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Missing the Train to Jaipur

After Haridwar, we’re back in Delhi to change trains, heading off to Jaipur in Rajasthan. As we have a few hours to spend, we go on a tour organised by the Salaam Balaak Trust, who work with street children in Delhi. There are 200,000 in Delhi alone, so it’s a huge problem. Their work is truly inspiring, and their dedication humbling. Here’s Diane with some of the kids at one of their centres.

Later, we’re off to Old Delhi Railway Station for our train to Jaipur. We allow 80 minutes to travel the 5 Km to the station and all goes well for the first part of the journey. Then, we encounter a large crowd, blocking the opposite side of the road, and this eventually halts all traffic in the area. Everything. Autorickshaws, lorries, buses, cyclists, cycle rickshaws are all jammed together, trying to make progress. We can’t even get out of our autorickshaw at the start, so close are we to the vehicles around us. Time ticks by, we move about 200 metres, and eventually we decide we’re going to have to walk at least some of the way. Our driver says go to the corner and turn right, get a cycle rickshaw, it’s quite a way. So we fight our way through the traffic, walking in the road with our backpacks on, cyclists turning their wheels to let us through, cars folding in their wing mirrors as we push past. We reach the lights, join the throng crossing to the other side of the road, and jump into a cycle rickshaw, saying “Old Delhi Railway, Old Delhi Railway”. Twenty minutes to train time, and counting. The old guy starts pumping the pedals, weaving in and out of the traffic, shouting at cars and cyclists. At the end of the road he turns right again, and we go slightly downhill through a market area, cars flying past us, swerving round pedestrians, cyclists and cows. A dreadful suspicion starts to form in my mind, but there’s no stopping him now, we’re really cranking. My suspicion become a near-certainty, and two minutes before train time, we arrive at New Delhi Railway Station, and as it’s the wrong station, we’ve missed our train.

If you have to miss a train in Delhi, this is the place to be, as it houses the International Tourist Bureau: a special office where foreign nationals can book tickets. Thanking and paying the old guy for his efforts, we make our way upstairs and explain our predicament to the tourist information desk: no problem, says the man on the desk, there’s another train, from here, at 19:55 this evening, and it has spaces. As we have an India Rail Pass, purchased in England, we’re sent to a special desk, so we don’t even have to queue. The very helpful lady there asks to see our tickets, and then says “Ah yes, Sanjeev mailed me about you.” Sorry ? “I have a ticket for your journey on the 19th of December, the one that was incorrect on your India rail pass.” Sorry ? I’m still not getting it. Eventually, we realise that this is the exact person that Sanjeev, of SD Enterprises, of Wembley, England, who booked our rail passes, talks to in Indian Railways. I noticed a week or so ago that the date of one journey was wrong on the pass, and she has issued a new ticket for us. She hauls out a big, hand-written ledger, and there we are, all our journeys, the train numbers, and all the carriage and seat numbers written in red pen. She hands us the ticket. We sit there, astonished, and then thanking her, explain our current situation: no problem, in short order we have a ticket on the later train. Is there anything else she can do ? Well, yes, there is, we’ve been thinking of rearranging a couple of trips: is this possible ? It surely is, and more tickets are issued. This is a way better result than I had been expecting, and all because we missed our train ! The word is serendipity, a happy accident. What would have happened on that trip on the 19th if we hadn’t had cause to visit the International Tourist Bureau? We’ll never know.

So, we’re in Jaipur to visit the City Palace, still occupied by the Royal Family, although only one section, with the rest open to the public. It is the wedding season here, and seemingly every beautiful public space such as this is being set up for a wedding. Here you can see several large gold-coloured elephant tusks being made ready for the main event.

The rest of the palace is beautiful, with many painted, carved doorways and arches.

Next to the City Palace stands the Jantar Mantar, which is an Observatory. It contains many instruments used to fix the time, and also the position of celestial objects such as the Pole Star, built around 1730. They are fascinating: the one below is a giant sun dial, accurate to the minute.

The day after, we go to see the big attraction of the area, the Amer Palace, also known as the Amber Palace. Instead of going straight there, we travel to the Jaigarh Fort, on the Hill above the Palace. It was built to defend the Palace, and is connected by a road way. The Jaigarh fort is being prepared for a wedding: hundreds, literally, of people are setting up, moving furniture, building a stage, installing lighting and rehearsing dance routines. Our driver tells us that the family one of the richest in the world, from Mumbai. The wedding set features an eighty-foot igh Golden Buddha you can walk into.

From the walls overlooking the wedding venue, you get a great view of the Amer Palace.

The entrance way from the fort to the palace is through a narrow roadway, and then an underground passage. Once inside, it is a spacious and beautiful place.

Here you can see the Jaigarh Fort in the background.

In the later afternoon, on the way back, we stop at the elephant village. Visitors to the Amer Palace can take a short elephant ride from the car park area to the entrance, but only in the mornings until 11:30, when the day gets too hot. The elephants that provide this service are Government regulated, and must live in the elephant village where they share a dwelling with their drivers, who wash and feed them. Diane absolutely loved our elephant, called Elisa, as you can see. We went for a stately 20-minute walk around the compound: here’s some photographs.

So, that’s it for Jaipur, we’re off on an overnight train to Udaipur.

The World Capital of Yoga

In 1968, the Beatles came to Rishikesh to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In 2013, Diane and Paul came to Rishikesh for a few days of yoga and relaxation. Maybe the experiences aren’t that similar, but I’ll bet the Beatles’ TM sessions weren’t interrupted by the chirping of the yogi’s smartphone announcing another incoming text. How times do move on.

Regardless of what it was like then, Rishikesh bills itself as the world capital of yoga, and many people come here for just that. In fact, Western seekers after knowledge of various sorts drive the economy now, with many restaurants proclaiming themselves German Bakeries, or advertising American or Israeli breakfasts. The Bella View restaurant does good pizza, and there is a very good English bookshop, next door to the Devraj Coffee Shop. Whatever, it is a gentle and picturesque place to pass a few days, and the yoga gives us a chance to stretch out again after a few weeks of trains and indifferent pillows. Here’s Diane standing next to the “iconic” Laxman Jhula footbridge over the Ganges. In India, though, you can ride a motorbike anywhere you can walk, so it gets a bit crowded sometimes, especially when the odd sacred cow wanders over it and annoys one of the Rhesus monkeys which live there, stealing things off the tourists.

We were tipped off about the view from the Little Buddha Cafe so after we conclude yoga each morning, we amble down there for brunch. We usually arrive about 11:15am and leave at about 1pm, having drunk tea or coffee, had breakfast, browsed the web, and drunk more tea or coffee. Time seems to slow down here: there’s no point wanting things to happen in a hurry, because they won’t. Just let it go.

One advantage of a leisurely timescale is that it gives you a chance to move ever closer to the view, as people vacate their tables.

As mentioned, the cow is sacred here, and many of them wander the streets at will. India has it’s own Starbucks-like coffee chain, called Cafe Coffee Day, which we occasionally patronise in order to escape the heavily over-sweetened coffee served in most places. One thing that has never happened to me in any coffee shop anywhere is that a cow walks in and slurps the little sachets of sugar off the table. Here is that enterprising beast, enjoying the warmth of fine coffee, plus a few others lounging around outside an ashram.

So how was the yoga, I hear you ask ? Well, it was fine, and it turns out, all about the breathing. We breathed like crazy during the classes, as well as having a good stretch, saluting the sun, and doing various other postures. It was quite gentle, compared to the 200-hour intensive teacher-training courses also on offer, but enough for us.

On one evening, walking around town, we ran across a wedding. The groom parades through town on a horse, accompanied by a band and several hundred dancing guests, and in this case, large carriage-style lights powered by a small diesel engine on wheels, pulled along by two people. They were crossing the bridge when we saw them, and an hour later, after we’d had a meal and a short wander around, they’d travelled about 300 yards, still dancing. A long night in store.

Saying goodbye rather sadly to Rishikesh, we headed back down the valley to Haridwar, where we have arranged for a jeep safari in the local wildlife park, Rajaji. There’s the prospect of wild elephants, but we deem it unlikely, as it’s really the wrong time of year. Still, we’d like to get into the countryside and have a look around.

There are lots of spotted deer around, possibly the most numerous mammal species we saw.

No elephants, but here’s the next best thing: elephant droppings.

Lots of birds, including two species of kingfishers, and these rather cute owls.

Haridwar is a very holy place, being where the Ganges leaves the mountains and reaches the plains. Every evening, people gather to bathe in the river and perform ceremonies at sunset.

The next day, we’re on the train again. This is the railway station entrance in Haridwar.

Next stop Delhi, where we’re due to arrive at 11pm. A day there, and then off to Jaipur.

Amritsar and the Golden Palace

We arrive in Amritsar late, as our train comes to an unscheduled halt outside the last stop before our destination. The guard is sitting near us, and is often on his mobile, so I pick up a couple of English words in his conversation: “power” and “failure”. After an hour or so, the train restarts, and gets us in at about 10:45 pm, but luckily we can see our hotel, The Grand, from the station. We’re there very shortly thereafter, although unfortunately after the hotel bar, “Bottoms Up”, has closed.

We’re here to see the Golden Temple, so next morning, we take an auto-rickshaw ride there. On the rickshaw video-game scale it’s pretty high, with a few sharp intakes of breath and bounces off cyclists and cows.

The temple is the Sikh’s holiest place, so you are required to remove your shoes, bathe your feet, and cover your head before entry. Fortunately, there are many vendors selling head coverings for 10 Rupees, so you get to look like this. The Golden Temple is magnificent, and also crowded with tourist and devout Sikhs, many of whom can be seen queueing to make an offering in the temple, behind us.

After walking around the lake in the hot sun, we sit for a while looking at the scene and the crowds. Most everybody walks completely around the lake, 98% in a clockwise direction. Sikhs are praying, singing, bathing in the holy lake, making offerings, taking photographs and eating the free meal which is offered as part of the Sikh’s belief in equality and doing good.

There’s a museum of Sikh history on site, which we also visit. It contains many pictures depicting the ways in which Sikhs have been persecuted during their history: many beheadings, torturing and flayings. We also revisit at night, when the Golden Temple is lit up: it’s incredibly atmospheric.

The following morning we book a tour to the India/Pakistan border, where each evening they ceremonially close the gate marking the line between the two countries. We’ve been recommended to see this, although nobody can really tell you why when you ask. On the way, we stop at the Mata temple as part of the trip; someone we met at our hotel said that it looked like it had been devised by Disneyland designers, and so it proved. It’s a quite small building, but the route through it winds and doubles back on itself, so it takes quite a while to get anywhere, a bit like an Ikea store. You find yourself crawling on your hand and knees through little tunnels, wading through channels full of water and generally banging your head on things all the time. Here’s a few photographs.

We’re a bit late when we reach the border, so we hustle on in and end up seated on the kerb right in front of the action. Most of the crowd are Indian: there’s a guy in white trousers warming them up while the soldiers assemble. He has them shouting “Hindustan, Hindustan, Hindustan” as soldiers march up and down in double time. As 5pm approaches, the soldiers march to the ceremonial gate which closes the border. They do this in a style which is curious, throwing their legs up in the air so that their knees almost touch their foreheads and then marching in double quick time. There is wild applause from the audience: it’s pure theatre. At 5pm exactly, the flags of India and Pakistan are taken down, the gate is closed, and the crowds are released to have their photos taken by the gate. Than it’s back to town. We’re glad we saw it, but we’re not sure why. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, though.

A word about food. We’ve said nothing about it so far, so here’s Paul about to enjoy a dosa, a rice pancake with vegetable filling, in Neelam’s, a little eatery near the Golden Temple. It was delicious, as was the orange lassi which I seem to be pointing at 🙂

Off to Rishikesh next, in the foothills of the Himalayas and the footsteps of The Beatles. It’s our first overnight train.

Shimla, Chandigarh and Being Exotic

Well, off we went to New Delhi Railway Station to catch a train up to Shimla, in the hills. The station is predictably busy: the sheer press of humanity in the urban areas impresses us every time we see it.

After a quick change in Chandigarh, we arrive in Kalka to pick up the Kalka/Shimla Railway to the hill station. During the days of the British administration, those who were able would decamp up to the hills to avoid the summer heat in Delhi. One Scottish administrator, Charles Kennedy, built a home here in the early 1800s, and seeing the advantages, many others followed. Now, it’s the capital of Himachal Pradesh, and the central part looks a bit like Stratford-upon-Avon, boasting Victoria buildings, an English Church, a pedestrian street called The Mall, a theatre called The Gaiety which stages amateur and professional productions, and a railway to get everyone there. The railway is an amazing thing: it’s a narrow-gauge railway, known as the Toy Train, which rattles and clanks up the mountains for five hours to reach Shimla.

Which brings me to exoticism. For many years, we have travelled to foreign parts and taken photographs. We think “gosh, look at that sight/person/animal” and snap away, making sure to get permission if it’s a person. Well, now the boot is on the other foot: we have become “gosh, look at that” material ourselves. It started in Delhi, and now, on the train, there are some teenage scouts travelling to Shimla for a camp, who ask us to pose with them for photographs.

 

The KSR has as it’s mascot an elephant wearing a railway-man’s uniform. One of the scouts, mustering some English, says to me “That’s you!” as we pass one by. I know I’ve put on a bit of weight lately, but my nose is never that big.

We’re staying at the Hotel White, about five minutes walk from the Mall. It has a top view over the valley, but the sun never reaches it, so we have to break out the down jackets for the first time this trip. Never travel without one 🙂 Fortunately, we’ve arrived on World Toilet Day, but the management at the India Coffee House, where we have breakfast every day, appear not to have got the memo, from our observation. Great food though, and coffee.

 

 

During the day, the weather is lovely, so we head off closer to the Himalayas, which are visible from town. After a couple of hours driving through little mountain towns, we arrive at Hatu Peak, at 11,000ft. There’s a temple on top and great views of the mountains. We’re on the cusp of winter now: snow will start to fall in the next couple of weeks, and the temperature will drop, but right now, it’s pretty good.

 

 

On a hill overlooking the town is a temple sacred to Lord Hanuman, familiar from the statue next to Jhandewalan metro station in Delhi. He is a monkey god, and there are many monkeys on the walk up to the temple. We are advised: not to wear hats or glasses, they will snatch them from you; not to let them get too close; and to rent a stick to wave at them should they approach. We do all of the above, but in the end the worst thing that happened was somebody shouting at Diane to look after her glasses as the monkeys will steal them, with an urgency akin to a deck evacuation officer shouting “get in the boats” on a sinking ship. Here’s a placid monkey with a shoe which she has stolen from the shoe area outside the temple.

 

We decide to stop in Chandigarh on the way back, en route to Amritsar. We’re normally paying about fifteen quid a night or less for accommodation for the two of us, but here we push the boat out and pay thirty quid. For this we get a round bed.

 

A big attraction hereabouts is the Nek Chand Rock Garden. This was built by stealth over many years by Nek Chand, and features canyons, bridges, waterfalls and statues all made from rubbish, which formerly occupied the site. It is fascinating. Lonely Planet advises visitors to avoid weekends and afternoons, but we fail, arriving at 2pm on Saturday afternoon, along with several hundred school children. They, predictably now, want their photographs taken with a slightly portly white chap and his wife. By the hundred. It’s tiring after about half an hour or so; here’s one we took of some of them.

 

Here’s some of the sculptures: there are thousands of them.

 

After a night or two in the round bed, we’re off to Amritsar on the Duronto Express.

Arriving in India, Landing in Delhi

So, we landed at Delhi after a night flight, somewhat tired, and took a taxi to our hotel.  The driver had some problems finding it, perhaps because Delhi is a big place, with 30 million inhabitants.  It’s a pity he didn’t know that it is near the 108-foot high statue of Hanuman, the monkey god, near the Jhandewalan metro station, a landmark by anybody’s reckoning.  But then, neither did we 🙂

We checked in at about 9 am, had some breakfast, and got some sleep.  That was pretty much the whole day, right there, but we ventured forth for something to eat later in the evening.  The area we’re in is devoted pretty much to car, scooter and bike mechanics, with a few hotels and the odd restaurant.  It was quiet when we arrived at 8 am, but now it’s in full effect: everything is happening everywhere, all at the same time.  You can’t walk on the pavements because they’re occupied by people cooking, fixing bikes, installing car radios, parking their cars, selling fruit, cleaning shoes, or running one-chair barber’s shops, or by big piles of rubbish, dogs, skips, small altars, more cars, buses, stalls selling shoes, lemonade, and cigarettes, and more rubbish, even if there was a pavement to start with.  So, everyone walks in the road, which was a dual carriageway, but is now a single track each way because of the aforementioned commercial activities, dogs, etc.  This entails lively dodging of trucks, buses, motorcycles, cycle rickshaws, autorickshaws, other pedestrians, dogs, and cyclists.  Anyway, we have a fabulous meal in a restaurant called Sandoz, capacity about fifteen covers, for about five quid for us both.  Here’s the bread cooking team, cooking, of course, on the pavement outside.

In the days following, we come to appreciate the sheer density of human kind in Delhi.  Here’s a couple of street scenes from Chandni Chowk, a bazaar area near the Red Fort.

Autorickshaws are a cheap, sometimes fun way of getting around, even if the journey is a bit like a video game.  Delhi ‘s roads have no rules.  You can go anywhere you like, or more accurately can get to, even the wrong way up dual carriageways.  It is quite bracing once you get used to it.

Eventually, fighting off offers of rickshaws and taxis, we took the metro to the Red Fort.  The metro is cheap and efficient, but somewhat crowded, especially around the New Delhi Railway Station.

Gathering a bit more confidence, we spend a hectic couple of days exploring the major sites of Delhi: Hamayun’s tomb and the Masjid Mosque among them.  Here’s a couple of photographs of them: Diane looks especially good in her rented covering in the mosque.

Hamayun, by the way, was a Mogul emperor, and the mausoleum shown was commissioned by his wife.  It created a precedent for the large tomb which reached it’s heght, perhaps, with the Taj Mahal.

So, comparatively rested, we’re ready for our first train journey, heading for the former British hill station at Shimla.  By the way, this post is late for technical reasons to do with trying to use a small tablet to create blog content: apologies.

A Stop-over in Istanbul

When we were booking our flights to India Turkish Airlines had the cheapest flights, connecting in Istanbul.  We decided to stay over for four nights and take in the sights, sounds and tastes rather than hacking straight on to Delhi.  We landed in the late afternoon and caught the metro into town, easy journey so far.  We had a Google map and reckoned we could walk from the Sultanahmet tram stop to the hotel.  Of course, we got hideously lost in the tiny network of streets, but after asking in several hotels, we eventually pitched up at the Hotel Saruhan.  This proves to be a top spot, with a lovely breakfast terrace overlooking the Sea of Marmaris.

 

The next few days was an enjoyable a whirl of sightseeing, drinking tea, watching the locals and marvelling at the beautiful architecture.  The weather was warm and sunny and a great start to our trip.  Here are a few memories.

Old guys rule.

 

 

The Blue Mosque, beautiful outside and inside.

 

 

 

We found a watering hole.

 

 

A ferry ride on the Bosphorous.

 

 

The Arabic calligraphy was fascinating. This example is inside Aya Sophia, now a museum constantly under renovation.

 

 

Not to mention the great food, friendly people and a city full of cats – we were happy.   Now we’re moving on to the madness they call New Delhi.

Around India by Train

Well, it’s been a while since we came home from South America.  The summer was great this year, but the nights are drawing in now, so we’re off to warmer climes: Istanbul for a few days, and then Delhi.  We’ll be travelling around Northern India by train, which should be top fun.  We’ve got our India Rail passes, and Diane has got a new backpack which means she doesn’t have to empty her bag to find anything.  We’ll be posting as we go along, so stay tuned !

Our Latin America Highlights

What was the favourite place? Well, this is pretty much the first thing anyone asks us when we meet them, so here are some thoughts.
The Journey, The People
We travelled mostly by bus, from Mexico all the way through Central America, then flew into Colombia and bussed it south all the way down the western Andean route to Chile, east through Argentina, then headed north finally finishing in Rio de Janeiro.  An amazing journey, considering we made up the route as we went along. We really, really enjoyed our contact with the local people, who were universally kind, helpful and very tolerant of our language deficiencies.  We met travellers from many countries who were, like us, keen to talk about routes and experiences, and we gained many useful tips as to where to go and what to see.  We kept extensive notes of the journey.  Our trip was 11 months, we travelled on 55 buses, for a total of 416 hours.  We have lots more statistics and information for anyone who is interested 🙂

Thanks to everyone we met and the enjoyment and help we received.  To anyone who fancies travelling to this incredible part of the world we have just one piece of advice – go soon, do it, you won’t regret taking time out in such a culturally rich and diverse part of the world.
The Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
Oh heavens, it’s so good it’s hard to describe.  The wildlife is utterly fantastic, above and below the water.  If you can, go.
It’s a very lazy life for most of the inhabitants.
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The giant tortoises get everywhere, albeit very very slowly.
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A blue footed booby – huge noisy birds, with er bright blue feet.
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A beach on the main island of Santa Cruz, just as we like it – without a single person in view.
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Lake Titicaca (Peru and Bolivia)

Absolutely mesmerisingly beautiful.  We’d always wanted to see it, and we were not disappointed.
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Some people live in reed huts on floating islands on Lake Titicaca itself.
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The Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia)

It’s the combination of the salt flats, the mountains and the clear air.  Marvellous, though stupidly cold at night.
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Machu Picchu (Peru)

It is a wonder of the world, after all.  Yup, believe the guidebooks – if you get up early you can see the sunrise and miss the crowds.
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Colca Canyon (Peru)

A surprise entry for us, as we didn’t know it existed until we arrived 🙂  We were lucky enough to spot the mighty Andean Condor (well, lots of them actually due to recent conservation efforts).
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We just loved the mountains and the views down the world’s second-deepest canyon.
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The Andes and the Andeans

Yes, the whole lot.  From the top to the bottom, the snow, and the incredible roads and hairpin bends.  Better chuck in the Altiplano for good measure. Amazing, friendly, people in colourful dress and we’re still in llama/alpaca country.
Chacaltaya Mountain, near La Paz (Bolivia), 5,421 metres high and still smiling!
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One of the many amazing Andean road trips – this is between Chile and Argentina.
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A local in Ecuador.
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Kids parading through town in Cuzco, Peru.
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Locals outside the market in Cuenca, Ecuador.
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The national animal of Peru – the vicuna.
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And a cute young alpaca (we think – or is it a llama?)
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Colonial Architecture (More or less everywhere)

Busy central plazas surrounded by churches and arched walkways give towns from Mexico to Argentina a place for people to gather, converse, sell things and generally do their business.

The Government Palace, downtown La Paz, Bolivia.
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Antigua, Guatemala
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Popayan, southern Colombia.
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The Congress Building, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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Arequipa Monastery (Peru)

A convent city within a city, complete with fantastic colours: a photographer’s dream.
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Ancient Civilizations (Everywhere)

We started with the temples of Mexico and by the end of the trip we were steeped in the ancient civilizations which occupied the continent before the Europeans, ahem, arrived.  We loved their beautiful buildings and objects, especially their pottery and ceramics.
Chichen Itza, Mexico
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The main temple complex at Copan Ruinas, Honduras.
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Pre-Columbian artefacts in the Museo Casa de Alabado in Quito, Ecuador.
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A temple complex near Trujillo, Peru.
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Iguazu Falls (both sides, Brazil and Argentina)
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Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
The marvellous city, as the locals call it.  Here we are looking over the famous Ipanema Beach.
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Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain, great views.
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So that’s it – just a snapshot of our Latin American experiences.  There was so many more special moments we could have included: bustling street markets, exhibitions, music, busy cities, street art, wildlife, Spanish lessons, Christmas and fireworks in Guatemala, local food and drink.  We have some amazing memories and we hope you enjoyed following our adventures.  If all goes well, we expect to start another edition of our travel blog in a year or so.
Thanks for your interest.
Diane and Paul
Doing It Now

Rio de Janeiro, the end of our trip, and thanks to all our readers

After a lazy three days in Parati we board our last bus of the trip bound for Rio de Janeiro – our last long-distance bus of this trip.  A quick taxi ride and we are settled in our apartment, just a block away from Copacabana beach.  The weather is incredibly hot when we arrive so we’re pleased we have aircon, but the next few days are cooler and more to our liking.  We explore the local beaches, watch the volleyball and soccerball (no hands) matches and see the surfers getting mashed by the waves.  This is Ipanema beach, just round the corner from our apartment.
 
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Great sand-art, reminding us we’re in the Cidade Maravilhosa, the Marvellous City.
 
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One of the local soft drinks is coco, coconut milk, best drunk in a beachside bar as here.  Although it’s getting the thumbs up on this occasion, it’s probably a once-only purchase, as it’s a bit too coconutty for us.
 
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We take a trip on the metro into the centre of town, to see the set of steps decorated with tiles by the Chilean artist Selaron. He’s been at it since 1990 and regularly changes the tiles.  He says he won’t stop this crazy project until the last day of his life!
 
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We take a bus and a tram up the Corcovado hill to visit the famous Christ the Reedeemer statue, huge with magnificent views over the city. Nice place to celebrate a birthday!
 
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In the distance below you can see the famous Sugar Loaf and Rio harbour.
 
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Beach life wouldn’t be complete without the vendors, selling the usual t-shirts, souvenirs, drinks and in this case every size of bikini top you might need.
 
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We also decide to take a trip to a favela, popularly reputed to be full of drugs, drug gangs and so forth.  20% of the population of Rio live in favelas, most of whom work in service industries such as taxi driving, waiting in restaurants and working in hotels, and we were interested to see whether the reality lived up to the myths.  We contact a local guy who organises walking tours in Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio.  He meets us in Copacabana and we catch the local bus up to the top of Rocinha: favelas are built on steep slopes, usually the only unbuilt-on land around here.  We’re escorted to a rooftop to look down at close quarters on the dense, simple, housing and our guide talks for a couple of hours about the housing standards, the Residents’ Association, community spirit, schooling and the (recent) police presence.  The latter, he thinks, is not unconnected with the World Cup in Rio in 2014, and the Olympics in Rio in 2016, and he is sceptical about what will happen after that.  The people here own their houses and, since legal changes connected with the Resident’s Associations, cannot be simply kicked out because the government decides so.  Although drug gangs ran the favelas originally, they did so because the government at the time did nothing for favela residents: the gangs stepped into the governmental role and provided transport, schools, sewerage and so forth for the residents.  The government increasingly does this now.
 
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As we walk down the steep hillside through the houses the alleyways are really narrow, and we need to leap out of the way to make way for furniture and other deliveries making their way along.  Mail is only delivered to the single, main street, so residents of the alleys have stuff delivered to shops on the main street, and pick them up there.
 
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Our guide knows everybody, everybody wishes us good day. The general atmosphere is very normal: although the area is fairly poor, it seems to us much less threatening than, say, parts of Bogota or La Paz.  Eventually, we arrive at the bottom of the district, near the main road, and have lunch in a good por kilo restaurant before catching the bus back to Copacabana.  Rocinha is behind us up the hill in this photograph.
 
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Of course, no trip to Rio would be complete without a trip up the Sugar Loaf, so we take the opportunity of a not-too-hazy day to catch the cable car up.  The views from the top are truly excellent, and we amble slowly around the viewing platforms taking it all in.  Here’s a view over towards Copacabana, with Christ the Redeemer just visible on the right of the frame.
 
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And that’s it !!  Tonight we board our flight back to the UK, and our trip is over.  We’ve had a fantastic eleven months, and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it.  To all of you who’ve been reading and commenting, many, many thanks !
Lots of people have asked us what have been the highlights of the trip, so when we’ve had a chance to unpack we’ll put up a Trip Highlights post.
 
And watch this space, we think there’ll be more to come from elsewhere in the world in the future J
 
Thanks again
Diane and Paul

Perfectly Peaceful Parati

We arrive in Parati on schedule, a mere 24 hours after leaving Foz do Iguacu.  Not a bad journey really and we even get some sleep.  The scenery turns lush with green hills and we’re happy to arrive in the beautiful beachside town of Parati.  It’s Saturday evening and the touristy town is full of weekending Brazilians.  After a turn around town, a couple of beers and food (chocolate churros, yum!) we have an early night.  The next morning we walk a dozen paces outside the front door of hostel to our empty beach!
 
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We spend three days here relaxing.  The picturesque old town is apparently one of Brazil’s most cinematic locations, complete with beautiful buildings and cobblestones so deep it’s awkward to walk in a straight line.   Cute though and the weather is warm and sunny, we’re happy.
 
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On Sunday the place is still busy with tourists, but then pretty much everyone disappears and we have the place to ourselves, only the birds and the fishermen at work.
 
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A few paces outside the old town are the normal shops and restaurants and we take advantage of the good value ‘per kilo’ meals.  These are self-service restaurants where you decide what/how much you want, the plate is weighed and you pay the advertised price.  So, maybe you choose steak and lettuce rather than heavy vegetables and rice?  And the same process with the icecream.  Choices, choices.  The local beer is still any number of varieties of lager, all tasting much the same.  But, the local Caipirinhas are excellent and made with (extremely strong) local cachaca.  See why we don’t do much other than eat, drink and sleep here in Parati?
 
Just one more long distance bus – Rio de Janeiro here we come!