As Seen on TV

When travelling we all love to find those cool little hidden things in any place that people don’t necessarily know about. Sadly this isn’t always the case and when visiting a new place you need a little nudge in the right direction.

In South America I’ve not been the biggest friend of the Lonely Planet, to be honest it’s an extra kilo I’d rather not bothered with. There have been some good travel blogs (sadly the best one, This Battered Suitcase, appears to be written by someone travelling a similar route to myself but always a place or two behind where we are). However one our most followed ways has been a couple of things we’ve seen on TV.

Before this trip we knew we’d be heading down through Peru and Bolivia. I used to love watching Michael Palin shows as a kid so Full Circle which took him to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca has always stuck in my head for this trip.

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It really didn’t disappoint, we marvelled at the beauty of the lost Inca city (more on that in my last blog). The scale of the place is incredible while the scenes of the ruins on the mountain top encircled by a river thousands of feet below are really did live up to my massive expectations. Of course Full Circle wasn’t the only way I knew of such a place but it was the clearest image in my head before out visit.

A week or so later at Lake Titicaca I was reminded of the boat called the Yavari – as seen on Full Circle, it was manufactured in the UK in pieces, then lugged up to the world’s highest navigable lake by llamas from the now Chilean coastline to be reassembled in Bolivia. Given walking a few hundred metres at a normal pace can leave you a little breathless at this altitude it really is amazing. Other boats like this were also taken up here but the Yavari has been loving restored and maintained via donations from tourists.

For a moderate fee we were shown all over the boat but kept coming back to admiring the logistics of getting it here. Well worth the short stop before heading to the floating islands. Yeah you read that right. Out in the lake are islands made of the local reeds, continuously replenished and anchored to the lake bed on which houses are built of the same material. Well you’ve got to see that haven’t you?!

Our second televisual travel inspiration came not quite from a travel program but the love or hate chaps from Top Gear. Personally I love them but I know many others have less kind words to say about it. I’ve previously been inspired to ride a motorbike over the Hai Van Pass in Vietnam that is to one of their Xmas Specials. On this trip we’ve watched their Bolivia episode which only served to make us more excited to visit the country.

They traversed this hugely varied country from the jungle in the east, up the treacherous Death Road, through La Paz and over the Andes into Chile. We didn’t have wheels for the trip (think bureaucracy and cost) but wanted to see what we looked at in awe on TV.

On a boat into the jungle it actually felt just like what we’d been watching. The butterflies as big as bats, fish jumping into the boat and weirdly coloured trees. Thankfully we didn’t freak out like Hammond with the insects!

Later in La Paz (following an incredible painful accident with my ankle) we took on Death Road – top to bottom by bicycle.

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So called due to the people who died building it, as well as having accidents on the perilously narrow unpaved road, this was probably pretty daft in the circumstances.

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From the breathlessly high start all was looking good. With a quick blast down a paved section to get used to the bikes we took on the gravel, stopping for the occasional photo and gawp down the sheer drops. Then ….

“BANG! OWW. FUCK!”

In no time approaching a bend the front wheel locked when not even touching the brake, I flew over the handlebars. With the only aim not to land on my ankle I walked off with just a few bruises and in a bit of pain. Much more careful now.

Despite that, just minutes later Katrina had gone down too in almost identical circumstances. Sadly for her this stopped her ride, her wrist was much worse and couldn’t grip the handlebars.

Thankfully I survived the rest if the ride on the spectacular road. And when receiving our t-shirts afterwords found we had both fallen on the part if the road called ‘the corners of death’. Phew.

In the days afterwords we heard of many more injuries, so lucky us.

The final spectacular attraction of Bolivia was to be the high Andes. We crossed via the Salar de Uyuni – a bit different to the programme and even more spectacular! A bit more of them later.

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The final personality to influence is an unlikely source – An Idiot Abroad – Karl Pilkington. Having changed our plans to end in Rio, I’d recalled I had his episode there on my laptop so we took a look.

It didn’t give us much more than we already knew about Rio – Karl mostly being there to be annoyed and see ‘the Jesus thing’ or Cristo Redentor towering over the city. He wasn’t too stunned by the sculpture, remarking on the chin/beard looking weird.

He was however given a chance to see the wonder by helicopter – something he enjoyed more than the sculpture itself. Ridiculous but funny travel programming at its best. And enough to make us want to take a flight.

Our first visit up the Corcovado mountain where the sculpture sits saw the cloud roll in at sunset, spoiling the view a little but providing an alternative atmosphere. It did however leave us wanting more.

With some money towards the cost from my birthday. We took a flight from Sugar Loaf mountain over the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema and around the mountain. And it didn’t disappoint, I loved the experience!

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The perspective provided by the flight is totally different to any other angle. Swooping around the statue I’m so happy with my photographs. And on a clear day I could admire the clean lines of an incredible piece of architecture. If you’ve got the money (or want a treat to end your trip) it’s well worth it.

I’m yet to see much of the Michael Palin series on Brazil, but I’m sure it will only add to my desire to return there very soon.

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My Travel Inspirations

While fooling around on Twitter the other day I came across this blog by Paul Corbett talking about travel inspirations. EasyJet Holidays are asking travel bloggers the who, what, where and when as part of their Inspiration Initiative and given I find the idea quite interesting I thought I’d give it a go.

Who – Michael Palin

I remember watching Michael Palin shows like Around the World in 80 Days and Pole to Pole on rainy school holidays at my Aunt’s house in Glasgow. I was completely addicted to them, they made me realise how different other places and people were which I’ve wanted to explore ever since. I’ve been hooked on all his other travel shows ever since as well as comedies such as Monty Python and Ripping Yarns, at the release of the latter I was lucky enough to meet him! That’s why it’s all his fault I’m writing this blog 😉

When – Hitchhiking to Morocco

My first real adventure was in my first year of University. I’d seen somebody advertising a charity running a hitchhike from Nottingham to Morocco and was hooked straight away. The trip took about 5 days (including a day off in northern Spain) while I encountered crazy Romanian Truck Drivers, blagged a lift from an OAP coach tour and even got a lift from a French driving school. The trip felt like my first real adventure and raised about £600 for Link Community Development supporting education projects in the UK & Africa.

Congratulating my arrival in Morocco!

Where – the old city of Fes

Fes was the highlight of the hitchhike to Morocco. After arriving in Tangiers and travelling to Essaouira and Marrakech, Fes was the last place I visited in Morocco. I’d read a few articles about Morocco before setting off and it was always Fes that stood out, many of them romantically describing the traditional nature of the old city. The experience really didn’t disappoint, I fell in love with the traditional craft work taking place including the potteries, street food but especially the tanneries where you can still can watch the whole ancient process of the animal skins being washed and dyed in the sun. I’ve been looking for the heart and soul of locations ever since, it’s so much better than a museum!

The tanneries of Fes

What – Manas figure from Kyrgyzstan

Another one from my childhood when my Dad did some project work for the World Bank in Kyrgyzstan. One of the souvenirs he brought back for me was a small wooden statue of a warrior called ‘Manas’. My Dad told me the background of the story about how he fought off  the Uighurs and was considered a hero in Kyrgyzstan and a strong part of the national identity, similar to Ghenghis Khan in Mongolia. Barely anyone had really been to Kyrgyzstan back then (not many people have even now) so I value its uniqueness to me and how it has made me bring back exotic travel ornaments as souvenirs of my own journeys.

Manas

Legendary Kyrgyz warrior

As part of this initiative, EasyJet Holidays want me to nominate 5 people to write their own travel inspirations. I’m going to nominate my girlfriend, Katrina, as this might make her start the blog she keeps saying she will do. I’m also going to nominate a friend, Hazell, who’s been writing this blog over the past year or so.

To bring it up to five I’ve been following these guys on Twitter, have enjoyed reading their stuff and think they should join in!

Our Oyster

Bucket List Publications

Malllory on Travel