Category Archives: Travel

Hiking in Snowdonia

I just went on my first UK hiking weekend!

Given how much I enjoy being outdoors and exploring when I’m on holiday, it’s a bit ridiculous that I haven’t done it before. I’ve trekked in the Himalayas and been on walks/hikes in several other countries (Bolivia, Peru and Brazil in the last year alone), but not in the country I’ve lived in all my life.

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t literally my first hike in the UK – I was able to dust off some old walking boots that haven’t left the country (the cobwebs testify to their dormancy over the last decade or more) – but I’m pretty sure it’s the first time I’ve climbed to the top of anything in the UK.

I’ve thought about this quite a bit; the fact that it’s so common to take for granted what’s on your doorstep. I’ve noticed it all over the world, particularly with Australians, and I’ve joked about falling into the same trap when it comes to what the UK has to offer.

So I’m very grateful to my cousin Claire for inviting me to go to Snowdonia for the weekend, so I could start to put that right. She’s preparing to do the Inca trail to Machu Picchu with my Uncle Jim in October, so this was part of their training. We were also joined by another cousin, Jo, and Claire’s friend, Michelle.

The weather played a huge part in our weekend and the two days were extremely different. On Saturday we were hiking to Cadair Idris, but we hadn’t gone far when visibility started to get worse, which meant we basically spent the rest of the hike in the clouds. At the point we decided to turn back, rain was falling, the wind-chill had picked up and visibility was only about 10-20 metres as we “looked” over a cliff edge (we were supposed to bear right to get to the summit, but we weren’t to know). It wasn’t extreme weather, by any means, but bad enough to sap some of the enjoyment out of it.

Sunday, on the other hand, was perfect! Well, almost perfect! We were climbing Snowdon and the day started with a cloudless sky. It stayed bright for most of the day, apart from at the summit which became shrouded in cloud just as we were approaching. It was a good day for photos, as each part of my photo wish-list was catered for (blue sky, water and elevation) – I’ll add a couple, but you can see more of my photos HERE.

20882027_10102821798621738_9125930385754229602_n20769946_10102821798811358_6984606898310322465_n

The walking itself was good fun and everyone did really well – especially my uncle, who noticed a huge improvement since his previous hike up Snowdon just a few weeks earlier. You can see some more details of the hikes on Strava:

Saturday at Cadair Idris on Strava

Sunday at Snowdon on Strava

My biggest challenge was actually getting to Snowdonia and back from Cambridge, but I was very fortunate to be picked up and driven door to door – 8 hours each way. My friend Matt did the Cambridge to Manchester journey and my uncle did the rest – a huge thank you to both of you as well.

I wasn’t overly keen on the prospect of camping and in the end we didn’t need to. On Friday night, the five of us squeezed into a 3-man “pod” at Hendre Hall. Since we arrived late and left early the next morning, it did the job and made for a cosy night’s sleep. Saturday night we were in a bunkhouse, which had a very handy “drying room” for all our wet clothes.

I’m sure this weekend will be the first of many, so a big thank you to Claire, Jim, Jo and Michelle for making it such a good trip.

And then there were two Higgis on tour

My blog has taken a back seat in recent weeks (and I’m too busy to do anything about that now), but I thought I’d post an update now that I’m no longer travelling solo!

My sister Kate has just arrived in La Paz after an epic 36 hour journey from London. We’re only going to spend the next couple of days here in Bolivia, just long enough for me to show her where I spent most of my time as a volunteer: outside of La Paz in Jupapina and Mallasa.

After that we’ll be bussing it to Peru to cram in as many touristy things as we can before Christmas, including Machu Picchu on 20th December. Hopefully the rainy season is kind to us. Then we’re spending Christmas in Buenos Aires, New Year in Rio de Janeiro, with a stop at Iguazu Falls in between. It’s going to be a fun four weeks!

La Paz to Cusco (via Isla del Sol)

The Bolivia Hop bus picked me up at 06:30 at my hostel in La Paz with four others – Annika, an American Swede, and three English guys on a day trip. I sat next to Annika on the bus and chatted about Up Close until they put Back to the Future on!

We arrived at Copacabana, which is on the shore of Lake Titicaca (the world’s highest navigable lake) just before midday. That gave us time to grab some lunch and see the derby highlights before catching the boat over to Isla del Sol.

Copacabana from the boat

The boat trip was a breezy 75 minutes (which only gave the English daytrippers just an hour on the island before making the five hour journey back to La Paz!) and dropped us with our bags at the bottom of a very steep hill.

Annika and I had been chatting to a Dutch couple and we found a good hostel for 30Bs (£3) each. After soaking up a bit of sun, the four of us went in search of food and drink. We had a bite to eat at our first stop before continuing up to the crest of the hill where we found a fantastic mirador for the sunset.


I had the local speciality trucha for dinner, which was also amazing – I should get fish more often.

For various reasons we were all really tired, so we got an early night with an eye on seeing sunrise in the morning.

On Sunday morning, I was up and awake well ahead of the 6:40am sunrise and it didn’t disappoint:


Breakfast lived up to the previous night’s fare and gave us the energy to embark on a trek across the island.

Donkeys everywhere on Isla del Sol

Maikel, me, Annika & Gina

After about 14km around the island, Annika and I were back at the main harbour for the 3:30pm boat back to Copacabana. From there, our bus was waiting to take us into Peru.

Everything went smoothly at the border crossing and we were soon on our way. The plan was to travel for about three hours and then stop at a restaurant in Puno for dinner, but the guide explained that wouldn’t be possible. This was because there were some planned strikes that would be affecting the roads from midnight, so we couldn’t afford to stop in case we got caught by them. This meant getting to Cusco early (the normal ETA is 6am, which is when I was being met at the bus station), rather than getting held up until 3-4pm by the blockades. I was pretty impressed that they managed to arrange a pizza delivery to the bus, so we still got fed without stopping.

In the end we arrived in Cusco at 2:30am. The bus company arranged taxis for everyone, so I went to a hostel to steal some wifi and wait until a slightly more respectable time to go to the bus station for my scheduled pick-up.

All that means that I’m about to start the next part of my journey. I’ll be moving into my homestay home, finding out more about my new volunteering project at Asociación Arariwa and discovering what it’s like to live in a South American city.

Uyuni and the Salt Flats

02/11/16 edit: New pictures added at the end!

***********************

This blog post is all about pictures really, but I’ll put them all at the end. After five weeks of volunteering in Jupapina, it was time to be a tourist so I headed off on an overnight bus from La Paz to Uyuni to see the infamous Bolivian Salt Flats.

As with all such trips, it’s usually the people you’re with that determine how good it is, so I’ll start there. My tour group for the three days was Felice from Germany and four friends from France: Matthieu, Marion (brother and sister), Romain and Fabian. And of course I can’t forget Adrian, our driver, guide, photographer and cook!

In three days, we covered nearly 1,000km across some incredible terrain. On the first day, we stopped several times for pictures, including at a train cemetery (which showcases the remnants of the old salt trade), but it was really all about the iconic Salt Flats themselves, the headline attraction. They are spectacular in their lack of features; the sheer scale of the pure white landscape in all directions is amazing, and it was offset by a brilliantly clear blue sky.

Everyone in my group had a fancy camera except for me (Marion is actually a professional photographer), so most of the group pictures/videos we took are on other people’s cameras (I’m waiting for them all to upload and share them with me).

***********************

02/11/16 edit: Marion has sent me her photos, check some of them out at the end of this post

***********************

The scenery on the second day was perhaps less unique in the grand scheme of things, but it was no less spectacular. We stopped at a number of lagunas, rock formations and viewpoints of mountains/volcanoes. The variety of colours in the terrain was striking, particularly the many shades of red/orange, but also yellows, greens, browns and more white. We also saw llamas outside the hotel, flamingos in the lagunas, and then alpacas, vicuñas, viscachas and more.

The evenings were spent in the freezing cold, in hotels that pretty much just provided a bed (no hot water or electricity). Unfortunately, this meant that my phone battery died before the third day, so I’m waiting on the others to get those pictures too.

The final day started at 4am in arctic-like conditions; I’ve no idea how Adrian knew where he was going, but we set off at full speed regardless.

As the sky started to brighten, we stopped at a geyser that was shooting hot air about 50 feet in the air. We moved on to see some bubbling pools of lava and then another short drive took us to the agua thermales. Only Felice and I swam in the crystal clear 40°c water, but it was the perfect way to warm up our frost bitten extremities. Even though the sun had risen by then, it hadn’t warmed the air yet and Felice’s hair froze when she got out!

For all intents and purposes, that was the end of the tour; we said goodbye to Felice at the Chilean border and headed back to Uyuni.

There was time for one more stop though and Adrian picked the most beautiful setting for our lunch. The rolling green hills, the bubbling stream shedding its nighttime icecap, and the quiet. We could have been anywhere (not literally) and it was bliss.

Overall, it was a really special trip and I’m thankful for finding such a nice group, even if it was Frencher than I was expecting (the strain of being tri-lingual took its toll in the evenings and they often reverted to their mother tongue – quite understandable!)

Matthieu was particularly adventurous in trying to get the best pictures, e.g. by getting closest to the wildlife or highest on the rocks – but he paid the price on day three when he got scalded by the geyser.

img_7531

img_7572

img_7542

img_7550

img_7543

img_7554

img_7558

Mirador de Volcan Ollague


Laguna Cañapa

Flamingoes at Laguna Cañapa

Vicuña at Laguna Cañapa

Laguna Honda

Arbol de piedra (tree of stone)

Next to Laguna Colorada

Laguna Colorada at dusk

***********************

02/11/16 edit: Marion very kindly sent me her photos, which weree clearly taken by someone with a good camera who knows what they’re doing. You can check out some of her other work here: https://fr-fr.facebook.com/Marion.Darde.Photography/

This is me chasing my hat in the middle of a sand storm. The winds picked up very quickly and I couldn’t really see anything, so I’m not sure why the photo is so clear!