May 24, 2009

Three things we love about Arequipa

1. Inca Kola – OK, so it's not Arequipa specific, but Arequipa is the city where we fell in love with this bubbly Peruvian delight. For those of you who have ever experienced the joy of Club Nectar (still available at Chester the Chick in Parkes the last time I checked), it tastes exactly like that, only yellow. We have now ordered it with every meal bar two (once Craig ordered a Coke – and regretted it – and I ordered an orange juice at one point for some much-needed nutritional intake). We always make sure we specify refrigerar (refrigerated), as people in Peru tend to like their soft drinks at room temp – weird, I know.

2. Lomo Saltado – Again, not Arequipa specific, but we are yet to find a Chifa (Asian restaurant) where it's as yummy, massive and cheap as in the one we discovered in Arequipa. For 3.50 soles ($AU1.48) we got a massive pile of of this local dish, which is made up of strips of steak, onions, tomato, frankfurts and french fries – delish! In the four days we were in Arequipa, we ate this six times (washed down with Inca Kola, of course).

3. The architecture – While we're not really architecture buffs, we can still appreciate a pretty building, and Arequipa is bursting with them. The charming square, the stunning churches and the general colonial feel make it, without a doubt, the most beautiful city we have visited in South America. Most days were spent milling about the square, soaking up the sun and watching the proud Arequipans go about their daily lives.

'This is a f***ing nightmare...'*

Don't be fooled by the 'we're having such a great time' smiles on our faces, Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) on lake Titicaca wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

Well, we didn't actually know what it was cracked up to be in the first place, that was the problem.

While it may be the original Copacabana, having the same name is where the similarities between this lakeside Bolivian town and the Rio suburb end. It's meant to be a 'must-see' on any Bolivian itinerary, but there are only two things to do in this town – eat overpriced tourist fare and visit Isla del Sol.

We didn't really know much about Isla del Sol, but since everyone else seemed to be doing it, we literally jumped on board and made the painfully-slow, two-hour journey to the island. What we were supposed to do there was anyone's guess...

Turns out there is only one thing to do on Isla del Sol, walk. Or should I say hike? The boat drops you off at one end, and gives you a mere three hours to make it the 12 kilometers to the other end. OK, the views are spectacular, and it was a half nice way to spend a day, but a bit of warning wouldn't have gone astray.

Having to fork out entry fees along various sections of the track only heightened our state of annoyance.

Tip to future travellers of Boliva: Skip the over-hyped Copacabana and spend more time somewhere cheaper and more entertaining, like La Paz.

*Quote courtesy of Craig 'Mr Positive' O'Shannessy

May 23, 2009

Craig vs curry

The stage was set, we were 3660 meters above sea level at the highest Indian curry house in the world. Craig was about to undertake the time-honoured battle between man and chilli, attempting to eat La Paz's Star of India's famous vindaloo curry, all in the name of scoring himself a free 'I survived the world's most dangerous vindaloo' T-shirt.

Watch his first few mouthfuls here:

We do have video of the middle and end of Craig's curry experience, but, annoyingly, the videos are taking about two hours each to upload, so you'll have to put up with my writing instead.

Craig valiantly battled on, tears welling up with each subsequent mouthful. A second bottle of water was ordered, the beanie was removed and the naan bread was shunned, Craig wanted that T-shirt and he wanted it bad!

Eventually, with his stomach churning and his mouth on fire, Craig admitted defeat. The curry won.

In Craig's defence: The waiter was obliged to ask Craig three times if we was sure he wanted to order the vindaloo, he was then informed that there were no less than 30 Bolivian chillies in the curry. Once Craig had pushed the vindaloo to the side, a group of English guys at the table next to us asked if the could try it, they had half a mouthful each and their eyes immediately started welling and their faces turned bright red, they were in awe of Craig's three-quarter attempt. Craig then forced me to take a bite, and under duress, I did. I can confirm that it was without a doubt the most painfully hot thing that I have ever eaten in my life!

T-shirtless and sick for a good couple of days, it's safe to say the curry kicked Craig's arse!

May 17, 2009

La Paz in four days

Friday 8 May, 2009

Breakfast: Jam on rolls – Lunch: Toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches – Dinner: Indian curry

Bleary eyed and annoyed that we arrived in La Paz two hours earlier than expected (arriving in the dark at 6am was not the plan), we jumped in a taxi and headed for our hostel (Wild Rover), hoping for a hot shower and a comfy bed – instead, we got a seven-hour wait for our beds. Oh, joy. To pass the time we hung around in the bar, and then headed to the TV room to watch Spanglish with the other bed waiters. Once we had beds and showers at our disposal, we decided to go and check out La Paz.

The steets were chaotic (mini vans galore cruising the streets, the drivers hanging out the window yelling out the destination over and over and over) and hilly (with La Paz's altitude at 3660m, we were huffing and puffing our way through the city). We loitered around San Pedro prison for a while, hoping to bribe our way inside the famous penitentiary, where the inmates run the show, living with their families and running a successful cocaine-producing business. I can't say I was too dissapointed when we were shooed away by the prison guards, I'd heard stories of people having to pay insane amounts in bribes to be let out once they were let in – I really hadn't factored 'bribes' into our budget.

After accepting our San Pedro defeat, it was time for a battle of a different kind – Craig vs Curry. Craig decided to throw himself in the ring and accept the challenge of eating the 'World's Most Dangerous Curry' at La Paz's Star of India restaurant. The stakes were high (a free T-shirt) and Craig was confident... stay tuned for the next blog post to watch video of Craig taking on the curry, and find out who came out victorious.

Saturday 9 May, 2009

Breakfast: Jam on rolls – Lunch: Fried chicken and chips – Dinner: Cajun chicken sandwiches and chips

We hit the streets again and we hit them hard, this time we headed for the witches markets (which, weren't very 'witchy', and thus dissapointing. You call a couple of llama fetuses impressive? Where are the 'eyes of newt' and 'puppy-dog tails'?), and the 'black' market, which, surprise, surprise, isn't actually a black market at all.

Marketed out, we escaped the claustrophobic stalls and spruikers to enjoy Bolivia's favourite dish – fried chicken and chips. We made like the locals and covered our chips in tomato sauce and mayonnaise, washed it down with Coke (boy, do they love their soft drink) and enjoyed the $AU2.65 price tag.

Craig, who hadn't been feeling well all day (couldn't hack the altitude...) napped the afternoon away, before Hannah and Rich of salt flat fame came around to our hostel for a night of comfort food, beers and free shots.

Sunday 10 May, 2009

Breakfast: Jam on rolls (gotta love those hostel breakfasts, day after day) – Lunch: Cajun chicken sandwiches and chips – Dinner: Roast chicken dinner.

Manchester United vs Manchester City. With Craig's team poised to take home this year's Premier League trophy, there was no way we were gonna miss the live screening from the hostel bar. The morning was spent checking emails and Facebook, and when 12 o'clock rolled around, it was game on. Man U came through with the goods, which meant Craig was in a good mood for the evening's entertainment – Cholita wrestling!

What we were promised were midgets and Cholitas (traditonally dressed Bolivian women) battling it out, tooth and nail, for pride and glory. What we got was the worst imitation of WWF wrestling you could ever possibly imagine. The novelty wore off after about five minutes, and for the next two hours and 45 minutes we were subjected to shocking costumes, pathetic acting and midgets who, instead of getting involved in the action, merely stood around in the ring. While the Bolivians loved it, cheering for their favourite 'wrestlers' and throwing oranges at the 'bad guys', we were well and truly unimpressed. The only redeeming feature of the whole experience was that the views on the way there were spectacular.

To make up for our anti-climax evening, we comforted ourselves the only way we know how – by stuffing ourselves. So it was back to the hostel for the traditional Sunday roast.

Monday 11 May, 2009

Breakfast: Jam on rolls – Lunch: Almuerzo (set lunch) – Dinner: Cajun chicken sandwiches and chips (spotting a pattern yet?)

Oh yeah, baby, check us out (Lisa on left, Craig on right). We were totally born to be wild! After blindly jumping in a local mini van and hoping it would take us to the town of Mallasa, we arrived at our destination and negotiated to pay $AU30 each for two hours of quad biking around the Valley of the Moon with our own private guide (man we love the prices in Bolivia!).

Not only was it cheap, it was also awesome! We rode through some amazing landscape, some random villages and navigated some wild terrain. Our guide was great, leading us around, taking snaps for us and trying his best to explain things to us in Spanish. We had such a great time, we tipped him a whole 20 Bolivianos ($AU4, a fortune in Bolivia).

Dusty and elated, we contorted ourselves into a packed mini van and made our way back into the centre of La Paz, where we enjoyed the bargain of the century. For a mere $AU1.60 we got a lunch of chicken soup, chicken and mashed potato and fruit for dessert.

I spent the afternoon running errands (blogging, getting photos burnt onto CDs) and when I came back, Craig had managed to become besties with half the hostel's staff and guests, all over a few beers and a couple of games of pool.

Unable to drag Craig away from the bar and his new-found friends, we altered our pizza plans with Hannah and Rich and spent the night drinking beer and playing trivia back at the hostel.

Of course, no stay at a hostel would be complete without a strip show... Yep, it was a guest's birthday so the bar staff decided to chip in and buy him a Columbian stripper for his birthday. All fears that she wasn't going to go further than her bra and undies were quickly quashed when not only did she get fully naked, but so did the birthday boy!

A naked Columbian humping a hairy Canadian, I can't think of a better way to end our stay in La Paz!

May 11, 2009

Top 10 pics: The Southwest Circuit

Amazing, awe-inspiring, astounding... all these 'A' words and more can barely describe how 'awesome' our tour of Bolivia's Southwest Circuit was. For four days and three nights it was just us, Hannah and Rich, our driver, Gonzalo, our cook, Nilda, a 4WD and the Bolivian wilderness.

By day there were canyons, lagoons, volcanoes, deserts, salt flats and geysers galore, by night, there were Nilda's awesome meals (steaks, schnitzels, soups...) and freezlingly basic accommodation.

For this post, I'm gonna let the pictures speak for themselves – mostly because my descriptive volcabulary simply won't do the scenery justice, and partly 'cause I'm a lazy little blogger.

So, without further ado, I present the top 10 photographs (in my opinion, it was bloody tough picking just 10!), of our trip...

Above: Football (soccer) at 4200m. We did actually attempt to play a game against some local villagers, but, thanks to the altitude, we found ourselves gasping for breath after about 3 minutes. Bolivians 3, Gringoes 0.

Above: Did I mention we were in the middle of fricken nowhere?

Above: Of the 50 billion (or was that five?) lagoons we saw, this one rocked our socks the mostest.

Above: Hot stuff! Oh, and there's some geysers there in the background.

Above: More than just Craig on a rock, that's an active volcanoe on the right.

Above: Walking the line.

Above: Salt flats at sunrise = pretty spesh.

Above: I'm still a happy little Vegemite. Now, if only I could get my hands on a jar this big!

Above: Always knew I had Craig in the palm of my hand!

Above: Woo hoo! Great way to end a brilliant four days!

May 06, 2009

From steak to fried chicken

Our last few days in Argentina were spent mooching around our hostel in Salta. The Wedding Singer, Blood Diamond and Die Hard 4.0 were all watched – along with daily doses of Friends – the internet was surfed and sleep-ins were enjoyed. All great ways to bide our time until Wednesday, when the train from the Bolivian/Argentinian border ran to our next destination: Tupiza.

I'm embarrassed to say that we did so little in Salta, that I almost wasn't even going to mention it on the blog. We rationalised our laziness by telling ourselves we were resting up before we embarked on a gruelling four-day, three-night 4WD circuit of the Bolivian 'outback'. The drizzly, overcast weather also made for the perfect excuse for our excess couchsitting – yes, our blog title is becoming more and more redundant by the day.

We did, on occasion, make it out of our hostel. There was a walk around the pretty city centre, a trip to a museum where you can look at the three dead bodies from the Inca times that were preserved perfectly in ice in some nearby mountains, and a trip up a cable car to enjoy some views of the city we were too lazy to explore.

The couch in Salta was also where we met English couple Hannah and Richard. Once we had determined they were normal, we quickly recruited them to do the 4WD tour with us in Bolivia – they were going to go to Chile and do it from there, but we had read that the best place to do it was from Tupiza in Bolivia. Most travellers do it from Uyuni, but with over 80 dodgy companies offering tours with crap food and drunk drivers, we wanted to go with an exxier-but-reputable company from Tupiza.

After an overnight bus, some stamps at immigration, a stop at an ATM, an eight-and-a-half-hour wait at the train station and a three-hour train ride, we had gone from the steak-devouring nation of Argentina to the fried-chicken-loving land of Bolivia.
The best thing about Bolivia? The prices. In Tupiza, we stayed in our own private room with en suite and cable TV for $AU5 each, we enjoyed fried chicken and chips for $AU2.20 and ate a three-course lunch for a mere $AU2.80 each – when they told us the price, all we could do was laugh!

We were only in Tupiza for one day before we began our 4WD tour, we spent that day living it up – an empanada for 20 cents here, jelly and cream for 50c there – and quickly fell in love with the Paris Hilton-esque lifestyle we could afford in Bolivia.

COMING UP: Stay tuned for our awesome four-day tour through the Bolivian desert and salt flats...

May 05, 2009

How we rolled in Mendoza...

How we got there...
For 100 pesos ($AUD38) we caught an overnight bus from Cordoba. Considering our recent luck with buses, it's unsurprising that our bus broke down in the middle of the night and we were shuffled onto another bus that was flagged down from the side of the road.

Where we stayed...
We scored big time with Hostel Empedrado, for an unheard of 35 pesos each a night (that's $AU25 all together), we got our own private room with cable TV. As our photographic evidence clearly shows, Craig was a tad excited by the 70 plus channels, and dragging him away from his 'Mendoza position' – laying on the bed with one hand behind his head, the other holding the remote control – proved to be a difficult task over our six-day stay. The place was also clean, had two kitchens and snail-slow-but-free internet.

Who we rolled with...
We ran into Stephanie and Mark, from Canada and England respectively, out the front of a wine-tour office in the town's centre. Once they found out that we were living it up in hostel luxury for the same price as their dorm beds at the local HI Hostel, they hotfooted it over to Hostel Empedrado.

What we ate...
Steak, steak and more steak. OK, that's not entirely true, sausages and ribs also made regular guest appearances on our plates. The highlight of our trip was when Mark and Steph suggested we fire up the hostel's parilla on our final night. With Mark being fluent in Spanish, we managed to secure the best cuts of meat, and, with Craig and Mark almost wetting themselves with excitement, we slow-cooked the steaks and ribs to perfection.

What we did...
On the few occasions I managed to drag Craig away from his daily fix of Friends, Two and a Half Men and The King of Queens, we went white-water rafting, did a winery tour and chilled in the massive local park.