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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Good Luck. Bad Luck.

Sometimes when you’re travelling you just get lucky that things seem to line up and come together and other times you just end up being disappointed something hasn’t met your expectations. That’s what happened to me in Belize.

There’s 2 main things that we’d planned for Belize – tubing and diving the Blue Hole.

First the tubing. We’d tried to organise booking with a company that had been recommended to us but never managed to agree a meeting point. Because of this we’d decided to pop over to Guatemala to visit Tikal first.

However on our way to the bus station in Belize city we came across a great big coach with Cave Tubing written on it. Bingo that’s that all sorted we thought. When we said to the guys there what we wanted to do they said not only would they take us but for half price and would drop us off on the way to the border – brilliant!

A lucky spot!

A little while later we found ourselves waiting further in Belize City having still not set off. It turned out we were waiting for a television producer for the trip was the be shown on TV here in Belize. Being the only foreigners on board (except a delightfully funny woman from the Bronx originally from Belize anyway) we drew quite a bit of attention. I’d love to see the end cut someday.

The tubing itself was great fun, floating through a cave system in the Belizean mountains with just the lights of head torches to see where you’re headed. I highly recommend it! Our guides were excellent and typically Belizean, laid back, friendly, witty as well as informative.

Then comes the bad luck. On our return to Belize our intention was for me to dive the Blue Hole – long regarded as the world’s best dive site. After emailing a few places I thought I’d found a company doing the trip from Placencia. This turned out to be cancelled due to a lack of numbers while two further trips have been cancelled too due to the bad weather – it seems the rainy season has set in here a few weeks earlier than expected. I can’t put into words how disappointed I am!

Anyway, despite my highly anticipated dive being cancelled I still managed a trip out to the barrier reef, second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The diving in the rain was incredible, never have I seen so many Moray Eels, Lionfish and strikingly beautiful soft coral. Nor had I ever dived in the rain before, a slightly strange experience and after the hour long and back breakingly bumpy boat journey to reach the reef along with the 5ft swell, I can fully understand why the longer trip to the Blue Hole had been cancelled. 3 hours there, 3 hours back on a small boat leaping into the air would have made for a rather tough journey.

Sting Ray

There’s a Monty Python lesson in here somewhere – Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!