Patricks New Zealand Weblog

Lima – in the top 5 (least amazing places so far ;) )

We flew from Cuzco to Lima. It’s a 25 hour bus ride, or just an hour in a plane. The price difference wasn’t that much – internal flights are pretty good here, definitely check out Skyscanner for good* deals (except in Colombia, there use – or at least check out – Viva Colombia. We didn’t know about that one, and it would have saved us 600USD!

Anyway, Lima Lima Lima. Not as nice as Cuzco. We used AirBnB to find a place. It was pretty cheap, fairly central, had a nice little local restaurant down the road which served big portions and yumbly Ceviche. We went for a nice walk around Miraflores, ate some churros in chocolate sauce. Humid days.

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Probably the highlight was the Larco museum which was great. They brought you through the history of the major civilisations of South America. Like most places, the latest civilisation built on top of the last one and extended. When people think of South America (or at least when I do) the “Incas” is what springs to mind, but they were only around from 13th Century to the mid 16th, not that long. “Civilisation” goes back to 8,000BC (probably more). Larco traces these civilisations through their ceramics and textiles mainly, and some metalwork.

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It was quite cool that they left the museums storerooms open too, so you can see all the other articles they have in the collection.

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Finally in the museum, there was a pretty extensive erotica section of pottery. Those Gods did enjoy fertilising the planet.

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Also, while we were in Lima, we heard about the Earthquake in Ecuador. Poor people. We know what destructive earthquakes are like, since we were in the Christchurch quake.. It didn’t take much discussion to decide to fly from Lima to Colombia skipping Ecuador entirely. I feel very very sorry for what Ecuador must be going through. Christchurch 5 years after our quakes is still mostly roadworks and empty building sites where buildings have been demolished. It will take Ecuador years and years to get over this. And remember, while the story will go out of the news, the people there will be experiencing daily earthquakes for months and months, if not years. It is not just a “quake”, there will be thousands.

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Machu Picchu

One of the main excursions from Cuzco is to visit Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was hidden for many moons, and then “rediscovered” by an American historian (Hiram Bingham) in 1911 who asked some locals did they know where Incan ruins were..

Anyway, we opted not to do the Inca trail. It’s quite expensive at $600 USD pp (you have to do it guided), though I’m sure it’s an awesome trip. So we took the bus from Cuzco to Hydroelectrica (you’ll never guess what’s there). That bus trip was, apart from the descent on the Pampa Linda track, the scariest thing I’ve done on this trip! It’s a seriously narrow road in places, with some rather large drop-offs into nothingness.

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From Hydroelectrica we walked to Aguas Caliente. There is a train which runs, but it’s a pretty nice 2 hour fast walk through the jungle. I quite liked Aguas Caliente I must say, despite the many tourists. Our hostel was clean, being in lowish season there was lots of competition for dinner, so we settled for the happy hour & cheap pizza option (nyom).

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The next day we were up early (5am) to walk up to Machu Picchu. There are busses, but we like the exercise ;) It’s a good climb and took us about an hour I think. The weather was a little wet and overcast, however, it meant that there weren’t too many tourists in the photos.

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I did like the “Inca bridge” – looks like quite an effective defence.

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So, Machu Picchu… I did wish I had longer to enjoy it (though the 5 hours we had was just about enough), but, I dunno, it seemed to me that most of the buildings there were restorations rather than originals. There were only a few places where you could see the original impressive stonework, well, unless they were using mortar at Machu Micchu. I’d love to know how original it all was. Maybe it’s very accurate, I’ll have to read the Wikipedia entry again ;) . It seemed to me that you saw more original buildings / artifacts at Sachsuaman in Cuzco. Indeed, Machu Picchu may join a list of “UNESCO sites in danger of losing their status” ..

The sun did come out later on in the morning (hurrah!), so it was a pleasant walk back to Hydroelectrica. We saw 3 road traffic accidents on the way back to Cuzco, one looked quite serious. The drivers really are quite mental here. I was definitely pleased to be back to the hostel in one piece. You’re advised (and we generally do) travel during daylight hours, unfortunately the trip back from Machu Picchu pretty much has to happen during night hours, at least at this time of year.

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Ausungate Circuit + Rainbow mountain sidetrip

On our friends Tim & Yvonne’s advice, we headed off to hike the Ausungate circuit. It’s a lesser known (though becoming more so) hike, around the Ausungate massif, a few hours from Cuzco. It’s at altitude, most of the way you’re at ~4,500m, the passes are at 5,000 – 5,200m. We were fairly acclimatised from being in Bolivia but still found it hard going for the first few days.

We went to the excellent South American Explorers club in Cuzco for information. There, the very helpful Matt gave us lots of information and we were able to buy a 1:100,000 map there. Not really enough to navigate off, but useful all the same. We also booked a guide for the first couple of days. That was an interesting process. The guides expect to cook with you so you’re expected to provide their food (all very nice and communal). Maaike and I only have a couple of pots and an MSR so we weren’t really setup for that. We negotiated just for the guide and horses. All we really wanted was a horse to take our bags for the first couple of days to altitude.

When we arrived to Tinke (get the bus from here), and found Crispin, there were 5 other French people there. Whether there was misscommunication or what I’m not sure, but the (lovely) French group had taken up a fully guided trip and so the horses were taking their bags. In the event we all made it work, and I’m honestly not sure if there’d been miscommunication so that Crispin thought we just wanted the guiding services and not the bags. Crispin himself is a very experienced guide, and I’d be quite happy to recommend him.

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Day 1

Up to Upis (4,400m), took about 4 hours from Tinke. Remember, you’re coming from Cuzco(3,400m) so it really is a height change. Tim mentioned that their rule of thumb for height gain is 300-500m per day, however, that is probably at more of a base than just 3,400m. Anyway, suffice to say, you’ll feel the altitude and we were damn glad we had a horse taking our bags for the first couple of days.

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There are natural hotsprings at Upis, and they’ve constructed some basic baths there… perfect for a nice soak after the walk up – thanks to Thomas Jaubert for the picture :)

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Day 2

On to Laguna Puma Ccocha. I opted to carry my rucksack, partly because I’d understood that it was necessary as Crispin had picked up tents etc. at Upis, and partly to test to see how hard I would find it. Actually turned out to be OK really. Mixed overcast weather. It should have been OK this time of year, but I think the odd weather is due to El Niño? It was still a very scenic day, it just would have been nicer with sunshine. Well, nicer for pictures, but it makes the hiking harder if you’re dying under a hot sun. It was about 6 hours walk. (Campsite: S13.81687° W71.26810°)

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Day 3

Originally we had thought that Crispin would just point us in the direction of the fabled “Rainbow mountain”, but the French were going there too, so we ended up having a guided tour and not needing the GPS track to Rainbow Mountain. It was a heck of a day though, up at 4am. Lashing rain, back to bed until 6. Up, everything covered in a thin layer of snow, but no longer raining. Then up to 5,000m straight from the campsite, then down into a valley, then up again to 5,100 ish where we saw a view to the rainbow mountain.

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It would have been another 2-3 hours return. Maaike and I could have done it, as we were staying at our campsite at Puma Ccocha, but the French were heading back to Tinke. That said, I think we were all happy to just have a view and go, as we were knackered! Honestly, the rainbow mountain was a little bit of a disappointment on the cloudy day, the walk there was just as stunning in its own way. Perhaps with sun it would have been different. Check out Eric Hanson’s pictures here.

By the time we got back, most of the snow had melted away. Then the French friends left, and we were all alone in our little tent.
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Day 4

Stunning day, sun for most of it. Up at 6am as per usual and walking for 8 hours ish.

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We’d been looking for a campsite for a while, but ended up just picking a beautiful looking spot (S13.81902° W71.18520°). As it turned out, there was some quite spiky grass there which was quite happy to go through the groundsheet. Ended up putting down our packliners as added protection.

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Seemed to work, the thermarests didn’t deflate.. Good timing on dinner, just finished before the heavens opened.

Day 5

To Pacchanta (S13.71824° W71.24246°). Longest distance today, 22km or so, but once you were up to the pass (Campa) it was pretty much downhill all the way. We did lose the track at a couple of points. It’s misleading as there were lots of tracks, some very well formed, so we assumed we were on the right path. We weren’t worried as the terrain isn’t difficult (just high) and we did have the GPS, still, if you’re relying on map+compass, make sure your navigation skills are decent (ours are decent, if a little rusty).

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As you can see from this picture below, officially off track, but quite definitely on a decent track (which did end up going where we wanted it to).

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There is a wikiloc GPS track of the Ausungate circuit. I dunno, having a GPS makes it pretty straightforward. The track is mostly obvious, but there are lots of places where there are multiple options so it is easy enough to go wrong too.

Anyway, long enough day. Great hotsprings at Pacchanta – way nicer than Upis. Maaike gave in and let us get a hostel rather than camping for the last night. Even had a beer.

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Day 6

Just a few hours walk out to Tinke and then the bus home again. All in all a good walk, not technical really but hard work because of the altitude.

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p.s. this is being published on a Wi-Fi enabled bus in Colombia. Nuts eh?

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Cuzco & Surrounds

I like Cusco, or is is Cuzco. Interesting, spell check says the former is incorrect, whilst Wikipedia says the latter. Who knows what’s true any more?

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Anyway, it’s a great place to spend a few days (weeks if you have them) exploring the Incan sites that are all around here. One of the first sites I visited was Santa Domingo, the Dominican cathedral, which was built on top of the Palace of the Sun. Maaike, who has been in Cuzco before and already visited, opted out of this one. The cathedrals & museums aren’t cheap to visit.

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The masonry work is incredible. It’s hard to describe really, but they’re just huge blocks and perfectly perfectly placed together, with no mortar. Incredible. I think my overall feeling was one of sadness that one of the main Incan temples had been nuked to create another Cathedral. It must have been incredibly impressive in its time, as a lot of the surfaces would have been covered in gold sheets!

We also visited La Merced, a convent. It certainly had an attractive cloisters, and showcased a monstrance with the second largest pearl in the world and (thousands?) of diamonds, some emeralds, rubies etc. (no pictures allowed) There certainly was wealth in Cuzco that’s for sure.

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Another day we took a local bus (2 soles) to Tambomachay, another site just a few km up the hill from the city centre, and then walked back to town visiting other sites along the way. They’re not super sure of the exact use of the place, but possibly a thermal spa crossed with military outpost. Not a lot of information about the place unfortunately.

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Just down the road from Tambomachay was Puca Pucará, another site overlooking the approach to Cuzco. Most likely purely used for military purposes, and they reckon built in somewhat of a rush, as the stonework isn’t as amazing as some of the other sites.

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Again on down the road to the ‘Temple of the Moon’. I really wished there was more information about these sites, hey ho. Get a guide.. that’s my advice. I did find the Tupuy app which is a sort of self-guided-audio-guide, but I hadn’t found it until later on in the trip. It certainly wasn’t a great guide, but it is better than nothing.

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Next to Quenco. It’s believed to be a place where sacrifices and mummification took place. I thought I overheard someone talking about it in referenced to Stonehenge too.. again, get a guide (if you’re rich!) Still, one gets a feel for the place.

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Definitely the highlight was Saksaywaman (pronounced “sexy woman”). A site dating back to 900AD (pre Inca). Certainly a fortification, and also for ceremonial activities. A huge amount of it has been destroyed by the Spanish, who used the stones in their own buildings. Again, the masonry is amazing. They reckon one technique for breaking up the stones was that they’d find a seam, drill in a small hole, put a dry stick in it, and then soak the stick. The stick would then expand and crack the rock along the seam, and then it would be carved into its final shape.

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We did get a guide for Saksaywaman, well worth it. He said it had taken 20,000 people 70 years to make it. He pointed out a lot of “animal” shapes in the rocks & cracks. For example, here you can a guinea pig, a snake, and the puma’s paw! I did wonder how much was real. The ziz-zag shape of the fortification, we were told, was to represent lightning. Decent acoustics too as it was used for large gatherings.

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All in all, I’d very happily recommend Cuzco. You could easily spend 2-3 weeks in the area exploring.

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Bolivia -> Peru (Puno)

Leaving Bolivia we crossed Titicaca and entered Peru. The process was pretty painless, surprisingly, the best exchange we found for our leftover Bolivianos was actually at the border (on the Peruvian side). We elected not to take the bus all the way to Cusco opting to break the journey in Puno rather than arrive at 11pm ish.
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Puno was an OK place to spend the night, we had yum ceviche (trout), wandered up to a high point and that was about it.

Puno is the place you can visit floating villages from. We … didn’t. Somewhat running out of time now as there’s quite a bit left we want to do before leaving South America in mid May. It may have been a mistake to skip the floating villages, by all accounts they’re pretty groovy.

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Tiwanaku

A couple of hours drive from La Paz is Tiwanaku. Pre colombian, pre Incan civilisation. Not a huge amount is known about them, but they certainly had sophisticated agriculture and astronomical skills.

To get the bus, we headed into the cemetery district.

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It wasn’t obvious where exactly the busses left from, again, Open Street Maps to the rescue (link to busses)

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We didn’t go with a guided trip, partly for the fun of working it out ourselves & partly ‘cos budgets are a thing. So, I’m afraid I can’t talk too much about what the various areas were used for. Here’s some fancy stonework.

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In the dimpled rock above, they’d actually drilled holes right through. It’d be interesting to see the techniques they used.

Below you can see the subterranean temple, one of the more complete parts, though again, I’m afraid I’m not sure if this is “original” or restored (with bits and pieces from all over the place).

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The walls were amazing. However, they were reconstructed and apparently not as perfectly made as the originals would have been. Still, you can see how regular the blocks are, it’s some impressive construction. Some of these columns are incredibly heavy (25 tonnes ish).
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Some of the rocks came from across Lake Titicaca, which Tiwanaku used to be close to the shores of (no more! – now a good 10km away)

Below you can see the Gate of the Sun. It has been moved (they think) from its original position. Made in ~500AD. They still don’t know what the figures really represent. Its likely the door was used for astronomical/astrological purposes.

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Here you can see the pyramidal structure called the Akapana. Partly destroyed by looters back in the day. It’s unfortunate to see the llamas running around on this UNESCO site..

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Below is Maaike with the moon door, not as ornate as the Sun door.

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Also stopped in at Pumapunku, another site 500m or so away from Tiwanaku. Again, some extremely detailed stone work. It also contains the largest slabs, weighing in at around 131 metric tonnes.

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And then it was time to head home. We had a somewhat interesting time of it, taking a local bus which dropped us in El Alto, rather than back at the cemetary area. We opted to walk to the cable car (4km). I don’t think we’d have done it in the dark, as El Alto doesn’t have the best reputation in the world, but still, it was fine enough in daylight.

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La Paz

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Sucre. Maaike had put the fear of God into me about the buses in Bolivia, however, it turned out to be the nicest bus that we’d had the entire trip. There was a small blip (quite normal) before getting the bus, there was a protest on, so we had to get a minibus from the bus station to the actual bus. So our real bus stopped outside of town and we just connected in with it.

Nice seats though, here Maaike is showing off what “Full Cama” looks like. It really was a comfortable way to travel, and even I slept a bit ;)

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The hostel we were staying at “Arthys” was just around the corner from the bus station, which was handy. Again, was very very thankful to our friend Alex whom we met on the boat to Antarctica with the suggestion of the OSMAnd+ app. So many people had little printed out pictures of Google Maps.. (even though you can get offline versions). Anyway, love OSM.

First impressions of La Paz. Lots and lots of cars and a reasonable amount of associated pollution, that said, it has a nice feel to it. We took in a quick trip to the Museo de la coca.

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It was a very interesting museum which I would recommend. Chewing Coca leaves happens throughout at least Bolivia and Peru at altitude. It does seem to help with the symptoms, and is a mild stimulant. There seems to be lots of (mis)information on the Internet (who’d have thought?!) but it seems the alkaloids (incl cocaine) are released when chewing. That said, it’s in relatively small doses and apparently not addictive. Certainly in a lot of the hostels you visit there are coca-leaves available for making tea with, and, like I said, it does help with the altitude.

The miners use coca religiously and, back in the day, it was more expensive than gold. Interestingly, the Spanish banned coca to begin with, then realised that their workers became a lot less efficient / able to work the ridiculously long hours, and so reinstated the use of coca and … taxed & regulated it.

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Finally finally both our stomachs were feeling well enough to have my birthday dinner. Only 3 months late. We went to “the stakehouse” and were absolutely full to the brim by the end of it. Then went to the cinema to see the latest in the Divergence series. I quite enjoyed the film, so I was sorry to see it has received bad reviews and that the budget is likely slashed. Hey ho.

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We also took a few rides on the cable cars. La Paz itself is pretty much in a valley floor, and up above is the town of El Alto, where I believe the airport is. It’s quite a hike from top to bottom, so they’ve put in 2 cable cars at the moment, with more to come. It costs about $.75NZD to take a trip, well worth it even if you’re simply going along for the views.

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One day we did the “Red cap” walking tour. Well well worth it. Our guides were excellent and had so many interesting little stories to tell. For example, here’s a picture of the San Pedro Prison roof.

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Now, I’d not actually heard of San Pedro, or at least, not to remember, but they used to do tours of the prison. Tours, operated by the inmates, because, inside the prison it was entirely run by them!. Tours have been discontinued by the way. I don’t think I’d be running off to put myself at the mercy of the inmates I must admit.

Anyway, the roof as you’ll see has holes in it. According to our guides, cocaine is produced inside the prison, and, every so often a package is lobbed out of a hole in the roof to an accomplice waiting outside the walls. Why, you might ask, do the police not stop it. Kickbacks apparently.

They took us for a wander through the markets. Here you can see potatoes! I think they said there were something like 400 or 500 different varieties in Bolivia.

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Above you can see a lady in the witches market, reading the coca leaves, and some dead llamas. They had, as you can imagine, a few stories about the witches market. The potions they sell were pretty potent. In fact, quite a few people died while visiting some of the local pleasure houses. When the authorities investigated, it seemed a few of the suitors had taken love potions, which turned out to be….. wait for it….. horse-viagra!! and their poor hearts just gave out. Hey ho. You could get “dust” too, for attracting a mate, repelling a mate, etc. I think our guide was suggesting you might not want to travel with said dust, suggesting it might have been cocaine, or cocaine mixed with something.

Going back to the dead llamas, apparently it is good luck when you’re constructing a building, to bury a llama (or something) with a blessing etc. They told this “story” that for bigger buildings they would take homeless off the streets, get them drunk, and then kill them and bury them as a sacrifice. Seems quite apocryphal, but our guides seemed to suggest that there were lots of these stories, so maybe a grain of truth. That, and that when some buildings are knocked down, they find human remains. Who knows, it was a good story anyway.

They also took us to the San Francisco cathedral. They pointed out some of the incorporations of local to Christian symbols. For example, here you can see one of the figures eating coca leaves! There’s also pacha-mama, a mother-earth deity?! incorporated?! Well, she’s certainly there, but I guess I find it surprising that it’s on a church. Also, a lot of the figures of Christ / Mary feature feathers in their halos / headdress, again, a very Incan feature. Separately, Maaike and I went into the attached museum. They allow you up on the roof and into the bell tower, which is always fun. You can also see a blue statue of Christ. Nothing actually special about this, except that some painters were told to paint a wall blue, and they painted everything blue. Sounds like some of the paint jobs in Christchurch after the earthquake (I kid you not)

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Finally on the tour we went to the main presidential square. See if you can see anything odd in the first picture below here (you may need to zoom in)

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You can still see bullet holes in the buildings (left as a reminder). I’d definitely recommend the walking tour, a definite highlight of our time in La Paz.

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Sucre, teenage pregnancies, Easter and advent of code.

I must say, I really enjoyed our time in Sucre. It’s the capital of Bolivia, which confused me as I thought it was La Paz, quite a common misconception it seems.

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Anyway, we came here partly to learn Spanish (there are heaps of schools here, so it’s quite affordable), and partly to chill out for a bit. I had to fight to get Maaike to stop travelling for a bit ;) . We booked an AirBnB, which turned out to be super affordable, central, and just perfect. It was so nice to be able to unpack everything for a week, have your own kitchen, bathroom, reasonable Internet. Yes, I’m soft and weak, but hey, it was really really nice! Holidays aren’t supposed to be all work ;)

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We took Spanish lessons at the Sucre Spanish School, though I’m not completely sure I’d recommend them over anywhere else. Our teacher was nice, but it was super grammar focussed and not heaps of “fun”. It’s tricky though, as Maaike has done a lot of teaching and has learned lots of interesting ways of conveying information, so it was a little frustrating to know that there were more interactive ways of teaching. Still, we did learn a lot and it was definitely worth brushing up our Spanish even more. In fact, if that’s one piece of advice I’d give for South America, the more you know Spanish, the more you’re going to enjoy yourself.

The market was excellent, many ripe mango’s were bought and consumed. You might want to brush up on your mango cutting skillz

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Walking home one day we saw a poster for what looked like a concert… it was 10 Boliviano’s (~$2 NZD) so we thought nothing to lose. Indeed, nothing to lose. It turned out to be some short films made by school kids. I’m not sure if the theme of the event was “teenage pregnancy” or not, but certainly that’s what the two films were about. Now, my Spanish is still terrible, but, here are the very rough outlines

Film #1

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Plot: Accountant? comes to school to provide maths tutorials to students. 15 year old school girl falls for him, they end up sleeping together (possibly the most awesome sex-scene ever made, it featured ankles). She then thinks it’s a mistake / fears that she is pregnant, so they find a dodgy friend to get the morning after pill from. The girl goes home, takes the pill, and dies!!

Film #2

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Plot: It features broadly the same charaters, somewhat confusing at the start. Anyway, we see a school boy chatting up a school girl. He’s obviously trying to convince her to go to the next stage, but she’s not at all sure about this, not at all. He leaves. Then an old lady comes up to the school girl and tells her about her “mistake?” back in the day when she was but a lass. We see this girl had a fling with a guy, got pregnant by him. Looks like he wanted her to abort, but she decided to keep the baby. She goes to the church to pray, and the priest there has a chat with her, and then goes with her to her family to discuss it. You can’t really see it too well, but the father is the same actor who plays the priest, and there is some seriously special special effects (and some aliasing artifacts) where they’ve superimposed the two actors into the same frame. Still, better than any video by far that I’d be able to put together. Anyway, I digress, so the old lady tells the younger one her story, and then at the end we see the girl back in school and seeing her would-be suitor chatting up a whole lot of other girls (so, lucky escape there for her)

Then there were a lot of statistics – which I’ll Google translate here:

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In Latin America and the Caribbean two out of ten teenagers between 15 and 19 years are mothers.
In Bolivia of all pregnant women, 25 % are teenagers. For 1000 women in 88 births are to teenage mothers , which means that 132 births are dispersed area , compared to 67 births per 1,000 women in urban area.
Three out of ten teenagers in the poorest group is mother or pregnant , compared with a ten richest sector
Adolescents living in rural areas in poverty and less access to education, are at the greatest risk of being pregnant or having a child before 20 years
According to the data of CIES adolescents between 14 and 15 years sexually active , whose consequence are unwanted pregnancies
Three out of four pregnancies in adolescents and aged 15 to 19 years are unplanned representing 75%
In Chuquisaca the rate of teenage pregnancy from January to May was 21.8 % of total pregnancies Department
The increase between 2014 and 2015 is too abrupt .
2014 represented 8.5% whereas 2015 is 21.8 % of all pregnant women

We were also in Sucre for Easter, lots of parades and the city pretty much shuts down for Good Friday.

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I did get to play on my computer a little too.. I thoroughly enjoyed completing The Advent of Code. 24 Christmas’y themed puzzles of varying difficulty.

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I did find a few of them tricky, and it was .. humbling, to see some of the solutions that people came up with. Still, a really fun learning exercise and it was very gratifying to complete them all :) ..

For example – day 19:

— Day 19: Medicine for Rudolph —

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is sick! His nose isn’t shining very brightly, and he needs medicine.

Red-Nosed Reindeer biology isn’t similar to regular reindeer biology; Rudolph is going to need custom-made medicine. Unfortunately, Red-Nosed Reindeer chemistry isn’t similar to regular reindeer chemistry, either.

The North Pole is equipped with a Red-Nosed Reindeer nuclear fusion/fission plant, capable of constructing any Red-Nosed Reindeer molecule you need. It works by starting with some input molecule and then doing a series of replacements, one per step, until it has the right molecule.

However, the machine has to be calibrated before it can be used. Calibration involves determining the number of molecules that can be generated in one step from a given starting point.

For example, imagine a simpler machine that supports only the following replacements:

H => HO
H => OH
O => HH

Given the replacements above and starting with HOH, the following molecules could be generated:

HOOH (via H => HO on the first H).
HOHO (via H => HO on the second H).
OHOH (via H => OH on the first H).
HOOH (via H => OH on the second H).
HHHH (via O => HH).

So, in the example above, there are 4 distinct molecules (not five, because HOOH appears twice) after one replacement from HOH. Santa’s favorite molecule, HOHOHO, can become 7 distinct molecules (over nine replacements: six from H, and three from O).

The machine replaces without regard for the surrounding characters. For example, given the string H2O, the transition H => OO would result in OO2O.

Your puzzle input describes all of the possible replacements and, at the bottom, the medicine molecule for which you need to calibrate the machine. How many distinct molecules can be created after all the different ways you can do one replacement on the medicine molecule?

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Salar de Uyuni (biggest salt flats in the whole wide world)

Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers….Bolivia holds about 43% of the world’s lithium reserves most of those are located in the Salar de Uyuni. The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average altitude variations within one meter over the entire area of the Salar.

Up early today to see the sunrise from the top of Isla Incahuasi, the remnants of a volcano poking above the surface of the salt flats. I wish I’d been able to be in two places at once, as the sunrise from the salt flats themselves reflected in some of the pools would have been pretty epic too.

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The island also has coral on it too from when the volcano was submerged beneath the lake. I was completely out of breath after running up the hill to get the sunrise (in the event, no rushing needed). That’s what comes from running at a height of 3,656 meters!. Then breakfast

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Then it was time to play with perspective on the salt flats. It’s super hard to know how decent your photographs are until you’re back somewhere a little darker than the whiteness of the salt flats, still, some of them came out well, and Cam and Sophie were great fun & full of good ideas for pictures.

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The Dakar Rally was held here a couple of times. Apparently it takes a Jeep about 2-3 hours to drive around the flats, but competitors did it in 40minutes.

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Finally, a quick trip to the train graveyard. When the mining industry collapsed in the 1940s these trains were left here to rot.

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It was a magnificent landscape to visit. It would have been great to have had a day or so longer to just be there, spend some time in the quiet of the place, play with the light and distance. Maybe we’ll have to come back and cycle tour around ;)

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