Friday, June 22, 2012


The Arctic is under threat,
 it's time to save it!

(June 22)

Our trip.  The routes are color coded: Blue for bus, orange for flight, red for car and yellow for boat. Click here to see it in a larger map.

This was our trip, started in Buenos Aires and ended two months after in Lima. It was a great experience and now, comfortably relaxed, at home, with my family, I am thinking back at it, trying to answer a few questions that I ask myself.

What did I like the most? If I have to choose a single section, I would choose Rurre, swimming in the river at sunset. That mixture of adrenaline and excitement was extraordinary. A little more in general, I think I would recommend to spend more time in Peru and Bolivia, rather than Chile and especially Argentina. I say this not because I think those places are not worth being visited. Rather, for somebody coming from Europe, I am not sure it is really necessary to travel to the other part of the world to see those beautiful mountains or cities like Buenos Aires and Santiago. 

What did I like the least? Probably the cities, the bigger the worse. I like living in a city, for the amount of opportunities that are within easy reach for its inhabitants. And this was true also for the cities we have seen. It made me feel comfortable to have services always (or almost) in sight. But this big jungles of concrete and metals, randomly growing, with unbreathable air were nothing that I could really appreciate.

What did I learn? Well, I enjoyed more than what I learned, certainly. But I learned something, I think. Other than the obvious, like I experienced (a bit) different traditions and customs, I can say I learned some Spanish (being Italian, this was not a huge effort), I learned to stay dirty and stinky for a longer time and I made some experience in combining work and fun without letting one influence too much the other.

Any regrets? Yes. We wanted to take the boat from Puerto Williams to Punta Arenas. We arrived there one day late because of me losing my glasses in Torres del Paine. I wish I can go back one day, with Jasmin, just to do this. But probably it will not happen any time soon.

Was this the right way of traveling? I think we did our best to do something serious. We wanted to feel the countries we were visiting. The major limitation though, was time. For the amount of road we traveled, we probably used too little time. I am thinking of Jasmin now, that in two months will see only two different cities, doing some volunteering work. This is certainly a truer way of visiting a country, at the cost of limiting the amount of things you can see. 
We did the whole trip in last-minute-planning mode. This has the disadvantage that your plan is likely sub-optimal and will probably cost you more. But it has the great advantage that you are extremely flexible. If something unexpected comes up, you can easily adapt.

What's next? Work, couch and Zurich, for a while. But sooner or later it will be Asia, without flying!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Last stop Lima

(June 2 - 5)

So the trip comes to an end. I was supposed to stay another 3 weeks in Peru, but I had to change my plans because work was calling me back. We left Cuzco with Cruz del Sur, on June 2. It is a 20 hours bus drive to Lima, but honestly it was one of the best trip done in the last two months. Great part of the merit was of the company. As for the views during the trip, I was expecting better. 

Relaxing on the excellent Cruz del Sur bus to Lima.

We arrived in Lime June 3. I decided to give another chance to restaurants, mainly looking for fish. It was better, but only partially. I want to share a rant about Restaurante Brujas De Cachiche. We went there because they had the lobster festival. I was excited, I thought I could finally eat something special. We soon realized we were in a sort of exclusive (ie expensive) place. But whatever, lobster is lobster and this was the end of the trip. So the waiter brings us the menus and I start looking for the red beast. I start to get worried when I see that there is no simple lobsters: all I find is lobsters cooked with cheese or whatever else they thought would make it better. I call the waiter to ask whether they can cook me a simple lobster, no need to cut the claws, no need to stuff it with cheese. Just boil the beast, bring me lemon and/or mayonnaise sauce and I will do the rest. When the waiter told me that did not have lobsters with claws, I understood that we would spend a lot of money for little quality, in that place. And so it was.

Much better were the other fish restaurants (Punta del Sal) and the very famous Istrid y Gaston (for this one, it is better if you book in advance, we were given the bar seats, where you cannot have their exclusive 21 courses menu). 

Other than eating we did little more. Walking around the coast, looking for presents and sleeping. On June 4, Jasmin left for her second part of the trip, that would last other 2 months and that you can follow here.

Before getting home, I had to suffer a 20 hours flight, terrible, comprising a stormy crossing of the Atlantic. But now I am safely at home, so all went fine (predictably, you might be thinking). And so this is the end. I will spend the whole June at home, with my family, before starting my new job. I will add another final post to this blog to share my final thoughts.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Machu Picchu

(June 1)

View from Montana Machu Picchu.

We slept one night in Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu. This is more or less the only option you have unless you are doing the Inca Trail (if you want to do the Inca Trail you have to book it before February, for June). The other trails do not end in Machu Picchu. Even the Salcantay Trail, does not really end in Machu Picchu, it actually ends in Agua Caliente, from where you will reach Machu Picchu with all the other tourists. On the other hand, a trail might be a good thing to do regardless of where it ends. We did not have much time and preferred to visit the surrounding of Cuzco (see previous post). 

To reach Machu Picchu, from Aguas Calientes, we could either take a bus (8$ for 15 minutes) or walk up one hour and a half. We decided to wake up early and walk up. It is not easy, but not that hard either. Harder, but totally rewarding, is instead the two hours walking up to Montana Machu Picchu. As we did not buy the tickets in time, we could not buy the entrance to Huyana Picchu, so we decided to go for the newly open Montana. I cannot compare, because I did not see Huyana Picchu, but I found our hike splendid. The view is fantastic, but the hike is quite tough (2 hours only going up the stairs). Another advantage, is that this second route is not-so-popular-yet. The day before we went only 77 people registered to go up. I suspect this will change soon, especially because Lonely Planet decided (rightly) to recommend this hike. Anyhow, go up early in the morning, less people and less heat. At the end, this was the best part of the day, for me. 

Masonry and carving.

Machu Picchu is a great place. I personally think that most of it charm comes from the ruins location (ie surrounding mountains), rather than the city alone. The best example of the incredibly skilled Inca masonry are to be found in the surrounding of Cuzco, rather than here. Do not keep your hopes up for a mystic experience. Machu Picchu is a fabulous place, but everybody knows it. And all it takes to reach it is money, so there is no endurance filter here. So you will constantly have tourists around you, yelling and asking you to move to another place to free the view for a picture. Yet, I recommend this place, even with all it costs.

People, instructed by their guide, feeling the energy.
Numbers: bring water, we had in our bag and nobody complained about it. You can buy it there for 8 soles for half a liter (for comparison, 2 liters of water in Aguas Calientes is 5 soles, and in Cuzco is 3.5 soles). I had one liter with me and it was slightly too little. Drink plenty of water before going up.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


(May 28 - June 2)

Cuzco was chosen as our last destination before my departure from Lima. I was slightly reluctant in the beginning of this trip, to stop by Cuzco. The reason was that I thought Cuzco is just Machu Picchu, and I was scared by the tourist-ness of the area (with reason, as I will tell you later). As with most of the other destinations, I did not know much of what I was about to discover. But the risk of flying away from Peru and having to disappoint all those that, back at home, would ask whether I had seen one of the most gossiped ruins in the world, was honestly too big. I gave up my reluctance and me we jumped into a bus to Cuzco, from Copacabana.

Actually, on the way to Cuzco, we stopped for one afternoon in Puno, just to see the floating islands. Now, this was really nothing to write about in this blog. Pretty useless stop, good just to break the trip. 

So once in Cuzco we realized that there is much more than just Machu Picchu. I was eager to finally discover some ancient south-america culture and the Inca are popular, legendary and mysterious enough to satisfy all my needs. Besides Cuzco itself offering some interesting Inca ruins buried under the Spanish era buildings, there is plenty to see in the surrounding. What I really loved, was to able to hop in a bus or a taxi and head to one of the many destinations around the old capital of the empire. You get a nice idea of the possibilities you got, reading this National Geographic article. There are two main loops that I would recommend (see the numbers section below) : the 4 ruins close to Cuzco and the sacred valley loop. 

Now Peru was also a slight improvement in the food quality, with respect of what we had seen before. Nothing marvelous, yet. We tried the cuy (guinea pig). They stuff it with spices, cook it in the oven and put it on your plate as it is. I did not think I could have any problem with that, but the small legs and the claws, were too much for me. After tasting it, I happily gave it to Jasmin, that showed much less pity for the beast.

My tiny Jasmin
Oh and this was also the end of my paper. The deadline, June 29, was happily met. With the project report and the project deliverable submitter, I now only had a project meeting to take care of (May 31), but with the extraordinary help of Gabriele (with whom I will have an unrepayable debt for the rest of my life) we managed to do that smoothly, as well. So the last 4 days of my trip will be entirely work free!
This is the most typical product of the local textile artisans. It is also quite expensive  (from 130 soles to 200 for the small ones you see here), but it takes 1 to 2 months of manual work for each piece.
We did not go with organized tours. We wanted to have the freedom to choose things on the way, without having to wake up at a certain hour. We hired a guide once (at Quenko) and we bought a book to have an explanation of the rest. We heard local guides giving improbable explanations, pointing at mountains that should look like puma, or faces, or condor or any other sacred Inca animal. The best was one guide that showed a picture of a mountain, that when turned 90 degrees looked like the Inka face. They say there is not too much left of that civilization, mostly because the Spanish meticulously destroyed most of it. This being said, I am sure there are very experienced guides out there that can give you more than what we heard here and there. Also, the book we picked up (chosen because available on amazon kindle) was really nothing good. You can find my book's review here.

Machu Picchu was booked in these days, for Friday June 1. Coming up next on this blog.

Numbers: You can do a couple of tours around Cuzco that will keep you busy from 2 to 4 days, depending on what time in the morning you will like to wake up. The first loop is the one close Cuzco, comprising Tambomachay, Puka Pukara, Quenko and Sacsayhuaman. Now the order here is important. Take a cab to the first (Tambomachay) and walk down to Sacsayhuaman. You can do also the other way around, but it is all uphill. Nothing against that, but don't forget that Cuzco has an altitude of 3400 m. The second loop is the one of the sacred valley. This a bit longer, but waking up a bit earlier, you can do it all in one day. We were given an offer from a cab, 160 soles to do all the tour. We declined the offer and went by the extremely cheap local buses, at least partly. We visited, in order Chinchero (spent a lot of time in the market and local textile artisans) then took a cab to Moray and Salinas. We ended up in Urubamba, but it was late to continue, so we went back (by bus). The day after, we went to Pisac and Ollantaytambo, where we got the train to Machu Picchu (cheaper from here, than from Cuzco). With careful planning you can probably do this second tour in one day.

If you have to pick up a single one, I would say go to Pisac. Otherwise, do the 4 ruins tour in one day, do the Chinchero-Moray-Salinas-Pisac tour another day and finally go to Ollantaytambo the last day and take the train to Machu Picchu from there.

Moray Salinas Pisac

Ollantaytambo Pisac Superlative masonry

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Isla del Sol

(May 26-28)

Running out of time, we move toward Lima. On our way we decide to stop to pay a visit to Isla del Sol. We arrive in Copacabana, on the Titikaka lake with a three/four hours bus ride. We stay just the night there as our goal is rather Isla del Sol, where we plan spending one night (May 27). 

As in most the South America we have seen, Copacabana has plenty of abandoned dogs on the street. During the trip I read once of dogs attacking (and killing) people, dogs attacking each other, I had a fellow traveler in the Uyuni trip being bitten by a dog (nothing serious) and I have seen tons of dogs messing up the trash bags on the street in search for food. I did not find it very pleasant, overall. 

Maybe it is because my last day is getting closer, maybe is because we are running too much from one place to the next, but I start realizing that most of the time my thoughts are with my family and the time I would spend with them for most of June. Isla del Sol is a good distraction, however. They say Bolivia is still unexplored for tourists and I found that Isla del Sol is no exception. This is where the Inca, according to the legend, came from. They slowly moved from here, northwards to reach Cuzco. And finally we see a little bit of culture in this natural landscapes dominated journey in South America: there are a few ruins to visit if you hike through the island, you can't miss them. One funny thing, that started here, is that we went to visit the rock puma on the island. Now, there would not be anything special with it, if it was not that 1) it does not look like a puma, really; 2) now and in the next days, while visiting various Inca ruins, people would point at rock pumas, almost everywhere. I had the feeling, sometimes, that these puma rocks are an invention of the tourist guides to compensate for the lack of information about the Incas.

Numbers: Another feature of Isla del Sol is that it is extremely cheap (we were in low season, it must be said). We spent 10 bolivianos per person in a room in the "El Huerto" hostel (fully recommended). No private bathroom, but shared and perfectly clean. The rooms are made with adobe bricks, it is worth paying the 10 Bolivianos only to experience how insulating the walls are. And a papaya-banana-orange juice for 8 Bolivianos. It seems you can bargain a bit, and we have seen people doing it. We just did not feel like saving 2 Bolivianos (0.2 Euro).

The lovely room inEl Huerto hostel. Adobe bricks rock!

Monday, June 11, 2012

La Paz, second time

(May 23-25)

We went back to La Paz, where we waited a couple of days. My girlfriend got sick, probably a food intoxication, and I used the time to almost finish my paper submission. Therefore we spent most of the time in the hotel, nothing exciting here.

But I got important news: I will start working July 2, and not in September as I thought in a first time. This will change my plans, as I want to spend some time with my family, i will shorten one month my holiday in South America and use that month at home. My end date is now fixed: on June 5 I will fly from Lima to Rome. 

Next: we move to lake Titikaka.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


(May 19-22)

It was a bit confusing in the beginning, as we thought we would go to the jungle in Rurre(nabaque). We soon realized, however, that we had two major possibilities, once there: jungle or pampas. It seems that the jungle is a more authentic experience, beautiful landscapes, but not that much fauna. Animals indeed mostly hide from the sight of curios noisy tourists. The pampas instead promised to show much more animals. We decided to go for the second, on a eco-lodge based tour that lasted 3 days and 2 nights. It was indeed beautiful.  Besides the countless number of birds, monkeys and other animals we have seen, we were delighted by our native guide, Alexander, from Bala tour, who was able to spot easily perfectly camouflaged animals and could entertain us with tons of interesting stories. 

The most exciting thing, predictably, was however to swim with pink dolphins at sunset, in the same river where we have seen a couple of caimans and we later tried to fish piranhas. Yes, I know, it might look crazy to swim with these Hollywood-wants-you-to-believe-dangerous animals. And indeed it was scary in the beginning, and I never felt totally relaxed, although I suspect my girlfriend did. But the truth is that these animals are either not interested in your flesh or scared by you. On top of that, dolphins are territorial animals and they would not let caimans come into their territory. They instead let human in, they steal balls, touch you and, god knows why, they like to bite your feet: my girlfriend got a seemingly painful byte, but nothing serious, I mean no blood. 

Numbers: Rurre is not well connected to La Paz. You have three options:
1) Fly: 1 hour, 1300 bolivianos one way with Amazonas, small plane. Be aware that the flight gets canceled often, and they shift one turn all the passengers in the following flights. Therefore it is highly probable that you will hit by the consequences of a cancellation, even if it is not your flight that is canceled (as it happened for us). Plan accordingly.
2) Bus, 20 hours, I do not know the price, but certainly cheaper. After experiencing the Uyuni-La Paz bus, and having little time left, we decided to avoid this option.
3) Boat, days here I am not sure about the details. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

La Paz

(May 17-19)

Paper deadline approaching, I need again a decently fast internet connection and a place where I can work. We decide to go to La Paz for a few days before heading to Rurre. We take a night bus from Uyuni the very same day we get there with our tour. Uyuni does not seem a place where it is worth spending more than the strictly necessary. So we hop on the first bus. And here we understood that we were not in Chile anymore. The ticket was definitely cheaper (90 Bolivianos for 10 hours bus, at night, semi-cama service), but you get what you pay for, and definitely not what they promise you will get: no heating and forget the entertainment. If I could go back, I would take the sleeping bag with me on the bus, it was impossibly cold. 

The morning we got into that jungle of concrete and metal that is La Paz, a place where you would like to wear your dirty lungs, those that you use for this kind of occasions. Nevertheless, the hotel was nice, comfortable, people were more or less kind with us and I somehow enjoyed the liveliness of the city. Not that I would necessarily want to go back, but I did not suffer it.

This is the newer La Paz. We were staying close to San Francisco,.

Numbers: We gave another try to south-american kitchen. But without much luck. Actually we got the tastier food on the street. Nothing too special, rice with lentils and potatoes, but for 5 Bolivianos this was definitely better than what we would have eaten the same night for 100. Price differ enormously. Here I got finally convinced that the best strategy for me would be to eat cheap, not too cheap, but not interested anymore in risking much money.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

San Pedro to Uyuni

(May 14-16)

Time to move to Bolivia, one of the least developed countries in South America. From the very first day that we arrived, we met travelers that invariably repeated us how gorgeous and authentic is Bolivia. You can understand how high our expectations were. 

Being in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, we were very close to the border with Bolivia. There is a number of agencies that offer a tour through the border. It is a 3 days 2 nights tour thorough the desert, to see Lagunas and the famous Salar de Uyuni, a big flat salt lake. There are so many companies that we could not easily choose the one, but as soon as we talk to Cordillera, we understood that they were professional enouogh, and certainly more than the others, that we could trust them. And we did not regret our choice. 

The tour is done with a 4x4, filled with the driver/guide/mechanic and 6 other people. The driver unfortunately did not speak English, and during the travel there was very little exchange with him. But that turned out to be a minor problem. This place is really any others that I have seen. I was impressed mainly by lagunas:

And the salt lake. But on the way there were plenty of other beautiful and barely describable landscapes. The driver provided us with food and we were also given a basic accommodation. I was expecting worse, especially for sleeping, but this did not make me feel any better when I got sick, probably because of the altitude, the first night. We were sleeping at 4300 meters and coca tea did not seem to help that much. An aspirine in the morning of the second day, instead, did help a lot. 

Definitely different than what we were used to in Chile.

Numbers: The tours costs 75 USD, and the price is the same, no matter which company you do it with. Some offer a discount, but what I learned is that Bolivia is certainly cheap, but you also get what you pay for. So better not to look for too cheap prices. The temperature at night, especially in the first refugio, was below zero outside. If you happen to read this blog before doing the same trip, do not forget to bring a sleeping bag with you.