A Travellerspoint blog

October 2016

Salar de Uyuni


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After 3 days in the salt flats and surrounding desert landscapes I'm positively bursting with stories and amazing photos. I've never had a harder time deciding what to Instagram. Which may sound ridiculous but is 120% true. It felt like every five minutes there was a new photo op so this is going to be a very photo-ful post. (Perfect for anyone who prefers to skim the words and just take in the photos, don't worry, I don't mind :) ). Since I've had so much trouble eliminating photos, we're just gonna split the tour into two posts, this one being the salt flats day.
After a quiet night in Uyuni and a morning spent buying any necessities for the tour, it was time to get the party started! I totally lucked out with a great group to spend the next three days with. John and Amelia from Australia and Sammy and Mai from Israel. After piling into our beautiful Lexus jeep, we headed to the first stop, the train cemetery. There are abandoned trains along the tracks outside Uyuni that are eerily beautiful.

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We spent some time climbing in and around the trains..

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The tracks leading back to Uyuni...

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After this, things really started with a bang, driving right to the edge of the salt flats and stopping for a bike ride to our lunch spot.

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Eating lunch next to piles of salt was some kind of amazing.

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We drove to one of the original salt hotels in the flats, also along the route of the Dakar Rally in Bolivia.

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And then the big stop of the day.. In the middle of the salt flats for some amazing and fun pictures.

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I really enjoyed the perspective pictures.
Holding up my Canada flag..

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And our trusty jeep..

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Kissing my new llama mascot..

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Balancing on a beautiful bottle of Bolivian wine..

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It was so much more fun that I expected!

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And the beauty of the day wasn't even finished! We headed to Isla Incahuasi next, which is a cactus island in the middle of the salt flats. Such a neat place.

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The view from the top out over the flats is pretty amazing. I've never seen anything quite like it!

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The next island, Pia Pia, also featured a few cacti, but was unique in the big cave in the side.

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Finally, we enjoyed our last beautiful view of the day, sunset in the salt flats. Up there as one of the best I've seen. Pinks and blues on the one side..

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And yellows, blues, reds on the other...

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We spent the night at a pretty nice hotel in a village called Manica. Actually had showers (though they were freezing cold so yeah, I skipped that...) and electricity! After such a full day I had no trouble falling asleep immediately, especially when thinking back on how seriously, seriously amazing the first day had been!

Posted by elliehirch 18:21 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Sucre is pretty darn sweet!


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After so many weeks of moving around so quickly and not feeling well with elevation, I decided to spend 4 solid days in Sucre, a beautiful, warm, lower elevation city. Best choice I could have made! I spent my first day on a walking tour that had me falling in love with this beautiful white city.

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The tour included lots of information about the local cultures (Jaq'a and Yampara and their weaving/textiles), colonization of Bolivia and the founding of Sucre, the constitutional capital (La Paz, the de facto capital, or seat of two branches of government.. An interesting situation!), revolutionary times in Sucre, signing of the Declaration of Independence, and amazing views of the main square, Plaza 25 de Mayo, and the state government building, Prefectura de Chuquisaca....

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We also hit up the central market, beautiful fruit galore...

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And finished with a local bar for chicha (fermented corn beer) and a local coin toss type game, then a viewpoint of the city...

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Unfortunately I spent the rest of the day feeling sick again. If it's not the altitude, it's the food. Which has now prompted Ellie is a vegetarian in Bolivia! When I was feeling better the next day, first stop was a vegetarian cafe for lunch with my hostel roommate and it was amazing. Fresh juice and veggies and soup. Finished off with chocolate cake for dessert. Sucre is known for good chocolate and after the cake (chocolate drizzled on chocolate cake with chocolate icing,,, heeeellllooooo) and three different chocolate bars in the last few days, I understand why it has this reputation! Mmmmm.
In the afternoon I reunited with Jeff (who I'd met in La Paz). We found a beautiful rooftop view from a church near the main square....

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Then went to the viewpoint to enjoy sunset. Totally worth it!

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Then had supper at the market and a few drinks with some other people we'd met, Frans, Martin, Odet and Herdis from the Netherlands.

Next day Martin, Jeff and I did a day trip. First stop was Cal Orck'o, the dinosaur theme park. The local mine has uncovered preserved dinosaur footprints in the rock face. In some series of geological events which I'm not entirely clear on, the ground has been pushed up and the discovered footprints of multiple dinosaurs are clearly visible on the slanted rock face...

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It's pretty cool. They also have life-size dinosaur models in the park which are also pretty neat..

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And the park had a great view of Sucre...

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Our next stop was the 7 waterfalls just outside of the city, or Las Siete Cascades. A bit of a walk down into the valley and you get this view of the first beautiful waterfalls and pool for swimming....

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This was where we stopped for lunch and enjoyed relaxing with a view...

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After lunch we could climb/scramble up a bit to see a couple more waterfalls..

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The rest of the 7 are too difficult to get to without actual climbing gear. So it was back to town for us after this. We had supper together and a few beers at the Oktoberfest celebration at Jeff and Martin's hostel.

Next morning we met again (Jeff, Martin, Odet and Herdis) to head to a market in a town called Tarabuco, about 65km outside of Sucre. Since Jeff and I joined the bus last minute, we got to enjoy the ride from up front with the driver!

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We spent the day in Tarabuco checking out all the markets (that are only on Sunday's). Textiles and fruit and vegetable and meat markets...

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Did a little bit of shopping of course and also enjoying walking around this traditional Bolivian town..

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And the parade happening in the main square with very interesting traditional outfits (which remind me of Ewoks from Star Wars, yub yub.)

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Then the bus ride back before one last supper with the Canadian and Dutch group (joined by Frans again). A good veggie meal and fun Dutch card game before yet another sad goodbye! To both the people and to Sucre the next morning. Heading to Uyuni for a salt flats tour!

Posted by elliehirch 15:22 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Beginning Bolivia in Copacabana and La Paz


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After an awesome ride from Puno to Copacabana with Bolivia Hop for an easy border crossing, I found myself in the third country of the trip. Left my stuff at my hostel and took the boat to Isla del Sol. The short walk across the south end of the island was very pretty on the way up...

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And a great view at the highest point....

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Then another boat ride back to Copacabana. Which looks beautiful from the water...

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And also looks fantastic at sunset...

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I had a quiet night in a hostel room to myself! And a long sleep because yes, altitude still hates me. There wasn't much else to see in Copacabana, but I found some great food the next day and walked around the main streets and shops before catching the bus to La Paz.
I was sad that part of that bus ride was in the dark because it was so beautiful at first, even with the picture quality you get from a bus window you can tell!

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I was dropped off right at my hostel in La Paz and fortunately on time, we didn't encounter any of the blockades that are frequently present around the city. I enjoyed a few drinks at the hostel bar, with fellow Canadian, Jeff from Calgary, a great opportunity to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving!
Next morning I joined two girls from England, Grace and Charlotte, to ride a couple of the city cable cars. While being great for giving tourists awesome views of the city, the cable cars are actually largely used by locals for transportation, like a metro in the air! And they really do give amazing views!

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We did a round trip on 2/3 of the cities cars, the yellow and green lines. (The third being red, making up the three Bolivian colours!)

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After returning to the hostel for some quick food, we joined the other people from the hostel heading to the football match. World Cup qualification game of Bolivia vs. Ecuador. With our faces appropriately painted, we enjoyed cheering for Bolivia, who lead 2-0 at half time, but ended up finishing with a 2-2 tie.

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It was a really fun game! And very fitting that I attended my first professional football match in South America.

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After the walk back to the hostel, Jeff, Charlotte, Grace and I had a delicious dinner at an adorable cafe that reminded me of something out of Alice in Wonderland, multiple floors that kept getting bigger as we went up. Then a few more drinks together at the hostel bar.

Next day in La Paz I joined a walking tour recommended highly by other people at the hostel. And recommended with good reason! It was really fun and really informative. We walked to San Pedro square and learned about San Pedro Prison (seriously guys, google it, it's crazy, like it's own society, with homes, jobs, rules, paid entry etc. A city within the city!). Then local Rodriguez market for a discussion of Aymaran traditions and onto the Witches market. Where they have llama fetuses, both with and without hair, used for rituals along with other items, coca, wine, liquor, sugar. Rituals for money, business, health, construction etc. They also have potions for love, for good relationships, and a Bolivian viagra potion. While tempting to try, I'll have to take the locals word on their effects as I didn't make any purchases of my own! Lastly, we heard about a supposed urban myth about human sacrifices for large construction projects, where a live person is buried in the concrete (usually an alcoholic or drug addict that's been found who has no family) as an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth). Supposed urban myth because it doesn't happen anymore but skeletons have been found in torn down buildings. So there's that.
We also went to the beautiful San Francisco Square...

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And then had delicious fruit juices, fruit salads, and papas rellenas,
(seriously delicious deep fried potato meat pouches) at an indoor market.
Last place was the main square, Plaza Murillo, location of the parliament and Presidential Palace...

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With the 'Clock of the South' in reverse on the Congress building..

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We were given a brief political history of Bolivia, stories of presidents in La Paz, times of constant coups and civil unrest leading up to the current president, Evo Morales, his interesting personality, recent slow economic improvement and movement towards socialism. It was an amazingly informative walking tour and has piqued my interest in the history of Bolivia.. I will definitely be doing some more reading!
A few more La Paz views before the tour concluded...

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I had supper with a couple from New Zealand that I met on the tour and then I headed to the bus station for the night ride to Sucre. Doesn't feel like there's been enough days since my last night bus but I just can't deny the convenience of combined transportation and accommodation! And being able to go on a day where there's no strikes! I'd met multiple people at the hostel who had been stuck extra days unable to get to Sucre or Copacabana due to strikes, or had issues with blockades, so I will continue to take my event free transportation without complaint!

Posted by elliehirch 09:32 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Puno & Farewell to Peru


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After taking so many night buses (and knowing yet another was coming up) I'm proud to say I finally enjoyed my first down day after over a month of travel! I made the most of a few hours in a private room at a B&B by watching tv, sleeping, and watching more tv! Much needed rest! Especially before the second consecutive night bus that would take me to Puno. I managed to sleep really well besides waking up extremely car sick at 2am. After a few more hours knocked out by gravol, I was dropped off at my hostel in Puno for a couple hours of chilling before check-in.
I joined a really fun lady from Mexico (Laura) that was sharing my hostel room to go out to walk around town. We checked out the local market and then walked to the main square to take in the parade that was happening. It was the University Parade which happens once a year where the students from different areas perform local dances in a parade. (All helpfully explained by a local that Laura was talking to). There were Quechua dances, Aymara dances, dances from Cusco, Puno, etc. It was so amazing.

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The main square was full of people...

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Our next stop was the Coca Museum where we learned all about the origins of coca, uses in Inca times up to now, benefits to the body, production of Coca-Cola as well as cocaine. There was also a section of the museum about the local culture which explained many local dances, their origins and costumes. The costume display even had outfits that we were able to try on!

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The rest of the day was fairly quiet, lunch by the lake, a really good nap, and dinner at a delicious bakery.
The next morning I headed out for a full day boat tour of a couple of Lake Titicaca's islands.
The first stop was Uros, the floating islands. They are islands made of reeds by the local people. They take the roots that float, bind them together, cover them with layers and layers of reeds and live on them in their houses made of reeds (literally use the reeds for everything, even eating). They'll live on an island for about 30 years and it takes them about 1 year to build a new one. About 5 families lived on the particular island we visited.

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They took us for a ride in a boat made of... You guessed it... Reeds!

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Our captain...

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And copilot...

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Next stop was Taquile Island (this on is a true island, not a man-made island!) We got to enjoy a bit of a walk to the main square with this beautiful view...

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Then lunch at a local restaurant. The people on Taquile are very self sufficient, they carry everything around the island themselves (no pack animals here), and also very friendly! The women weave and the men knit.. Often into their 90s which is the average age people will live to. Men knit hats that they all wear.. Red if they are married, red and white if they are single. Women have pom-poms on their dresses, short and simple if they are married, long and colourful if they are single.

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After this was the boat ride back to Puno. This is the view of Puno from the boat..

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I enjoyed a quiet night with a couple people from the hostel, we had a couple drinks, hit up the same delicious bakery and hung out at the hostel. Not a bad way to spend my last night in Peru! Can't believe it's been three weeks already.

I will conclude my time in this beautiful country with another list of my favourite things..
- The diversity of the country & landscapes- from the pacific coast, to the Andes mountain range, Amazon basin, and cloud forest of Machu Picchu, the scenery is so diverse and so breathtaking no matter where you are.
- The children- I can honestly say I have never been in a country before where I have thought that literally every child I have seen is absolutely adorable! They are always smiling, happy, dirty and playing. Take this cutie for example... I met Ismael on the Rainbow Mountain hike and enjoyed a good chunk of time goofing around with him..
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-The mountains and hiking- I know I've already mentioned the landscapes but as a girl that's so in love with mountains, I think they deserve their own mention. I wanted to see all the hiking that Peru had to offer and I loved every second of it. The mountains are so different from Canada and spectacular in every way.
- Suckers/lollipops-if there's candy to be had, you know I'll find it! They have some delicious suckers of which I have tried and enjoyed every flavour!
- In terms of actual food, my favourite by far has been all the fresh fruit. I've tried so many new kinds and everything is fresh and delish.
- Lastly, drink-while beer and Pisco sours have been great, what I really love is the Inca Kola, yellow bubblegum flavored pop that tastes a lot like cream soda. I don't drink a lot of pop at home but apparently I drink a lot of pop in Peru!
While these three weeks have gone by incredibly fast, I am also excited to head on to the next country and start working on a new list of favourites! Bolivia here I come!

"Actually, the best gift you could have given her was a lifetime of adventures..." -Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland

Posted by elliehirch 07:49 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

I'm a piranha, they live in the Amazon!

sunny 35 °C
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Well, I've made it safe and sound after three days in the jungle! Three hot, sweaty, humid, beautiful, amazing days in the Amazon Rainforest!
After my night bus (which sucked due to the huge decrease in elevation from Cusco), I was picked up at the Puerto Maldonado bus station by one of the guides, Johnny, and got to enjoy a ride to the pick-up point on the back of his motorbike while carrying my big bag on my back! So fun. I had just enough time to change and freshen up before the drive to the jungle and then boat ride to the lodge.
Our group for the three days included Tom and Chris from Manchester area, Els and Frederiek from Brussels, and Connie from Germany. We all got along immediately! Tom was also kind enough to let me use some of his photos for my blog (I'll let you guys do the guessing of which are his and which are mine ;) )
We also had a token mascot.. Pepe the parrot, who perched on lots of shoulders due to someone having clipped his wings before he was taken in by lodge staff.

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First activity upon arriving at the beautiful jungle lodge was to take a shower! Then some pictures of the great view...

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The adorable lodge rooms with wooden plank floors, palm leaf roof, curtain doors, simple toilet and showers, beds and mosquito nets...

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And this view out of the back window... So amazing!

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Our first *real* activity after a delicious lunch was a jungle walk. Johnny showed us so many trees, plants, and other greenery and shared their medicinal uses. We also took in butterflies, lizards, hummingbirds, parrots, praying mantis, bullet ants and so much more. I had a real appreciation for Johnny's knowledge after he talked about living in the jungle for 7 months straight with his dad when he was younger.
He painted our faces with different designs from leaves that generate red ink (similar to henna) when you pour on a little water.

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We found a natural jungle swing...

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And really enjoyed all the greenery...

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After some more down time (and of course another shower), reading and/or napping in the hammocks, we had a night boat ride. (It was only at 6:30pm but it gets dark in the area before 6:00pm!). We saw capybaras and caimans from the boat. After this was supper followed by a night walk. Which was the first time I almost said no to something on my trip... Because basically all we saw were bugs and two maaaassive tarantulas. But I wasn't about to let my fears stop me from something so I must say, I got pretty damn close to the biggest tarantula I've ever seen. Ugh! Then headed back for (yes) another shower before immediately hiding under my mosquito net for the night.
The next day was, of course, another early morning. We headed to the Chuncho clay lick for some bird watching and had to be on the boat by 5am. But the birds are there in the morning so we had to get an early start for the hour boat ride there! And we got to enjoy this sunrise and boat view..

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It was worth it for all the amazing macaws (blue and yellow, scarlet and red and green), parrots (blue, yellow, green), and parakeets that we saw...

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These ones are down on the clay lick, getting some necessary minerals..

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This bird watcher loved every second of it! :)

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The clay lick is in the most beautiful, green, lush area..

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We were also rewarded with a view of a harpy eagle shortly before leaving. One of the top five predators in this area of the Amazon! Second largest eagle in the world!

We had some time off during the hottest hours before heading out to kayak down the river. Beautiful, peaceful, fun way to spend an afternoon....

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Then after the boat driver picked us up, he let Tom, Chris and I stay on the kayaks for the boat ride back! It was like tubing on a kayak. So fun!

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That night was another night boat ride, more caimans, and optional night walk. Which you can probably guess, I gave a pass. I did a little stargazing before bed instead. Great views of the Milky Way out there!
Next morning was an actual sleep in until almost 7am! Followed by breakfast and then fishing! Unfortunately after a couple hours of trying, the only successful person was Louis, the guide. He managed to catch a fairly big fish in the piranha family.. And it tasted delicious. This scenery down the stream made the (unsuccessful) fishing 100% worth it!

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We had one last lunch and then it was time to pack-up and say bye to part of our group, Tom, Chris and I were off on the boat, then truck back to Puerto Maldonado.

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I was sad to leave the beauty and the people but definitely not sad to leave the humidity and the bugs! My legs are once again completely covered in bites! Haven't spent a day on the trip so far without something having bitten me.. Woops!
Chris and I got to enjoy the truck ride from the seats on back. Which was beautiful, cooled us off, and very fun at first.. Until we headed towards rain clouds! But it was another fun adventure after we had to duck under the huge, noisy, blue tarps that covered all our luggage that was also on the back! As soon as it was only spitting we popped our heads out and still enjoyed the final minutes of the ride!
Back in Puerto Maldonado we had time to catch up on all things wifi at the hostel before having supper and then I had to grab my things for another night bus back to Cusco!
The Amazon was amazing.. Another item checked off the bucket list!!
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Posted by elliehirch 15:17 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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