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! 

Nara: feisty deer and lots of lanterns

After Koyasan, I headed to Nara for a couple of nights. Landed myself in a nice hostel again (Oak Hostel Nara) as it had fairly good reviews on – it was clean and the dorm again was similar to what I’d stayed in before – there were about 16 people in this one. It was good value for money. After making my way to the station with a few changes, I arrived at around 12, dumped the bag off and went straight out again. I grabbed some gyoza at Nara station en route to Horyuji where there was a massive temple complex. This housed the oldest wooden structure in the world – 1400 years old. It was amazing considering so many of Japan’s temples had been lost in natural disasters over the centuries. It was fairly grand and also contains some of the country’s most treasured Buddha statues. I travelled back late afternoon on the train and did some much needed laundry at the hostel. I found a little place near the hostel to grab some food. I had tuna misoyaki which was yum and some edamame beans. The next day was spent exploring Nara park which is what Nara is primarily famous for. There are a lot of tame deer who will nip you if you’re not careful and haven’t fed them some “deer crackers” which you can buy from vendors for 150 Yen. They are feisty! There are signs around warning you that they will bite and possibly charge you to get what they want. I did get chased by a couple, but you have to manage them before there is a chance of them eating you alive. No where near as nice as the chilled out deer in Richmond Park. I didn’t realise, but they are meant to be messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion. There are a lot of temples to see in the park, as well as a couple of pretty gardens. I walked to Todai-ji temple where the famous big Buddha is. It is one of the world’s largest bronze Buddha statues (called Vairocana or Daibutsu) and the temple is the largest wooden structure in the world (and this was one that is now smaller, after a previous one was burned down). There was a museum nearby, so saw a lot of 7th and 8th century Buddha statues which were very ornate and in good condition – you can imagine how colourful and bright they would have been. The detail of the expression on the faces is incredible. These statues are often referred to as protectors of the Buddha in the temple – I guess that’s why they look so fierce and imposing. To give some sort of perspective – the hole in this pillar is the same size as one of the Buddha’s nostrils. Apparently, those who can climb through it will be granted enlightenment in the next life. So, a lot of children should be ok then!This statue is meant to represent Binzuru-Sama. You rub the part of his body that you is giving you pain on yours and it is meant to get better.After seeing a couple of other temples which housed important national treasures, I found myself at Kasuga-Tanisha shrine. The first thing that struck me was the amount of stone lanterns on the way up to the shrine mixed with the free roaming deer. There were also a lot of golden and bronze lanterns inside the shrine hanging from the ceilings. These have been donated by worshippers. The structure of the shrine was quite big and square, and it was completely red. Red is an important colour in Japan – it is meant to prevent evil spirits from entering. There was also a darkened room full of hanging lit lanterns which was very sombre and atmospheric – a place to contemplate and pray. I then walked all the way to the Heijo Palace remains in the west of the city. There wasn’t too much to see but you could certainly get an idea of the size of the place. Lots and lots of walking completed so far. Average walk of 11 miles a day! Had some more amazing food at a little place I found. I could get used to this! Also went to a traditional tea house and tried some green tea. I still don’t think I’m a fan of tea, although I am trying! 

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….

Bolivia: Salar de Uyuni and the deserts

3 days of stunning scenery and 12 hours in 4X4s gave me an amazing experience I’ll never forget. The contrast in the countryside was immense, and gave me a lot of pause for thought. You could drive forever without seeing any living creature – maybe the odd llama or alpaca. The salt flats were a prehistoric lake which dried up and left the salt along with some coral and cacti. We were lucky to have expert drivers who knew exactly where they were going – the Daker car rally used to take place on the flats every year but had to be stopped as too many drivers got lost and died, sadly. Climbed onto one of the coral islands (called Incahuasi island) and had a great view from the top. Also did the obligatory photos that everyone does – we even made a little film!Accommodation on the first night was salt beds in a little community called Agencha. And the floors were also salt. This was to help insulation as it was a lot warmer inside than out, and the granules on the floor (although a little tricky to walk on bare foot), did provide good exfoliation for the feet – always looking at the positive!Then off to the desert which was another spectacle in itself. Visited a lot of different places and increased the altitude – got up to 4600m eventually I think. Felt a bit odd on the second night but recovered fairly quickly. There was an abandoned train line – you were surrounded by volcanoes, some still active and shared with Chile – we were at the south of Bolivia at this point. We were taken to a ‘coral army’ as the coral looks like it is standing to attention.The contrast in scenery was amazing. There were deserts, lagoons, salt flats, mountains and flamingoes….there was always something to look at so it didn’t seem that the time spent sitting in a 4X4 was too long. Occasionally, the roads were a bit bumpy. But I didn’t let the sore bum get me down!There was also an option to get into some hot springs which I took advantage of as it was freezing in the morning! Also saw ‘The Lost City’ called Qatal and other spectacles. 

This was a train cemetery which housed trains which were 100 years old.