Back to Chile after 21 years

4th February 2013. Our bus from Uyuni in Bolivia to Calama in Chile leaves at 4am so we are up at 3am to get out of ‘El Salvador’, our less than salubrious hostal. My suggestion of just going for a late dinner and and crashing on a park bench hadn’t been met by much (any) enthusiasm and our 3 bed, £9.50 room with rather basic facilities was a bit of a climb down from the 4* Salt Hotel the day before. I am quietly satisfied that BZL share beds and sleep on the floor with few complaints, better to view a comfy bed as a luxury to be appreciated rather than an entitlement that the loss of ruins your day.

The Bolivian Chilean border

The Bolivian Chilean border

We are out the door at 3.29am to cross the road to the bus office, very glad that another gap year lesson of not unpacking everything each time you stop seems to be hitting home. ’Lazy Lara’ yet again refuses to carry her rucksack, no excuse as it only weighs 2.5kg, kind Dad having swapped her clothes for the kids life jackets. 2 years ago she carried a far heavier one in Cambodia like a trooper. I think the problem is a combination of being the youngest and a touch spoiled plus her force of nature personality that means she generally gets her own way and pushes the boundaries. Maybe I am a bit cynical (moi?) but I think she has worked out that ’Mummy, I’m tired’ is a great way of getting your bag, and often Lara, carried! One to work on.

The 12ish hour journey with Trans Azul has cost us 750 Bolivianos or £14/head (interestingly the ticket says 700BS so the lady in the bus office has made a quick 50BS, about half a day’s salary, I bet she loves this job!).

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The magical Salar de Uyuni

Everything you read about the Uyuni Salt Flats in the high Altiplano of Bolivia makes you desperate to see it but a little fearful that it maybe can’t live up to its reputation.

We’d hoped for a three day trip which would take us across the salt flats into Chile but tour companies weren’t running them due to the rains. The one day trip is said by some to make for a very second rate experience to the three day expedition!

The kids on the jeep - Salar de Uyuni

The kids on the jeep – Salar de Uyuni

Zoe wakes in our Salt hotel feeling really breathless and has some oxygen More

Walking on a salty moon with broccoli

Visiting dead trains, staying at a Salt hotel and walking on a moon-scape with broccoli – all in a days travelling in Uyuni, Southern Bolivia….

We wake up in Uyuni, Southern Bolivia, still high up on the Altiplano, a real hot, dusty frontier town.

Best thing – our friends the Bremners are in the room next door! We email each other to confirm whereabouts and Lara runs off to find them and go off to breakfast with Sarina and Max!

It’s only been a week since we said goodbye in La Paz but we are all gabbling ten to the dozen over breakfast, catching up on each others news! They have been driving their way south, visiting mines in Potosi (not for the faint hearted!) and we have had our extra time on La Paz to tell of and our bus and train trip!

Piled into the Bremner's boot - so happy to be reunited!

Piled into the Bremner’s boot – so happy to be reunited!

We have a bit of a dispute with the hotel More

Journey from La Paz to Uyuni

Rewind to 1/2/13.

I’m sitting on a train, as we make our way south on the 7 hour train journey through the spectacular southern Altiplano to Uyuni, Bolivia, catching up on blogs and diary in between looking out at lakes full of flamingos, small farms and villages and the occasional distant snowy peak! Martin is catching up on sleep and the kids are watching Mr Poppers penguins in Spanish. Everyone is happy!

Beautiful lakes which we cross on the train.

Beautiful lakes with flamingoes which we cross on the train.

The peaks of the Andes, seen from the train

The peaks of the Andes, seen from the train

We’re in executive class with More

Nine months, nine countries – South America in photos and stats!

11th April 2013. Nine months today since our family of five touched down in Rio de Janeiro on a BA flight from Heathrow, London to begin our Family Gap Year travelling around the world.

Our journey so far…

We’ve almost done a (kind of squashed) figure of 8 around the continent, flown or boated to islands in the Pacific and Atlantic and are now in Santiago, enjoying our last days before flying to Easter Island (part of Chile) and then on to Tahiti in French Polynesia.

Nine months, Nine countries. Our Family Gap Year journey so far...

Nine months, Nine countries. Our Family Gap Year journey so far…

We’ve been to More

Hanging out in La Paz

La Paz – our last few days. Martin is working in the hotel so the kids and I have a couple of days to wander, revisit the Megacentre and practice ice skating and to research and plan our next steps.

Central La Paz with San Francisco Cathedral

Central La Paz with San Francisco Cathedral

Martin tears himself away from work to meet up for a great Sushi supper More

Gap Year Families Unite in La Paz

La Paz is a fascinating vibrant city perched on the Altiplano in the high Andes of Bolivia. Wherever you look, you’ll surrounded by busy cityscapes backed by dramatic mountain peaks!

The amazing view from our apartment of La Paz city and Mount Illimani

The amazing view from our apartment of La Paz city and Mount Illimani

Altitude ranges from around 4000m in the northern suburbs to 3000m – lower altitudes are typically more affluent. We find an excellent aparthotel somewhere in the centre in an area called Sopocachi. It’s strange to realise we’re about three times as high as Ben Nevis, the highest point in the UK!

Martin, Ben and Zoe arrive first on 21 January and have a few days to look around, check our the old city centre, find some lovely restaurants, a great park and a megacentre offering skating, bowling, climbing and rolling around in orbs on a pool in the southern end of the city.

Climbing and orbing at the megacentre in La Paz

Climbing and orbing at the megacentre in La Paz

Then Lara and I arrive and we’re treated to a welcome spag bol in our apartment and those fabulous views of the city and snowy Illimani which stands majestically at 6460m

Then the wonderful Bremner family arrive too, another British gap year family exploring South America but heading north from Argentina and Chile. Thanks to blogging, we’ve stumbled upon one another and been exchanging journey tips ever since!

The kids hit it off immediately as do the grown ups! its like we’ve known each other for years! After drinks in our apartment we go to La Comedie restaurant and have a fabulous evening together.

A fabulous night at La Comedie in La Paz with our wonderful new friends the Bremners

A fabulous night at La Comedie in La Paz with our wonderful new friends the Bremners

Day 1 we all head up to the centre of la Paz, finding en route, perhaps 500 or 1000 human zebras and donkeys, or more, surround us, celebrating Free Hug Day!!

Free hugs day in central La Paz 26 Jan 2013

Free hugs day in central La Paz 26 Jan 2013

After the first hug or ten and Martin getting over the idea that it was an elaborate pickpocketing scam, we get into the spirit of the celebrations and have a wonderful, hug filled walk via a gorgeous art museum up to the old town where we need coffee before we drag the kids into the ‘interesting for adults boring for kids’ Coca museum and then explore the bizarre witches market! A street with shops and stalls selling weird and wonderful herbs and potions alongside various charms, dead baby llamas and even llama fetuses, critical to pop into the foundations of a new dwelling apparently!!

outside the coca museum near the witcches market, with the weird and wonderful products for sale in the witches market! n

Outside the coca museum near the witches market, with the weird and wonderful products for sale in the witches market!

Then taxis off to afternoon at the megacentre which Ben and Zoe were eager to show us and where they play in orbs and go ice skating with Sarina as a patient coach to Ben and Zoe!

Lara tries to orb and Sarina Ben and Zoe ice skate

Lara tries to orb and Sarina Ben and Zoe ice skate

Our evening is a great change too as we all stay in – the kids making pizzas for themselves in our apartment whilst Andrea prepares Thai curry for us four adults in theirs! Unfortunately the altitude is getting me a bit and my appetite is wrecked!

Next day we hire a minivan for both families and head out to Tiwanaku, a major pre Inca site thought to be the oldest and most important site in Bolivia. The kids love exploring with friends and Mark makes a great guide as he thumbs through the lonely planet pages and gives us the critical low down:)

Exploring at Tiwanaku and zoe buys a neclace from the lovely old woman

Exploring at Tiwanaku and Zoe buys a necklace from the lovely old woman

After we’ve wondered at some of the very hobbit like houses along the way, we drive back through El Alto, the sprawling suburb of La Paz that sits even higher up on the altiplano.

hobbit-house-at-tiwanaku

The classic hobbit houses

We see buzzing markets and colourful traditional characters everywhere, stuffed figures (a little like the guys we make for Guy Fawkes) hanging from lamp posts to ward off robbers.

We stop for coffee and cakes in a high street panaderia that I am sure has never seen a tourist. The cakes are gooy and sweet, one is like rock requiring pick axe technology – lets say they’re ‘unusual’ and the coffee is lovely. 4 coffees and 4 slabs of ‘cake’ cost a total of about £1.40.  There’s no banos so Ben and I have to traipse up the colourful street in search of a public one which is an interesting experience. Most bathrooms in S America are pleasantly ‘western’ clean and flush. Holes in ground with water and scoops tucked between shops still amuse!

Finally we stop to experience some top Sunday night El Alto family entertainment – a night at the wrestling! Front row seats with free coke and popcorn!

A wrestler from the dead and the cholitas getting into their fight!

A wrestler from the dead gets into the crowd an d the cholitas really get into the fight!

Men dress up in masks and costumes and wrestle inside and out of the ring – then the women come out and wrestle in their traditional bolvian skirts! They take off their bowler hats and pop their jewellery and shawls inside and then get serious!! They even wrestle with the men!! Hilarious entertainment for all, although one woman who ended up with a bloody face was a bit much for some of the kids!! They throw each other off the ring, chase one another around the stadium past the audience, smack each other over the head with crates and fight with the referees! Another woman limped off with an injured ankle and a man was carried off with a neck or shoulder injury. It’s amazing they don’t kill each other!!

Zoe gets a hug from the winner and there's lots of posing for photos at the end!

Zoe gets a hug from the winner and there’s lots of posing for photos at the end!

The Bremners leave in a fabulous 4 wheel drive hire car next morning and we wave goodbye sadly, hoping we’ll meet up again further south in a few days! The kids look longingly from our hotel window at the car rushing by on the main road. ”Is that them?” they cry! Or ‘I wish I was them – they’re SO lucky having a car and we have to go on horrible buses! I later hear from Andrea that their kids are looking back at the hotel saying how lucky our 3 are still being there!!!

Saying goodbye to the Bremners - with a possible stowaway!

Saying goodbye to the Bremners – with a possible stowaway!

Flat Stanley’s Andes Adventure

Flat Stanley has travelled with me in South America for eight months now…..

We said goodbye to Miss Jane, Mrs M and Miss Place at the end of year 2, last July, spent our summer hopping around in Brazil , journeyed the length of the Amazon to Columbia, Peru and the Napo River to Ecuador!

We took a bus way up into the Andes Mountains to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, where we learned Spanish and then flew out to the Galápagos Islands.

Quito and Waterfall near Otavalo, Ecuador

You might remember these photos in Quito and at a waterfall near Otavalo, Ecuador

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From Cusco to Lake Titicaca and Bolivia

January 11th. Six months to the day after we started out family gap year journey in South America, we say goodbye to Cusco and take a 10 hour tourist bus to travel the Route of the Sun, south to Puno and Lake Titicaca.

It’s a much better option than a direct bus, stopping at view points and tourist stops along the way:- Andahualillas, where we visit the so called Sistine Chapel of America (we’d have liked to visit the tiny museum with the mummified alien babies that we’d heard of from Lainie and Miro, our friends in Cusco, but we can’t see it and follow the guide to the church! Ah, the difficulties of being on a tour bus!). It has huge, dramatic frescos all over its insides (photos strictly forbidden!) and the kids enjoy studying them, then we’re off to the amazing Raqchi temple of Wiracocha which in spite of all the sites we’ve visited, still wows, although its hard to figure out how much, if any, is original!

The girls at Raqchi temple

The girls at Raqchi temple

The girls get the Kraps outside Raqchi temple

The girls get the Kraps outside Raqchi temple

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A scorpion bit me!

While at Sol y Lunar in Coroico a girl was bitten by a scorpion. She told us it was pretty painful and she had pain and inflammation going up into her arm, so a day or two later when I pick up Lara’s coat that we’d left on the porch overnight and feel a sharp sting in my hand, I was fairly sure it was a scorpion again…

Sure enough, when I drop it on the floor the offending creature is sitting there smirking up at me!

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