Having Wings

In Good Hands

 Wherever night falls

 The earth is always

 There to catch it.

-Roger McGough

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My last night in South America did not pass particularly smoothly. Two girls in the group were getting the same early morning flight as me so we decided to share a room in the hotel. However when we came down to meet everyone at reception we discovered that they had already left so ended up wandering around La Paz for two hours trying to find them in order to say goodbye! Bye some miracle we did eventually stumble across them but it was a bit of a nightmare in one of the most reknowned paces for crime targeted at tourists in the dark and rain!

After three hours sleep I embarked on my bizarre day of flights: Firstly flying to Lima then El Salvador, Guatemala then finally Mexico City with absolutely no room for error; one of the connections was only 25 minutes long! As you could imagine I was highly dubious that this erratic series was going to flow smoothly, but miraculously I arrived in Mexico city last night in one peace AND, far exceeding my expectations, with my luggage! Hallelujah!

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Flying over the beautiful snow-capped Andes.

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Flying in over Mexico city was fantastically exciting. Had to get a shot out of the window but this doesn’t quite capture the city’s competition with the stars as much as I would have liked!

My flight to Cancun leaves this afternoon so on arriving, I headed straight over to the airport Hilton where Mum had kindly booked for me to stay for a night as a treat (and also to avoid the highly dangerous city!) It was such a fantastic surprise! I was so excited at the unprecedented luxury that I was running around the room taking photos of the king sized bed and complimentary shampoos.

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Refreshed by the best nights sleep I’ve had since I left home (thanks Mum!) I headed out into the city the following morning. My airport ‘authorised’ taxi was extortionately expensive. Apparently there are a large number of assaults occurring in ‘non-official’ taxis so the airport get away with charging an arm and a leg. My taxi back in a local perfectly reasonable-looking taxi cost a quarter of the price. Anyway, I went to the main plaza which is the third largest city square in the world. Unfortunately it had large marquees set up in it completely ruining any photo opportunity. The cathedral was particularly stunning, whetting my appetite for the historical sites to come on my trip!

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Salt Skin

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Yesterday we visited the salt flats in Uyuni, Bolivia. This is the largest expanse of salt in the world. It was absolutely jaw dropping. We drove in Jeeps across the flats for around half an hour, giving us an idea of just how enormous they are.  We then, of course, stopped for the obligatory perspective shots. I bought a plastic king kong specifically for this purpose!

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We also visited a ‘factory’, for want of a better world to describe some piles of salt and a man grinding it up! It was interesting to hear that it’s usually the children’s job to package up the salt – using an open fire to seal the plastic bags. Safe.

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IMG_1000All of the buildings and houses in the area were additionally built with salt bricks. Pretty brave, considering the frequent rain!

Following this excursion we headed over to the local ‘train graveyard’ which allegedly is home to one of the trains accosted by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid! The duo certainly seem to have been very prominent in Uyuni. The graveyard was far more picturesque than I’d expected, with the old track stretching out into the horizon and a threatening storm looming in the background.

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A Dustland Fairytale

“Real freedom lies in wildness, not in civilization.”
Charles Lindbergh 

We’ve just drive for two days north from Salta into Bolivia. We stopped en route at a little town called Tupiza in the Desert Mountains. The drive presented us with the most incredible views of the Argentinean painted mountains and the similar landscape of south Bolivia, dotted of course with packs of llamas and numerous cacti! The iconic Bolivian women here are so fantastically photogenic but unfortunately do not seem at all agreeable to having their photos taken which is a shame. I’ll see what I can do without offending anybody!

The landscape is so ridiculously dusty that if you open the truck window for a second a huge cloud of dust will immediately fight its way in! We stopped for lunch yesterday in a little mud-brick hamlet in the middle of the desert. There were llama skins and bones sporadically scattered around the place. Apparently llamas provide the staple part of their diets. There was even a little school there! I find it impossible to imagine how people can live in such conditions! The Papua Guinea villages, although primitive, had an abundance of fresh water and fertile turf. Compare that to a barren desert with only a small well in the centre!

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Here’s a glimpse of the Argentinian ‘painted mountains’.

IMG_0908At the Bolivian border…

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When the Stars Go Blue/ Town Called Malice

“Make the most out of tonight and worry about it all tomorrow.”

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Salta seems, in retrospect, a complete blur. Our first night at Loki Hostel ended fairly messily due to the cheap drinks and fantastic bar staff. Our group of 35 made our way into town where we all proceeded to go slightly crazy. A couple of us joined an al fresco salsa session and I then proceeded to join a local band playing in a bar! However an overly friendly dog about the size of a great dane at one point decided my arm was a chew toy and despite my cries of “ayudarme” (help me) the locals just found it hilarious. My toe nail being split in half by the rarity of a clumsy argentinian was the last straw. I headed home at 4:00 a good few hours before the others returned!

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The drunken frivolities did not end there. Much of the group decided the best way to beat their hangover was to start drinking again as soon as they woke up. Here is the result:

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For the rest of us the day revolved around eating, sleeping and watching Django! That being said, the staff decided that evening was the opportune moment for a ‘beer pong’ tournament. That night therefore proceeded in a similar fashion to the last.

The downside became immediately apparent the next morning. Amy, Lilya and I caught the bus into Salta to explore the town in the daylight. However after numerous empanadas and a trip up a cable car to see a view of the city, the state of my head became too much to bear so I split from the group to head home, getting lost for a couple of hours in the process!

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Cheese empanadas in a little cafe near San Jose square, Salta. Yum 🙂

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View from the mountain overlooking Salta.

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Just an example of the beautiful architecture in Salta. This is the church of San Fransisco

 

Creature Fear

“Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.”
Dave Barry

Last night we were attempting to finding a service station where we could set up camp but became stuck driving through a limbo of wilderness and national parks. Eventually, realising that we no longer had time to cook a meal for 36 people, we pulled over at what I can only describe as a roadside shack, selling some rather dubious Argentinian food. The ‘chef’ had clearly never seen so many customers in his life!
We struggled for another couple of hours in the truck before pulling into a petrol station at around midnight.

We were not alone.

There was a little, yellow, vindictive looking scorpion staking his claim to the ladies toilets. In addition to this, a squeal from one of the girls tents this morning announced the arrival of a new bed mate – see the photos below.

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We’ve now settled on the outskirts of Salta in North Argentina. For the first time we have the luxury of a hostel dorm room with showers and a loo that you can flush! The camping endurance test has finally come to an end. Our last official stop before our ‘bush camp’ was in a little town called San Ignacio Mini, home to some fairly spectacular ruins of a Jesuit settlement. A handful of the more enthusiastic in our group headed out at sunrise before our long drive commenced.

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Three Little Birds

“It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.”
― Dave Barry

It’s night two at our camp near the Iguazu falls. The weather has been alternating between bright blue skies and heavy rain. We’ve had our fair share of rain throughout the trip so far. It’s not much to complain about as it’s still very warm and seems to be counterbalanced by an equal or larger amount of sun…not ideal when setting up tents though!

We had to endure a 16 hour drive from Bonito yesterday. Actually the time passed incredibly quickly; a few of us took over the table at the front of the truck and got pretty competitive over card games, eventually merging into drinking games when the sun went down. Not a bad way to spend 16 hours on the road! However, It did result in slightly drunken, blind and rainy tent-pitching!

We’ve made up for yesterdays inaction by starting early with a visit to a local bird park before heading down to the falls and signing up for a spontaneous bit of white water rafting! It was in hindsight a complete scam as the rafting turned out to be 3 minutes of ‘white water’ followed by an hour of slowly drifting down a calm river. However, doing flips into the water off the ‘trampoline’ that was the inflatable raft, certainly improved the excursion. Particularly the embarrassing slips that started arising as the raft got wetter! I attempted to do a front hand spring into the water and instead spectacularly face-planted onto the raft.

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Here’s the classic toucan which we spotted frequently in the Pantanal.

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Hummingbirds are the cutest little creatures in Brazil.

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And here’s a striking Scarlet Ibis.

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IMG_0844The falls are crawling with these little Coatis! Very sweet but incredibly cheeky! One of them grabbed a mans camera out of his hand and ran off with it!

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And lastly, here’s a shot of a sneaky toucan taking a peck at my toe!!

I Can See Clearly Now

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson went on a camping trip. During the night Holmes woke up, nudged his faithful friend saying, “Watson, I want you to look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

Watson replied, “I see the stars.”

“And what does that tell you?” Sherlock continued.

After pondering the question Watson deduced: “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Metereologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day today. What does it tell you?”

Holmes considered this for a while then retorted: “My dear Watson, someone has stolen our tent.”

Well there’s a slightly irrelevant joke for the day…

We’re now camping in a little town called Bonito in South West Brazil. We set out to snorkel down the nearby Rio da Prata bright and early this morning and were the first nine people in the river. The water was absolutely phenomenal. By far the clearest water I’ve ever seen, with visibility of up to 40 metres! Despite the lack of colour, the fish were enormous, some up to a metre and a half in length, and in very large numbers. I got a bit of a fright when I spotted some scaled skin right next to me and realised I was right next to a Caiman crocodile, poking its eyes out of the water. It was really bizarre seeing it from an underwater perspective – they’re not quite as inconspicuous!

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Smoke On The Water/ Blood Thirsty Bastards

“They only live who dare”

Voltaire

The mosquitoes on South West Brazil are comparable in number to the population of china and the armies of Mordor put together. At any one moment you can see around thirty or so feasting on the person walking in front of you. The smoke on the water, in this instance, is in fact swarms of mosquitoes heading in your direction. Each person on the tour has become their own unique buffet blood bag. There is nowhere to hide. They bite through clothing and Deet doesn’t even seem to bother them very much. I’m going to have to resort to wandering around in my mosquito net.

We currently staying in a large expanse of wetland called ‘The Pantanal’. The area itself is fantastically exciting. We’ve seen an armadillo, capybaras, howler monkeys, toucans, scarlet macaws, giant blue macaws and the most extortionately large variety of vividly coloured birds.

We’re camped out in hammocks in an equestrian farm which is perfectly situated for the likes of bush walks and boat trips. Hacking out on the horses is fantastically good fun; there are so many wide open spaces that you’re free to gallop about, racing each other. I also tried my hand at vaulting (riding whilst standing up on the saddle) as the horses were so well behaved. Sleeping in hammocks is not particularly my cup of tea, I must admit. However, following the two nights before we arrived here, setting our tents up outside service stations en route, it seems comparatively luxury!

Yesterday we fished for piranhas for a couple of hours. Everybody except me were catching the fish for supper but I have never been one for unnecessarily butchering animals so I was taking out the hook myself and throwing mine back in! Ironically I seem to have caught the most out of anybody! I have to admit that I was rather hypocritical in that I feed a couple to the Caimans (crocs) who were hovering about for a snack. I was, rather cruelly, dangling the piranha right about their heads so that they would jump out of the water to grab them. I accidentally got one caught on my hook for a while before it managed to unhook itself. I feel that is enough to be able to claim that I caught a crocodile whilst fishing. In fact there are so many of them about that we’ve introduced ‘croc or rock’: people have to bet on whether a likely shape in the water is a Cayman or just a log or rock. Great fun.

P.s. My apologies for the lack of posts recently but I’ve been completely cut out of internet since my last post; I can’t seem to get my modem working.

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Stopping to cool down in the piranha infested waters. This is directly following spotting a cayman and our local guide explaining that the piranhas had eaten the top of it’s tail. Definitely an adrenaline rush!

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That’s Entertainment

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I found a cord to connect my big camera to the laptop! Fantastic. Internet connection isn’t so great though so just one photo from the Sambadrome will have to do for now.

Back in Parati: Below are a couple of photos from the boat trip I was persuaded to join in on today (I was dubious about value for money). It turned out to be pretty incredible. Granted, a large proportion of the group became completely smashed as a consequence of the free caprinas on tap! We stopped off at numerous little coves and islands where everyone proceeded to bomb/dive off the top deck! I borrowed a snorkel mask off the staff and spotted a bright orange seahorse! Unfortunately nobody else was interested in snorkelling so my excitement was rather wasted. Apart from the Seahorse the marine life wasn’t very spectacular. There were a few box/puffer fish around but apart from that the fish variety was fairly standard. Other notable moments include seeing how many rungs of the ladder towards the crows nest we could climb before the captain spotted us and me attempting to climb a coconut tree and failing miserably. A great day out though. The few of us left in a reasonable state had to practically carry the others back to the camp site, stopping only for Acai on the way.

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The Island stop off where I found the seahorse!

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Here’s a separate boat that moored next to us at one of the stops. Ours was actually big than this boat, having a top deck, but very similar in appearance.

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Parati town was apparently designed so that at high tide the sea water cleans the streets! It was like a Latino Venice!

The Islander

Image“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” 
Oscar Wilde

Last night, after a few introductory games and a fair portion of alcohol, I persuaded the three others that were still up to join me and swim/walk out to this Island. This idyllic little beach is right in front of our campsite! Unfortunately the water itself is fairly revolting, to say the least. The water was so shallow that it was primarily a walk through deep mud in parts, with the usual annoying creatures out to cut you like cockles and small clams! As we walked out, there were a huge number of fish jumping out of the water in front of us as they desperately scrambled to get away. The moon was bright so there was no problem with visibility and the horizon was speckled with little lights from the surrounding islands and the headland behind. As we neared the small Island, however, it became apparent that there were at least two, maybe three, dogs barking at us. Within a few metres of the shore a light turned on in the only little cabin on the Island! A man then emerged shining a bright torch in our faces, clearly wondering why the hell four tourists were standing knee deep in mud in the middle of the bay at 2:00 in the morning. We decided to make a swift retreat!

Parati is such a beautiful place. We caught a heavily loaded bus over to the national park area this morning which was packed with stunning beaches. I’m particularly fond of the large stone boulders dotted about the shore. It’s my group’s turn to cook the evening meal (for 36) tonight though so I’d better crack on with that fairly daunting task!