10 Things I Learnt from Travelling South America

1. In Bolivia it’s considered good luck to run over a cat. The brutal balance is restored by making it bad luck to run over a dog.

2. Sadly a ‘Ferreteria’ isn’t a shop solely devoted to ferrets, just an ordinary hardware store.

3. Paying 1 Boliviano for the toilet doesn’t necessarily mean that toilet will be better than going behind a bush. In fact it pretty much never means that.

4. Just about every single car in Bolivia and Peru has a ‘taxi’ sticker on it. This does not mean it’s an official taxi or in any way roadworthy. You can buy these stickers for nothing from the local markets!

5. There are more donkeys on the Isla del Sol than the rest of South America. This may or may not be true, but it certainly seems that way when you’re woken at the crack of dawn by the bleatings and nayings of these demented beasts. Don’t be fooled by this picture, these woolly mammals are a menace!

To South America - Donkey on the Isla del Sol

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Nuns on the run – Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

I’m not usually someone who’s interested in monasteries. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no philistine; I don’t mind strolling around a church or cathedral for ten minutes admiring the architecture. I don’t get all dewy-eyed at the model crucifix, but I can still appreciate the skill and effort (and hard labour) it takes to conceive and build such a structure.

South America has loads of churches. Some of them are awe-inspiring like the one in Cusco, which has a great painting of the last supper with a roast guinea pig in the centre of the table. Others are bare brick buildings that have probably been pillaged of all their valuable objects over time. Most are relics of the colonial days when the Spanish and Portuguese came and forced their religion on the indigenous people, so there is usually some kind of torrid history.

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Magnificent Machu Picchu

In my last post I told the tale of the Inca Trail, the 43 kilometre hike that took us from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu. It left off on a sour note, as the mighty ruins had not appeared from the ever-present cloud, and this had left our group irritable and tired after the hard slog up there.

Well things were soon to change. As we descended from the Sun Gate, down the winding path towards the famous site, some of the buildings started to take shape out of the mist…

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Trekking the Inca Trail (Peruined again)

Ah, the Inca Trail. A four day hike over mountain passes, down winding stone stairways, through cloud forests, fields and unseen Inca ruins… this popular trek is usually fully booked months in advance, but I can assure you it’s no walk in the park. And thanks to an unexpected visit from our old friend the stomach bacteria, it turned out to be a tougher challenge than initially anticipated.

Our group consisted of me, Jem, two Danish girls and our guide Jamille (from left to right). Groups can get much bigger, but 5 turned out to be the magic number and we all got to know each other pretty well during the trek.

To South America - The start of the Inca Trail

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How I Developed a Serious Dune Addiction

In Arequipa we discovered what the phrase ‘rainy season’ really means in South America. It means if you’re outside when it starts it’s like standing underneath a waterfall, and in 20 minutes every street in town has become a river. So if you’re on the pavement you’re getting wet from above and splashback from every car that passes.

Maybe this was what made us decide to take a break somewhere warm. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t – I don’t remember, but it turned out to be a damn good idea wherever it came from.

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Peruined – Sucker punched by Montezuma’s revenge

After Bolivia- which is now firmly cemented as one of my favourite places in the world- we crossed the border to Peru. And sadly, the majority of my time in Peru was spent with a bad case of the runs. This didn’t stop me doing most things, but it did stop me drinking, which is arguably the greatest crime ever achievable by a bacterial organism. At one point I mistakenly thought it had been conquered, proceeded to have a few beers to honour the occasion… big mistake: It returned so violently my intestines still quiver pitifully at the thought of it.

But while I was staggering around in a dehydrated daze, clutching a ragged toilet roll like a junkie cradling his crack pipe, I did manage to achieve a few cool things. Even if they were a bit painful at the time. Note: Peru is not the best place for ‘the squits’, there is a distinct lack of toilets combined with a profusion of long and bumpy bus rides.

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