed our day bags for the trip, leaving our bigger bags in cusco. We set off in search of a "minibus" that would take us to Ollantaytambo, our train station. The street we were directed to go to was incredibly small and worryingly quiet. We were however immediately confronted by a man saying, "taxi! Ollantaytambo 100soles". Having been told a minibus would only cost around 15s, we waved his offer away. However, when we asked about a minibus for 15s, our friend reduced his price to 80s and then down to 60s. He eventually went for 55s in his taxi, we're still uncertain who got the better deal. We then tried our haggling again when buying empanadas from a lady once we had arrived in Ollantaytambo. She was having none of it. After polishing off our lunch we went to go board the train. However, our train turned out to be only one carriage. CC

4 February 2017

With a new wave of energy we headed out on a mission to get the tickets for Monday. Regrettably the tickets were very expensive and as we hadn't visited an ATM in a while we were writing each other (mainly me to Jamie) I O Us... To make things worse we then had to get train tickets as it is the only way to machu piccu. These also proved pretty extortionate, it has been an expensive day! In an attempt to compensate for this we managed to buy lunch for all three of us for the whopping total of £1.23 and then made a very cheap yet delicious pasta meal with vegetables sausages and tomato sauce. The hostel is nice with a little garden and a kitchen, although I'd be lying if I said it was well equipped... Charlie had a knife and fork, Jamie coped with a fork and spoon which left me with two forks! The plastic roof also caused us some unease when a sudden storm blew it's way up the valley and over us. Finally the neighbour insists on firing a cannon every ten minutes but otherwise all good
After a leisurely morning we headed to the top floor of the hostel to a delicious pancake/omelet hybrid for breakfast. From where we sat we had a great view of Cusco which we shortly headed off into. We had set off with the intention of sorting out machu piccu tickets straight away, however after noticing the time we ended up in an Irish pub watching the England game! To our dismay we appears to be three of only 5 English supporters with the rest of the pub all being from France (there was a Welsh lady there too but she'd jumped on the French bandwagon). After our disallowed try there were many French taunts thrown our way and even more white cried when they scored. However we few had the last laugh with a wonder try securing us the victory! GOD SAVE OUR GRACIOUS QUEEN! We decided it would be wise to leave rather quickly and not gloat due to our minimal numbers... BB

3 February 2017

The evening was even more surreal, after trying and failing to eat another kilo of noodles in what started off trying to be a stir fry but which could no longer be described as such, we headed to the roof for another relaxing evening. However this evening we were joined by a German man who made electronic music for a living and a man from Florida who had dreadlocks, a straggly beard and was very quiet at the beginning. We were having a chat with the German man when Lima was hit with a 4.0 earthquake, it was over very quickly and was only small but as none of us had felt an earthquake before, it was unexpected. The earthquake seemed to awake the man from Florida from his slumber and it transpired that he has just come back from the jungle after doing 'ceremonies' that involved taking a lot of drugs. The rest of the evening was spent with our German friend talking to the other man about his psychedelic experiences. We headed to bed fairly soon. #JP

1 February 2017

The plans for the final day in Lima were to go into the city and do something historical, however after realising the times involved travelling to get there, we decided to do something closer to home. We decided to go to a settlement in Miraflores built by the Limas called Huaca Pucllana and accidentally found ourselves on a walking tour of it. We are still not entirely sure what it is but apparently it involved smashing a pot before the next level could be built. They also had some hairless dogs there and we were all unsure how we felt about them as, despite being fairly cute, they were extremely odd looking. At the end of the tour I looked over the fence and saw somebody being filmed skateboarding that looked a lot like tony hawk. We did some research back at the hostel, it turns out that he was filming in Lima and so the number of famous people we have seen has risen to two (after seeing the actor who plays merry in LoTR at the airport).

31 January 2017

We decided to have a relaxing day today and so everything was very leisurely. A big breakfast followed by relaxing on the roof terrace and heading out late morning for lunch was just what we needed. After some more baguettes we headed to the beach, which turned out to be stony. We went for a swim anyway although both Ben and I managed to cut our feet relatively badly on submerged rocks. We left fairly quickly and headed back the hostel, but not before we realised that we didn't have Ben's GoPro. Charlie and Ben quickly returned to the beach to find that a nice man was keeping it 'safe' in his bag. They thanked the man anyway and headed back relieved. For supper, even though we had the worst hob that any of us had ever seen, we cooked enough pasta to feed most of Lima (or 14 servings to be precise) as well as vegetables and sausages which were all delicious. We then retired to the roof to polish off more ice cream before heading to bed. JP

30 January 2017

After our meal at the pizzeria we took a quick trip to the shops. Ben and I picked out more fruit, whilst Jamie scouted for beers and ice cream. I soon saw Ben conversing with a fellow mango enthusiast, both of them picking up and smelling the mangoes. We returned to the hostel with our goodies and, after Ben devoured his perfect mango, we hiked up to the rooftop suite. We dined on 2 tubs of ice cream and drank our beers whilst reminiscing with music gone by, listening to everyone's favourite Swedish dance music artist 'bass hunter'. We did however have an early night and settled in to our very hot room, fan on full blast. Charlie
After sitting in the park, people watching, we went to the supermarket to make sandwiches for lunch. We were astounded to see a fully stocked and fully functional supermarket, no offence Ecuador. After eating our baguettes we were able to go to our room in the hostel which was now ready. After dragging our smelly bags up to what we are calling 'the penthouse suite', our rooftop dorm, we showered for the first time since the start of our travel from Cuenca. Yum. We sat at the hostel relaxing for the next couple of hours before heading out for dinner. Seeing as we were now down to our last few items of clean clothes, the boys were in their posh shirts and so looked the part, wandering the sophisticated streets. After scouting various places we settled on 'Macarena' a pizza restaurant. Despite having the restaurant to ourselves, the food was fantastic and we polished off every crumb of our large pizzas. Charlie
The Cruz Del Sur bus down to Lima was absolutely luxurious. TV screens to watch Spanish films on, 'bus hostesses' (not quite as glamorous as their compatriots) and hot food served. In addition the seats were like massage chairs reclining extremely far back. Ben chatted with a local lady for much of the first hour. They conversed with a mixture of his new and improved Spanish (10%) and google translate (90%). After a good nights sleep with, no border officials waking us up, we soon arrived at rush hour in Lima. The bustling city was of stark contrast to what we were used to in Ecuador. Furthermore, we picked a hostel in the more upmarket and modern suburb of Miraflores, which seems like a different world to the small towns of Ecuador. We spent the morning baking in 'JFK park', named in respect of his contributions to aid for Peru. Not sure if President Kennedy was much of a cat person but his park contains nearly 100 stray cats. We have no idea why. Charlie

29 January 2017

1pm was considerably later than we were hoping and so we were all looking forward to a shortened stay there before our bus at 7.30 that evening. Chiclayo is incredibly hot but also very humid and, as none of us have showered in over 36 hours, we feel very sorry for the other bus passengers later. We decided to go and find some lunch and all had some strange meal containing both avocado and chicken. Thankfully this cafe had WiFi and so we prolonged our meal as much as we possibly could, finally leaving at about 4. After this we headed to the bus station and played card games on their floor before raiding the public toilet sink to do our teeth. We are now preparing ourselves for a 13 hour bus journey to Lima... JP
We arrived in Chiclayo without incident at 1pm after passing through a town that seemed to use nothing but tuk-tuks as a mode of transport. We were all very surprised to wake up to find that the landscape in Peru is entirely different to Ecuador. What were heavily forested hills turned into extremely arid desert. This was so interesting that we all quickly fell back to sleep.

28 January 2017

Today was a very boring one, we spent most of it doing logistics and working out how to get to Lima and which buses to take to get there. We decided to get an overnight Azuay International bus to Chiclayo and then a Cruz del Sur bus to Lima later that day. At this point we would like to give a very favourable mention to Euan who, upon discovering that Ben had to left his tracksuit bottoms in Banõs, he sent me a message that he had brought them with him to Cuenca. Aside from all the planning, we had lunch at the place we had supper yesterday and we had supper at somewhere more expensive which was definitely worth it for the quantity of food alone! After supper we headed to the bus station and boarded our bus to Chiclayo. We soon fell asleep, but we're not left asleep for long. As we were crossing the border into Peru then we had to leave the bus and stand at a horribly humid and hot border crossing from 1 until 4 in the morning. We then returned to the bus and fell asleep once more.

27 January 2017

Once we got to Cuenca, we took a taxi to Hostal Yakumama which is where we are spending the night, after arriving we swiftly moved onto the problem of how to get down to Lima in the next few days. After hitting on a plan we headed out to cafe moliano. This was a very good plan as we all needed some easy sustenance. The food turned out to be delicious: we all had Colombian tortillas. Charlie's had pork and fried plantain (banana) in it and bens and mine had beef, egg and plantain. They were very much needed and we headed back to the hostel very happy customers. JP
We woke up at 6, much to Ben's anger, in order to get ready to catch our only direct bus from Baños to Cuenca at 8:45. Despite the early rising we still left things a bit tight but got our tickets with time to spare. So Jamie and I decided to leg it to go and get food, for the long bus ride. Laces undone, hats flying off and loose fitting day bags swinging through the streets. It's fair to say we looked a bit out of place running through sleepy Baños. However, we made the bus with 2 minutes to spare, much to Ben's relief. Our bus driver's chosen film this time brought his audience right back to the 90s with Jean-Claude Van Damme's classic "universal soldier". In Spanish of course. We were then even treated to watching "universal soldier, the return". Unfortunately, a disgruntled passenger told the driver to turn off the 3rd instalment. Charlie

26 January 2017

The barbecue was excellent and undoubtedly the best meal of our trip. Today we met a nice English man called Christian who was doing a trip similar to ours but in reverse, he provided us with some helpful insight into things to do in Peru and Bolivia. After chatting to him, we headed into banos to look for bikes to cycle the Ruta del cascada finishing at the most famous cascada (waterfall): the devils cauldron. This was an easy downhill ride and the waterfall at the end was amazing. We then headed back to town and got some food for that night. We are getting the 8.45 bus tomorrow to Cuenca and need to be up early so are having an early night.

25 January 2017

I woke up at around two last night to Ben being violently sick, in the morning it became apparent that he was unwell and appeared to have a mixture of what both charlie and I were recovering from. Even so he medicated himself and a soldiered on to get the bus to banõs. On the bus we made a friend called Euan who grew up in Croydon. I had a lovely chat with him on the bus, he accompanied us to our hostel and we have ended up in the same room in Kiwi Hostel. After arriving, Ben collapsed onto a bed and charlie and I went on a trip to find food. We ended up in a place that was serving pizza and we had a romantic date thanks to love songs that were playing in the pizzeria. We also went to a market to get some supplies and donuts to up the morale. After dosing Ben up with sugar we took him to the Casa del Arbol, the swing at the end of the world. We arrived back at the hostel to find that Euan had made friends with the owner and had been put in charge of the BBQ. We expect great things. JP

24 January 2017

We all woke up at a reasonable time and headed up to breakfast. This was similar to previous breakfasts however Ben had a honey flavoured tea that he enjoyed very much. Ben had been keen to walk to the highest point of the quilotoa rim but charlie and I stayed at the hotel on account of our respective illnesses. In hindsight this seemed to be an excellent plan as Ben came back very breathless but with some good photos. Charlie also turns out to be a vicious haggler, getting a 50% discount on a fridge magnet by refusing to budge from his original offer. We caught a bus back to latacunga, caught up on some audiobooks and admired the amazing view of Cotopaxi in the distance. After arriving back in latacunga we bought some food and headed back to hostel Tiana.

23 January 2017

After lunch we set off again, beginning what was to be a long but slow ascent up to the base of the quilotoa rim. We passed through a town called Guyama San Pedro where our arrival coincided with all of the children at the local school leaving. We seemed to be a bit of a spectacle, they were likely wondering who these foreigners were, hands burnt to a crisp, wearing silly hats and walking in the midday heat. We received a few 'hola's and even a couple of 'a donde's which we presumed meant where are you going. They seemed satisfied with quilotoa as an answer and we were often rewarded with a point to the top. After leaving Guyama the path became steeper and we started the proper ascent to the top. After waiting at a bench with what must have been the most amazing view any of us had ever seen, we continued to the top.
On the morning of the third day of the quilotoa loop, we climbed out of our delightfully comfortable beds after the best nights sleep so far and headed down to breakfast which, again, consisted of fruit, granola and yoghurt just in smaller quantities. After this, Ben headed out to the shops to search for some sombreros. Surprisingly he came back with three, although we are convinced that Charlie's is a woman's. We all set off on the walk which, while only being 7.4 miles long, boasted a total of almost 2 miles of ascent. First we made our way to the river and as this was all downhill, this was very straightforward, however we then needed to regain all the height that we'd lost and this was far more challenging. We decided to stop for lunch at the viewpoint at the top and ate lunches which we had, very sensibly, decided to get from the hostel. This was a godsend and renewed everybody's energy far more than yesterday's crisp sandwiches.

22 January 2017

We were not too excited about Hostel Cloud Forest as the Internet hadn't been too kind to it, however for $15 each it provided us with the most comfortable bed yet in a private ensuite room as well as a big supper (involving a dessert that was difficult to place and turned out to be a tomato that seemed to have been boiled in sugar), tasty breakfast and the option of lunch at an additional $3. We think this was the best value hostel of the trip so far. However it didn't provide very good wifi at all or a bus to quilotoa which we had heard was available and so Jamie decided to walk despite reaching new heights with the illness situation. Charlie also was swiftly catching him up and so both had a slightly grim day ahead of them.
Both Ben and Jamie ran out of water while the end of the trek was still a fair distance away and saw no other option than to fill up their filtering bottles from a fast flowing, but admittedly brown, river. Jamie managed to get away without drinking any in the end however Ben drank all of it and thankfully seems to be fine. We soon reached a church in a village that seemed to consist of about 4 houses, 2 dogs and one school. How the school had any pupils, being in the middle of nowhere, we do not know. We then had a very steep ascent to do but at the top there was an amazing panoramic view of everything we walked that day and a good portion of the following day. There was also a helpful Ecuadorean man at the top pointing out different peaks however his helpfulness didn't completely assuage our worries when he picked up a large machete. The last portion of the walk was along roads which were not technically difficult but long and tiring. We were all very happy to see hostel cloud forest
After a night of very broken sleep at Llulu Llama we headed downstairs. They were not lying on their website when the breakfast was described as wealthy as we were presented with a smorgasbord of fruit salad, granola, yoghurt and a juice that we found difficult to place but which was delicious. It was a beautiful day without a cloud in sight. This was both a blessing and a curse as it provided beautiful views that we had not seen the day before however we had not packed for warm weather and so we're getting incredibly hot. After trying fairly unsuccessfully to fashion hats out of leaves, we went with the more fashionable option of wearing boxers on our heads. The walk not only provided beautiful views but also some fairly questionable bridges, one of which was just a tree lying across a river. Tarzan would have handled it aptly but for us three less seasoned explorers it was more of an undertaking. #JP

21 January 2017

Following the road for another hour we finally arrived at the small town of Insivilli, just before it got dark. We had booked our accommodation "Llulu Llama" a couple of weeks before arriving as it was marked as a very popular destination. We were not disappointed. The heat of the wood burning stove, as we walked through the door, was a welcome break from the constant rain. After settling in to our luxurious surroundings we soon sat down for what the hostels website described as a "delicious dinner". For three "growing" young men running on only cheese sandwiches for nearly 14km, no meal has been so eagerly anticipated. Again we were not disappointed. It was great chatting to everyone people at the dinner table, but the walk soon took its toll on us and we retired to our dormitory. Charlie
Unfortunately, a sign directing us in the other direction to our dear German friend meant that he left before we were able cement our friendship. We battled on through the rain towards Insivilli, dropping down lower into the valley. Throughout most of the journey signs or coloured dots, had been directing us towards our hostel, but as we continued through the valley the signs suddenly stopped. It was now approaching 5pm and we started to become quite nervous we were going to still be walking for a couple more hours. After asking for directions from a local we were however soon reassured our route was right. Unfortunately, this route seemed to lead us up an incredibly steep path all the way up a muddy hill. Quite frankly none of us have any idea how we continued walking up it for so long but eventually we reached the top. The view across the valley was amazing, and rewarded our extreme physical exertion. Charlie
After lunch we continued along the path stopping at a farmers field, knowing now that we had gone wrong somewhere. As the rain continued to pour down we knew we had to get back on track quickly. After finding the path once more, we ran back to find a steep decent leading down to the river level. The rain had made this quite treacherous but we emerged unscathed. Crossing the river at a "bridge" we continued up the road and regrettably waving a lift, from a man in a truck goodbye. This lift we would later find out could've taken us directly to our hostel. However, as the intrepid, or perhaps idiotic, explorers that we are we pushed on. After about 500m we passed a man huddled up in the bushes asking us in a strong German accent "are you guys going to Quilotoa", which was the very end destination of three days of walking for us. Uncertain as to what he meant we smiled and invited for him to walk with us. Charlie
Upon arriving in the small, and slightly dodgy, town of Sigchos we quickly set off for our first trek to the town of Insivilli, and as the rain started to pour down we swiftly donned on our fashionable waterproof trousers. We started off well following the directions on both Jamie's phone, and the directions given to us by the hostel. The mountain views that we had seen from the bus continued to amaze us, although the thick cloud did spoil any photo opportunities. As the route led us down the valley, the remnants of previous landslides did leave us feeling slightly nervous, but we trekked on into the countryside, and soon came across our first llama of the trip who we named "Juan". After waving goodbye to dear Juan the directions became increasingly difficult, leading us off the dirt road and onto a muddy 'road'. The hostel's directions now became fairly useless and we soon stopped for cheese sandwiches to catch our bearings. Charlie
The next morning, following a rather disappointing breakfast at the hostel, we packed for our three day trek of the 'Quilotoa loop'. After transferring key items into day bags for the trip we locked our larger bags in the basement of the hostel. Arriving at the bus station in Latacunga we were slightly bemused that none of the buses were able to go direct to our desired destination of 'Insivilli'. Instead we took the bus to the nearby town of Sigchos. The scenery on the 2 hour bus trip was stunning. The incredibly steep rising hills, and rolling clouds were not justified by our phone cameras. The beautiful jagged landscape did however mean that the bus had to negotiate the sharp hairpin bends. Luckily our bus driver took the bends nice and fast so we were able to tackle them in one swift, safe movement. Reassuringly, he would also ensure that no traffic was coming round the blind bends with a loud beep of his horn. Charlie

20 January 2017

Arriving in Latacunga far later than expected, unfortunately meant we had to brave the walk to the hostel in the dark, probably not our best move. Two police officers did try to help us out, naturally our extremely limited Spanish did not stretch to what they were saying, but it was greatly appreciated. We did thankfully arrive in one piece at 'Hostel cafe Tiana'. Our 5 bed dorm's two other occupants; Eric, from USA and Tanya from Denmark were very friendly. We utilised the hostel's large kitchen area cook to a Freddie Barnes special of tuna, mayo and sweet corn pasta. An unusual combination but we had purchased the ingredients from Quito knowing they would need to last us a while. Settling down for the night, Jamie and Ben's rather bizarre and cramped bed area, accessed by a completely unattached ladder; was entertaining from the perspective of my top bunk below them. They didn't quite see the funny side of the situation. Charlie
The C4 bus to quitumbe extraordinarily busy and we calculated that we thought there were around 300 people on it. Despite this, Ben made friends with a local who kept us updated as to where we were while Charlie and I had a chat with a Mormon from Wyoming. When we wanted to get off it was so busy that charlie was trapped behind a door and had to take some evasive measures. We then bought tickets to Latacunga and a lovely Ecuadorean man helped us to find the bus. This bus was much more comfortable and spacious and even showed a film by the name of Bang Bang, what we presume to be a Bollywood film translated into Spanish. I expect it to dominate the oscars later this year. #JP
This morning we woke up and had another leisurely breakfast during which we tried a fruit called a grenadilla or grenadia which seemed to be a fairly close relative of the passionfruit and it was very tasty. However, despite feeling well yesterday, Jamie appears to have caught some sort of cold presumably from the plane. After breakfast, we explored Quito some more and visited a church, who's interior was adorned with 7 tons of gold. We also visited a Catholic Church which seemed to be similarly decorated. It was after this that the rain started and it was very wet. After this we visited what seemed to be an art exhibition before heading home for lunch, going to the bank and waving goodbye to La Posada Colonial.

19 January 2017

Once we had returned to the hostel we all collapsed for a while as we were still feeling the exhaustion from the travels the day before. We managed to rally enough to head back out into the city to buy some bread and cheese and other items for supper and lunch the next day. It must also be noted we had to stock up on after sun as none of us had applied sun cream due to the weather forecast saying it was going to be a very cloudy day with thunderstorms from 10:00 however it turned out to be a very sunny day! This meant we had all burnt somewhere! After after supper and continuous application of aloe vera we booked our hostel for the next night in Latacunga before all being asleep by ten.
After leaving the church we headed down to Market Artisanal de Mariscal however turned out to be more of a walk than we expected and so by the time we got there we were all very hungry. Unfortunately we couldn't find anywhere to eat and so had the meagre lunch of some water and a third of a bread roll. We returned to the market and purchased an extravagant money purse for $1. At this point the impending thunderstorm was looking more worrying and so we headed back home while the rain just started. We got some sandwiches on the way home which were fine but very much nothing special and we ate them next to the Basilica de Voto Nacional while making friends with a policeman. The policeman then took an interest in a man who had passed out in the park, woke him up with a good kick, poured out what was presumably alcohol and sent him stumbling on his way. We returned to the hotel along a similar way to the way we left and all had a bit of a lie down.
We continued up the stairs of the spire to our next vantage point overseeing 'new Quito'. Whilst on the other side of the spire, the view of 'old Quito' stretched out to the hills in the distance. The next set of spiralling stairs looked far more hazardous, and we were unsure as to where they would take us to, so we continued up them anyway. Firstly, they lead us to inside the clock tower, with each of the four clock faces showing the wrong time. We continued up an even more sketchy set of black spiral stairs. After squeezing through to the landing we are met with even more impressive views from the very top of the spire. After another photo shoot, we gingerly headed back down to find out how we could get across to one of the other spires. After getting into an extremely sketchy lift, creaking and stalling to what turned out to be the wrong floor. We decide to give up the chase and say goodbye to Basílica del Voto Nacional. Charlie
We then continued to trek up the extremely steep hill from where we left the carnival, keeping to the shade in the midday heat. Our target, a large church we had seen in the distance, soon reveals itself, much to our relief. The striking gothic style of the Basílica del Voto Nacional did intrigue us, however we were more interested in taking completely idiotic photos around the grounds, to take much notice. Photo-shoot over, we soon decide to investigate how to get inside the church. The $2 entry fee wins us over immediately. Climbing up to the first floor we are greeted by a vast array of vibrant stained glass windows, gleaming in the bright sunshine. We spot some fellow pasty white brits to take our photo. Charlie
After a much needed nights sleep, we wake up to bright sunshine outside, despite the threat of thunderstorms. An hearty breakfast in the hostel sets us up to enjoy the day ahead, and we are on our way. We soon realise our fleeces might not be on for long. A short walk along from our hostel leads us into 'Plaza Santa Domingo', introducing us to our first taste of colonial Quito. We then wonder up towards many other ornate buildings basking in the sunshine. It is soon clear however that, from the sound of a large band, that some sort of party is going on. We head down the hill towards the noise, and are bemused by what we see. The whole street is filled with musicians and dancers, dressed in an array of costumes from devils to Morris dancers. The heavy police presence made it seem like it was some sort of peculiar protest, but as we walk with the crowd a policeman in costume on a horse suggests otherwise. We continue with the carnival in what was a surreal but amazing experience. CC
A horrible journey from Atlanta. Further immigration issues, thanks Matt (from STA). Nice and sticky 5 hour plane journey. But we made it. Greeted by Fernando our delightful taxi driver. Despite telling dear Fernando we spoke very little Spanish, he insisted upon making conversation. Arrived at our hostel La Posada Colonial, and found we had been bumped up to a four bedroom ensuite! We settle down for a well deserved rest. Charlie

18 January 2017

I pass my immigration checks with flying colours, and in record time, thanks to my shiny new American passport! The immigrants however, are rightfully given scrupulous checks so I'm all on my lonesome. More immigration banter at Atlanta airport. After being randomly selected for a bag check, some over zealous immigration attempts to pull down my trousers. We are soon on our way however trekking across to the other side of the airport. Charlie
After a series of fortunate events we have magically been bumped up to a Virgin Atlantic flight (despite our flight no. being Delta). However, our luck seemed to be short lived, after the scanning of the boys boarding passes sends the system alarms off. Ben is soon granted safe passage, after charming the lady at the desk. Jamie on the other hand is whisked away to a security officer. The atmosphere on the plane is far from lit, plenty of free seats and two small cretins seated near us. We plan our escape route to another seating area. Charlie
An early start to proceedings sees us leaving Jamie's at 4:30 am. The dulcet tones of the shipping forecast soon sends the boys to sleep for the rest of the journey down the motorway. Charlie