Tokyo: Japan experience comes to an end

Tokyo is a city that is also different from the other places I have visited in Japan. It is absolutely huge and can take a while to get from one side of the city to the other – not too different from London, I suppose. Spending seven nights here, with a couple of day trips to escape the hustle and bustle has been great and it has been nice to base myself somewhere without constantly having to take my bag everywhere. The hostel was pretty decent and quite close to Tokyo station as well as a metro station and the Imperial Palace and gardens. I walked through them and they were quite pretty in parts. After working out the Metro, I found myself at Shibuya where the big and famous pedestrian crossing is. ​​​It was such a busy district full of colour and noise. The tall buildings with screens on were quite imposing initially. Lots of billboards climbed up the buildings. I walked up to Harajuku which wasn’t too far away and this was another shopping district known for its trendy fashions which engulf the youth. There is a street called Takeshita Street which was very very busy and full of random shops selling odd things – I even found some Percy Pigs in a sweet shop!There are some places to eat where you choose and pay outside in a little machine and then hand a voucher over inside at the counter when you sit down. Then got a train to Ebisu which was fairly close and had some lovely dim sum at a place called Le Parc but it was a little expensive. A day trip to Kamakura was next which is about an hour out of the central city. This was a lot quieter and had a lot of temples and shrines, as well as a big bronze Amida Buddha (Kotoku-in temple) which was constructed over ten years in the mid 13th century, You could climb inside him and have a look at the construction of the metal work. It was originally located inside a large temple hall, but this was destroyed during a natural disaster. It has been standing in open air since 1495. I found a great little sushi place to grab some lunch in where it was made directly in front of you. I was brave and tried sea urchin – tasted very much like the sea. I also tried some squid crackers which were tasty. I found a temple called Hasedera which was fairly close to the Buddha. It had the largest wooden statue of Kannon (over nine metres!) as well as a pretty garden with lots of different coloured hydrangeas.I also did another day trip to Hakone which was only half an hour away from Tokyo. This was very scenic – lots of lovely lucious mountains. Managed to get to Lake Ashi which took a few trains, a cable car and a bus replacement service (that’s right, they have them here too!) past a clearly active volcano and through some hills. I took a sightseeing boat over the lake with the intention of catching a glance of Mt Fuji but I didn’t see it. I got off the boat and had another look at the lake from the shore. The clouds were low in the sky, but the sun was out and shining nicely. Then, all of a sudden, I saw the top of the mountain! Then went through a nice cedar avenue.

Back in Tokyo and I visited Sensoji Temple (which is Tokyo’s oldest temple), Meiji Jingu Temple (where there is a lovely garden full of irises and ponds), the Tsukiji market and the national museum, as well as a few districts. The Tsukiji market is famous for its daily tuna auction at 3am. Somehow, I didn’t have the will power to witness this although I did go down one rainy morning and sample some of the goods on offer.Barrels of sake (above)I enjoyed getting my feet nibbled by fish – ticklish at first, but then it was ok!Had some lovely tempura and ramen too!Vending machines selling alcohol and cigarettes are on most streets (also in other places around Japan). I found this odd as the legal drinking age in Japan is 20. I see a lot of business man drinking beer on the way to work on the train. Highballs are also a popular drink here – mostly containing whisky – I’ve seen a lot of highball specific bars.There was a place to eat which was run by robots (I didn’t go in because the entrance fee was 8000 Yen – which is £60) and that was not including food….I’ve really enjoyed visiting this varied country. Getting around has been really easy. I still find it odd that smoking is allowed inside certain places, as well as train carriages. Everything is very clean – there are no litter bins on the streets or graffiti. There’s no one eating on the street or chewing gum. Jay walking is something that just isn’t done – everyone waits at the crossing for the green man. The people are all very friendly and polite. Although I came across some travellers from Belgium who had said they were waiting for their friend who was in a Japanese prison cell for letting off a fire extinguisher while drunk. Anyway, next stop – China! 

Kyoto: Temples, Geishas and rain

Well I could hardly expect to come to Japan in the rainy season and not get some rain. The day of travelling from Nara to Kyoto was a washout! My hostel was quite close to a subway and bus stops which was appreciated during the rain. I caught a bus and went off to see Kinkaku-ji, also known as the ‘Golden Pavillion’. Even in the rain, the Zen Buddhist temple was a spectacle from the other side of the lake. You aren’t able to enter it though. Again, this was a temple that has been rebuilt a few times since its construction in the 14th century. I’m getting used to the buses – luckily, the stops are read out in English and you can see a bit of a map on a digital screen so you don’t really have the opportunity to get lost. Like the bus in Koyasan, you get on at the back and exit at the front, paying your fare in a little machine at the front on the way out. If you don’t have the exact change, then there’s also a little change box. In Kyoto, it was just one fare per journey within a zone. You can also get an all day bus ticket for 500 Yen which I did on the second day as there were a lot of things that I wanted to see which were quite spread out. Another good place I visited (and confess that I came back to for lunch on more than one occasion) was the Nishiki market full of independent stalls, mostly selling food. Yes – this is pickled cucumber on a stick….The variety was amazing and there was lots of things I had not seen before. The amount of different types of pickles and seaweed you could taste was phenomenal. It sits along one long street under cover which is parallel to the street my hostel was on (which was basically Kyoto’s version of Oxford Street – it had all the nice shops on. Even a L’Occitane!). I spent a lot of time here trying a couple of things – a lunch based on free samples is alway a good idea. I had the most amazing gyoza in a little place not too far from my hostel called Tiger Gyoza Hall. I liked to watch the chefs work. They were all drinking pints of Asahi on the job as well.The second day was mostly spent getting from place to place by bus. It had meant to rain all day as well (but didn’t in the end) so I thought it would be a good idea. I had checked to see the temples that I wanted to go to the night before, and with the help of Google Maps, I knew which buses to take. They were quite regular as well which helped. I started the day off by getting to the Heian Jingu temple which is north east of the city. It was quite big and there was a nice garden with ponds of water lilies, and is a popular spot for cherry blossom during the spring. It’s not as old as some of the other temples, but still quite grand. Then went to the Yasaka Shrine which is in Marauyama Park. This was fairly big and tranquil and had a lot of lanterns. It was founded over 1350 years ago. The park is also a famous spot for cherry blossom.The next stop was Sanjusangendo temple which houses 1000 statues of Kannon (the goddess of mercy) all standing in a row, as well as one big statue of the same goddess in the middle. The length of the wooden hall make it the longest wooden structure in Japan. The statues are flanked with some bigger statues in front which are meant to be defenders and protectors. The temple was initially constructed in 1164. Another temple visited was Kodaji temple, as well as Entokuinteien temple. Kodaji is a Zen temple and was built in the 1606 by Kita-no-Mandokoro in memory of her late husband. They are both enshrined there in the memorial hall. Here you have to walk around the cylinders and rotate them with one hand as you go round. It is meant to be good luck. I ended up walking down Matsubara Dori and Matsubara Kyogoku which are pedestrianised shopping streets full of unique shops. It was fairly crowded and it was easy to see why. There were little different coloured soaps which were squishy and each colour meant that a different ingredient would be in each soap depending on whether you wanted moisturisation or something else. Squidgy soap (above)Yummy confectionary! Each triangle filled with something different – strawberry etcRice cakes in soy sauce (above)Green tea ice cream! I was not such a huge fan…Below gives an acurrate representation of how I felt…I still don’t like green tea. And I’ve been fed it a lot….I found the street where the Geishas are meant to be found. This was just off the main street. The buildings were quite pretty. I treated myself to some nice sushi after a long day from a place called Chojiro which had had good reviews on Trip Advisor.The next day, I was up and out early to see the bamboo forest in Arashiyama and the Japanese garden with an amazing view. There was also a temple called Tenryu-Ji which I visited and it is a grand Zen temple. It was originally built in 1339, but has been rebuilt over the centuries, like so many other temples. Then finished Kyoto off with seeing Fushimi Inari-taisha which was amazing. The 10,000 red torri gates were all donated by worshippers and their names and the dates they were donated are inscribed on the gates. You can climb up the many steps to get to the summit of Mount Inari. It took a couple of hours to do the big loop and had a couple of great views. The mountain reaches an elevation of 233 metres. It is a Shinto shrine. There are a lot of stone foxes with a red cloak surrounding certain shrines at certain points as you are climbing up. I really enjoyed my time in Kyoto – a big place full of things to see and lots to eat! A buzzing city working with its traditional roots. There’s a real sense of respect for religion and others. Onwards to Tokyo!

Koyasan: a place of tranquility 

An early alarm and a quiet sneak out of my dorm in the morning, and I was prepared for the day ahead! Unfortunately, because it was a Sunday, there was nothing really open en route to Osaka station to grab a bit of brekkie. But Starbucks was open at the station (of course!), so I put up with an overly expensive coffee and some rather tasteless breakfast food. I caught a train to Shinimamiya and quickly changed to get to Gokurakubashi. I had to rush to grab a ticket at this point, as this was not covered by my JR pass, but it took a while to know what the right fare was. You have to look at a train line map and it shows the fare payable depending on the distance away from the station you are in. After arriving, I caught the cable car up to Koyasan station, followed by a bus into the town. Koyasan is a little town up in Mount Koya where Shingon Buddhism originated in the 9th century.

I hadn’t bought the right ticket to get me through the train and cable car, of course, so there was some sort of fare adjustment I had to pay which was easy enough to do. I bet it regularly happens to tourists. Anyway, there was a helpful bus attendant fellow, who made sure I got on the right bus to where I had to go. There were 3 different lines and you get on at the back of the bus, and exit and pay the fare at the front, depending on where you had got on. He gave me a very useful map of the town. I managed to find the temple that I was staying the night in – Kongo Sanmai-in – and leave my bag whilst I went exploring. It was built in 1223. I had to reshuffle a few dates around when I was in London, so I ended up getting quite a large room all to myself (a triple…!) which costed me a little more, but the experience was definitely worth the price. Off I went and saw the largest cemetary in Japan – Okunoin. It is where a lot of feudal dynasties have been buried since the age when the town was founded. Kobo Dashi is also interred here in a mausoleum at the end of the cemetary. He was the founder of this community and sect of Buddhism and was an influential monk. It took a long while to wander around as it is fairly big, but very peaceful and thought provoking. I get the impression it could be quite an eerie place during the evening, or when there is fog around. This is the traditional entrance to the cemetary – called Ichinohashi – and you see a lot of pilgrims pay their respects here before entering.Then it was a nice little walk through the town, which is essentially just one long street full of unique shops and the odd cafe. I had a quick pork miso soup and sesame tofu thing for lunch which was about right and continued.I then found myself in the Danjo Garen complex at the other end of the long street which consists of a series of temples dedicated to Shingon Buddhism. Kobo Dashi played a big part in the design of these.  Apparently, he founded the community here because he found his ceremonial tool in a pine tree that he threw from China. The pine tree has become known as the three-pointed Vajera pine tree because the pine needles only fall in clusters of three and not five. The temples were all rebuilt several times since they were first constructed due to several lightening strikes over a period of time which has caused them to burn down. This has happened a lot in Japan. The main temple is the Konpon Daito Pagoda. Inside is a statue of Dainchi Nyorai who is the main Buddha worshipped in this particular sect. Othersise known as the Cosmic Buddha, the origin is Indian.There is also a large hall called the Kondo Hall which is where major ceremonies are held. I also went to Kongobuji Temple which is the headquarters of this sect. There are lots of prayer rooms heavily decorated, with sliding doors.After a pop into the Reihokan museum, I headed back to the temple to check in. I was told that my evening meal would be served in my room at 17:30 and that the temple would be closed by 8pm. I was invited to attend a morning prayer ceremony in the morning at 06:30, and then have breakfast after. I was shown to my room and it was amazing. No shoes, obviously, and very basic to fit in with those who lived in the monestery. There was also a public bath (onsen), and this would only be available in the evening. I would be sleeping on a futon bed which would be made up after I had finished eating. I enjoyed the peace and quiet after a few hectic days. The food was incredible! No meat or fish, but I think there was tofu….I thought it would be quite a lonely experience, but I enjoyed the time to register my experiences so far….and to sort my bag out! Living out of a bag can be like playing a lucky dip sometimes – you’re never quite sure what clothes you’ll pull out. I was able to relax. The prayers the next morning was something that will stay with me for a long time. Even though I did not understand any of what was happening, there was a sense of spirituality and dedication from the monks who devote themselves to this way of life. We were invited to make a wish on a piece of wood which would get burned, as well as contribute to the insense burning by adding wood chips, and think about those who we would wish good health. It was quite meaningful actually and I would recommend it to anyone. Above and below: my supper! All of this just for one person….! In the big red dish on the floor was a huge amount of rice that I could not finish. You also got served rice for breakfast too. It was way too much food and consisted of mainly vegetables and carbs – but I wasn’t sure what most of it was. There was some sort of miso soup which was nice. Lots of tea!Breakfast: mainly pickles, seaweed, soup and rice. Oh, and gallons of tea. For the prayers in the morning, you had the opportunity to write a wish on. a piece of wood which would get burnt during a ceremony and the wish would be granted. Traditionally, these are more commonly known as Ema in the Shinto sect and are usually left hanging at the shrine to be received by the gods. 

Japan – wow…! Himeji and Osaka

Japan, you have thrown me. Completely. From the heated toilet seats to the endless warm flannels and taking off/putting on shoes. I’ve only been here 5 days, but it’s enough to see a stark contrast. From Miyajima, it was a train ride back to Hiroshima to catch a crowded Shinkansen to Himeji, en route to Osaka. I was able to dump my large bag in a locker in the station – I was definitely not going to carry it around with me all day!  I went to Himeji castle which was built originally as a fort in the 14th century and completed as a castle in 1609. The structure has withstood all natural elements, although there has been some restoration work done from time to time. It is quite imposing as it stands alone on top of a hill. You can climb to each floor and see the inside structure. A scale model was made to illustrate the detail in preparation for restoration. There are racks that weapons were stored in and a couple of slits in the walls that were used for defence. I also visited a lovely little set of gardens close by which were very pretty and peaceful. From Himeji, it was another bullet train to Shin-Osaka, and a local train to Osaka station. This rail pass is so great – it’s getting me everywhere! It even got me on the ferry to Miyajima island. My hostel in Osaka was fairly close to the station, but I still managed to get lost. I ended up walking for ten minutes in the wrong direction because I came out of the wrong exit. Drop Inn hostel was fairly decent. In a 10 bed dorm with individual cubicles was nice although it did mean I slept with both of my bags for company at night as there was no bag storage area – just a little cupboard in the cubicle to lock your valuables in. It had a screen so there was a fair amount of privacy. 2 nights here was fine. After some sorting, I headed out to explore. It was late afternoon by this point so there was no need to do anything too much, I ventured into Dotonbori by metro (a challenge in itself – almost got quite lost) which was the Leicester Square of Osaka, although much more colourful, large and noisy than London. I’d never seen anything like it in my life.My bed for a couple of nights! The dorms are actually quite nice – the beds are quite private.Big objects on the walls above food places illustrate the main selling point (I assume, anyway) e.g. Crab/squid. There was lots of shops in arcades too. There were so many food places to choose from. Especially down little alleyways off the main drag. There was one little street which was meant to be the oldest street and there was a temple nearby. This temple was called Hozen-ji Temple and was just off the Main Street in Dotonbori. You get this a lot, I think, in Japan where you can turn down a little side street and come across a small temple or shrine. This was tuna that I had in a sushi place on the main street in Dotonbori. It proved to be fairly popular as there was constant queues.Above: prawn tempura. Below: gyoza – pork, I think. They were so yummy that I had some more the next day!Below: an assortment of sushi – salmon, tuna and some rolls.Below: Salmon sashimi which is basically raw salmon. Fairly decent, and healthy!Eventually found something to eat after wandering around for ages. It was a little place down a side street which wasn’t too crowded and decent food. I went back there the following day. I’m still walking around 10 miles a day on average. The next day, I got up early and headed out to Osaka castle. My alarm went off which I really hated, but I wanted to make the most of the day. Had a couple of coffees before heading out. I caught a JR train, so I could use my pass, from Osaka to Oskajokoen and walked through the park. I was still feeling tired which was annoying. I’ve noticed that there are trains with women only carriages – apparently this was to ward off lewd conduct. The castle was imposing, although not as much as Himeji. It sits in the middle of a park surrounded by gates and moats. The construction was started in the late 16th century. Inside was a series of exhibitions about the history of the castle and you can climb to the top for an impressive view. I then took another JR train to Teradacho where I could walk to Tennoji which is a big temple complex. One of Japan’s oldest temples is here (called Shitennoji).  I was able to go to the top of the pagoda and have a look around the many temples. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take many photos around the religious sights. I then wondered back to Dotonbori via a different path. There was a bit of town which was the ‘gaming’ part. There was a Namco store so I had a peek inside to see how it compared to the one in London. I expected the usual sort of thing – air hockey etc, but I was very wrong…..It was amazing. There were so many teenagers in there (and smoking was permitted upstairs) and they appeared to have some sort of loyalty card or a pre paid thing. The way that their fingers moved around the screen when they played the musical games was so quick! I walked into another arcade and had a quick massage on a chair and then found a little tribute to Alice in Wonderland shop. I did some research about how to get from Osaka to Koyasan the following day using some free wifi. I was still knackered so I was looking forward to some peace and quiet! After a bit more food, I headed back to the hostel early to sort stuff. Early night required for another early start!

A brief stop in the UK and onto Japan

After arriving back in London, it took a day or two to adjust – jet lag was not much of an issue (thanks night shifts), but it was a funny feeling coming back to the flat and nothing much had changed. I’d only been away six weeks, but here I was taking the familiar routes home and seeing familiar faces when so much had happened while I was away. Mum did a roast the day after I got back which was lovely!


A couple of weeks in London were meant to be some sort of a restbite, but I ended up faffing around with embassies trying to sort two visas, as well as a lot of other menial tasks – I was actually grateful that I had come back to sort them out. The visa for China seemed to be one that caused a bit of grief as I had to have a letter from work confirming that I wasn’t travelling there to work. This meant popping into work to talk to a manager which was also a bizarre feeling – walking down the corridor gave me the creeps. The whole point of the sabbatical was that I could forget about work for six months (and I had done a pretty good job so far). God knows how it’ll feel when I have to go back to work in October! On the plus side, it was nice to catch up with family and friends – I was lucky enough to get to a wedding which I had initially thought I wouldn’t to be able to get to. I also was able to reassess the amount of clothes I should take with me – Asia wasn’t going to be as cold as South America. 

Leaving for Japan and realising that I’m not going to be home for a few months didn’t sink in when I got on the plane from Heathrow. Maybe the two weeks at home had worn me out so much that I hadn’t had time to think about it. I still felt massively unprepared, but it wasn’t a bad thing. It could mean that I’m fairly relaxed about everything, and ready to face with what I get hit with. As long as I had my passport with the right visas sorted, a bit of money and my phone, I wasn’t too worried about other things. It’s quite liberating. I had planned my route in Japan based on a blog that I had read online which had talked about the best things to do in a few weeks and showed how easy it was to get around on trains etc. I had also sorted out getting the Japan Rail Pass when I was at home which was a bit expensive, but it would make life a lot easier as long as you knew you were on the correct trains that use it – it can’t be used on certain bullet trains. 

Stepping off the plane in Tokyo after 17 hours on planes and not too much sleep was exciting, But I was only thinking about my bladder at that precise moment, so decided to do something about it. It was going to the loo that made me realise I wasn’t in London anymore. For one thing, it took me ages to work out how to flush it – lots of buttons with options in Japanese characters. Secondly, there are some other buttons on the loo you can press to play music, as well as a flushing sound. Do you really need to let other people know that you are doing your business that badly? If something needs extensive flushing, why don’t you just flush twice? I’d get embarrassed if I’d walked out of the cubicle and others washing their hands had heard extensive flushing. Would only mean one thing, really….The seats are heated too which was a little bit of a shock. 


Anyway, bar the loo fiasco, getting into Tokyo was fairly straightforward. I was struck with a sense of brightness,colour and information, both digital and placarded. I just about found the place to sort the Rail Pass out after checking there was an express train into the city fairly soon – I managed to find an app on the App Store called HYPERDIA which gives you train times, and selects those which you can use the Rail Pass on – v useful, I think you’ll agree. Just about made the train (after a moment of panic, questioning whether it was the right one as the information was in Japanese, and running down stairs with my massive bag) and it was an hour into the city, The main train station is massive and I could get an intercity train one stop to my hostel for the night. It was a pretty decent hostel and it was compartmented rather than just beds which was quite nice. Picked up some Dim Sum which was much appreciated and got my face stroked by a few people which was a bit odd. But hey ho, all part of it, right? 

Jet lag hit me a bit and I only got a few hours sleep. I didn’t mind to much as I had to be up and out to catch a Shinkansen to Hiroshima. I changed at Shin Kobe on the way so I could use the rail pass. Arrived after four hours and found the capsule hostel! I had been looking forward to staying in this. I walked through Tokyo in the early hours when it was very quiet. I am amazed at the fact that you can smoke on trains – only in certain carriages, and I’ve only noticed then on Shinkansens. 


Then it was out to explore Hiroshima. I was fairly tired but I kept on the move. I visited the Peace Memorial Park where there is a cenotaph paying tribute to all of those who lost their lives on 6th August 1945. Apparently, the park is now built on what was the political centre, and was the target of the atomic bomb, The dome building which is one of the few buildings left standing is very ghostly. I visited the memorial park centre where there was an exhibition about what took place leading up to the bomb being dropped, and the horrific events during and after the bomb was dropped. The scale of the tragedy is unfathomable. 


I then went to the castle which was originally 16th century but had to rebuilt after 1945. The building is nice and it was interesting to see some artefacts that survived. There was a shrine nearby and I first noticed the water ladels and fountain which is used to purify your hands and mouth before prayer.


I wanted an early night after a busy day so thought I’d just grab some food and get some much needed rest. There were a lot of places to choose from just off the Main Street – Hiroshima’s Oxford St. I went into one random one which was quite small and was given a menu solely in Japanese. There were some locals willing to help me out who didn’t speak too much English but were keen anyway. I had some eel, pork and endename beans – yum!


After trying to break down some of the language barrier, it turned into a great evening. The older gentleman was nice enough to buy my dinner and wouldn’t take ‘No’ for answer! This turned into going to a small bar where one of the locals worked and singing karaoke – and yes, my attempt at ‘Wonderful Tonight’ was a little to be desired!


The next morning, I have to admit that I had a bit of a headache. But it was a lot of fun. My alarm was unwelcome, but I knew I had to get another train to Miyajimaguchi which is only half an hour away. I then dropped my bag off at another hostel and caught the 10 min ferry to Miyajima Island. I hadn’t done a lot of research about the island but had heard great things. Getting off the ferry, I was greeted by deer who roam freely and are quite tame. I visited the Itsukushima Shrine which is essentially on water. If the tide comes up too much, the wooden floor can rise up out of the pole it is attached to. This was originally built in 593 but was redone in 1168. It was interesting to see how many people prayed. Also, there are a lot of places where people can write wishes and attach them to rope for good fortune. This is a shrine as opposed to a temple, because there is a ‘gate’ to the shrine – in this case, it is red and in the water. You can’t miss it.


Then off to Daisho-in Temple which is a complex full of smaller shrines. The religion here is Shingon Buddhism. This particular sect teaches that humans can attain enlightenment through rituals combining physical, spoken and mental disciplines. It is at the bottom of Mount Misen which is believed to be sacred. There were lots of different shrines for different prayers e.g. One for good health etc


After a quick udon and tofu soup, it was time to climb to the top of the mountain. It took me back to the Inca Trail – climbed 3km of stairs and I didn’t think that Birkenstock sandles and black cropped jeans were the best form of attire. Nor was carrying a rucksack in 30 degree heat a good idea, especially with a mild hangover. Made it to the top looking like a tomato! Got a cable car on the way down which was good and back on the ferry – knackered! Looking forward to the next few days!

Potosi, Sucre and back to La Paz

A return to civilisation after a few days in the middle of nowhere always comes as a bit of a shock. A ride from Uyuni to Potosi was about 4 hours which felt like no time at all! Had a bit of a wonder around and visited the mint where the Bolivian coins used to be produced for about 300 years from the 16th century – it remained in operation only until 50 years ago. The actual building is 17th century and colonial, but still stands on the original site of the first mint. It also housed a lot of colonial religious paintings, focusing on the work of Cochabamba-born Melchor Pérez de Holguín and his depictions of ‘Pachamama’ or ‘Mother Earth’ – the Virgin Mary is painted within the mountain where the mine is. ‘Pachamama’ is worshipped by the native people as She supplies the people with fruit from the earth and the weather. Potosi has a reputation for silver production – the mine is the main source of income for the people who live in the city.A trip into the mine was certainly an experience I won’t forget. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the safety of the mine. But I wasn’t phased! The miners work very hard and seem to live off an endless supply of coca leaves – they chew so many in one go – it looks like they have a growth in their cheek! The mine supplies silver and zinc mainly and the miners work for themselves and then sell their takings to external companies who extract the metals from the rock before exporting them. The miners also pay their respects to a male statue inside the mine who is thought to represent masculinity (as only men work in the mine), fertility and a partnership with “Pachamama” to provide the earth with the minerals they can find. Then onto the city of Sucre which is actually named in the constitution as the capital, even though La Paz is where the President resides. It’s such a nice city! I preferred it to La Paz.  Went on a walking tour and a hike where we went down some Inca steps and found some Dino tracks! I was also grateful to get some laundry done too at this point. Walking down some Inca steps for a couple of hours was nice – the steps were different to those of the Inca Trail and no way near as bad or steep! Luckily the weather was sunny, but there was a slight wind near the top. It was a bit of a walk cross fields and off the beaten track to reach the dino footprints which were preserved amazingly in prehistoric lava which had dried and formed part of a volcano which had collapsed in on itself to form a crater. It was great to spend more than one night in the same place too. A flight from Sucre back to La Paz caused a bit of fun – the airline put luggage on the wrong plane. It ended up in La Paz but had gone via a different town. So after faffing around, the luggage got delivered to where I was staying the same day. Phew! In La Paz, I did a walking tour and visited the Moon Valley which is a cluster of rocks which has been eroded over time by weather. It went on for ever! The walking tour helped me to understand the development of the city – lots of fights for independence from Spain as well as adhering to traditions e.g. the rituals of the people and what you can find in the witches market to use in the rituals to bless house construction etc. Not sure that I was a fan of the dead llama foetuses….

Lima to La Paz: 30 hours by bus, mosquitos and winging it at the boarder crossing

Over 30 hours in coaches over 3 days and I survived to tell the tale! Apart from a mozzie attack which makes me look like I have some medieval disease – they had some fun with my face. After having a bit of a stomach issue and a weird headache, I was unenthusiastic about the first coach journey – it was a 16 hour overnight job and I was praying for some much needed sleep. Luckily, I got some even with a few small children behind me who eventually collapsed in a heap. Had a day in Lima to sort myself out a bit and then got an Uber to the bus terminal. It was dead cheap! Used Cruz Del Sur again. The seats recline a bit and there’s a good foot rest, so it makes sleeping a bit easier. I arrived in Arequipa the next morning and got a taxi to my budget accommodation fairly close to the main square. I was able to get into the room (thankfully!) and then took myself off to the little laundry place I used before. I went to a few places including the cathedral and an archeological museum about the sacrifice of young Inca children as some had been found at the top of one of the mountains. I enjoyed exploring the town again. The sunset was a good one to see from a rooftop. After a quiet evening, the next day was a 6hr coach back to Puno. The scenery was great again. Arrived in the evening and tried to get an early night before the early start the next day. Cue the mozzie attack!Final day of coach fun. This would be the most interesting as it was a Bolivian bus company instead of Peruvian (didn’t rate them as good) and it was time to cross the boarder. An early start and I was at the bus terminal at 7. I had to exchange a voucher for an actual ticket, and fill out a few immigration forms. It took ages to get through the exit office – a good hour! After getting the passport sorted on the Bolivian side, it was back on the coach. However, there was a bit of trouble when not everyone got back on – there were a couple who had been sitting in front of me who did not show up after the boarder – I think they had some trouble. But the bus driver was quite prepared to drive on without them, despite the outbursts of other travellers. Some people got off the coach to help look for them and got left behind too! It was surreal. The bus driver continued to Copacabana which wasn’t too far away. Then everyone seemed to get off – I had been in my own little world. So I got off too and asked someone which bus I had to get on to go to La Paz. I was directed to another bus by a lady with a clipboard. There were another couple of people looking equally confused. I confirmed the destination with the driver and a few of us got on the bus which was definitely nicer than the last. The bus set off going further round Lake Titicaca. The bus pulled up in another town where we were asked to get off again, but left out large luggage on the bus. It appeared that we had to cross the lake by boat, but couldn’t be on the bus. So a few of us had to pay for a little speedboat to take us to the other side while the bus went across separately. It was definitely an adventure! I had no idea what I was doing but just went along with it using a few choice phrases and charades to help. Back on the coach and onwards to La Paz eventually arriving late afternoon. Walked from the bus terminal to where I was staying (thank you Google Maps) and found something to eat – was starving! Rewarded myself with a glass of wine and met some friendly Canadians. What a mad few days!