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Culture Learnings with the Aborigines in Alice Springs
June 14th, 2009 by Mike · 1 Comment
Still feeling hung over from the night before the Goonies, with Kev still missing, went to catch our flight to Alice Springs. The best solution to any hangover is get something greasy so we had a meal at Burger King which was the only thing we could find in the airport. Burger King failed us and was left feeling even worse and bloated for our two hour flight to Alice Springs.
We landed in Alice Springs around mid afternoon and immediately was knocked out by the heat. He heard that it was hot but nothing could have prepared us for temperatures averaging around 40 degrees. We had also heard that you need head nets to keep of the flies off you and they were not wrong. Waiting outside the airport for our transfer to the hostel we were bombarded by fruit flies that was vicious and never gave up attacking our heads.
As our three day outback tour started very early in the morning the next day we wanted a chill out day and relax. We decided to cook ourselves a curry which is something we have not had in ages. Being big eaters we need a lot of meat and the only thing that was in our budget was this lump of Silver Corner Cut Beer where we got approximately 1.1 KG for less that 7 AU$. Needlessly to say this meat was horrible as it had an extremely soft gamy texture which randomly tasted like pork. With over 300 grams of rancid meat to eat each only John was able to eat all of this curry, leaving me and Chris looking like disgraced buffet eaters having just barely grazing the top half of our dinner.
The next day had arrived swiftly and we were congregated outside the hostel at 6AM where we were separated into our group who we would be spending the next three days with. There was 20 people in our group and 2 tour guides. Our first destination was Uluru which took approximately 3.5 hours to drive to on one dead straight road which apparently only had one right turn in the middle. We arrived in Uluru which is more famously referred to as ‘The Big Rock’ and commonly featured on generic Australian post cards. In Uluru we did a small rim walk around the ‘’rock’ and another cultural walk called the Mala Walk which took approximately 45 minutes each. In the evening we were left at a sunset viewing point to admire the sun fading away behind the ‘rock’ whilst dinner was being prepared for us.
On our first night we finally discovered what a swag bag was. For no apparent reason I had an image in my head that it was an all in one fancy sleeping bag / mat with a built in net to keep off flies and mosquitoes. Due to this assumption I had not pack anything to sleep in as we never questioned my assumption. My assumption was wrong as a swag was just simply a sleeping mat that was stored in a bag that we used outside. Needless to say I looked kind of strange as I slept outside on a swag with just my usual sleeping clothes, a pair of boxer shorts. It was certainly warm enough but not pleasant when you have dingo’s swarming around you at night in search of food.
The next day was an extremely early start at 4:30AM to have breakfast and see sunrise at a viewpoint overlooking Uluru. Afterwards we visited the Cultural Centre to learn about the Aborigines before driving to Kata Tjuta for another hike and taking information from our guides about the valley. In Kata Tjuta we did a hike called the ‘Valley of the Winds’ which was a pretty scenic hike as the valley was pretty deep so you was always surrounded by tall golden brown walls that was a huge contrast from the deep blue skies. After the hike we spent the rest of the afternoon driving to our third and final destination called Kings Canyon. The drive was long so the guide had a music / film competition for us where we had to guess the artist and name of the song plus the film it was featured in. I teamed myself with a Czech couple who was sitting behind me and surprisingly won the quiz and was rewarded with a small chocolate bar which went down a treat as the meals they provided lack the quantity the Goonies are normally used to.
Our final day we was in Kings Canyon for another early start at 4:30AM. After a quick breakfast we had a quick bus ride to the base of our 3 hour hike. We first hiked up to a small summit where we would see the sunrise over Kings Canyon. Then we continued with a 3 hours culture walk through Kings Canyon where our guide stopped a lot providing us with lots of interesting information about the area and the significance to the Aborigines. We even did a little role play as the guide described how the Aborigine people handle crime and punishment. Halfway in our walk there was a natural spring which was in a crater so the water was very dark and could not see what was at the bottom. Needless to say there were not many takers to swim in it with only myself and another Norwegian guy taking the plunge. After the hike we returned back to Kings Canyon resort for lunch before our long drive back to Alice Springs.
For our last night in Alice Springs our group met up at a restaurant for dinner and a few drinks. Here we all had Chicken Parmesan for dinner which was really nice but did not really fill me up. So I questioned the group as to who wanted another dinner and got everyone who wanted a second dinner to raise their hand. To my amazement all the men wanted another meal and we all ordered a second dinner of fish and chips. Our guide tour found this hilarious and decided to spill a few home truths. He branded our group as ‘animals’ and said he has never had a group who ate so much. We had 3 small Germans girls in our group which the guide was mortified by as he couldn’t believe the amounts they were eating. On our first day we had managed to eat 3 days worth of breakfast in just one sitting which pretty much sums up our greedy ‘animalistic’ group.
Next stop to the multicultural city of the world, Melbourne.
Car Sales Team Of The Year - Cairns
June 14th, 2009 by Mike · 4 Comments
The last few days have been extremely eventful for the Goonies but we finally made it into Cairns, but with a casualty. Sadly ‘Sandy The Van’ had fallen ill and suffered badly from the 9 hour straight ride from Ingham. As we arrived late in the evening, we just parked ‘Sandy’ outside our hostel as parking was free in the evening. But the following morning we had to move the van so that we didn’t receive a fine and this is where we discovered the problem. As soon as we started the van we did not realise that the starter motor was continuously ticking over until we had found another suitable parking spot and switched off the van. The sound was horrible and you could hear a small piece of ‘Sandy’ dieing away as the starter motor gradually grew quieter until it finally went silent. From this point onwards we thought ‘Sandy’ was dead as she would not start up even with a jump start from another car. It was Sunday, everything was closed, so there was only one thing we could do which was to mourn for ‘Sandy’ over a few beers.
The following day arrived quickly and the Goonies got straight to business to revive ‘Sandy’ as we was leaving in three days time and was intending on selling ‘Sandy’ during those days. After a quick internet session we discovered that RACQ (roadside service like The AA) was cheap even for non member so acquired their services immediately. The RACQ got ‘Sandy’ started by ‘by-passing’ the starter motor and immediately diagnosed that the starter motor was the problem which we had already concluded. The only reason we needed the RACQ was that ‘Sandy’ needed to be towed to a garage to be fixed which any roadside service companies are required to do if they cannot fix the problem on the spot. So now with our technically free tow service ‘Sandy’ was delivered to a garage where we would discover the extent of the damage and see how much we was going to be ripped off. As the garage was understaffed and backlogged with more work than they could cope with they could not look at the problem immediately, so the Goonies took a chill out session and went to the cinema to watch Slum Dog Millionaire.
After the film we received the call from the garage and as expected was being ripped off in broad day light, but we had no choice as it would be virtually impossible to sell a dead van especially if we only had two days left before we flew out the following day. Three hours later and the van was fixed, so we walked to the garage immediately whilst calling back all the potential buyers we had. One buyer wanted to see the van immediately and we had not even received the van back and clean it up, but we desperately accepted and agreed to meet in 30 minutes time outside our hostel. With only 15 minutes until we meet our first buyer we arrived at the garage. The team had to split up to get all the necessary work done in time. Chris settled the bill whilst me and John frantically clean up ‘Sandy’ so that she looked presentable to the potential buyer.
Our 15 minutes were up and we were met outside our hostel with our first potential buyers. Everything went smoothly, the test drives perfect and the buyers loving ‘Sandy’ and including the fact that she was yellow. However, they did not want to make a hasty decision so wanted to sleep on it. What made matters worst was that our last day to sell the van was tomorrow and they were away all day tomorrow on a boat trip. So we let it settle for awhile and went to a place called Rhino Bar where we had vouchers for a free meal and where we could have a few drinks and decided how we would react to the buyers decision.
After an awful free meal we chilled out in the bar having a few pints when we decided to text the buyer to make an offer which we had already decided would accept due to our situations which the buyer was not aware of. Anyways, to cut a long story short the buyer called us back instead, made his offer which we accepted on the condition that the deal must be completed tomorrow tonight. I must have sounded really pushy / dodgy but the buyer accepted and ‘Sandy’ was no longer ours. So me managed to fix up ‘Sandy’ and sell her all in one day meaning we had overestimated the time we needed in Cairns ;).
Back at the Rhino Bar we stayed there for the rest of the evening taking full advantage of their drinks promotion which was drink as much as you can between 10:30PM - 11:30PM for only 8 AU$. Needlessly to say we was drinking for pride and country but even after the drinks promotion we managed to win a free jug of beer by singing the chorus to ‘Sex On Fire’ by the Kings Of Leon when the DJ came around with his microphone.
Other than partying every night we did not do much else in Cairns because most of our time was taken up sorting out the van and most importantly the weather was awful meaning snorkeling and diving around The Great Barrier Reef was out of the question. This was disappointing as we was planning on a trip to Cape Tribulation and possibly Port Douglas for a spot off diving. Other than going to the cinema, John replace his dead point and shoot camera with a new flashy SLR so we should be expecting lots of great pictures from him.
Next stop culture learning with the Aborigines in Alice Springs.
A slice of paradise - Tahiti
April 16th, 2009 by Mike · 1 Comment
Just like you see in post cards Tahiti was a perfect picture of paradise with long stretches of silky white undisturbed sand and water so blue it was unimaginable. This is what the Goonies would have to endure over the next 8 days.
Tahiti is an French Polynesian Island that is situated in the middle of no where in the Pacific Ocean. It is steeped with Maori heritage and a top honeymoon destination for rich newly married couples. So although the island was stunningly beautiful and a perfect location to relax, it was going to be a struggle to live on a backpackers budget. Everything on the island was expensive beyond belief and even more expensive than London. We all came to the same conclusion that eating here was a luxury and had to survive on pasta, soup, bread and onions, harsh times!!
Once we landed in island of Tahiti we only briefly explored the island visiting the Robert Wan Pearl Museum which had a seriously expensive but beautiful collection of Black Pearl jewellery. We also visited the Tahiti Pearl Market on Rue Paul Gauguin and another general market on Francois Cardella to experience from a local point of view everyday life on the island.
For the rest of our time we stayed on an island called Moorea which was slightly cheaper but still host to an array of exclusive hotels including a Sheraton. As for ourselves we stayed in the cheapest hostel / camp site called Moorea Camping. The rooms we lived in were very basic huts with just a bed and a wood panel for a window used for ventilation. The communal kitchen, living area and showers were very basic too with poor hygiene and cleanliness levels. I still remember taking a shower and feeling a little itch on the lower part of my leg. Upon inspection I discover that it was a huge cockroach crawling up my leg that instantly sent shivers down my spine. I immediately flicked the cockroach away but it just wouldn’t stay away and kept on trying to crawl on me, so I just assumed it was on a suicide mission and put it out of it’s misery.
Other than relaxing on the picture perfect beaches which was on the doorstep of our camp site we managed to do a few activities. We went on a small cruise with local fisherman called Teva who showed us around the bays of the islands, took us swimming with sting rays and sharks and snorkelling through some Tahitian coral. He evened taught us to eat a Mango Tahitian style which was to eat a whole mango like an apple, attacking through the soft juicy mango flesh ruthlessly with the skin still on leaving no casualties behind.
We also rented a scooter and managed to ride around the Island of Moorea twice stopping off to see the waterfall at Afareaitu, Baie d’Opunodu to relax on the gorgeous beach that is shared with the luxurious Sheraton Hotel. Finally we rode up to a view point called Belvedere view point that has scenic views of both Baie d’Opunodu and Baie de Cook separated by Mt Rotui.
Next stop Australia for more sun, surf and sea.
Tags: French Polynesia
Non-stop raving in Rio de Janeiro
April 16th, 2009 by Mike · 3 Comments
We was already on a bad start for our journey to Rio De Janeiro. The previous night in Iguazu Falls we had ordered a large pizza each which also had for breakfast the following day. Upon inspection of our delicious breakfast, it had made new friends over night and was infested with ants. So now we are all faced with a twenty hour bus journey to Rio De Janeiro with no breakfast.
After a tiresome bus ride we arrived in Rio De Janeiro around mid day and got the cheapest taxi possible to Ipanema. We checked into our hostel called the Girl From Ipanema (recommended by our Flight Centre Travel Agent) and went straight to the beach as its all we could think about. Pretty much every women on the beach was stunning and most did not leave much for the imagination.
Later on in the afternoon John wanted his hair cut after resisting for nearly 3 months. So I put our hair clippers purchased in America on its first outing (See later post for full details).
On our first evening we decided to go the Lagoon to watch the opening / unveiling of the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree itself was quite impressive. We was informed that this was the largest floating tree in the World. But with this fact, I would imagine most people couldn’t even name another floating tree. On the unveiling of the tree there was an equally impressive fireworks display and we got to enjoy lots of typical Brazilian street food such as meat kebabs and these delicious deep fried potato parcels filled with minced meat.
On the second day we went to the Maracana to watch Flemengo v Goias in what was once the largest stadium in the world. At its peak the stadium held nearly 200,000 spectators in the 1950 World Cup Final, but now the stadium has been reduced in capacity and seats approximately 90,000 spectators. The football match we got to watch was absolutely brilliant and completely end to end stuff. The final score was 3-3 with a nail biting ending where any team could have won. The stadium itself looked impressive from the outside but once inside it looked old and well used.
In the evening we decided to treat ourselves and ate at a typical Brazilian style restaurant called Choates. At this restaurant you are given a little disk with one red side and one green side. These are too be placed next to you on the table which are used to indicate whether you want more food or not. So naturally we all left ours on green and kept the food piling on, which we would soon later regret as we all suffered from ‘meat sweats’ because we neglected the vegetables and when straight for the meats.
On the third day we had a pre-booked tour to explore most of the places of interest in Rio. Our morning started with a hike up a mountain weaving through a forest which I totally forgot about and showed up in my flip flops. The rest of the boys were prepared in their trainers but failed to inform me. At the top of the mountain were beautiful views of Rio and we could clearly with all the suburbs that swooped around the golden coast line.
Afterwards we visited that famous Christ De Redentor before a visit to Santa Teresa to see that famous colourful steps created by local artist Selaron. The steps are made up from tiles that have been sent to the artist from all over the world and where each tile is unique and representative of the country it came from.
In the evening we decided to go to a bar / club called House because they had a offer where caipirinha cocktails were free between 10PM - 12PM. Needless to say this was going to be a messy night as it was like our duty to get our moneys worth and drink as much as possible. From what I remember Kev caved in first and didn’t even last to 12PM whereas myself, John and Chris faired better but was not exactly in a conscious state to remember our exact movements throughout the night.
Still feeling hung over, today was going to be our chill out day on the beach, soaking up the sun whilst drinking from a freshly cut coconut. The weather was absolutely stunning and we even managed to play a few games of beach football. However, we were totally out classed by the ‘Speedo’ wearing Brazilians and you could see they were playing around with us as they as went to the difficult but spectacular goal.
For our last day in Rio was decided to explore the Favelas and get a real essence of Brazilian. A Favela is a shanty town where the majority of the working class live because it is cheap and not governed by local taxing laws. Here we saw the differences in the living conditions between the rich and poor, an art studio creating local Favela art and even visited a nursery that was funded by the tour company guiding us around. On the tour we had one hair raising moment where another member of the group accidentally took a picture of a drug dealer who was carrying a very large gun. Our tour guide had to react immediately by apologising to the drug dealer and deleting any photos that pictures the dealer.
Next stop Easter Island to explore that wonders of the Polynesian culture.
Tags: Brazil · South America
Catalogue posing in Salar de Uyuni
April 1st, 2009 by Mike · 9 Comments
After a 10 hours bone shaking bus ride from Potosi we arrived in a place called Uyuni where the gang would begin a 3 day tour across one of the largest salt flat planes in the world. With a 9:30AM start we turned up out outside Cordillera office who we had booked our tour with and was greeted with an Australian born Argentine couple; Surge and Silvi who would be joining us on our tour. Taking us through the salt flats was Richard or how he pronounced it ‘Zicard’ who did not speak a word of English and would be our driver and supposedly cook for the next few days.
In our 10 year old Toyota Land Cruiser which clearly looked well used, we pulled up at our first destination which was two steam trains with approximately 7 carriages each that sat in the middle of no where. The steam trains look like they had been abandoned sometime ago as they were rusting away and covered full of graffiti. Either way they were unusual props and perfect to start our array of catalogue poses.
With our photos entries ready for Littlewoods catalogue we pressed on west into the heart of Salar De Uyuni which is where the salt flats are located. Here we stopped off at what was once a hotel made out of salt but had to be abandoned as it was now illegal to have a hotel on the salt flats. The hotel has been converted into a “covert museum” where you had to buy a chocolate bar to enter. Continuing further west we arrived at a place called Isla Incahauas which was like a raised island of rock that was filled full of cactuses. We hiked around the island for approximately 40 minutes whilst pulling out a new string of catalogue poses as there was nice views of the salt flats.
For the remainder of the afternoon the group devoted all of it’s time in taking perspective shots on the salt flats, which basically is a large white canvas so it is easy to make impossible shots looks possible.
Here are a collections of the perspective shots we took.
In the evening we carried on driving west until we hit the border of the salt flats where we would rest for the night. On the border are lots of salt hotels which we had the privilege of staying in. Quite literally everything in the hotel was made out of salt; the dinner table, the chairs we sat on, even the base of our beds.
Having decided the night before, the group opted for an early start in an attempt to stay ahead of the other flurry of tourist who were on the same tour. Leaving the salt hotel at around 7AM we quickly stopped off in a town called San Juan to pick up some basic supplies. Now we started to head south in the direction of Chile crossing a railway line to a place called Salar De Chiguana which had a small military boarder control and views of ‘Ollague’, which is one of the highest volcano in Chile.
Our next destination of the day is a place called Arbol De Piedra which is an area full of tall weathered away rock. There was one particular rock that is well know which has suffered quite severely from wind erosion and a semi ‘apple core’ effect has occurred. Most of the base has weathered away meaning the top section was a lot larger than the bottom and it is only a matter time as to when it would topple over.
After another cracking performance in front of the camera we continued south to a lagoon called Colorada. The lagoon itself was pretty stunning with amazing views of the surrounding of glacier topped mountains, but what made the Colorada lagoon special is that it is home of the famous pink flamingos. The lagoon was filled full with pink flamingos which were an absolutely delight to watch, especially when you see a flock hurl across splashing in the water as they fly off into the air.
After lunch we continued further south to our final destination called the Red Lagoon. This lagoon was quite literally a large lagoon filled with red water and apparently the water is red due to the algae.
On the way to the lodging where we would be resting for the night we had Kev’s iPod plugged into the auxiliary on the 4×4 stereo. Here we had a ‘free for all’ where each person got to take turns in picking any song of their choice. It got to Surge’s turn and he picked an absolute classic that was Bohemian Rhapsody. It was just like the scene out of Wayne’s World and when the guitar rift kicked in everyone was head banging like crazy including our driver. The video would have been a classic but unfortunately we have lost our copy and looking to retrieve it from Serge and Silvi, so watch this space.
On our final day we had to get up at 4:30AM so we could see some geysers in action. This type of ‘geysers’ is different to a ‘geezer’ known in the a UK which as Microsoft Works dictionary puts it, is an “eccentric or irritable senior citizen”, they are a spring that gushes out hot water and / or steam. The geyser that we approached first had steam gushing out furiously and smelt of sulphur, but in this case we had no problems touching the steam as it was only mildly warm. Warming our hands is exactly what we all needed because the temperature was below freezing to the point where everyone’s fingers and toes was hurting. Chris even had a bottle of water we left in the car overnight that had frozen.
Desperately needing warmth to prevent us loosing a limb we arrived at our next destination. It was an outdoor hot spring that would solve all our problems. All but one problem as there was no changing rooms meaning we had to get changed in the freezing cold, but it was totally worth it. The hot spring was so heavenly that we almost considered skipping breakfast, but unfortunately hunger got the better of us. After getting changed for breakfast I left my swimming shorts on the wing mirror of our 4×4 to dry and upon returning back they had frozen despite the sun shining in its full glory.
The very final stop of our salt flat tour was a trip to the Green Lagoon. Of all the lagoon’s we had visited the Green Lagoon was the most picturesque. The lagoon was large with still, undisturbed water that made the whole area feel so tranquil with reflections of the glacier topped mountains on the lagoon that were truly stunning which you can see for yourself below.
Next stop; a quick stop in Chile to one of the driest town in the world called San Pedro De Atacama.
Tags: Bolivia · Chile · South America
San Pedro Prison
March 21st, 2009 by Mike · 17 Comments
The final stop for us in La Paz is to visit the famous San Pedro Prison. Trying to organise a tour can be a bit tricky as we were informed that tours are not exactly ‘kosher’ and that money paid towards a tour is used to bribe security at the main gates. Needless to say we had extremely difficulty trying to organise a tour as you cannot book through your average tour agency as prison tours are illegal. Therefore, you need to find out tour guides contact details through word of mouth. Although, we managed to obtain some contact details we was unsuccessful in getting any tour.
As we all wanted to visit the prison we took the initiative and turned up outside the prison in hope that we could join another tour as we heard that there are usually 2 tours everyday. Upon arriving at the prison we was immediately approached by a large black man who wasted no time and introduced himself. His name was Kenny and he was from South Africa. Kenny smelt us from a mile away and knew we wanted to visit the prison as we clearly looked like backpackers which he was only so kindly to mention.
After a quick series of introductions Kenny took us into the prison where we went through a side entrance into a small room next to the main gates. Here we needed to pay our tour fees which I think he wanted to do in secret to ensure the prison guards and the actual tour guides did not see what was being charged. Once paid, Kenny asked whether any of us had a camera which we all replied no. We all assumed that cameras are a definitely no go as photographing a boss of a drug cartel would be like volunteering yourself onto death row. However, to our amazement Kenny was upset. He explained that you have an once in a lifetime opportunity to visit this unique prison and you don’t bring a camera. He said he would have sneaked our cameras in for us.
As we entered the prison we was given a stamp on our hand which was our only proof that we were visitors and not prisoners. As we passed through the huge security gates any imagines of what we had of prison disappeared. As we looked around you can see families playing with their children, market stalls and shops. The inside of the prison looked more like a typical underdeveloped Bolivian town than a prison.
Walking through the prison we was always escort by four large bodyguards. Our tour guide explained that it is not a dangerous prison and we only needed bodyguards to prevent any inmates attempting to beg from us. The reason the prison is safe is that the prisoners govern themselves. The inmates themselves have developed their own laws and rules that is applied through a hierarchy which must be respected, otherwise you are made to understand through various means which our tour guide explained.
Unlike a conventional prison inmates are expected to rent or buy their accommodation where they have the opportunity to live with their family. For inmates who are not as fortunate and cannot afford a cell are expected to sleep on the streets within the prison cell walls. Cells very in quality from having an empty cell, to having a cell with an window over looking the city or at the top end an ensuite apartment with it’s own kitchen.
However, you still have to understand that it is not paradise in here and that inmates are here for a reason. The have committed an offence and this is their punishment. Most for inmates we were lead to believe that they have been imprisoned for a drugs related offence such as trafficking. This is rather ironic as the biggest source of income into the prison is the trade / trafficking of drugs. We have been lead to believe that the prison itself has its own laboratory where cocaine is mass produced.
Upon leaving prison we did have the opportunity to purchase some cocaine which we all declined. However, one Canadian guy did want to purchase some as the cocaine produced here was supposedly one of the finest / purest in the world. Unfortunately, the inmate was requesting ten times the normal asking price so the Canadian guy had to decline. He only wanted to sample a small amount as he was advised not to attempted to take any outside the prison. This is because if caught he would find himself straight back into the prison only this time as an prisoner himself.
The San Pedro Prison is a total surreal and unique experience that we would recommend to anyone who is visiting La Paz. However, there is a book called ‘Marching Powder’ about an Australian guys experience of the prison which I would advise reading first.
Tags: Bolivia · South America
The World’s Most Dangerous Road
March 21st, 2009 by Mike · No Comments
In La Paz, Bolivia there is road called Yungas Road that is regarded as the most dangerous in the world. Some of the stats that we had picked up researching about the road was that in 2004, 24 buses / coaches had fallen off the road which is an average of one bus falling off every 2 weeks. Due to the fact that this road had been labelled as being the most dangerous in the world, this automatically meant it was a must do for team Goonies, so off we went to La Paz.
Having only been in La Paz for one day due to our tight schedule, we was on a one day bike tour down the World’s Most Dangerous Road. We booked with a company called Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking as they were highly recommended by the Lonely Planet, but most importantly we decided that it was one part of the trip we cannot skimp on. This is because you would want to use the best equipment available if it increased your chances of staying alive.
On the day of the bike ride the professional tour guides / instructors picked us up from our hostel. Upon arriving at the starting point of the bike ride there was a large sign detailing the number of recorded fatalities so far this year. The sign said there have been 43 fatalities so far this year but this was not the most alarming part. There was another sign underneath the main sign saying another 9 deaths to be added making it 52 fatalities in approximately 9 months. After speaking with our instructor he explained that a bus had fallen off the previous week and they had not had enough time to update the main sign.
After explaining every single piece of clothing that they would be providing and how to put them on like we have never seen a glove before, we was outside with our £2000+ mountain bikes ready to decide our fates on the road. Before we set off there was a ritual that everyone must do first. It involved using this 100% alcohol where we would splash a little on the ground for mother earth, splash a little on the wheels of our bike to ensure our bikes did not fail and a short swig ourselves for the courage we are going to need to cycle down the World’s Most Dangerous Road.
The cycle began with a downhill tarmac section that was really straight forward, with speeds of up to 70 KMPH being reached easily. Throughout the tarmac section are check points which our instructor said was put in place to make gringos feel more reassured, as the check points are used as a measure to ensure that everyone who had started the road also exited at the other end of the road.
Once the tarmac section was over the real fun started. We had over 20 KM of unpaved downhill dangerous road to cover. But before the fun could start our instructor went through some safety drills / measures that everyone needed to know. The instructor explained to us that the reason there are so many deaths on this road is because most of the drivers on the road are drunk. Therefore, it was important we knew how to handle different situations as we would be sharing the road with other motorised vehicles. The instructor used a whistle and if be blew once, this meant there was on coming traffic so we can proceed with care but we must remain on the left side of the road. If we heard a continuous repeating whistle then it meant that a vehicle is going to over take us and we had to stop on the left side of the road and get off our bikes on the right side.
Getting off the right side of a bike may sound relatively simple and even more easy on the Most Dangerous Road because the cliff edge was always on your left side, if you are starting at the top first. However, there is a famous incident where a French girl got off stupidly on the left side of her bike, took one step backwards and fell off the road to face a terrible death. Therefore, it always pays to listen to your instructors!!!
Despite the reputation and the label in which the road has received, it was relatively easy and not technical. As the road was downhill no pedalling was required and being on top of the range full suspension bikes meant we ate up the roads like a greedy fat kid left alone with a chocolate chip muffin. However, after riding for approximately 30 minutes the weather turned for the worst and started to hammer down with rain. So there we were riding down the World’s Most Dangerous Road on a push bike but the conditions were more slippery, visibility was extremely poor as the rain had caused a lot of mist and also caused the lens on our goggles / sunglasses to steam up. This meant that you could not see anything wearing eye protection, but it was torture not wearing any eye protection as rain droplets would slap your eyeballs as you travelled down the road at 30-40 KMPH. The conditions were so bad that one person from our group dropped out temporarily and used the support vehicle that was following us until the conditions improved.
With us being real men (or stupid) we soldiered on regardless of the conditions and everyone at some point had a hair raising moment going around a corner way too fast that would cause us to skip a heart beat or two. The abysmal weather cleared up after about 40 minutes and the glorious sun was out. We were all soaked to our bones and caped in mud but we just ditched our outer layers and began the final descent.
On the last section the road was a lot flatter which meant that pedalling was required which was hard work on a full suspension bikes as half of the energy you put into pedalling is wasted when the rear shock absorber bounces up and down. By the end of the road everyone was extremely tired but that meant nothing as the most important thing was that everyone made it back in one piece and not a scratch in sight. Also the instructor never had to used his whistle which probably did not matter as his pace was a lot faster than half of the group so they had no chance of hearing his whistle.
At the end of the bike ride we stopped off at a monkey sanctuary which is funded by the company. Here we got to clean ourselves up and have a nice buffet lunch. The company also provided us with a lift back to our hostel which coincidentally was via the World’s Most Dangerous Road, which in theory was the most dangerous part of our trip as we was not in control of our own fates and most importantly, almost all deaths on the roads happen in a motorised vehicle.
The Final Verdict:
Extremely good fun that is suitable for a beginning but no way near as dangerous as the title may suggest.
Tags: Bolivia · South America
Visiting the highest capital in the world, La Paz
March 21st, 2009 by Mike · No Comments
Due to the strikes on the only road from Cusco to Puno we had to get a flight from Cusco to La Paz costing around 98 US$. This meant that we would have to miss the opportunity to visit the floating islands on Lake Tititaka.
After a 55 minute flight the group arrived safely in La Paz and got a taxi straight to ‘The Adventure Brew’ hostel. The Adventure Brew hostel consisted of two hostels that was only two blocks apart and we stayed in the newer hostel which was modern, clean and had a trendy bar with a balcony overlooking the city. But the biggest selling point was it had its own micro brewery that made 3 different types of beer that guest’s staying at the hostel could have one free beer each day.
Upon arrival we noticed that the hostel was organising an event to watch some ‘Cholita Wrestling’ which was about to start in under an hours time. So the gang was in a rush as we had to check in, get money out as no one had any Bolivian money and feed ourselves. For food we wanted something quick and easy so we popped into a KFC looking franchise called Chikey Pollo. This was probably one of the worst meals I have ever encountered. The chicken burger was stodgy and chips that were stone cold and looked a week old. But we was seriously running out of time so no time trying to complain in a language we could barely understand so we had to take in on the chin.
Arriving back at the hostel with minutes to spare the organiser says that we have plenty of time and that we had time to have our free beer before we left. Despite rushing for nothing a beer is exactly what the group needed and it’s always the free beers that taste the best.
When we arrived at the Cholita Wrestling venue we was greeted by the strong smell of urine. We was only in the car park and the smell was extremely distinctive, so we could not imagine how bad it would be in the actual toilets. The wrestling itself was brilliant and one of the funniest things we have ever seen. It was like the Mexican wrestling in ‘Nacho Libre’ with Jack Black with all their bright, tacky, skin tight customs. But there was a bonus as well as Cholita wrestling included women fighting where they dressed up in traditional local outfits. The problem was that these women were not exactly easy on the eyes, however I was still engrossed to get a picture with them which I successfully did. However, on returning to my seat the women wrestler I got a picture with man-handled me and landed a smacker right on my lips. Dare I say it, I felt aroused violated and abused.
On the second day we had to get up bright and early as we had organised a bike ride on the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Road’ (See later post for full details). After the bike ride we was advised by our tour guide to go to a restaurant / bar called Ram Jam, which was meant to be good and where we would meet him as well. Needless to say the place was completely empty and lacked any atmosphere, though this could be due to the fact that it was Monday. We ended up going back to our hostel and enjoying the beer they had which included a normal lager, a stout and a negro (black / dark beer).
On the third day we explored the town and all the markets which La Paz had to offer. There was one market we was particularly interested, which was a witches market that lots of people we met along our travels talked about. In the witches market they had the usual Alpaca wool accessories such as socks, gloves, hats, etc, etc. But the more interesting and weird items included stuffed armadillos, dried frogs and llama fetuses which are apparently used as good luck charms.
During the evening we decided to have a curry as since being on our travels we have yet to experience a proper curry. We went to a place called the ‘Star of India’ which was recommended highly by another hostel. At the curry house the group decided to play it safe so we ordered a few Madras’ and a few Jalfrazies. To our amazement it was probably one of the hottest curries we have ever experienced. I had to eat my curry in stages as I needed to give my mouth time off as the burn from the curry was too much. We all had sweat dripping of our faces and there just wasn’t enough serviettes to mop it up. The curry itself was not particular good as you could not taste any spices as everyone was suffering from sensory overload caused by the heat of the curry.
Next stop Rurrenabaque to see some wild life, Ray Mayes style!!!
Tags: Bolivia · South America
Guinea Pig Tasting
February 19th, 2009 by Mike · 1 Comment
In Ecuador and Peru, Guinea Pig or Cuyi in Spanish is not considered a pet but a local delicacy to eat. Regardless of the produce the Goonies will try any local delicacy and our time had come in Cuenca where we had the opportunity to sample some Guinea Pig.
In Cuenca we had the pleasure to meet a Scandinavian couple who had already sampled some guinea pig at a local restaurant. When they got to the restaurant they got to choose the guinea pig they wanted to eat which was still alive. The preparation for the guinea pig took approximately one hour as they had to kill it and drain all the blood before it could be cooked. Once ready the guinea pig is presented warts and all with its head and paws still attached. For presentation this restaurant stuffed a small pepper into the guinea pig’s mouth for decoration. The guinea pig is served with a selection of roasted vegetables and potatoes, however the cost of this full packaged experience was 40 US dollars which is more than a days budget for us.
As we was on a tight budget we had to find a cheaper alternative and found our solution through the advise of our hostel owner in Cuenca. He suggested that we can get cheap guinea pig from the local market so the team immediately ventured to the markets. Here we discovered we could buy a whole guinea pig for 6 US$, ching ching!!! However, when buying from the markets you need to be careful as you want to ensure you are buying a guinea pig and not an overweight rat. The signs to look out for is that the rodent you are about to purchase DOES NOT have a TAIL and that the ears are short and stubby like they have been cut off.
At the stall, the guinea pig had a large pole the size of a table leg stuck through its rear end and out of it’s mouth that was used to rotate over a charcoal BBQ. The guinea pig took around 30 minutes to cook and was constantly based with some brown marinade / oil like substance. Again the guinea pig is cooked warts and all with its head and paws still attached, but in this case the insides (offal) of the guinea pig had been extracted out and tied to the outside of the guinea pig to be roasted as well.
Once cooked we rushed the guinea pig back to our hostel so we could eat it while it was still hot. As a kind gesture was gave the owner of the hostel a leg which he was over the moon for. After taking off the offal and head we divided the guinea pig into four pieces so we could all try. My god the guinea pig was absolutely delicious which tasted rather ironically like chicken tight but a lot more moist and tender. The cracking of the skin was like a small slice of heaven and like no other cracking I have experienced before. The skin was extremely thin and crispy with no lumps of fat that could leave you with an oily sick after taste. The head and offal was rejected by the group as it looked rather questionable especially the head. On the head you can still see all the tiny little teeth the guinea pig once owned which is rather off putting when trying to eat it. However, we found out from the Scandinavian couple that the head is considered a treat to Ecuadorians, so we offered the head and offal to the hostel owner who was again over the moon and accepted our kind offering.
Final verdict from all the Goonies is that guinea pig is definitely a must try, however not the most meatiest of rodents. Watch this space as guinea pig will no doubt be served in a Gordon Ramsey restaurant near you.
Tags: Ecuador · South America
Winding Down in Cuenca
February 19th, 2009 by Mike · 1 Comment
After having an adrenalin packed adventure in Banôs we headed south to a placed called Cuenca, which is a city full of beautiful churches and cathedrals steeped in history and culture. This is exactly what the group needed as we have been travelling non stop and not had a chance to wind down and take advantage of chill out time the group well deserved.
From Banôs we got a local bus that took approximately 10 hours to get to Cuenca on extremely bumpy unpaved roads and where the bus driver must have learnt how to drive from the Chuck Norris School Of Driving. Overtaking on blind corners or attempting to overtake 4 other bus in one hit is not my idea of fun and especially not in a bus that was older than me and on it’s last legs.
The 10 hours of fear was over and we arrived in Cuenca bus terminal in the evening to be bombarded by many locals offering places to stay. One lady in particular would not leave us alone and even helped us get a taxi thinking that we was going to her hostel. In the end we ended up checking into her hostel, which was a very quirky little place that was owned by someone like Basil Fawlty. The hostel itself looked like a disused apartment block that had been badly finished by a DIY enthusiast. But the owner was extremely helpful and would bend over backwards for us. On the first evening we decided to go to the supermarket around the corner from the hostel to pick up some supplies, but as it was 10 PM it was about to close. The owner from the hostel came out and tried to get it reopened for us but failed, however his good intentions was there.
The family that own the hostel also had a pet rabbit called Pancho. This rabbit was not afraid of anything and would even try muscle / fight against people in order to stay in the warmth as the owner always kept the rabbit outside. The rabbit was also extremely greedy and ate everything in sight providing it has not been contaminated with onion as we found out.
On our first day in Cuenca we took a stroll through the local markets in the morning. Cuenca had a wide range of markets but the majority sold fresh fruit and vegetables, raw meats and cooked food. Along the cooked food stalls was a large span of roast pig / hog heads, empanada stalls and fresh juice stall like in a modern trendy shopping mall, but Ecuadorian style. So all the healthy conscious can get their vitamin boost with ease.
In the afternoon we decided to walk along Rio Tomebamba which is the main river that ran through the city. Unfortunately for Kev he did not join us as he was still feeling rough from the dodgy stomach we all got from a burger we had in Banôs. Walking along Calle Larga which is the road parallel to Rio Tomebama you can find all the main shops, bars and restaurants. About ¾ down the road we also passed the Panama Hat museum, which is the famous hat produced in Ecuador.
On our last day we visited 9 of the 12 listed churches / cathedrals in Cuenca. During our sight seeing we bumped into a small group of local girls who we thought wanted us to take a picture for them. But instead they wanted to take pictures with us which we thought was very strange. However, this will turn out to be the start of a new craze for us called ‘Photo with a Gringo Phenomenon’. See later post for more details.
As tonight was our last night in Ecuador we wanted to taste guinea pig before we left which is a local delicacy to Ecuador and Peru. After speaking with the hostel owner we discovered that you can get cheap guinea pig from the market we explored the day before. The guinea pig cost us 6 dollars from the market which we brought back to the hostel to eat (See later post for more details of eating guinea pig). Despite being absolutely delicious the guinea pig was tiny and lacked any quantity to justify it being a real meal meaning the group went out for a meal at a local pizzeria. Here we got a stone baked pizza, drink and ice cream for 4 dollars!!
Next stop Lima, with a recovered and revitalised Goonie crew.
Tags: Ecuador · South America