Posts By Sam

Beautiful, and the view’s not bad either

Chillin’ in LA

Hello from Santa Monica, Los Angeles!

This week has mostly been a relaxing week and it’s been wonderful. The weather has been perfect sun, with a nice breeze so it hasn’t been too hot like it was in New Orleans. We’re a few blocks away from an absolutely gorgeous beach that goes on for miles, and it’s even close to the main street full of cute restaurants and places to drink.  This is a very, very nice place to be.

After taking the first day out as a beach day (after a year of travelling we’re pretty knackered. Sounds wrong I know but it really does take it out of you) we broke our rule of avoiding tour buses.  Los Angeles is MASSIVE and it’s almost impossible to navigate without a car.  Our amazing AirBnB host June recommended a tour which had consistent 5* reviews on Tripadvisor so we decided to give it a whirl, as it ticked off all the major sites in one day.  And it did not disappoint!

The view of LA from the Griffith observatory. It’s huuuuuge!

It fortunately wasn’t a walking tour- we were driven from site to site and given info en route, then left for 30 minutes-1 hour to explore at each location. Absolutely perfect for 2 people who hate being paraded round as dumb tourists!  We went to Venice, the home of muscle beach and where the bodybuilding movement was created by the amazing Arnold Schwarzenegger and co.  We then got to go through Beverly Hills and to Rodeo Drive, where there was a classic car festival on for fathers day which I really enjoyed, and I think even Laura did!  After going to a food market for lunch we then got to go to Hollywood to see the famous sign and walk the walk of starts.  I think this was the most surprising part of the tour- it’s not a very good road! It has kebab shops on it for christ sake.  Marilyn Monroe’s star is outside a McDonalds!  Still, Laura was very pleased to find Colin Firth’s star, and we got to see Donald Trumps star a day before it got vandalised with a mute sign :).

The rest of our time has been spent eating, drinking, and relaxing in the sun.  LA is very laid back, with seemingly everyone riding skateboards everywhere and spending all their time on the beach.  There’s an awful lot of plastic surgery around and we’ve overheard some of the most fake, boring, inane conversation known to man.  Conversely, there are also lots of friendly kind people, and there are still enough normal sized people around so that we didn’t pick up a complex (although we’ve both signed up to do the Manchester Half Marathon in October. Related?)

Apparently this is a ‘small scoop’……..American excess

We’re now ploughing on to our last stop- San Francisco.  I really can’t believe it’s almost over, and I also can’t believe that I have to do a presentation at a conference in 5 days. I’m woefully underprepared, but fingers crossed I’ll be able to pull it out the bag.  I suspect Laura may get quite a lot of alone time in SF whilst I practice!

Washington DC- the ultimate place for a West Wing fan

Hello everyone!

Sam here. I am in fact still alive. Laura had given me a brief break from doing the blog posts but apparently that time is over and I’m back on them again.  Fortunately we’ve had an action packed week in Washington so it’s a nice easy post to write!

So close to Barack!

As anyone who knows us well will know, we are huge fans of the West Wing, the greatest television show to have ever aired, and normally we rewatch the entire 7 seasons once a year.  It’s obviously based in Washington (at the White House!) so we were like kids in a candy shop getting to walk around and see all the sites from the show.  We were impressed and surprised by how close we could actually get to the White House, and we even got to go inside the Capitol building where the house and senate meet (alas only to the visitor centre, as we’re foreign we aren’t allowed in the chambers whilst they’re in session.)

We also got to go around all of the monuments, such as the WWII monument and the statue of Abraham Lincoln.  Having seen all these things on television for so many years there’s something particularly weird to actually seeing them in real life.  I don’t think anything disappointed.  Everything in Washington seems to have been well planned and built meticulously to impress and doesn’t fail to.  We were also blessed by clear weather every single day, and everything looks better in the sun :).

Me and my buddy Abe.

It turns out there’s much more to do than explore the government buildings.  We were lucky to be staying with our friend Casey who we met 4 years ago when we got engaged in Fiji and he was an incredible host, keeping us busy and entertained the whole week.  Thanks to him we even got to do our favourite activity: wine tasting!

There was a giant cow. We don’t know why.

Apparently, all bar 1 state produces wine in the US, and a short 1 hour drive took us to the vineyards of Virginia. They specialise in reds but I personally preferred the whites, and each one of them proved a stunning location.  Not having to bike round like we normally do was a turn up for the books too!

Wine country!

Washington is also home to the Smithsonian museums.  There are about 18 or so different ones on a range of topics, and they’re all absolutely free (which suited us to a tee!) Laura and I parted ways for this, she went to the American History museum to look at, amongst other things, the inaugaral ball gowns of the first ladies (snooze) whereas I went to (literally) the most popular museum on the planet, the Air and Space museum! I don’t think I’ve been so wide eyed before as I walked into the main hall.  They have the only existing lunar module left (the bit that landed on the moon during the apollo mission, although this one has never left the planet) along with the actual command module that brought back Armstrong and co on Apollo 11.  They also had a ton more stuff but I won’t ramble as Laura will just delete it. Suffice to say it was incredible, and I barely scratched the surface in the limited time I had there.

We also got to go the National Portrait Gallery, which amongst other exhibitions has all of the portraits of the presidents.  This was really interesting as it had a small overview of each one- it’s amazing how many presidents have died in office!  Getting the Vice Presidency seems like the easiest way into the big job.

So, we certainly had great company, great museums and great monuments, but Washington also had amazing food. I am absolutely putting back all the weight I lost over the previous 7 months.  All the food is so rich, the portion sizes large, that even though we’re basically doing one meal a day I’ve definitely put on a few pounds.  I think the copious amounts of beer probably aren’t helping either (the US is a haven for microbreweries).

Evidence of weight gain on me.

On our final day we managed to get a bottomless brunch in (my new favourite breakfast meal has to be steak and eggs, I can’t get enough) and spend the afternoon drinking, seeing friends (our buddies Dani and Nick who we met on the Inca trail swung by) and even managed to squeeze the England match in too.  Safe to say when we woke up at 5am this morning for our flight we were a tad hungover, but another 15,000 steps around New Orleans and we’re back to normal again (I’ll save that for the next post.)


A huge huge thanks to Casey for looking after us so well, and we can’t wait to see him in London next year :).

Photo of the day: Back on the road!

IMG_2016-06-01 08:02:18

Salar de Uyuni- an absolute must for your bucket list!

4 Days In A Jeep

I’m very fortunate that it’s my turn to write this post as it should be a nice easy one- we’ve just had 4 of the best days of our trip.  When we were originally planning the trip we both knew very little about Bolivia, the main things being that (a) it has a really famous salt flat that’s the biggest in the world, and (b) it has a steam train graveyard. Those 2 items alone justified our entire foray into this country, and are very closely placed together in the south of the country in a place called Uyuni.

Although it’s obviously possible to do tours from Uyuni, we’d heard mixed reviews about the quality from there.  We (aka Laura) did some more research and found that tours also went from the town of Tupiza, several hundred kilometers away.  Although the town itself has nothing much to speak of (it didn’t have anywhere to even get a coffee,) we did get lucky with a really tasty pizza at some random place that wasn’t on TripAdvisor. La Torre tours offered a 3 night/4day tour which had great reviews.  We couldn’t book until we got to the town and were very worried we’d be stuck a day or two to get on a tour but we were fortunate and got on a tour the next day.

The tours work like this; there are 6 people in a Jeep- the guide, the cook, and 4 tourists.  We were very lucky to get paired with a lovely Belgian couple, Hortense and Louis, who were amazing company and really helped to make the trip be extra fantastic.  We spent a lot of time in the car- we were covering 150-300 km every day so it gave us a lot of time to get to know each other, plus we were eating and staying in a room together!  I can only imagine how horrid it would be if you got stuck with people you didn’t like; there were 2 Jeeps going from our company and most the people in the other Jeep would have made terrible companions.  We were surprised by the amount of Jeep time as we thought there’d be more walking but it didn’t turn out to be a problem.  The scenery was non-stop stunning and constantly changing and made for really beautiful driving.

The main attractions of the salt flat and the train cemetery were saved for the last day which is one of the reasons the tour works so well in this direction; the scenery and attractions get better and better each day.  The photos do not do it justice, but it was a truly special experience. You’re really out in the very middle of nowhere, and quite how the driver knew where to go was beyond us. Still, he never got us lost!  Neither the chef nor guide spoke any English, but we managed to muddle by with our limited Spanish and a lot of help from Hortense and Louis (thanks guys.)

It’s really interesting because the lunch stops and evening accommodation all provided a kitchen for the chefs, but the chefs had to bring everything else; gas, food, drink etc.  There were entire buildings set up with these kitchens and communal dining areas. Very weird, but it seemed to work.  We were certainly impressed with the evening accommodation.  The tour operator had repeatedly warned us that the accommodation was very basic and low quality, and Laura had seen pictures of mattresses on floors, so we went in expecting the worst and were pleasantly surprised.  The beds were all comfy (Laura had the best sleep in months on the first night) with plenty of warm bedding, and we only had to share between the 4 of us so it wasn’t like a massive dorm.  We were always well fed (with plenty of snacks in the day too), and all of this came in under our usual daily budget as well!

Full of gas

I guess the most obvious question is “What did you see for 4 days in a Jeep?” It’s hard to articulate as we saw so much, we really did see everything amazing that nature has to offer.  Valleys that looked like the moon, hills that looked like Mars, and so so many lagunas we lost count. Most with flamingos- which did not stand on one leg contrary to popular belief.  Each day offered something new, particularly with the changing altitude- at some altitudes the plains were full of shrubbery, in others we were in fully arid deserts.  We even got to go into a geothermal hot pool, as well as seeing pluming gysers firing up non stop clouds of sulfurous smoke.  We took over 1000 photos, although we’ve managed to narrow it down to 300 or so (and Laura will narrow that further for the blog!)

I’ll let the photos do most of the talking, but I really do need to cover the Salar. It’s truly insane. It’s over 10,000 sq. meters in size, which meant that after our 4:30am wake up call on the last day we had to drive for over half an hour to get to the middle- the whole thing is perfectly flat and made up of patterned white salt,  You can see nothing for miles and miles to the horizon, which made some brilliant mirages of floating islands.  There’s so much salt that our last night accommodation was in a salt hotel; they compress the salt into bricks and built a hotel! It was really very special.

Salt hotel. Comfy beds!

Had to wake up early for this one!

This also completely messes with perspective, which means you can end up with cool perspective shots like this:

The final stop of the tour was the steam train graveyard.  As you can imagine, I was quite excited, but even Laura enjoyed it in the end.  Uyuni used to be the centre joining point of trains from Chile and Argentina, but when demand dropped they basically parked up all the trains and left them there to rot.  It’s an incredible site, and made a great adult playground with everyone climbing on top for some awesome photos.

Whilst I think we both agree that Inca Trail remains our favourite activity, this has definitely been a close second.  And in a couple of days we fly to the Amazon! This kind of sums up how we feel:


Photo of the Day: On the way to the Salar

Just Chilling

Although it will be met with howls of derision from those of you with real jobs, Laura and I are pretty exhausted from all this travelling.  We’re 9 months in now (and over half way in our South America trip) and the slog of night buses and changing beds is taking its toll.  So, to try and mitigate it we’ve had a rather relaxing week!

As Laura mentioned we weren’t fans of La Paz, but it did pick up a bit with the cable cars. It’s the only city in the world with cable cars as the primary form of transport (I’m full of fascinating knowledge) and they’ve got to be one of the most beautiful commutes to work anywhere.  Plus, each part of the journey only costs 3 Bolivianos (which is about 30p). We spent about 2 quid total riding the whole line for well over an hour!

Laura is happy we found something in La Paz that was fun

A small section of La Paz

We also found some nice sections of La Paz, the old Colonial bits which were much nicer to walk around and explore.  The apartment we were in was incredible though, and was well stocked with DVDs and we took advantage of having a living room to relax a bit and do some cooking.

Following this we jumped in a cab for about 40 minutes to go and stay in a Teepee! I’m still not sure how Laura found this place but it was very nice.  Quiet and peaceful and with plenty of hammocks around, and a kitchen so that we could cook for ourselves which is always welcome.  We’ve been exceptionally lucky with the weather (seasonally it should be chucking it down, but the El Nino phenomenon means the weather has gone topsy turvy in our favour) which meant we could catch some rays and do some reading.  We also managed a walk to “The Devils Tooth”- great for me as a taxi takes you to the top and then it’s a downhill walk, but Laura wasn’t as keen. The path was quite overgrown, we got lost in places, and there were some parts where the path had split leaving a cavernous gap to be overcome.  We got back safe and sound (if not a little grumpy) though.

The Devil’s tooth

Our teepee, which surprisingly fit a large double bed with space for our bags. Just.

Our next destination was Sucre, which involved another night bus.  We’d splashed out for the Cama seats (“180 recline” my arse) which were relatively nice, however we’d accidentally chosen the seats right next to the stairs which meant I spent the night worrying about people going through our stuff.  We had extra fun as the driver was whipping around corners at incredible speed which at one point sent Laura’s yoga mat torpedoing at the assistant conductors head downstairs. Oblivious Laura slept quite well. I did not.

Fortunately, we had a big treat waiting for us at Sucre.  Our guide book had said that this was the place to splash out as you could do so cheaply and boy, they were right. We went to stay at the number one hotel on Trip Advisor, a luxury place about 40 minutes out of town. It only has 2 rooms and there was no one else staying and we had the place to ourselves! It was built and run by a US/UK couple, Ed and June, who couldn’t have done more to help us out.  June acted as our personal chef and went all out- we got Shepherds Pie on the first night which I was really chuffed by as it’s always the first dish I request when we head back to the UK.  We had a giant room with robes (something me and Laura always love in a posh place,) a huge shower room, a proper bath, and panoramic views of the mountains.  We also had a huge swimming pool and hot tub, along with hammocks to lounge around in.  Best of all they had 2 dogs and a cat who were all really needy which we enjoyed having been so long without pets!

The pet whisperer

We sunk a few of these

3 days really wasn’t enough but Laura couldn’t be persuaded to stay longer (neither could our budget.)  However all is not lost; we’ve come to the best hotel in town now, which is still cheaper than most of our accommodation in Chile was.  It’s a beautiful old Colonial building and we have views across the whole of the town.  We’re about to go down for breakfast so fingers crossed.

Beautiful architecture

The town itself is a Unesco world heritage site and law specifies all the buildings be whitewashed annually (although the flaking paint and graffiti tell another story.)  It is a compact grid system and very pretty, and as usual with these places it’s packed full of nice churches. We’re here during Easter weekend which is a very big deal over here apparently, so hopefully we’ll see some fiestas whilst we’re around. So far though we’ve discovered that most stuff has been closed, and that was just on a Thursday. Today is the bank holiday so I can imagine there’s going to be even less open.  Hopefully that means more relaxing for me although Laura is keen to get running around again.

The plan today is to go and see dinosaur footprints; Sucre has one of the biggest collections of them in the entire world just out of town.  Should be exciting!

Life on a floating island

Hello again,

It’s been a nice mix of quiet and busy days since we finished the inca trail. We spent 1 more night in Cusco after the last post which was lovely; we got to go for a meal and drinks with 6 of the people from the Inca trail who were still in town. It’s been a long time since we went out for drinks with other people and was a really nice treat (even if we went to a vegan/veggie restaurant, not in line with my carnivorous sensibilities).

We also went for our first massage in South America! It was only 14 quid each and was absolutely wonderful and much needed after all that walking.  It was a great couple of chill days in general, with us mostly lounging around and drinking coffee/hot chocolate.  Our AirBnB host even let us stay in the apartment till 9PM on the checkout day which was really helpful.

To get around Peru and Bolivia we’ve signed up to PeruHop and BoliviaHop, effectively a tourist bus that shuttles people between La Paz in Bolivia, Cusco and Lima in Peru with lots of stops in between. It’s exceptionally good value, but at the cost of sleeping well- it’s a regular bus so when the journey is a night bus it’s really uncomfortable! We were travelling from Cusco to Puno, the border town to Bolivia and situated on the wonderful Lake Titicaca.  At least the bus wasn’t busy and we got 2 seats each which helped.

Our main objective in Puno was to visit the floating islands of Uros.  On Lake Titicaca they’ve built over 80 floating islands, effectively made up of mud block covered with 3m of reeds.  We’d booked to stay the night at a hotel-cum-homestay to discover how it all worked and we were not disappointed!

Having jumped on a little boat for 30 minutes we arrived to our island. It looks like something from the caribbean, as there’s wood and reed everywhere.  It’s hard to explain. The island is really very big, and had about 8 or so rooms plus “restaurant” (the eating room.)  All power comes from solar, so its basically used for lighting and nothing more. Toilets were composting, but there was a hot shower (also solar powered.)

Side view of the island: that’s all just reeds piled up.

Having slept terribly on the bus (and still exhausted from inca trail and weeks of uncomfortable beds) I proceeded to spend the rest of the day napping in between the various activities. Fortunately Laura was in a better state and was able to shepherd me round.  First of all we got to go with the owner out into the reeds-  to collect the fishing net (only had a few small fish in this time, but apparently it’s used to catch everything including the local specialty of trout,) and then to show us how they collect the reeds (effectively cutting it down with a home made scythe.) As with everything in Peru, part of the reed can be used as medicine apparently. The majority of the talks whilst we were here were done in Spanish, and both of us were very impressed that we understood about 70% of what was said.  It helped that he spoke really slowly, as his first language wasn’t Spanish but one of the local languages, Quecha.

Nap Time


Following lunch and a more substantial nap, it was dress up time. We were given local Peruvian clothing to put on for photographs. We both look ridiculous but it was surprisingly fun.  This is genuinely the clothing we’ve seen people wearing around. The only thing missing is a pork-pie hat that a lot of the local women seem to wear. Laura would have looked so stylish!

We were then given a short talk (again in Spanish) as to how the islands are built.  It’s effectively a combination of squares of mud from under the reeds, and about 4 meters of reeds piled on top. Voila, floating island! Last year they actually moved the whole thing to somewhere quieter which I find very impressive. It’s kept in place by 11 anchors, and it felt completely stable during our time there.  Wouldn’t like to try it out when it got windy though.

View of the island from one of the “watch towers”

We were then treated to a beautiful sunset with colours to rival our favourite sunset of the trip on the Mekong Delta.  It was getting really chilly at this point but fortunately during dinner they’d gone to our room and given us a water bottle each under our 5 or so thick blankets.  It’s the best nights sleep we’ve had in weeks and weeks!  I wish we could have stayed longer just for another night in the bed.  Alas, we had to head back to the mainland the following morning.

Don’t we look stylish?

Peruvian Laura demonstrates our tiny door


Continuing our action packed schedule we were then back on a tour bus for the afternoon to visit Silustani, an ancient pre-inca burial site about 45 minutes out of town. The reason it stands out is because the graves are cylindrical towers atop a large hill, a style the inkas then copied when they arrived.  The photos hopefully do it better justice than my explanation!  Each tower had between 20 and 50 people in it, and the oldest have been around from 500AD or so.

All the houses nearby had 2 bulls on top to guard from ghosts.

Inkan Burial Columns

Puno from up high

Today though we have a chill day. Due to the bus timetable there’s none going today, forcing us to remain in Puno another day. There’s really not much to do here, so we’re both catching up on various work before we head across the border to Bolivia tomorrow.


The many tours of San Pedro De Atacama

Well we’ve been very busy!

After leaving La Serena and the Elqui Valley, we headed up to San Pedro De Atacama, one of the driest places on earth, so much so that NASA use it for testing the Mars Rovers as it’s the most Mars-like location on earth.

So of course, it’s been raining for us.

It rains about once a year and it appears we’ve got (un)lucky. Nonetheless it hasn’t stopped us from a packed schedule.

San Pedro is one of the main tourist areas in Chile, surrounded by a wide variety of natural wonders which makes it a great base for tourists. As a result it’s very busy, and we ended up having to stay a 15 minute walk out of town to get anything even vaguely affordable. The accommodation was very basic and the bed was terrible (which meant we’re both very tired from lack of sleep) but at least it was cheap. Even a basic private bed in a dorm can cost upto 40 quid here if you stay in town (in truth it’s barely more than a village.)

San Pedro itself is a weird and lovely little place. Most of the action is on the main street, where every shop is either a tour company or a restaurant. I’m not exaggerating; there must have been about 20 tour companies on the main road alone. Everything is pot hole filled dirt roads around here, which made it properly feel like a desert town. We definitely had some of my favourite food here too, with lots of places doing cheap 3 course meals at lunch. It was nice to find food that (a) wasn’t bread and (b) had spiciness!

The first port of call on our adventure was to the meteorite museum; a private collection owned by two brothers, it gives a full explanation of how the universe and planets are formed with examples of all the types of meteorite that have been collected in the desert. The highlight was getting to touch 3 large meteorites, which were all approximately 4500 million years old. It’s safe to say I enjoyed the museum more than Laura but she was a good sport throughout.

On our first night in town the rain had really started to kick in. This is not a place built for rain- nothing is water tight, so everywhere has to switch the electricity off. This lead to us having a lovely romantic dinner in candle light. Unfortunately we’d tried to go for a drink beforehand however there’s a weird rule in town that you cannot buy booze unless you’re buying food too. A stupid rule I’m sure you’ll agree.

All the activities are based out of town in San Pedro which meant having to go on organized tours. We generally hate tours and avoid them but we had to make an exception and fortunately it went really well; we booked 3 tours with one company (Cosmo Andino) which were all really well organised and had a slightly more adult feel to it; we saw a bunch of tour groups full of gap year students which would’ve been our idea of hell!

Our first trip was to Valle De La Luna (Valley of the moon). It’s effectively a giant crater (formed by volcanoes collapsing not a meteorite) in the middle of the desert. The sheer scale of this place is incredible. The photos don’t do it justice but will hopefully give an idea of what’s involved. We also go to see where they used to mine the salt- due to the high altitude the water evaporates quickly leaving everything covered in salt. Very cool!

We were then taken to a mirador (view point) above the entire valley where we could try to grasp how big this place is. It also was a great opportunity to get some photos of us standing close to the edge of the cliffs!

By this point it had started to rain, which meant the final part of the trip, a walk around “Death Valley”, was cut short. The name apparently came from a mispronunciation of “Mars Valley” in French and nothing to do with death at all. We kept expecting to see Matt Damon appearing in his space suit!

It was laundry day, hence the stunning outfit I’m rocking

The first tour was just an afternoon one; our second tour was a full day trip to Salar de Tara- one of the biggest salt flats in Chile. The tour was almost called off due to weather- if it rains or snows in the mountains it’s possible for busses to get trapped there so they’re hyper cautious. Fortunately for us the tour went ahead and the weather ended up being incredible. San Pedro is around 2000m above sea level whereas our tour ended up peaking at 4800m which meant the weather changed dramatically; rain, snow, fog, and clear skies.

The main problem on this tour was that Laura felt really ill- whatever we’d eaten the night before had not agreed with her and had left her with some mild food poisoning. To add to the fun, there were no toilets on the whole trip. It seems we weren’t the only ones who hadn’t realised this, which meant an awful lot of stopping en route for people to scramble behind rocks to do their business. Not fun! Poor Laura struggled through but I did feel very sorry for her.

The salt flat is based in the Andes which meant driving through incredible scenery consisting of volcanoes and mountains, as well as some strangely placed wetlands full of flamingoes! A weird sight at 4000m in the middle of the desert. I was also surprised with how much wildlife there was for a desert. Vicunas (a relation of llamas) and alpacas were a common occurrence.

Snow on the way to the desert

The landscapes never failed to impress. The tour took us around some brilliant viewpoints, such as the “rock cathedral” and the “photo everyone takes” with the giant rock that looks like it has been sculpted into a person. I was particularly impressed with our minivan that somehow managed to cope with driving around in the middle of the desert without breaking it’s suspension or breaking down.

The culmination of the day was having a late lunch at the salt flat, complete with Chilean wine (which Laura did not have unsurprisingly.) I’d be very interested to come back and see this when it hadn’t just been raining, as I think the landscape was dramatically different for us relative to other tours. It was however still incredibly beautiful, and again difficult to grasp the sheer scale of this great plane that was so flat for so far and wide.

You’ll be pleased to know that Laura was partly recovered by the evening and sent her personal errand boy off to get take out pizza. This in itself was quite an ordeal; there is very little street lighting in San Pedro, which meant walking most of the journey home grasping a pizza with both hands and pointing a torch at my feet to try to not fall over one of the many pot holes. To get to our accommodation also involved crossing an incredibly rickety bridge which made for extra fun! San Pedro is also famous for its observatories and star gazing and we’d been hoping to use this evening to go on an observatory tour, but with Laura feeling unwell and the sky being cloudy we decided to pass and try and get some sleep.

My view as I headed out for pizza

Unfortunately our tour the next day was cancelled due to the weather. It had rained so much it had washed out a key bridge out of town and, although they were trying to rebuild it, it wasn’t going to be done in time. As a result we had a well deserved relaxing day, enjoying a nice walk around the town and getting some much needed work done. We’d organised to go on the star gazing tour at 11PM this night after cancelling the previous day, so we had a bit of a nap so we could stay awake till 2AM. Unfortunately the tour guide turned up to pick us up at 11:20 only to tell us he was sorry that the tour wouldn’t be running due to cloud cover. The weather has not been in our favour! This means we’ve managed to leave Chile without getting to a single observatory due to a combination of the bright moon and cloud cover, which I’m disappointed by but, c’est la vie!

On our final day we were getting a night bus to the border with Peru, which meant waiting around until 8PM. Both me and Laura hate this sort of day, and she suggested hiring bikes as we were able to grab a shower later from our accommodation (who were also kind enough to store our bags for the day.) I hadn’t slept at all the previous night and was quite grumpy but fortunately let Laura take the lead as the bikes ended up being a great idea. We cycled 18km into the desert to find Laguna Cejar, a salt lake which is very similar to the dead sea. The concentration of salt is so high that you naturally float in it. It took us a lot more than 18km to find it as the bike company had given us a terrible map, but it was worth it when we got there.

The sensation of being so buoyant is both weird and brilliant. It’s impossible to do frog legs when swimming as you sit too high in the water for a start. We couldn’t get over how quiet it was there, there were no tour groups and only a few other people. We had a lot of fun, although we both got a little sunburnt as you’re not allowed to use suncream in the lake.

We dried very quickly in the sun which left us both covered in a thick layer of salt. Fortunately there were showers so we could wash off!

The cycle back was incredibly hard. Did you know it gets quite hot in the desert around 2-3PM? The roads were also in terrible condition (no concrete in sight) which meant sore bums and arms. We were both very pleased to get back and get showered and fed after a really nice day out. I don’t think I’ve been that exhausted for some time, which helped with sleeping on the night bus. No Premium (180degree recline) bus was available so we were in cama (150 degree) which weren’t so good for someone who sleeps on their side. I think through sheer exhaustion I managed to get a fair amount of sleep, as did Laura.

This morning we were woken at 5am in Arica, the closest town to the border with Peru. I was literally not functioning, I think I must have just been in a deep sleep and had no idea what was going on. Fortunately for me Laura was a trooper and sorted everything out and shepherded me around. With the help of a nice Taiwanese tourist we’d met we managed to find the international bus terminal across the road to get a collectivo (shared taxi) across the border. We thought we’d have to wait as the border doesn’t open till 8, and Peru is 2 hours behind, but it turns out those rules don’t seem to apply to Collectivos who were fine to take us through despite it being 5am in Peru.

As we’d sat down in the taxi the driver asked us for a ticket. In Arica and all of Peru you have to pay a tax to use the bus station. Laura ran off to find out where to buy it whilst I stayed in the taxi with the bags. The driver started to pull away which panicked me somewhat but my cries of “mi esposa!” were met with an explanation that he was just moving out of the way slightly (good thing my ability to understand Spanish is improving). Fortunately Laura returned and all was well. We were particularly impressed with the service; you give your passport to the taxi driver and he returns with your peruvian entry form, fully filled out for you already. At each border (exit Chile, entry Peru) he guided us exactly where to go and what to hand over, and took us all the way to Arica, the nearest border town on the other side. All this for 4 quid each! Absolute bargain.

Our run of luck continued in Arica where we were able to get on our next bus a mere 10 minutes later. I’m on that bus right now! We’re heading to Arequipa, the midway town to Cusco where we will be starting the Inca Trail. I just hope the hotel is good as I think we both need a long nap. Hopefully the bus will get in in about 2 hours (5 hours total) and then it’s just a taxi to the accommodation. We’re getting very good at this travelling thing!