November 3, 2009


I thought trekking in the Andes would be tough, and so it was. 

But everything is relative. 

Upon my return from Peru, I learned of  a rather more extreme adventure embarked upon by my uncle Christopher (my late father’s brother) and his son, my cousin Angus.

Apparently, in March and April of this year, they went dog-sledding across artic Alaska for three weeks, camping out in the wilderness in temperatures up to minus 35 degrees.

Not for charity.  Just for the hell of it.

Only Uncle Christopher didn’t quite make it.  After two days of his Arctic trek, he got severe frostbite on both hands and spent the next seven to eight weeks being treated.

As he rather glibly put it, “It could have been worse – I only lost bits of three fingers.”

Angus continued the trip for three weeks and took many wonderful pictures, like the example above.  You can see the others, as well as some amazing video footage, on his blog of the trip.

Here’s the link.


The end

October 4, 2009

edinburgh airport

So, that’s it then.

La Paz-Lima, Lima-Madrid, Madrid-Heathrow.  And the last wee hop up to Edinburgh.

Oh, and not forgetting the car drive home.

Thirty six and a half hours of solid schlepping.  Incorporating a plethora of check in desks, an interrogation of passport controls, a perspiration of customs checks (well, you never know, some wag might have slipped a handful of coca leaves into our luggage), an indigestion of airline meals, a snooze of in-flight movies and whatever the collective noun is for mile-high drinking.

I know – an intoxication.

It’s nice to be back home in the bosom of one’s family. 

On the other hand, travel is a blast.

Kilimanjaro anyone?

What’s on the menu 8

October 2, 2009

No rat relatives on the menu today.  Nothing remotely funny about the name of the dish.  And everything we ate for lunch in our first Bolivian restaurant was legal, decent, honest-to-goodness grub.

It was just the price we thought out of the ordinary.  See if you agree.

First course – a help yourself, all you can eat salad bar.

salad bar












Second course – soup. My command of  the Spanish language is such that I can’t help you with the name of the dish, but there was definitely some lamb in there, as well as assorted vegetables, cream, chilli, garlic, olive oil, turmeric and other good stuff. 

Looked and tasted home made and jolly toothsome too.


Course three – linguini bolognese. Nothing more to add, other than it was fresh and there was plenty of it.


Finally, the dessert – trifle.


Total for four courses, £1.96 a head.

Coffee was included, but wine was extra.  My large glass of Argentinian Malbec Reserve came in at 80p.

They always get you on the drinks.


Weird but wonderful La Paz

October 1, 2009

la paz ariel

Bolivia is a weird place, a place where after a while the out of the ordinary is taken for granted.

Its capital, La Paz is situated at over 4000m so planes almost have to ascend to land here!

Whilst being architecturally quite dull, it has an impressive setting. Our first view of the city was from a vast slum called “El Alto” on top of the rim of a huge kind of canyon in which the city covers the floor of and climbs up the sides. As with all of Bolivia so far it oozes colourful street life and South American character. Many Bolivians live below the poverty line which can be hard to take in, and it has minimal western influence compared to Peru and Ecuador.

Shops are simple and all seem to sell the same few things – so most of La Paz seems like one giant street market. You can buy absolutely anything on the street, from a grotesque dried llama foetus (for warding off evil spirits) to knocked-off black-market designer clothes.

The local Witches Market

The local Witches Market

The city is alive with constant hustle and bustle as the chola’s (Indian women who moved from the rural areas to work market stalls) rush around everywhere carrying things between market stalls, and minibuses choke the streets. These take the place of cars in a normal city and each one has a boy hanging out the door shouting a babble of incomprehensible place names. Sometimes there are so many boys shouting at once the street just becomes a mass of place names.

At 11pm stallholders pack their entire stalls up into a man-sized sack and put them on their backs, another 14 hour day over.


Typical La Paz street

Typical La Paz street

The place the sun calls home

October 1, 2009
The place the sun calls home, living up to its name

The place the sun calls home, living up to its name

Next we caught a slow wooden boat to Isla Del Sol – 1½ hours across the Lake. According to the Inca´s and pre Inca civilizations this island is the birthplace of the sun and of their civilization.

It’s easy to see why they thought it was mystical. The atmosphere is so thin up here that the sun shines with an amazing brilliance onto the lake. The waters are so calm and clear and in the distance you can see a the Cordillera Real`s white mountain tops. The island is small and covered in walking trails, Inca staircases, terraces and ruins. Although the main town is a bit touristy, once out of there the tiny villages consist of mud brick huts, llamas, donkeys and campesinos working the land.

Feels a million miles away from civilization.

And is.


The highest lake in the world

October 1, 2009


Even after what seemed like a hundred hours on the bus, Lake Titicaca was spectacular. At 4000m, it’s the world’s highest navigable body of water and so enormous it seems like the ocean except that it sits so spookily still and in the sun the surface looks like gem coloured glass.

The surrounding hills are all covered with agricultural terraces, many from Inca times and their brown barren looks make the lake stick out all the more. When the bus stopped and a man got on collecting “sanctuary tax” for entering Copacabana, I didn’t begrudge it – mind you it was the equivalent of 7p! (Later we discovered that this tax is just a scam.)

This Copacabana couldn’t be more different to the famous Rio city of the same name. It’s a colourful little town full of Indian faces right on the edge of the lake in between two hills. There are market stalls lining almost every street and a quite out of place looking white-domed Cathedral.

Here in the highlands around the Lake (it’s over 4000m) the only inhabitants are Bolivia’s Aymara Indigenous people – campesinos similar to those who inhabit the highlands of Peru.

The difference here is that there are almost no “metizos” (people of mixed Spanish and Indian decent) or Latino’s (Spanish decent) and so the atmosphere is completely different to Peruvian towns where there are many Latino faces amongst the Indian ones.

Although Copa is quite touristy and has a couple of big hotels, it still has the feel of an indigenous town quite untouched by modern life. Campesina’s trudge around with their loads on their backs or sit behind mountains of different types of nuts, pasta, corn or gadgets on the endless market stalls. Some just sit on the pavement with a couple of piles of pathetic looking vegetables.

The Aymara women’s dress is different to Peruvian Indians: they wear layers and layers of voluminous knee length skirts and underskirts with a jumper, and a shawl. Quite frankly this outfit makes the women appear huge – although I am sure not all of them are (check out their skinny legs).  They all wear their hair in two long plaits on top of which is balanced a dark coloured bowler hat. They also have the same rectangle of brightly coloured material slung over their backs in which they carry everything from Coca leaves to babies.

After asking the way to the fruit and veg market about 50 times on our first day, it became clear that Spanish was a second language to these people – they still speak the Indigenous language – Quechua.


What’s on the menu 4

October 1, 2009

inca kola truck

In Scotland, Irn Bru  allegedly outsells Coca Cola four to one.

Here in Peru, they have another kind of Coke which massively outstrips the so-called Real Thing in popularity.

And no, it’s not cocaine.

It’s this stuff:

inca kola

What’s it like?

In appearance, Inca Kola is a greenish-yellow colour (don’t go there) and has a taste similar to bubble gum and not unlike the aforementioned Scottish national soft drink.

The big question: does Inca Kola contain any cocaine? Answer; like Coke, the original recipe did originally contain a few milligrams of the Class A drug in every bottle, but not any more. 

In fact, Inca Kola is now owned by the Coca Cola corporation and is currently available in 16 of the 52 united states.

No, they’re not a sponsor.  Just thought you’d like to know.