Follow us !

A round the world trip in more than 80 days.

Why this blog ?

Our aim : travel and discover the world during 353 days and through some fifhteen countries. We are hoping that this blog will allow us to share the experience with our family and friends thanks to the posts and photos that we will be publishing and also thanks to their comments.

Currently ...

now. For the moment, we are gently readapting from nomadic to sedentary life.


Cordoba the intellectual

After 4 days in Salta, the time came to hit the road again in order to continue our trip down south, heading for Bariloche in Patagonia. But, taking into consideration the distances (at least 36 hours by bus) we decided to add an intermediate stop somewhere. We considered three options : Buenos Aires, that we had liked a lot (specially our deluxe hosts Jean Jacques and Lucy) but we had already visited and was not the most direct option, Mendoza and its surrounding area, mainly known for its wineries, that we did not really feel like going to, and Cordoba, the second metropolis of Argentina, with its 7 universities and the title of Cultural Capital of the Americas, which is rather a Mecca of the local tourism than of the international one. At the end, we chose the third option.

Cordoba left us with mixed feelings. From an architectural point of view we were slightly disappointed : it has got some beautiful colonial buildings, but, the city is, overall, a conglomerate of new buildings without much interest. Sometimes we had the feeling of walking in Madrid streets, in one of red brick neighbourhoods built after the 60's boom : not bad to leave in, but not outstanding. On the other side, the downtown is filled with bookstores, cinemas and other cultural places, and there are also plenty of spots to visit in the nearby valleys and mountains.

Lately we have not been friends of getting up super-mega-early, the only thing we visited in the surrounding area was the town of Alta Gracia, 35 km away from Cordoba. The place is full of old mansions and what must be the biggest concentration of old Fiat 500 in the world. It was a fancy place already at the beginning of the 20th century when, thanks to its warm and dry climate, it became popular among the Argentinian bourgeoisie suffering lung illnesses. For this reason, since 1932, the Guevara family, whose 4 years-old first born Ernestito had asthma, settled there. The house they inhabited is now a museum dedicated to the life and works of the son who would become later 'El Che'. The museum contains, among others, plenty of objects and souvenirs of his childhood, adolescence and youth: photos, the books he read as a child, school records, and letters written to his family.

At the end of the 3 days we spent in Cordoba, we felt we could have stayed a bit longer. But, still plenty to see in Argentina and we are back on board of yet another bus that, in 22 hours, will drop us in Bariloche.


Back in Argentina : Salta, the Andean charm

We are back in Argentina, the starting point of our trip a bit more than two months ago. At that time, we went to Buenos Aires and Iguazu falls. Now, our aim is to cross the country from north to south toward Ushuaia.

The north of Argentina, from Salta up to the Bolivian border has got an Andean flavour. From the reddish mountain and desert landscape to the cultural specificities. In the gastronomy as well, the pre-Columbian influence can be felt. Back in time, the area made part of the Inca empire and during the Spanish colonisation, it built strong commercial links with Potosi. Indeed, the north of Argentina, today the poorest part of the country, used to be the richest with its economy based on the production of mules and provisions to supply the mining city, where, due to altitude and climate, the local production could not cope with the needs.

An example of this Andean flavour : though the import and selling of coca leaves is forbidden in Argentina, authorities in the north do not seem to pay too much heed to the rule. Some grocery shops have got signs proposing this product and, even in the most elegant coffees in town, and at any time of the day, it is possible to see people pulling a few leaves from a little bag and putting them into their mouths.

Nevertheless do not get the wrong impression from my words : there are a few common points with the neighbouring country, but the area feels more like Argentina than Bolivia. Starting with paved roads and in rather good shape, there are coffee shops and restaurants everywhere and, with the exception of few local dishes, food is similar to what we found in Buenos Aires : pizza, pasta, parrilla and empanadas. On top of that, though some of the people have got an indigenous type, most of the population seems to be of European or Middle East descent, unlike the areas we visited in Bolivia. And, of course, you can hear the Argentinian accent all around you.

Salta is a charming city. The old town is well preserved and has got beautiful colonial buildings spread all over it. Everywhere there are shops, coffees and terraces. We stayed in a nice hostel where we could oversleep. It was the first time in a while that we did not have to suffer from the staff shouting to each other at 8 a.m, in front of our door. The Wifi was, as well, fast and reliable. All these details helped to enjoy the city even better.

One of the main attractions in Salta is the 'Tren the las Nubes' (Train of the Clouds, literally). Unfortunately, with the years it has stopped being a mean of transport to become a tourist attraction with prices close to those of a Paris-Madrid by Talgo. So we gave up the idea and, instead, we took the aerial cable car up to San Bernardo hill, where there are great views of the town. Maybe less impressive, but still very nice and much, much cheaper. The day before our departure, we went to watch a comedy play. It was hard to convince Karim, because he was not expecting to get everything. But he did understand well … I am proud of him !


Fotos : The Salt Flat of Uyuni

Click on the image below to see some pictures of our trip to the salt flat of Uyuni and its surroundings :
Bolivia - Uyuni

The Salt Flat of Uyuni

After spending a couple of days in Potosi, and with our travel mates, Daniel and Helene, we hit again the Bolivian roads, heading this time for the little town of Uyuni, near the border with Chili.

It took us a little over 6 hours to go through the 250 kilometres of dirt road that links both places. Finally, by mid afternoon, we got near our target and a much desired late lunch. We were so near, we could practically smell the enticing aroma of chicken turning in the grills, a prospect that had our empty stomachs growling and our mouths already watering. A little last turn in the road … and we got face to face with a very common form of protest in Bolivia : road blocks.

As it happens, all the entries and exits of Uyuni were blocked by the truck drivers of the area, that were requesting that part of the transport of minerals from the nearby mines be done by them, rather than all by train.

After waiting two hours and loosing the hope of seeing the problem solved before nightfall we decided, together with some other particular cars, to make a convoy and go off road through the desert to get to the town. When we arrived finally at diner time, we discovered a second 'bloqueo' preventing the access to downtown, by taxi drivers.

The next morning, less than 48 hours after the start of the 'bloqueo', the town felt already like a besieged zone : hotels full, tourists desperate to continue their trip or, like us, to depart for a tour of the surrounding area, which is the main attraction of Uyuni since this overgrown village does not have a lot of interest itself. Most agencies kept running tours on this second day, by leaving the town before daylight to avoid the pickets. But since tank trucks could not get to town, there was no fuel left to ensure all departures on the third day (the few remaining litres were already reaching price records in the black market).

Luckily, we finally found an agency with some fuel left and we could leave for our tour of one of the most beautiful places in Bolivia.

The visit of the area that surrounds Uyuni is done over several days, in a 4x4 truck. It takes you through some amazingly beautiful desert zones of hard dirt roads, sometimes no roads at all, where direction signs have not yet been invented and where car suspensions have a very short life.

Near Uyuni there is the biggest Salt Flat worldwide. The region, covered by the Atlantic Ocean at the origin, became a lake when the Andes started to rise. Then, 10.000 years ago, all the water dried out leaving behind a big white salt surface, thick up to 7 meters in some points. The islands scattered through this white sea show rests of corals, a proof that in a certain past they were under water.

At the little hotel in the border of the salt flat, built out of blocks of salt, where we spent our first night, we met for the third time Sophie and Philippe, the Belgian couple daydreaming of the fries from back home (the best in the world as we all know) and that are also doing a round-the-world trip. We met them for the first time in the Machu Pichu, we were then for a few days in the same hotel in Sucre. It is amazing how many people we have met in Bolivia that we have seen before, like the English couple that was staying in our hostel in Arequipa (Peru) and that we met again while visiting the Cretacic park in Sucre. The world, at least the gringo trail in South America, is small :).

But lets go back to our expedition to one of the most hostile regions in the world. After the salt flat, we surrounded several salt lakes each one with a predominant colour : white, green, blue, red and inhabited by thousands of stoic flamingos standing the hard weather conditions: strong winds, freezing temperatures at night and suffocating ones during the day. We went through desert fields where the winds have eroded and sculpted rocks into surrealistic shapes. We drove next to some majestic volcanoes, one of them with sulphur and fumes flowing from it, and next to mountains painted with different mineral tones going from white to yellow, orange, reddish, green or ochre. So beautiful !

You get t visit also a geyser field, with its muddy and boiling waters fuming against the cold morning air. A bit further, you can bath in a blissfully hot little thermal pool built in the middle of the 'pampa' where you can defrost your fingers and toes. Since we are now in spring in the southern hemisphere, I cannot imagine what the weather would be around here in winter, when temperatures reach minus 20°C.

Nevertheless, after three days getting our eyes filled with beautiful sceneries and getting up early (between 4h30 and 6h30 a.m.) we said “au revoir” to Helene and Daniel, who were returning to Uyuni to pick up their car, while we continued our road to San Pedro de Atacama on the Chilean side of the border. This touristy but nice village is not short itself on desert and geyser tourist proposals but it is quite expensive, specially when arriving from Bolivia. So, at the end, we only stayed there 2 days, the time required to catch the next bus leaving for Salta in Northern Argentina. This little stop gave us one more time the opportunity to share another 'hostal-made' meal with our favourite Belgium couple (no fries on the menu, though).


Photos : Sucre and Potosi

Click on the image below to see some pictures of our visit to Sucre and Potosi :

Bolivia - Sucre, Potosi

Sucre and Potosi

When leaving the bustling La Paz, we thought that it would be nice to take the time to kick back and relax in one of our next destinations, like we did in Puerto Lopez, our last stop in Ecuador.

Be assured that we still have this hunger for travel and we enjoy more and more this wandering where each day brings its share of knowledge, discoveries and encounters.

Sometimes though, a break is necessary, in order to give ourselves the time to do some laundry or to update the blog. But more importantly to see where we should be heading next. Even if the major milestones of our trip are already known, we still need to adjust our itinerary following our mood and the feedback we get from our fellow travelers.

So we took a night bus to Sucre, the judicial capital of Bolivia that has also a good reputation among globetrotters. Initially, we were planning to spend 3 nights, finally it became 6. The warm and sunny weather and going down from an elevation of 3800m to 2300m helped made our stay pleasant and our breathing easier. I was even able to put back on my shorts that were hidden at the the bottom of my backpack since Ecuador.

This city, with all its white buildings made me remember Casablanca when I was a kid, where everything was also painted in white, including tree trunks. Anyway, we couldn't feel homesick : just by walking to one of the city park's we could see replicas of the Eiffel tower and the “Arc de Triomphe”.

Sucre, the birth place of independent Bolivia, has many touristic sights but the one we found the most impressive was the cretacic park where you can see hundreds of tracks left there by dinosaurs before the rise of the Andes.

After Sucre, we kept going south toward our next stop : Potosi. But instead of a Bolivian bus bumpy ride, we traveled with Hélène and Daniel in their classy Japanese 4x4. This couple from Drancy (one of Paris suburbs) who is cruising from Alaska to Patagonia, offered us the ride, a proposition we couldn't refuse. Trust me, it was weird to get back on a private car. After two months riding public buses, we had totally forgotten how it was like.

Potosi is the highest city worldwide. Nested at an altitude of 4090m, even Lhasa in Tibet is beaten. This city used to be one of the wealthiest in the world thanks to the exploitation of the nearby silver mines started by the Spanish in the 16th century and still running nowadays with hard labor conditions. Miners use 96° alcohol and coca leaves to support working in such environment. Being a mining engineer and as most of the tourists transiting in the area, Bea could not miss the mine tour.

From its golden age, Potosi keeps only few colonial houses falling apart and the « Casa de la Moneda » where the minting of silver coins, in use in all the Spanish colonial empire, was done.
In Potosi, we also had the chance to watch some basket-ball games from the Bolivian premier league. Playing at such an altitude should be rewarded by a gold medal anyhow and even if it is was not the NBA level, the players provided a good game in a family atmosphere where kids invaded the playground at each time-out trying to score at least a 2 pointer.

Except the basket ball game and the mine tour, Potosi will not leave imperishable memories in our minds. Let's hope that our next destination, « El Salar Uyuni » will live up to our expectations.


Fotos : La Paz

Clic on the picture below to see our shots of La Paz :

Bolivia - La Paz

No peace in La Paz

The sight when arriving to La Paz from Copacabana is amazing. A enormous valley, completely covered of houses from hill to hill, expands at your feet. At night, when the city lights are on, it must be magic.

Once you get nearer, and from an architectural point of view, La Paz is not specially impressive. I have loved it though for its lively side. Old downtown, the most touristic part of the city, is full of old colonial buildings, many of which are falling apart. The whole place is packed with little stands and markets. The most spectacular and scary of them is the 'Witches Market', where you can buy anything from herbs or concoctions to talismans (such as a lama fetus to protect your newly built house). Other shopping options, such as the 'Black Market', 'Comercio' street or 'Lanza Market' are rather standard street markets. And among all this, there are hundreds of food stalls. Actually, you change from one market to another without even realizing it.

Last Sunday, it looked like all families and young people from La Paz went to enjoy the city. Many of them to the stadium to watch the derby between the two local teams, Bolivar and Stronger. Some others to enjoy the city skyline from the scenic point and the children playground areas next to it. And the rest was walking, having an ice cream or going to the cinema in El Prado street, the local main street. One or two to get cards or coca leaves read by a witch. And to go back home, no worry, just catch a taxi, a minibus or, even better, one of the buses with a funny message on the windshield: 'Labios Mentirosos' (Treacherous Lips), 'Libre como el viento' (Free as the wind), 'Loquito' (Little Crazy), 'Tu y yo, Lucifer' (You and I, Lucifer), 'Amor' (Love), 'Suavecito' (Smoothly), 'Poderoso Bolivar' (Powerful Bolivar), etc.

The city has got its share of museums : about colonial lifestyle, textiles, religious and others that are less usual, where you can go if you want a change of scene, or to avoid the rain. The rainy season is coming early this year and after three thunderclaps you get completely wet unless you ran for cover in time.

The 'Coca Museum' shows the history of coca from prehistory to nowadays. It was used for religious rituals (to communicate with Gods and spirits), medical protocols (anesthetic) and nutritive purposes (its high content in some nutrients allows to complete the carbohydrates-based diet), what makes it one of the pillars of the indigenous culture even today. Under the Spanish colony it was first banished as 'diabolical' by the Inquisition, and a bit later miraculously freed of sin when the secular authorities, Phillip II at the front, realized that the indigenous people, submitted to 48 hours shifts, endured better the harsh work conditions when they were chewing coca leaves.

Not less interesting, the 'Museum of Music Instruments', is located in one of the better preserved streets of the old La Paz. Inside the museum, there are hundreds of surprising music instruments of all kinds : wind, stringed, percussion, indigenous, mestizo, criollo, foreign, for children, for adults, small, big, made out of condor feathers or chest, out of unconventionally carved wood, out of metal, out of ceramics, using turtle shells or 'quirquincho' skin, as well as a set of extravagant rattles. The best is that they allow you to play some of the instruments, if we can call 'playing' the hideous noise produced by a band of amateurs beating drums, blowing on flutes, hammering the keys of a pianola or trying to play a children's accordion. Juan Sebastian Bach and wife, the parakeets that live in the museum courtyard, go crazy with the noise and try to outstrip it with their own singing.


Photos : Titicaca Lake

Click in the image below to see our pictures from our visit to the Titicaca Lake:

Peru-Bolivia : Lago Titicaca

Titicaca Lake, a story between Peru and Bolivia

Following the Machu Pichu and its tourist tsunami, we headed toward Puno and the Titicaca lake.

I remember myself at primary school having quite a laugh when hearing this name. The lake spreads across Bolivia and Peru, and our Peruvian friends were fast to tell us that the Titi is in Peru while the Caca is in Bolivia. I did not know if it was cynicism or humor. You can't never tell with these guys.

Anyway, we did not have the time to check this saying. Arrived by a night bus from Cusco at 6:00 AM, we were already on a boat sailing the lake at 6:40 AM toward some of its islands.

The Lake is very impressive : at an altitude of 4000 meters and being 200 km long, it is one of the highest navigable lakes in the world. It contains some islands where people have created cultures and civilizations that differs from the ones on the mainland. The Uros, for example, sought refuge « on » the lake away from the Incas. Actually, they still live on floating islands that they build from « totora », a reed that grows on the lake. They use it nearly for everything : to build boats and houses, as a fuel for cooking and it is a key ingredient of their diet. A floating island can last around 40 years, it is then sold to the local farmers that will recycle it into a fertilizer. You can hardly imagine something greener that this.

Leaving Puno and the Peruvian side of the lake, we took a bus to Copacabana, Bolivia. Don't get fooled, I am talking about the real one that gave its name to beach in Rio de Janeiro.

Crossing the border was a piece of cake. After getting new stamps on our passeports, we noticed a massive egg traffic from Bolivia to Peru. After asking an independent expert (aka our bus driver), we learned that since eggs are cheaper in Bolivia, Peruvian people stock up before going back home.

Copacabana has also a beach, on the shore of lake Titicaca. But with a water averaging at 7°C, do not expect a large crowd. Actually, the masses can be found rather around the church. When a Boliviano buy a vehicle, he needs to bring it to Copacabana for a blessing. Even Peruanos do the trip for what seems to be mandatory and I can assure you that there was a line in front of the church longer than in front of Mac Drive a Saturday night.

How does it work ? You pimp your ride newly-weds-car-style. After the priest very seriously blesses it you sprinkle on it champagne or beer (matter of taste) and rice and flower petals, insisting on the wheels and the engine.

A gent, whose aging Toyota preferred whisky, asked me if we had something similar back home. I answered him that we have a thing called insurance and it is not that reliable neither. But with the blessing costing 1€, who can beat it ?

Even if you cannot drive here you brand new car, doing the whole ceremony on a miniature is permitted. You will find plenty in front of the church.

Not having a car to bless, we crossed the lake (our bus was on a boat and the passengers on another one) as we needed to keep moving toward La Paz.


Photos : Cusco and Machu Pichu

Click on this image to see our photos of Cusco region, including Machu Pichu :

Peru - Cusco area, Machu Pichu