The Epic La Gran Piedra Adventure

Wildfires, tree rat stew, a fallen tree blocking the road, slavery, a butterfly with clear wings, and a ride with the Cuban Air Force, this December 2016 La Gran Piedra day trip had almost everything. La Gran Piedra National Park (Parque Nacional de la Gran Piedra) is named after the monolith at the top of the mountain about 28 kilometres from Santiago de Cuba.

Waking up early, our Santiago de Cuba hosts kindly provided a 6am breakfast. We walked to bus terminal near the port on Jesús Menéndez Avenue. Our options from hear were a bus to Siboney 1 hour later or a 10am bus direct to La Gran Piedra (The Big Stone).

The bus schedule to La Gran Piedra from bus station near Santiago de Cuba's port

The bus schedule to La Gran Piedra from bus station near Santiago de Cuba’s port; buses leave Santiago 6am Monday, Wednesday and Friday, returning from La Gran Piedra at 3pm. There is a 10am Sunday bus which I guess also returns 3pm but it’s Cuba so who exactly knows…

Instead of these options, we:

  • Rode moto taxis across town (20 CUP; US$0.80 each) to El Palo del Aura where more frequent transport departed towards Siboney.
  • Caught a bus for 1 CUP (US$0.04), exiting at the junction to La Gran Piedra. Here we watched lizards while waiting with others for a ride up the mountain.
  • Took a private car (organised by a man in a tractor) up the mountain for 20 CUC (US$20; negotiated down from 30 CUC).

This car should have delivered us to the top, however, we came across the following:

Our old US sedan ride to La Gran Piedra stopped abruptly by a recently fallen tree

Our classic US sedan ride to La Gran Piedra stopped abruptly by a recently fallen tree

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Plaza de Armas, Arequipa’s Splendid Main Square

Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa

Pigeons and people populate the late afternoon square in front of the cathedral

Like the Santa Catalina Convent, Arequipa’s main square (Plaza de Armas) is part of the city’s world heritage-listed historic centre.

Surrounded by the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa to the north and portals to the east, south and west, the plaza is a wonderful place to relax, watch the world go by and politely decline unsolicited offers.

Archway displaying Peruvian colours with Misti in the background, Arequipa

A giant ribbon in national colours on the eastern portal (Portal de los Flores) prior to Peru’s independence day (28 July); Mt Misti is in the background Continue reading

Arequipa’s 16th Century Landmark: Santa Catalina Convent

People playing Pokémon GO outside Santa Catalina Convent, Arequipa

Santa Catalina’s white volcanic stone walls tower over these Pokémon Go players

Founded in 1579, Arequipa’s imposing Santa Catalina Convent (monastery) takes up a whole city block and is a major tourist attraction. One can easily spend hours exploring the different rooms, cloisters and galleries. The convent’s history, size, architecture, art and ambience impress. Besides the museum, an adjoining New Monastery still functions although it is closed to the public. Continue reading

From the Brazilian Pantanal to La Paz, Bolivia by Taxi, Train and Bus

From the amazing Brazilian Pantanal I needed to get to La Paz, Bolivia. With no direct flights and one-way flights ridiculously expensive, the best mode was overland.

Leaving the excellent Hostel Road Riders in Corumbá, Brazil, Dana, Ela and I took a taxi to the Bolivian border. As an Australian, I obtained my Bolivian entry stamp easily. Not so Israeli passport holders Dana and Ela. Border officials shunted them around, asked for itineraries and bookings and treated them with disdain.

Quijarro Border Crossing, Bolivia

The Corumbá-Quijarro border crossing from outside a shop on the Bolivian side where I waited for Dana and Ela

After a few hours Dana and Ela still had not received their visas so I left the border for Puerto Quillaro’s La Brasilena train station. There I met New Zealanders Kyle and Anna who also wanted to buy a ticket on the Death Train to Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Continue reading

The Epic Pantanal Wetland

The Pantanal, Brazil

A Pantanal water lily

The Pantanal, spread across South American countries Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay is the world’s largest tropical wetland. The region is also an amazing place for viewing wildlife despite consisting largely of privately owned cattle stations. In four days of Pantanal exploring I saw and photographed so many birds and other animals, they required separate blog posts. Continue reading