Reflective times in A Bay

So, after a truly epic week of surfing with Bandulla we headed to the birthplace of surfing in Sri Lanka – Arugam Bay. Bandulla and a few of his friends were headed there anyway so we hitched a lift in their truck. We got to chat to Bandulla about all sorts of things and stopped several times for some pretty awesome street food. One thing we chatted about a lot was the tsunami. Arugam Bay was particularly badly hit by the natural disaster and has been slowly rebuilding itself over the last 10 years. Bandulla said the tsunami came almost 2km inland from Arugam Bay, wiping out several communities. It was a pretty sobering thought as we pulled into the bay. Clearly this was not such a sobering thought for the owners of ‘The Tsunami Hotel’ which we passed on the way into town. The board advertising the hotel had a painting of the Tsunami with people screaming beneath it. Poor taste? We thought so.

On arrival we saw a bustling tourist town and the lovely arc of the bay itself. We got dropped at our hotel called Coco Bay and quickly settled into our lovely air conditioned room just 100m or so from the beach.

Our few days in Arugam Bay consisted of the following:
– Eating
– Sunbathing
– Eating
– Sleeping

You may notice no mention of ‘surfing’ in the activity list above – odd given the previous comment about the ‘birthplace of surfing’. Would you believe it Jess and I were a bit surfed out after Bandulla put us through our paces for a week. Plus the point break closest to us was a.) small and b.) being surfed by around 50 people at a time!

I think both Jess and I were feeling quite reflective in Arugam Bay. Because we’d decided to have proper chill time our thoughts did start to turn to the fact it was nearly the end of our trip. I certainly spent many a moment trying to soak up everything around me, conscious that we were unlikely to be this well travelled, well rested and well sunned for quite some time (no sympathy expected).

In between these moments of travelling reflection we did manage to meet a brilliant couple from Austria called Laurenz & Julia. Laurenz definitely had the coolest job of anyone we had met on our travels so far – he and his family owning a jam making business – hmmm jam. These guys were staying at the same hotel as us and we enjoyed many an evening drinking lion beer, eating delicious curry and talking about jam. Happy times. We hope to pay them a visit (not just because of the promised tour of their jam factory) in Bregenz soon.

So, after a very relaxing week or so in Arugam Bay we headed for Ella and the train through the central highlands and tea plantations back to Colombo. More to come on this and our last few days of what has been the most glorious 5 months imaginable.

You may be pleased to hear this is probably the penultimate smug travelling post.

Love to all.
R&J xx

Surf’s Up

We were quite relieved to put The Hill Club behind us, after our disappointing venture into Sri Lanka’s colonial past and we ended up paying over the odds for a guy to drive us to our next location. Luckily it was worth it! We spent a night at a great place called Kalu’s Hideaway (randomly owned by Sri Lankan World Cup cricketing legend Romesh Kaluwitharana) on the edge of Udawalawe National Park. As dawn was breaking the next morning, we took a jeep safari into the park itself. There are approximately 550 elephants in the 119 square mile reserve and we saw them right up close, which was amazing. Many of the elephants we’d seen in Nepal had been chained up, so it was lovely to see them wondering around freely.

That afternoon we set off for the coastal town of Tangalle for a whole week of surfing. We stayed in a place called Nugasewana Eden which had its own tree house! We slept up in the tree for a night, but the lack of air con forced us into a more conventional room for the rest of our stay…!

Rob & I both describe ourselves as ‘surfers’ but I have never before attempted to surf for 7 days in a row so I was slightly worried I wouldn’t be able to move afterwards…! Our surf instructor / guide, Bandula picked us up bright and early the next morning along with his driver, Samantha (a man). We drove to the imaginatively titled ‘Blue Beach’ (!) and proceeded to demonstrate to Bandula how we normally ‘popped up’. This essentially means trying to get to your feet quickly when a wave’s coming. He said Rob & I both followed the ‘Western’ style surfing technique and he showed us his own tried and tested method. This he described as the ‘chicken wing, lizard leg, Robin Hood’. I kid you not! Basically, think about the shapes you would make if you were trying to imitate having chicken wings or a lizard leg or doing a pose like Robin Hood. Then imagine throwing those shapes on a surf board and you’ve pretty much got it! I have to say it actually proved very effective for me, although I think it was a bit too basic for Rob! Meanwhile, Rob was slightly preoccupied with a phone interview for a new job. We were nearly at the end of our trip and that interview certainly brought it home…! But despite being in holiday mode, he still managed to impress them enough to be asked in for a face to face chat when we returned to the UK πŸ™‚

After a couple of days surfing at the Blue Beach, Bandula took us to Unakuruwa Beach. It means ‘U-Point’ and it’s a perfect right hand point break. Incredibly, we had it to ourselves for five days! If this had been pretty much anywhere else in the world, we would’ve been fighting for waves. After several days of non-stop surfing, we were both aching from the paddling and had very bruised ribs and battered knees. But Bandula was such a fantastic, patient teacher and a throughly nice guy and he made it his mission for us to keep improving. Anyway, following in Coldplay’s footsteps, we knew we were in good company….that’s right – did I mention he taught Chris Martin to surf?!

While we were in Tangalle, we also visited the nearby Rock Monastery, a giant golden Buddha statue and a natural blow hole, where sea water shoots into the sky from a cave below. But the trip we’ll remember most fondly happened after dark… Along with a lovely German couple called Sarah & Matthias, we piled into a tiny taxi and went a nearby beach where the turtles lay their eggs. It’s a pretty strange sight; we were part of a group of about 20 tourists, all slowly creeping along the sand. For obvious reasons you’re not allowed torches, so you feel a bit silly! Then, when instructed by the guide you just wait. And wait. And wait. Eventually, the turtle is deemed to be in a ‘trance-like state’ and one by one you can come and see her laying the eggs. What surprised most is the size of these turtles. They’re as big as a wheelbarrow or a smallish kitchen table! They’re very impressive and unusual creatures and I will always remember that strange night on the beach!

On our last day Bandula invited us over to his house for lunch and to meet his family. His wife Imalka cooked the best Sri Lankan curry we’ve had and it was lovely to feel so welcome – they truly made such an effort. Bandula was pretty much the pioneer of surfing in the Tangalle area back in 1991, when he was given a board by some Australian lifeguards. He’s now in his early forties (although he looks about 25) and really seems to want to give something back to his community. He’s trying to raise money for a community pool to teach the local kids to swim and he obviously wants to encourage more tourists to an area badly hit by the Boxing Day Tsunami more than a decade ago. After a week we considered him a good friend and I hope one day we’ll be back πŸ™‚

J & R xx

Little Britain

Although small, Sri Lanka is a very varied country – and that includes the vast changes in temperature. When we arrived in Colombo it was almost unbearably hot, so after our stay in Kandy, we headed for the hills to cool off. The Hill Country rises up in the centre of Sri Lanka to about 2,000 metres above sea level. With the gain in height, the temperature significantly drops. The temperate climate, combined with Sri Lanka’s colonial past and the miles and miles of tea plantations means the area is now known as Little England. We were quite excited about our few days in what we assumed would be vaguely familiar surroundings.

We had heard about a place called The Hill Club in Nuwara Eliya, which was built and owned by Brits connected to Sri Lanka’s colonial past. Unfortunately we discovered it’s a bit of a novelty. The Hill Club is a throwback to a bygone era where men wore dinner jackets and women weren’t allowed to participate in social occasions. Unfortunately the hotel has kept rather too many of the ‘traditions’ and has refused to modernise with the times. Rob was made to wear a jacket and tie to dine in the restaurant, which he obviously didn’t have with him as we hadn’t had many occasions to be smart during our 5 months of travels! However, he was shown to a room and told to pick something to wear from a various collection of old fashioned garments. I had one beach-type dress with me, so together we looked pretty funny πŸ™‚ However the strict dress code for the restaurant is particularly ironic as the food itself is pretty terrible. It reminded us of bad English restaurants 20 years ago – or school dinners! Everything was overcooked. Unfortunately many of the staff were also rude, and whereas I respect that the club has a history which didn’t include women, surely in the 21st Century things have moved on a bit?! I got pretty fed up with being ignored as every question was directed at ‘Sir’. It was as if I didn’t exist. I am absolutely not a raging feminist (!) but it’s just common sense that you’re polite to all your guests, male or female.

No trip to the Hill Country is complete without going to a tea plantation, and we hired a driver who took us to a tea factory, surrounded by miles of green leaves. It really was a tea lovers paradise. The factory itself was pretty old school; many of the machines hadn’t been updated since it opened more than 100 years ago and I’m sure health and safety would’ve had a fit. But the smell of the freshly rolled tea leaves was divine – and we even got a free cuppa afterwards! On the way to the factory, the driver insisted on taking us to what seemed like every known waterfall in the Northern Hemisphere (!) but some of them were admittedly spectacular.

One of the redeeming features of The Hill Club was the fact that they had a huge DVD collection (mostly of copied DVDs….!) and so after our last faux fancy dinner we ended up watching The Queen. Even if the old colonial hotel hadn’t lived up to its past reputation, we still had HRH to make us feel at home πŸ™‚

J&R xxx

Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth

Sri Lanka – our final stop. How had this happened? At the start of the year we were basking in the smug glory of 5 months off work. Now, we had just 3 precious weeks left 😦 I can’t imagine any of you feel hugely sympathetic πŸ˜‰

However all was not lost. For Sri Lanka is the land of sun, surf, smiley people and epic curry. We flew into Colombo and spent the night in a nice place with a sea view. After a hearty breakfast in the calm of a converted tea factory we headed for the local train station and CHAOS ensued. We had chosen the day before the Buddha’s birthday to try and travel to Kandy – apparently 90% of the Sri Lanka population also had the same idea! The 38 degree heat added to a sense of meltdown as we ventured off with our heavy bags to try and find a bus instead. Buses in Sri Lanka are a little different to the UK – for starters the doors are always open and people literally jump on and off as the thing is moving (young, old, male, female, they slow for no one). They are also never really full. There is ALWAYS room for one more!

So after 5 fairly hair raising and sweaty hours we made it to the city of Kandy. The first thing we noticed was it is a very attractive city. The main area is based around a lake and nestled into a number of small hills. It’s very green and has plenty to do and see – from temples and botanical gardens to viewpoints, tea factories and giant Buddha statues.

We had booked into a place overlooking the lake called Villa 49. We were met by our host (Jess and I have both forgotten his name – I’m sure you’re all itching to know so we’ll send an update when we remember πŸ™‚ and shown to a giant, nicely furnished room with the air con set to freezing. Perfect πŸ™‚

Arguably one of Kandy’s biggest draws is The Temple of the Tooth Relic. I quickly decided this would make a great name for an Indiana Jones film hence the title of this blog. We wondered there at sunset and again were joined by most of the Sri Lankan population. The temple houses an actual tooth of the original Buddha and believe me when I say this tooth has had quite the history. It has caused fights, been taken by the British (surprise surprise), been moved around the country and had countless temples built in it’s honour. It is revered by the Sri Lankans and the queues to see the little golden temple it sits in were absolutely enormous (you can’t see the actual tooth – we can’t imagine it’s in great nick!). The dress, the music and the whole atmosphere there was pretty extraordinary!

We’d read that our hotel did excellent food and I’m happy to report that our fellow travellers on trip advisor were not wrong. Our first taste of proper Sri Lanka curry will stay in our minds for some time- healthy, delicious and vast quantities. Brilliant.

We had arranged a tuk tuk tour for the following day. Our friendly driver whizzed us around some of the sights I’ve mentioned with brace and poise – two crucial things for navigating Sri Lankan roads! The botanical gardens were incredible – loads of trees and plants, some native, some imported. We took particular note of the bamboo which was the tallest growing bamboo in the world – our friend Nalty has a strange obsession with the stuff so a selfie in front of it seemed appropriate. The giant Buddha statue was also a highlight – it sits overlooking Kandy and up close it makes the Statue of Liberty look like a garden knome. Impressive stuff. Our final stop was a tea factory – apparently tea is not made on the Buddha’s birthday so we didn’t see the machines working but it was fascinating nonetheless. Jess’ mum would have been in seventh heaven in this place – even she couldn’t drink all the tea they had on offer here.

We ate another sublime meal at Villa 49 and got really keen the following morning and went for a run round the lake. I don’t get the impression Sri Lankans exercise for fun. We got some pretty unusual looks from passers by as we jogged along. Or they may have just been concerned for our well being given how much I was sweating. We didn’t stop to ask.

So all in all Kandy was fantastic and highly recommended. And just in case George Lucas or anyone else involved in the Indiana Jones franchise is reading, I want crediting if you decide on The Tooth Relic as the next instalment.

For now,
R&J xx

Weathering Patagonia

Fellow travellers warned us that Patagonia can often experience four seasons in a day, and they were soon proved right. We flew from Santiago, which is roughly in the centre of Chile, down to Punta Arenas, which is almost at the southern tip. The flight takes about four hours, which gives you some idea of the length of the whole country.

Early the next morning, we crept out of our guest house before anyone was awake to get a lift to a boat. It was a chilly start and they packed us in like sardines. Pretty apt really, as we were off to see penguins! We skirted an island first which housed a sea lion colony. They’re fascinating (and smelly) creatures to watch. The huge male sea lions spend their time basking on rocks while the females dip in and out of the water catching their dinner. Typical πŸ™‚

The boat landed on the nearby Isla Magdalena, which was completely packed with penguins! Obviously there are strict rules about not getting too close, but they’re certainly not afraid of humans and they don’t really bat an eyelid when you walk past. They’re definitely one of my favourite creatures; they mate for life, which is very sweet, and you can spend hours watching them walk/waddle, which is hysterically funny. I could’ve spent all day on that island, although I suspect Rob wasn’t quite as keen on the little black and white birds who’ve forgotten how to fly.

That afternoon we took a three hour bus to Puerto Natales and stayed at Hostel Amerindia, which was a very welcoming and cosy find. Our guide for our Patagonia hiking experience, Victor, picked us up the next morning. We headed to Torres del Paine national park to do The ‘W’ Trek, so called because the shape of the hike spells out the letter on a map.

Stepping out of the van in the park, we were hit by Patagonia’a infamous wind. We hiked up through a valley with incredible views, although several times the gales threatened to push us over the cliff! Rob wasn’t feeling well again and just as we reached the toughest ascent of the trail, he suddenly and violently threw up on the path. Luckily he managed to power through and we made it to the top, where we got an absolutely breathtaking view of the three towers which give Torres del Paine its name. Their jagged shapes contrast with the beautiful turquoise pool below; it’s a complexly striking and unique view – absolutely incredible.

We stayed in a refugio, which is essentially like a hostel. Although we were in a six-bed dorm, it was far more luxurious than we expected and the staff provided delicious and plentiful food; essential for hiking!

After a speedy trip in a catamaran across a crystal clear lake, we began our second day hike. In contrast to day one, the weather was hot. We trekked along a gorgeous trail, drinking the best water we’ve ever tasted from mountain streams and watching condors soar overhead. We met an awesome Canadian couple, Lana and Steve, who were hiking with their seven month old baby. Impressive. After crossing an incredibly fast flowing glacier river, we climbed high over rocks and slippery tree roots to reach the summit. It was worth it; we had the huge French Glacier to our right, the back of the towers (Torres del Paine) to our left and a stunning lake in front. The scenery in Patagonia is truly amazing.

We stayed in a different refugio that night, which was slightly more rustic than the previous one….! Although at the sunset the weather was lovely and still, the wind dramatically picked up overnight, rattling the windows violently and ensuring we got very little sleep! We had been pretty lucky with the weather up until this point, but the heavens opened on the third day. As we hiked towards our final destination, we were drenched within a couple of minutes. Victor was a fantastic guide, but he certainly went at a fair old lick and we were pretty tired. However, the bad weather cleared briefly as we reached Glacier Grey at the end of the Grey Lake. Magical.

We absolutely loved Patagonia; it was a real highlight for us. Combine some of the best scenery in the world with some fantastic trekking and that should give you some idea of the uniqueness and incredible unspoilt nature of the place. Patagonia; we’ll be back.

J & R xxx

Vina and Valpo – in 10

1. Vina del Mar and Valparaiso are both seaside towns and that is where the similarities end. If I could make comparisons with the UK (sorry to any of our International followers :-)) I would say Vina is like Bournemouth and Valpo like Brighton (both with better weather of course).

2. We rented a flat in Vina for the week – so lovely to have our own space. We spent many an evening curled up on the sofa watching knock off DVDs, eating chocolate and drinking Chilean plonk. Vina might be a little tacky in places (mostly the beachfront) but delve a little deeper and gems abound – lovely residential streets, a racecourse, a castle (of sorts), nice parks, great restaurants and friendly folk.

3. Jess’ much missed aunt used to live in Vina when she was a girl – really lovely for us to visit one of her old stomping grounds.

4. Valparaiso is fantastic – such a cool and utterly different seaside town. Home to quirky people, quirky homes, a unique system of elevators that whisk you up (and down) to different parts of the town, and to one of the many houses of the poet Pablo Neruda (well worth a visit if you’re ever in Valpo).

5. One of the coolest things about Valpo is the street art. Amazing. It’s literally on every corner. We took a few pics to give you a sense of it – for your viewing pleasure below.

6. Jess and I did an amazing Chilean cooking course in Vina – with a Mr Boris Basso Benelli, published chef and potential future contestant on Chilean Masterchef! We cooked all sorts of things including ceviche, empanadas, corn pie (Chilean delicacy) and poached pears – our lovely blog readers will have to come round for a Chilean themed dinner party when we get back πŸ™‚ Please do check out Boris’ cookbook – the man is a genius.

7. Jess and I went out and got extremely drunk in Vina – we haven’t been out a lot on our travels so it didn’t take much! We danced the night away with our cooking school friends (greetings Kim, Bart and Cameron) and felt very hardcore when we rolled in at 5am – of course the Chilenos party for way longer but not bad for 2 Brits, 2 Dutch and an Aussie :-).

8. Needing to do some exercise, Jess and I went in search of a public swimming pool (the sea is not an option at 9 degrees!). We took a slight ‘detour’ and ended up walking for about 2 hours before coming upon a pool in a naval base of all places. Knackered from our detour we managed about 2 widths but the pool was amazing (pic below) and worth the hike.

9. We saw a few movies at the cinema in Vina – in case you’re looking for something to see – The Theory of Everything (amazing performance from Eddie Redmayne, 9/10), Kingsman (unusual turn for Colin Firth, 7/10) and American Sniper (powerful stuff from Bradley Cooper, 7/10).

10. I started a ’10 things’ blog and I am damn well going to finish it πŸ™‚ (Granted the cinema ratings were stretching it a tad already). Anyway, just to say Vina and Valpo are both great and well worth a visit!

Until next time amigos,
R&J xx

Tally Ho, Santiago…!

Rob has never really liked horses and has always refused to ride. However, following the passport debacle l think he thought nothing could be worse…! So, when I suggested we go horse riding in the Andes, to my surprise he agreed.

We signed up to Horse Riding Chile (does what it says… etc, etc) and were picked up from Santiago by a very erratic taxi driver. By the time we reached the Parcella, which is essentially a small farm, we were both feeling a bit sick. We were greeted by an English couple – Ellen & Harry – who run the place. They moved over to Chile about 8 years ago and randomly her family also owns a holiday cottage in East Prawle in Devon – a stones throw from where we got married! It’s a small world.

They were very chilled out (which helped Rob stay calm) and introduced us to our Arriero, Leo. An Arriero is essentially someone who works with horses and understands how to ‘load the mule’. The concept of the ‘mule train’ – linking mules together, laden with goods and leading them over the mountains – is still alive and well in the Andes. The animals are exceptionally strong and we had a mule with us who carried the tent, bedding and food. I can’t remember his name but he wasn’t called Muffin.

Before we knew it, we’d donned our cowboy hats and mounted our trusty steeds (Rosaro and Lucero). They’re much smaller horses than I’m used to riding in the UK; very strong, stocky and amazingly sure footed. Leo didn’t speak any English and our Spanish doesn’t really extend past Hola and Gracias (!) but somehow he signalled that we were off and we followed behind his horse and the mule up some of the steepest and rockiest terrain I’ve ever been over. Rob was doing well and looked confident and luckily the horses were absolutely incredible over the difficult terrain, so we made good progress.

We went up through a valley and then down through a river and climbed across what seemed like a cliff face. They haven’t heard of well maintained bridlepaths in the Andes…! I wouldn’t have even wanted to walk on some of the trails, and my horse at home would have run the other way if I tried to get her to attempt them. (Cowboy) hats off to those Chilean steeds.

Just when we were getting used to the horses navigating their way over boulders and clinging to paths with vertical drops to a rocky river hundreds of feet down, there was a crash of thunder and a streak of lightning! I would count myself an experienced rider and yet I’ve never ridden in an electrical storm. The jagged forks looked like they were touching the mountains and the thunder rumbled and crashed directly overhead. I was scared. However, Leo kept going, smoking a cigarette casually as he rode into the eye of the storm. At least Rob was distracted and totally forgot that he was riding! He did brilliantly – it certainly wasn’t a novice ride.

Thankfully we arrived at our camp for the night and the thunder, lightning and rain stopped. The ‘wild camp’ was literally some trees next to a gorgeous river. Leo was the perfect host; he caught fresh fish and cooked them on the campfire. Delicious. We also ate a ridiculous amount of meat – the Chileans certainly know how to barbeque – and got through a bottle of wine each…

We were pretty merry by this time and despite the huge language barrier, we managed to have a 5 hour conversation! At one point, Leo asked if we sang and we tried to think of something we both knew. We ended up singing Jerusalem (Nick Hodgkinson you would have been proud)! Definitely one of the most hilarious and random nights we’ve had.

The next morning we braved the freezing mountain river for a (very) quick dip before climbing back in the saddle (with a few groans from Rob) and setting off for the Parcella. It was like a different valley; the weather was glorious. We needed our cowboy hats to shade us from the strong sun (not rain) and we thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

I’m not sure when I’ll get Rob back on a horse, but I’m pretty sure it won’t involved thunder, lightening or cliff edges. He’ll be a pro!

J & R xxx

Every cloud…..

Dear Readers
I am not normally one for trying to dispense travelling wisdom (I usually have very little). However, on this occasion I feel it’s necessary to warn you of the gigantic ball ache that comes from having one’s passport stolen. In a word, it’s a nightmare. Everything else you own is not that problematic to replace or cancel. A passport on the other hand is.

I stupidly put my bag on the floor (at my feet) in the bus station in San Pedro de Atacama where Jess and I had just spent a very nice few days. A horde of people then rucked past me to get their bus and when I next looked down….oh sh*t. EVERYTHING gone. Passport, credit card, iPad, kindle, camera, the list goes on.

We had to spend pretty much a week getting this nightmare sorted. We had to change our itinerary, cancel flights, call police stations, visit local magistrates, visit embassies, get an emergency passport, avoid certain countries that don’t allow emergency passports, again the list goes on. Had it not been for the patience and organisational skills of my lovely wife I might well have lost the plot.

I am pleased to say I am now the proud owner of an emergency passport (it’s also gold which is quite cool) and plan on visiting Her Majesty’s passport office in London to get a permanent replacement. And we now get to attend my niece Lettie’s 1st birthday party. Every cloud…..

We also got to spend a few days in Santiago, Chile, another silver lining as it turned out. We were originally due to pit stop here for only one evening and that would have been a crying shame. It’s a great city. Attractive, cosmopolitan, friendly, varied, a great place to spend a few days. We stayed in Bellavista in a great hotel with the most helpful staff you’ll find (gracias Carlos, Gonzalo and Melissa). We gazed over amazing vistas, swam in local pools, lay in lovely parks and met loads of nice people. Good for the soul and to restore your faith in humanity after being robbed!

So, remember one and all, keep your passport on you at all times when in transit to avoid gigantic ball ache.

For now.

R&J xx

Phallic cacti & two pot-smoking lesbians

We were slightly relieved to arrive in San Pedro de Atacama. Despite being located in the ‘driest non-polar desert in the world’ (source: Wikipedia) it’s a bustling vibrant little town. We had booked a place to stay called Lodge Tatais, which was about 1km out of town, with comfortable beds and actual taps where we could wash our hands with real water….!

Lodge Tatais was pretty chilled. There was a ‘restaurant’ attached, which had particularly random opening hours; they essentially started serving whenever they felt like it. One evening we just let ourselves into the kitchen and cooked for ourselves as nobody seemed to be about!

After sitting in a 4×4 for several days on the salt flats tour, we wanted to do something active, so booked a hiking and biking day to Canyon de Guatin. It was led by Edgardo from the Lodge – who incidentally also flipped pizzas in the ‘restaurant’. He met us with his girlfriend, Paulette, and two other girls, who couldn’t keep their hands off each other.

I’m not sure we expected to walk through such an incredible landscape. We navigated our way by following the river through the Canyon, jumping across at various points and scrambling down rocks. We trekked past the biggest (and most phallic) cacti I’ve ever seen, and in some places it felt as if we were almost bouldering; clinging onto the edge of mini cliff faces. We all plunged into the water to cool off and found a small waterfall you could put your head through, arriving inside a watery cave. The scenery was spectacular.

As we hiked out of the Canyon, we stopped to check out some ruins and the two lesbians rolled a joint. We declined a smoke – I actually thought I might fall off my bike if I had a toke (!) but they puffed away, and needless to say it took them a long time to climb to the top of the hill…!

We got on the bikes and, fearing I was going to have accident number two (following my crash in September), I peddled somewhat sedately towards the sunset. The view was stunning, but I kept my eyes firmly on the menacing gravel….! With the slow pot-smoking pair and my wobbling wheels, we ended up cycling the last few miles into town in absolutely pitch darkness. I bizarrely became more confident on unfamiliar terrain once I couldn’t actually see where I was cycling and we arrived home tired, dusty but without mishap. An awesome day.

After our desert triathlon (!) we spent a chilled out next day on a bus tour to Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). Incredibly it does actually look like the surface of the moon in places. It has weird and wonderful stone and sand formations which have been carved by wind and water over many years, and the colours are beautiful. There are also dry lakes where the salt deposits have left a white covering layer. I’m told the valley is considered to be one of the driest places on earth, as some areas haven’t received a single drop of rain in hundreds of years. Our guide also told us NASA tested a prototype for a Mars rover there, because of the valley’s dry and forbidding terrains.

After a hot, dry and relaxing few days, we were all set for Argentina; the home of steak and red wine…but you never know what’s round the corner, do you?

Stayed tuned πŸ˜‰

J & R xxx