Category Archives: mountains

Bus travel in Bolivia that I’d really recommend

Leaving Pucara

MAYBE I WAS JUST GLAD to be getting out of Pucara and away from the prospect of a marriage of convenience that would have seen me living small, Bolivian village life, running three rental houses and caring for an old husband who would surely be well on his way to incontinence. Maybe my favourable account of the bus journey from Pucara to Villa Serrano and then on to Sucre was therefore skewed.

But hang on. The landscape was beautiful and the variation in terrain as we descended from high altitudes to the warmer climate of Villa Serrano was well worth noting.

Steep, winding mountain roads wound down past cacti the size of trees along rubbly ground where a sparse covering of shrubs with exposed roots clung on to dry, stony earth.

Rocky landscapes on the way from Pucara to Villa Serrano

Cacti bushes and trees along the way to Villa Serrano

The crowded bus continued on through dusty canyons and alongside wide, dry rivers. Dust swirled through the bus, coating everything. The teenager in the seat in front of me sat hugging an old school ghetto blaster whilst he puked out and down the side of the bus, the warm, sweet fumes filtering back in through my open window.

Herding by the river

Dry river at dusk

At parts, the road was really terrible, huge chunks missing. The bus momentarily crawled alongside browny-orange landslides and inched across and around gaping cavities whilst I held my breath. We always made it. Skilled drivers, aided by the sign up front that stated seguir a Cristo. As on most South American public transport, we were being looked after by the total trust in religious iconography. All good.

As dusk set in, mountains silhouetted against a clear sky. The guy next to me got off the bus, no houses in sight, the middle of a dark nothingness. I wondered how far he had to walk still. It was gone 20:00pm.

Night arrives on the way from Pucara to Villa Serrano

A little boy jumped into his seat. I dozed a little, waking only when he started to blow raspberries at his friend and screech and clamber over me to look at the moon. ‘¡La luna es aqui!’ he babbled, and his friend joined him by the window, which was also my seat and my lap. Two unknown three year old kids with knees and elbows digging into me? At least I had somewhere to sit.

A little later, having reclaimed some space, I woke up to my hair being stroked. The little boy next to me was now singing gently and playing with my hair, no inhibitions.

Within another hour we arrived into Villa Serrano and I wandered through dark streets with my head torch trying to find somewhere to stay.

Electricity in the town was down. My little venture away from the modern, English speaking world with all its comforts and trappings was set to continue for at least another day, and I certainly wasn’t about to complain.

After a short night’s sleep and a chilly shower, I was back on a bus headed from Villa Serrano to Sucre through a landscape of hills covered in grasses and trees.

It was an early morning start. Wisps of mist hung in the valleys and mountain peaks stayed hidden in the clouds, shadows streaking across their green, grey bodies. The sun shone out gentle, light rays onto little mud brick buildings with grass roofs and red tiles, waking up the folk in the farmsteads that we passed.

It was flatter and greener in the valleys, dry rockiness visible every now and then alongside corn fields. Yellow sunburst flowers on long, leafy stalks sat next to short, fluffy tufts of plants, delicately blowing in the fresh morning breeze.

On board, women sporting plaits and wearing warm, woolly hats carried small children bundled up in blankets. I played peek-a-boo with a little girl in front of me whilst a young boy looked on shyly, smiling when I caught his eye. Again, the only gringo on board. The elders were politer but the children were curious. I tried to remember being that young, but all I could really recall were my mum’s stories about how I chatted away to everyone.

The rest of this journey took us past more cacti; some small and spindly, others still the size of trees. Amazing towers of red rock rose up on the roadside just over an hour into the trip before we finally arrived at flatter farm land and paved, concrete roads. The bus sped up, onwards to Sucre.

So what was so special about this journey?

Predominantly, this was about the amazing, varied scenery but also the experience of being in amongst the locals with not a tourist in sight. It was also a much more interesting way to get to Sucre, and a cheap way to cover some substantial ground.


Pucara to Villa Serrano cost 30Bs. (£2.70/US$4.34) for a six hour journey and Villa Serrano to Sucre cost 25Bs. (£2.25/US$3.62) for a four and a half hour journey. Villa Serrano to Sucre was a much smoother journey with better roads and a comfier bus, although the scenery wasn’t quite as impressive. Apologies for lack of photos for the second day – my camera battery died! Disappointed. From Villa Serrano to Sucre I travelled with Trans Turismo Señor “La Mision”. Buy tickets in the office on the square, which opens at 06:30am. The bus leaves 07:00am.


Filed under activity & sport, bolivia, culture, history, mountains, nature, south america, travel

Willy Wonka Land: Campos do Jordão

Campos do Jordão

Taking on many of the characteristics of a Swiss ski mountain village, Campos do Jordão in South East Brazil sounded misplaced and a little bizarre. I had to see it for myself.

This little town with its wooden chalets and quirky independent gift shops and cafés is a popular holiday spot for the wealthy, particularly in the wintertime. Colour is splashed around the place, chocolate shops abound and prices are high. A river runs through the town, brown and chocolatey and I start to imagine Willy Wonka and his oompaloompas working behind the scenes.

Everything feels cute and a little too constructed for my personal preference. It’s probably a lot to do with the fact that I love European winters and log buildings and open fires and, well, this place just confuses the hell out of me.

But I love the chocolate. Stacked high in shop after shop after shop, fat, round lumps of melt-in-your-mouth goodness tempt window shoppers. My friend Glyn insists that we buy some. I take a bite from a dark chocolate crocante truffle and it’s so dense and rich that I’m not sure I can finish it (of course I do).

Post-food and chocolate indulgence we walk around the town. The chair lift (miniférico), the first in Brazil, is closed. It’s been raining and the multi-coloured chairs swing in the breeze, drip drying. A group of guys sit chatting on board a brightly painted, open-sided tourist tram, no takers for the town tour.

The sun breaks through and we sit a while in the park, chatting and eating chocolate truffles and ice-creams, and I realise that Campos do Jordão is a place of indulgence: fancy restaurants, rich chocolate and the high life.

I’ve enjoyed tasting it, but I don’t want to get used to it. For now, I’ll go back to bread and water.

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Filed under brazil, culture, food & drink, mountains, south america

A gift from The Blue Mountains
Starting to make an appearance… the Blue Mountains

It was when I arrived home from a trip to the Blue Mountains and kicked off my hiking shoes and socks that I noticed trickles of bright red blood dripping down on to the floor. And it wouldn’t stop.

By the awesome power of a borrowed car and a TomTom sat nav, I had cruised along the Great Western Highway, away from Sydney with the radio blasting and the Blue Mountains up ahead.
Busking at Echo Point, the Blue Mountains

At Echo Point nearby Katoomba, a thick covering of fog concealed any natural wonders. I sat down and ate a sandwich to the sound of a didgeridoo being played by an Aboriginal guy who had been traditionally painted up, ready to pose for photos with impressed tourists.
The Three Sisters, the Blue Mountains

Within a little while The Three Sisters revealed themselves, their stony prison smaller than I expected. I joined the crowds on the viewing platforms, got some truly bad pictures taken by a stranger that I had to delete (lots of sky, lots of me, barely anything of the Three Sisters) and then did a short walk over to the Lady Marley lookout where I took in the vast mountainous landscape, wisps of mist still drifting about giving it a mystical edge.

Legs unsatisfied, back at the start and with the Information Centre behind me I took a right and headed over to the start of the Giant Stairway with over 850 narrow steps leading down from the Three Sisters mounting point and into the arboreous gulley below.
Views out from The Three SIsters

The signposted track led me along the Federal Pass on forest pathways, squelchy and covered in leaves. A building purr of thunder rattled the sky as rain drops slapped onto damp leaves, working up to a steady downpour. I hid in a hollow tree trunk until the worst of it passed.

After two hours and a steady pace later, I arrived at the Scenic Railway. Would I cheat and take the train up for an easy wander back to Echo Point? Hell, no!
Views from pathway of The Blue Mountains

In fact, on the way back I was on fire, getting to the bottom of the Great Stairway within 40 minutes. Super speedy (wait for the pain tomorrow). ‘Are you really going up?’ asked a Dutch guy raising his eyebrows. He had just made the descent with his friends. ‘Sure’, I said, ‘I came down so now I’ll go back up. It’ll balance things out!’ ‘If we don’t see you back by 6:00pm’, he said, ‘then we’ll send the search parties out to the steps’.

It was unnecessary. Although I took a couple of breaks and nearly puked as my heart battered my rib cage, I was back at the top within twenty minutes, legs fully worked out and shaking.

And then back along the Great Western Highway, back to the house and kicking off my shoes and my socks and spotting the mystery blood dribbling down my ankles. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted my sock moving. I lifted it to reveal a squirming, wet and well-fed leech. Eurgh! How had I managed to miss that?! Thanks very much, Blue Mountains, what a parting gift.

For free parking by Echo Point, drive past the Information Point on your right, continuing along Cliff Drive. You will see a sandy stretch on the right hand side where you can park for free.


Filed under activity & sport, australia, hikes, mountains