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Since we last spoke, I ventured through southern Bolivia on a four day jeep tour, visiting abandoned mining villages, rock canyons, hot springs, volcanoes, mountains and dry desert. The highlights being the many lagoons, geysers and the amazing salt flat Uyuni de Salar. I completed my exploration of Bolivia along its ‘Gringo trail’ with a brief stop in Potosi, one of the highest cities in the world. Tourists can take a guided mine tour to see for themselves the horrors of South American mining and exploitation of people. I spent a day wandering the city centre, found little, but enjoying walking/climbing the steep streets and hills. Finally, I visited La Paz, Bolivia’s political capital, Sucre is its historical-administrative seat.

I spent three days in La Paz, soaking up the atmosphere of the Wild Rover Backpackers, an Irish owned establishment with first class facilities. Entering the hostel off the grimy, noisy, dirty and crowded streets of La Paz was like switching between different worlds! The hostel was an excellent place to party, meet young western travellers and unwind after tiresome travel, but it was not authentic Bolivia, not at all. I Explored the city with its main squares, large impressive churches and garish markets in the company of an Irish couple I met in Potosi and two girls from Northern Ireland who I had met previously. Hiking the steep hills hurt my legs and punished my lungs, but it was what I enjoyed. Plus, it was the last place of altitude I faced on this trip.

I eventually departed Bolivia and headed to Peru. I spent one fruitless night in the small town of Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca. I stayed at a delightful family-run hostel before taking a long and bumpy-twisty night bus to Lima, Peru’s capital. The bus journey took over twenty-six hours although, the coach was reasonably comfortable and snacks were provided.

I stayed near the beach in the Barranco district of the huge metropolis and spent my few days in Peru with a lovely guy named Paul, a friend of my girlfriend’s. They both share the same disability, although Paul has little trouble with his sight, unlike Tatiana who is totally blind.

Pictures will be available of Paul and I together shortly after this blog is published.

We spent an evening by the ocean near Barranco’s main square, taking photos before having dinner. I tried cow’s heart, which was chewy and tasted slightly like liver, not my favourite delicacy!

The following day, Paul and I explored the city centre, visiting San Martin Square with its large equestrian statue and fountains and Republic square with its famous political buildings, more fountains and a huge national flag. We witnessed the changing of the guard, a colourful affair with much military music in the hot sun, a wonderful spectacle for the huge crowd.

We walked one of the bridges over the Rímac River and visited a water park with many more beautiful fountains. I love the sound of flowing water.

I spent time with Paul and met and had several meals with his lovely family. Paul’s dog is crazy! He showed me an iguana, which thankfully was stuffed – its claws were very sharp!

I also visited a charity organization supporting deaf-blind people called Sense during my brief stay in Lima. I went to an organized event in London in January 2011 and discovered they had overseas projects, including one in Lima. Therefore, when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to meet some of the staff and discover what occurred in Peru. I met a brother and sister, called Antonio and Monica, who were both deaf-blind. We communicated through Ricardo, the head of Sense Peru and one of his colleagues. It was an interesting challenge. I conversed with Ricardo, who spoke excellent English. He translated for his colleague who knew a little deaf-blind sign language. This is done using the hand. The question I asked or answer I gave was first presented to Monica who informed her brother Ricardo. We communicated like this for just over an hour. I noticed immediately upon our opening conversation that they were both intelligent. Ricardo had some sight and was able to do a menial job. Monica had no sight or hearing, but had become educated before she lost the ability of both senses.

It was a fascinating learning experience and demonstrates that almost anything is possible. I also visited a school to discover how deaf-blind children learn and were supported in Peru. The government plays no role in this support and schools are private and equipment is bought by generous donations from wealthy individuals and small groups.

The education centres around sensory stimulation by using different shaped animals and large inflatable balls and blocks among other items.

A unique experience and insight into disability in South America.

Since April, I have been in Greece with Tatiana. We briefly explored the island of Salamina near Athens. However, as we alighted from the ferry, the heavens opened and the only church of note was closed.

We spent a weekend on Paros Island in the Cyclades, walking and exploring in the heat. We visited the large church of Our Lady of 100 Gates just before a wedding began, that was fun!

Tatiana and I explored Ireland together in early May, visiting Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland, where we took a coach tour to Giant Causeway, which was disappointing, especially as there wasn’t much to touch or walk on. The rope bridge event was good even though we became wet and exhausted during the walk to and from the bridge.

We also took a ‘Black taxi’ tour around Belfast monuments and wall murals and the former trouble spots during the violent times.

In the Republic of Ireland, we had four days in Dublin, dodging yet more rain and trying to find places that were open to the public. Our trip occurred a week before the Queen of England was due to visit. Thus, many places were off-limits, including the castle tour and the Trinity College library with its book of Kells, most annoying. We had delicious Irish stew in a couple of different pubs and heard traditional music, blues and some jazz, which filled our spirits. The final stop was in Cork City at the bottom of southern Ireland. We experienced little of the city, using Cork more as a base to visit other places such as Clonakilty for a Michael Collins guided tour and Blarmey where we visited the castle to kiss the famous Blarmey stone. Tatiana and I ascended over 200 narrow, winding steps to the castle ramparts. I managed to kiss the stone lying on my back, while Tatiana kissed thin air. She did manage to touch it.

We are about to meet up in Rome for a few days 18th-22nd July and embark on a tour of the east coast of the US in September.

That’s all for now.

Enjoy the photos and videos of Antarctica and South America which will appear later this month.

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