Books we liked: Bolivia

“Marching powder” by Rusty Young, Thomas McFadden

True story about Thomas McFadden, a convicted English drug trafficker who ran tours inside Bolivia’s notorious San Pedro prison.

“Valley of the Spirits: A Journey Into the Lost Realm of the Aymara”

by Author: Alan L. Kolata

“Mask of the Andes” by John Cleary

Posted in 1 Books (we liked) about the different countries., Bolivia | Leave a comment

Northern Argentina

In San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)  we said good-bye to our friends and took off for Argentinian border. A new country again, how different they have all been, and how interesting. The border was the usual “gong show” and again, we had to pay $ 160 each to be able to enter the country. Fruits and veggies, dry beans, fresh eggs and such all are “verboten”. We knew that this time, boiled the eggs and had a big cook off before hitting the border. The drive was beautiful, more canyons and desert. We were dying for some green and drove to Salta. Argentinians love car camping and there are many camp grounds to choose from. Some nice and clean, some not so, some with wifi (usually bad) some with pools (usually empty). We wanted to visit the town of Salta and the Dodge dealer. The truck has been running really well, but an oil change was due. So we headed for the Salta municipal campground and got a good dose of Argentinian campground life.

It was summer vacation time (mid Dec to mid Feb) and the camp ground was full, the pool was huge but empty. A big part of their camping experience is grilling and consuming lots of meat, listening to music from the car stereos, drinking mate and socializing. One has to get used to their timing, the afternoons can be quiet when everybody is napping. They come back to life in the evening, start their fires around 10 pm, cook and eat around midnight and sometimes you can hear them and the music until the wee hours in the morning. We found out the hard way and were laughing when we woke up in the middle of the night and were both groping around the camper trying to find our ear plugs.

In Cachi, a little town in the hills we decided to stay for a while. The climate was mild, the air clean and the sleepy town nice. To get there we drove to through more desert, there had been one of those E Nino downpours a few days before and the desert was blooming, covered in yellow Hieronymiellas that grew between large cardon cactuses. We kept going south, headed for wine country (Mendoza area) and to the high mountains again.

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Lise and Sissi, Cathedral of Salta

 

 

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Salta: Basilica San Francisco

 

 

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Cachi

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Andean Flicker

 

 

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Günter testing the waters

 

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Hieronymiella Aurea

 

 

 

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The Lagunas of Southwestern Bolivia

The ” Lagunas Road” as some people call it, is (actually called “Reserva Eduardi Avaroa”) is on many peoples list, a series of salt lakes in the high desert of western Bolivia, connected by several roads or tracks, the altitude always 4000 m or higher. It is a harsh country, windy and it can get cold at night. There are no towns until you cross the border to Chile, this remoteness makes it a perfect home for flamingos and vicuña. The lakes are very picturesque, due to minerals and algae the reflect in different hues of color and are named accordingly. We drove the western route and spent the first night at Laguna Ganapa. The six of us parked the three vehicles near the edge of the lake and just could not get enough of the flamingos. Early in the morning their quiet chatter woke us up, we went outside with our cup of coffee and sat quietly, so not to interrupt them as they busily searched for food. But what’s that? Wroom wroom, here come the “Adventure Tours”, Landcruisers packed with tourists looking for an adventure. One after the other, originating either in Uyuni or San Pedro the Atacama they start out at 4 am (a lot of km to cover) unload their international clients for a quick photo shoot and then race on to the next site. So suddenly we had a gaggle of Chinese girls posing with the flamingos and “high fiveing” all around us. Luckily it did not seem to faze the birds much, but we broke camp and drove on. Later we talked to a guide as we lounged in a hot spring on the route. He told us that there are around 150 to 200 tour vehicles that drive the circuit Salar/Lagunas and they are very busy all year around. They drive much faster than us, it took us several days for the 450 km route. The road is rough and dusty, places for our campers to spend the night – out of the wind – were hard to come by. So we either huddled behind a rock outcropping or in a canyon.

It really is an amazing area, high desert, salt lakes and high mountains, geysers and hot springs. But what we loved most were the many flamingos – three different kinds – in the lagunas.

One day, in the middle of nowhere, and in an area with very rocky roads, we came upon a group of motor cyclists from Italy, they had three flat tires and two broken air compressors, a sick guy in the support vehicle and one less motorcycle than they started with because Bolivian customs had confiscated one at the border. We helped them out as well as we could and sent them on their way.

When we left Bolivia we crossed into Chile to go to San Pedro de Atacama for supplies, do laundry and take lots of showers to get all the dust off. Driving into San Pedro on a paved road was a real treat. San Pedro was bustling with tourists, young and old, lots of tour operators, nice restaurants, street dogs and ice cream parlors. Heaven for Günter, I now call him “Senor gelato”!

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“The Team”.

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First night at Laguna Canapa.

 

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On to the next laguna.

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A chinchilla

 

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Finding a place to spend the night, out of the wind.

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All snug.

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Laguna Colorda

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Laguna Verde

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Another great camp site out of the wind.

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Hot springs

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Grey breasted seed snipe.

 

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Salt devils

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Happy campers.

 

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What looks like moss covering rocks, is actually a bush with densely packed branches. It is called yareta, high-altitude plants which can live up to 3,000 years.

 

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The Italians with three flat tires.

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Strange potatoes, but so good.

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They scored, we gave them the last coloring book and crayons.

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San Pedro de Atacama helado stop.

Posted in Bolivia | 10 Comments

Salar de Uyuni

New Years 2016

The new year was just around the corner, we – the trio of two Toyota Land Cruisers and one XP Camper – planned to celebrate the coming of the new year on the biggest salt flat in the world : The Salar de Uyuni. In Oruro we needed to fill our fuel tanks, not always easy in Bolivia because not every gas station is allowed to sell to foreigners. Some do, but the price is usually more than double. We went to four gas stations and got sent away, Günter was getting frustrated, the fifth one finally agreed to a cash deal and gave us all the diesel we needed. During that time we lost our friends in city traffic and took off on our own – thinking they would catch up.

We entered the salar from the north, near volcano Tunupa. The drive there was interesting, Aymara villages and quinoa fields, sadly, due to El Nino, they had not received enough rain and the fields looked parched.

Salar de Uyuni is the worlds largest salt flat, spanning 4086 square miles (10,582 sq. km) in south-western Bolivia. Unlike traditional deserts, which have sand in abundance, the Salar de Uyuni features vast expanses of glistening white salt. The landscape is entirely flat, bar a few small ‘islands’ which only accentuates its surreal beauty. Underneath the cemented 2 to 7 m of salt are large reservoirs of lithium-rich brine. In fact, approximately 70% of the world’s lithium reserves are found in Salar de Uyuni and thus it’s not surprising that there’s an entire industry devoted to its extraction.

The salt crust is hard so we flew through this white expanse and headed for Pescador island (not Pescado Island where all the tour groups go), a fitting name for fishermen from Alaska. It feels weird to navigate on a lake and looking for an “anchorage” while driving your truck. After some searching we “anchored” off a point, trying to stay out of the wind. Our friends never showed up, the next day Günter climbed the highest peak on the island and looked all around. Just white and more white and no vehicles anywhere. The next island had a better cove and a cave to hike up to, still no sign of our friends with the two Land Cruisers. After spending the second night at Huanacuni island we decided to move on, leave the salt flats and camp at the train grave yard near Uyuni, they would surely come there. Yes, they had been one day behind us all the time and we finally met up again at the train tracks.

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Vulcano Turunga, you can hike up to the left peak.

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The pedal to the metal 🙂

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Driving on salt

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Camping on salt

 

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Salar sunset

 

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View from the top of Pescador Island

 

 

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Blooming cactus on one of the islands, we saw a hummingbird buzz around  as well.

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Caiophora

 

 

 

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we kept trying to take a salar picture….

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….and trying…

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…..and finally got a good shot.

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harvest

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If you venture too close to some of the shoreline, you can get stuck!

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Posted in Bolivia | 2 Comments

Chipaya pictures

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Posted in Bolivia | 7 Comments

Northern Bolivia and Chipaya country

Crossing the border into Bolivia went smoothly, but they charged us 160 US Dollars a person to visit their country because we are US citizens, our European friends entered for free.   We drove on to Copacabana, yes – this is the original Copacabana we were told. The one in Brasil is named after this town. Downtown was buzzing with international backpackers (young and old) and vacationers from La Paz. We camped at lake Titicaca in front of the gate to a hostel, at the edge of town. Every morning I watched two women row out their wooden boat and come back with buckets of trout, they fished with gillnets, wearing their skirts and shawls and all. Then they wrapped their shawls around the bucket, heaved them on their backs and walked past our camper to the market. (The trout is an introduced species from the northern hemisphere and is endangering the survival of several native species in the lake.)

The town has two highlights, the Basilica the Nuestra Senora de Copacabana and the Franciscan padre that will bless your car. The cathedral is really beautiful and should not be missed. On the way out you might see the padre blessing that are decorated with flowers and banners. For a small donation he will bless your camper too.

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Copacabana

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Fishing women bringing their catch to market.

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Leaving church after the mass

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Nice hair extensions Bolivia style.

We planned to meet up with our overlander friends Lise and Laurent from Elsass/New Caledonia and Sabine and Andy from Switzerland to celebrate Christmas, visit the salt flats and drive through the Laguna road together. Our original plan to celebrate Christmas in the historic town of Sucre was changed quickly when we had another flat tire shortly after we got off the ferry that took us across lake Titicaca, from the peninsula to the mainland. We really did not want to drive all those unpaved and rough roads in the Bolivian Altiplano to Chile with four bad tires and one badly patched spare. So off we went to La Paz in search for tires yet again. And yes: We found them!

We camped a nice quiet camp ground near the city called “Colibri camping”. It is perched on a sand stone cliff with great views of a valley below. Our Land Cruiser friends showed up and as a bonus Petra and Anders on their motorcycles roared in too.

Everybody contributed a dish or two to the Christmas dinner and it turned into a feast.

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Up there is the campground

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Christmas eve in Bolivia

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Colibri Camping

 

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Lises Christmas cookies.

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Sabines muffins and mango mousse

Our plan was to drive to Sajama National Park, then cross into Chile near Putre, drive south on the Chilean side and then cross back into Bolivia to visit Salar Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi). When we arrived at Sajama National Park the weather did not look very inviting and the park fee had quintupled since October, so we camped in the Pampa near the border and crossed into Chile the next day.

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Mt Sajama

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Another great morning

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Bolivia, Chile and Argentina have strict rules about bringing fruits, vegetables, plants and sometimes meat into their country. So we always have to make sure we do not have any of these items along or else they get confiscated. So you come into Chile without much fresh food and then there are no stores anywhere for many miles. In Putre we found some blackish bananas, apples and a cucumber and then we set off, drove south through beautiful desert and mountain scenery. We stopped at different hot springs for the night and went for walks along salt lakes and watched vicuña and flamingos.

Back on the Bolivian side the three of us decided to take the shortest route to the north entrance of the salar. Like it happens now and then, the road in the map is not always a road in reality. So the six of us (two Land Cruisers and one XP) took the road less traveled and after crossing a waterway and some dry riverbeds finally ended up in sand dunes and the road was gone. On the way there we passed through a huge area of curiously round houses, hundreds of them, with fields dotted with sheep and llamas. We were in Chipaya land. As we were debating what to do next, a man in a grey poncho showed up on a bicycle, he was a Chipaya. He was very friendly and had a great smile. Anthropologists believe that the Chipaya are direct descendants of the Uru ethnic group, which populated the Altiplano thousands of years before the Aymara and after that the Incas came here. The Chipaya seldom get visitors, overlanders lost in the pampa are an exception 🙂 They live in and around the small town of Santa Ana de Chipaya, on the pampas that fringe the Coipasa salt desert, a smaller version of the Salar de Uyuni. Neither their language nor their customs have changed for millennia and they are different from the Quechua and Aymara ethnic groups that dominate the Altiplano today.

The man was very friendly and kept on talking to us, he was hard to understand but we figured out that he tried to tell us that we could not continue on. Sadly,  we had to turned around. We drove back and on to Oruro, it was not however a wasted day because we got to see what few people see. (A few weeks later we talked to a nice man near Laguna Verde, he told us that the Chipaya do not like visitors and will throw rocks if you try to take pictures. No wonder the road is gone 🙂

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on the Ferry

 

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NO it’s not a rabbit, it is a viscacha (chinchilla)

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Andean geese

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Salt flats in Chile

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Blooming yareta! It is not moss, it is a tight bush. A high-altitude plant which can live up to 3,000 years.

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Rhea

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Upsidedown Oberstdorfian

 

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Günter climbed up the mountain and took this picture of us (three campers) camping by the hot springs

 

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View of the road and the hot springs at the edge of the lake

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Yareta bush

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Vicunas on the salt flats

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Posted in Bolivia | 5 Comments

Machu Picchu

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December 9. to 15. 2015

The magic word. Who hasn’t heard of Machu Picchu and seen the Pictures of this Inca citadel on top of the mountains.. Many of our friends have been there, it is one of the most famous places in the world. The photographs of this mountain settlement of the Incas are breathtaking, traveling in Peru and not going there was not an option for us. Knowing how any place as famous as this was going to be touristy, we braced ourselves and joined in. We are no stranger to mass tourism and once we leave home to take a trip we are tourist too, tourists of a different kind though .

(Juneau, Alaska, our second home, is a perfect example of what we try to avoid on our travels. Cruise ships ply the waters of the Inside Passage and deposit thousands of tourists in our towns every day from May to October. They shop in mostly cruise line owned or affiliated stores and line up at the “Crab Shack” drooling as if they had not eaten in days. Back on board their floating “all-inclusive” hotels they happily line up at the buffets while their ship pumps their sewage into our fjords and switch to highly polluting bunker fuel as soon as they have left the harbor and rounded the corner, leaving a trail of brown smoke in/above their wake. Sorry, cruise lovers.)

But back to Peru:

Anna, my Cousins daughter from Oberstdorf was backpacking in South America this winter and we decided to meet in Cusco. She and her friends planned to do a treck to Machu Picchu.

We left the coast and stopped at the Nazca area to looked at some of the lines, one really needs to take a plane to see them and the extend of the area where they are located.

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Then back up into the Andes, past herds of vicuña, through little towns and past beautiful lakes. The nights got colder as we worked our way up higher. The first evening we turned off the main road and drove into the hills to find a place to camp for the night. But the fields were fenced in with rock walls and finally we ended up in a little town called San Juan. We parked by the beautiful and very old little church and asked a lady if she knows a spot for us where we could spend the night. She and a horde of children directed us to a lot near the central plaza they called the “pampa”. There we stayed for the night and part of the next day, it was interesting to watch town life and we were being watched too. There are few cars and it was very quiet, we shared the “pampa” with some donkeys. A representative of the town hall came over in the morning to welcome us and wanted to know why we are here. The children hung out for hours and we let them come up the steps and look inside the camper. “Line up two and two” Günter told them, so we had a long line outside, two and two. We figured that close to 60 Children got to peak inside our “Casa Rodande” while most adults watched from a distance.

 

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Vicunas, so delicate, big eyes with long lashes and the softest fleece.

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Alpacas

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San Juan, worth a visit.

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Our camping spot in San Juan.

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The little church has the date of 1749 above the door.

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Sneak peak through a hole in the door, it was locked.

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Market day near Cusco

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It took us three days to drive from Paracas on the Pacific coast to Cusco.

Cuscos historical center is very beautiful and worth a visit. Although we do not like to go to camp grounds and there are very few anyway, the one in Cusco sounded perfect for us since it is in walking distance to the center of town and right next to one of many Inca ruins in the area: Sacsaywaman was the site of one of the most bitter battles during the time of the Spanish invasion. The stone work is impressive and a walk through the ruins is very pleasant, with a great view of Cusco. We hooked up with our friends, shared a dinner and spent a nice evening together. The next day they were off to the Inca trail.

There are different ways to go see Machu Picchu, you cannot drive there however.

You can hike in or take the train. We visited a few places in the “Sacred Valley” on the way to Ollyotambo, the end of the road and starting point of the train.

They valley is pretty and has several interesting sites.

Dreadlocks are alive and well in the Sacred Valley, New Agers flock to different retreats for spiritual enlightenment, it is big business in some corners or the valley.

We hiked around the ruins and amazing terraces of Pisac, spent the night above the salt ponds of Salinas and finally left our camper at a litte hostal in the last town Ollantaytambo. From there we took the train to Aguas Calientes, spent the night and got an early start with the 6 am bus up to the ruins. People try to get there earlier for the sun rise, so when we left the bus there were already a few hundred people ahead of us. Ok, we hike up and around for a while and when it got fuller, we split up. Günter climbed Cerro Machu Picchu, all steps – it was not easy, but the expansive views from the top made it all worth while. While Wayna Picchu is more popular and one has to sign up ahead of time to climb it, it gets quite crowded and Günter was glad he chose the other mountain where he was the first one up there. I in the meantime I headed for Intipunku, the Sun Gate, part of the Inca Trail. There are a lot of steps at Machu Picchu and hiking poles are not allowed, I had to go all the way back down to the bus station at one point to got to the bathroom and then back up to where I had left off. Plenty of exercise and people to negotiate around.

The ruins are indeed beautiful and the location amazing, the morning was cloudless and even when a few clouds crowned the peaks around in the afternoon we could not stop marveling at the ruins and the surroundings. Most people head back to the busses around lunch time, so it was less crowded in the afternoon.

We left Aguas Calientes again that evening by train, a funny train trip with entertainment, the conductor doing some Inca dance dressed in a costume and the “train attendants” modeling alpaca sweaters and shawls for sale.

Back in Cusco we stocked up on groceries but did not go back to the camp ground since one of the German ladies there had been very rude to Günter. There were several German campers in the camp ground, retired couples mostly. When we first arrived there from the coast this woman had asked us for help with different issues (truck, laptop) because her husband was gone and Günter did his best to fix her problems on several occasions. The day we left she got really mad at him for warming up the engine of our truck for just a short time. She accused him of being “totally Americanized”, I guess that is supposed to be an insult, she told us we probably do not have children and grand children to worry about so we just pollute the environment. (Never mind that she and her husband drive a diesel truck camper around.)Oh well, we were so shocked about this ungrateful and insulting behaviour that we just turned around and left her standing there. The shame is on her.

We wanted to go camp by ourselves somewhere, where it is peaceful and quiet. It was time to move on and go south, to Bolivia.

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Cusco

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Dinner with Anna und Benny (und Birgit) in Cusco.

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Sacsaywaman

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Inca stone work, I could not get my finger between the rocks.

                                                                                SALINAS

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Another great spot to spend the night.

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                                                                            PISAC

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                                                                MACHU PICCHU

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Günters view from the top

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Sissis view from the Inca trail

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El Condor

 

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Camelidae

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Peru | 4 Comments