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Fantastic Flamingos: Three Common Questions

Whilst bumbling round South America during our little Andes adventure this year, we were really excited to see flamingos in the wild for the first time. Flamingos are bizarre in appearance with unusual characteristics which set them out from every other bird and you’d be blind to miss them in this part of the world. In actual fact we ended up bumping into flamingos at every turn (not quite), but they were present in every country we visited (Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia). If you’re as curious as we were about them, you’d probably ask the obvious few questions, which I’ve set out to answer below. So read on to discover three (not so) secrets of the flamingos.

Why are flamingos pink?


Seriously, how many other birds are pink? I’m struggling to think of one off the top of my head. Somehow, flamingos must have found a peculiar physical niche where it is beneficial to be pink, as it’s not a favoured trait amongst birds. Firstly let’s answer ‘how’, and then we will tackle ‘why’.

It’s all in the diet. Flamingos generally dine on small crustaceans on muddy shores and shallow lakes. If not they pick at algae, which contains pigments called carotenoids – these carotenoids are further broken down by the liver to produce orange and red pigments. The pigments are absorbed by the fat and oil which is secreted all over a flamingo’s body, yes, they’re kind of sweating pink.

Crustaceans also eat the algae, so the same process occurs when they are consumed. However, since the pigments have already been someone absorbed by the crustacean, a flamingo eating solely crustaceans will be lighter than one on a diet of algae. This is why in zoos, they feed flamingos pigment additives and bright pink shrimps, to make them look as vivid as possible.

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A bright flamingo at London Zoo

So why does a bright colour help, or is it a side-effect of having a healthy coating of fats? Well in fact it’s a combo of the two. A study from Spain showed that both sexes of flamingo secreted excess oils coming up to the mating season. It is therefore believed that pinker bird is appears more appealing to the opposite sex, suggesting an ability to collect more foot and a consequential increase in overall fitness.

Why do flamingos stand on one leg?


The classic image of a flamingo is nearly always on one leg, almost statuesque in a shallow pool. Indeed they do have two legs, and they do move – so why this bizarre resting posture? Well, this is where a bit of physics comes into play, as well as some flamingo biology you might never have guessed…

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The others left while it was asleep…

Firstly you’ll be surprised to hear that what we thought was the flamingo’s knee, was actually it’s ankle. They just have an extremely long vertical ‘foot’ and webbed toes, you could imagine it a bit like them standing on tip-toes all day long. The real knee is hidden inside their feathers just out of sight, so a flamingo is basically doing life-long tip-toe squats – intense.

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The benefit of standing like this is (rather counter-intuitively) stability. When the other leg is raised, the foot comes up just in front of the hidden knee, this shifts the centre of gravity towards the head. The bird tilts slightly forwards, pulling the hip and knee joint forwards too, locking them directly above the standing ankle. It’s a process of small shifts, all coming together in a remarkably stable outcome – so much so that flamingos can remain standing perfectly after they’ve died. This position can only happen thanks to the shifting weight provided by the folded leg, so a two legged flamingo is a wobbly flamingo.

The reason behind this adaptation is still a mystery however. Some believe it is to save energy (which certainly happens) as they remain completely still. Also theories to do with retaining body heat are very possible; only one leg becomes cold in the lake whilst the other is warmed up inside the feathers, a study could be done to examine whether flamingos have a preferred leg.

Why do you find flamingos in such extreme environments?


Flamingos are tough beasts. We found them all the way up the Andes range, from southern Patagonia to the coast of Peru, with altitude varying from 0 – 5000m. So what makes flamingos so tough, and where do they prefer to live?

Flamingos love a good shallow lake or coastal (littoral) zone. Their beaks are perfectly designed to scoop up crustaceans and molluscs on silty substrates. They waved their head from side to side and filter the food on a sieve like structure in their mouths.

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Flamingo doing a scoop

Ideally a lake would be salty and slightly alkaline in order to support their preferred diet. Luckily there are a lot of these environments round the world, and although enjoying large flat areas, they thrive on the Andean Altiplano which stretches for thousands of miles up the west of South America. Furthermore, these environments are often relatively uninhabited, so flamingos have little competition or predation.

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One the salt flats of the Atacama desert, with nothing else to bother them!

It is believed that flamingos prefer a tropical environment, one which they’re commonly associated with. However, in colder regions, flamingos also thrive, often being frozen on one leg overnight in icy lakes! This shows that the chemical and biological balance of the habitat is more important for the flamingo. Acid rain from nearby urbanisation is something can severely affect this habitat, by disrupting the pH balance of the water. After a particularly heavy bout of rainfall during prior months, we observed a distressing graveyard of body parts washed up on the shores of Laguna Colorada in Bolivia.

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One of hundreds of bits of washed up flamingo, a distressing sight. 

It is important to remember that something seemingly so isolated can still be negatively affected by cities hundreds of miles away. The chemicals released into the air travel huge distances within clouds, and the repercussions are seen here. Sadly the link will appear too tenuous for industries to do anything about it, yet another argument for renewable energy sources. Hopefully flamingos are tough enough to wait it out until we can make the world a cleaner place, and amazingly unique animals such as this one will continue to thrive without threat.

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Happy flamingos doing their thing

Mt. Fitz Roy and Laguna de los Tres (Video)

The second of three videos to show three Patagonian treks in the same number of days! This amazing walk is a tough ask in one day, but get up early and it’s so worth it. Amazing changes of landscape are seen from the lowlands through to the high laguna at Fitz Roy. By staying an extra day in El Chaltén give yourself the chance … Read More Mt. Fitz Roy and Laguna de los Tres (Video)

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One minute Wildlife: The Ballestas

A new series on journecology – One minute Wildlife! Today we’ll be taking a look at the incredible biodiversity of the Ballestas islands in Peru.

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How to see wildlife in Iguazu: the Güirá Oga centre

Visiting the Iguazu Falls National Park may seem like the obvious choice for seeing local wildlife in the region, but the town of Puerto Iguazu also boasts another wildlife wonder: the Güirá Oga rehabilitation centre.

Located 20-minutes by bus from the centre of town, Güirá Oga (meaning ‘House of Birds’ in Guarani) boasts a variety of rescued and rehabilitated animals.  At the centre, you can attend one of the hourly tours with a bilingual guide who will show you round the site, explaining the animals’ backgrounds and the conservation work that Güirá Oga does.

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Visitors get a unique experience driving into the sanctuary by tractor.

Founded by Jorge Anfuso and Silvia Elsegood, the centre is situated on a 19-hectare protected landscape named ‘Andres Giai‘ after the renowned naturalist. The sanctuary’s forests itself boasts a variety of flora with 40 different tree species (some nearly 30 metres tall) and fauna. In fact, over 150 wild birds have been spotted on the site and a recent survey found over 50 different butterfly species. The biodiversity of the area is due mainly to its proximity with the Iguazu National Park. The sanctuary also houses a variety of wild animals from captive or rescued backgrounds.

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The sanctuary is colourful and creative. The tour starts out with an information house about the types of animals in the rainforest.

The main objectives of the Güirá Oga sanctuary are:

  • To contribute to the provincial state policies of the conservation of protected wildlife areas and biodiversity.
  • To recover and reintroduce (whenever possible) animals that are seized or handed over to the centre.
  • To establish captive breeding programs for a number of seriously endangered species.
  • To make a site where the national and provincial environmental authorities can lodge rainforest species that have been seized, rescued or saved.
  • To carry out research work in biology and behaviour of species, producing results that may contribute to their conservation.
  • To develop activities, programmes and materials that raise public awareness about the need to preserve the forest and its biological diversity, within the scope of environmental education and dissemination.
  • To provide visitors with ‘hands on’ experience in environmental education and extending these activities to local schools and communities.

Güirá Oga follows a protocol for dealing with the species they acquire:

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The animals living at the sanctuary varies on a monthly basis as a result of rehabilitation and release efforts. Nevertheless, the centre is home to some permanent residents ranging from howler monkeys to river otters. Sadly, the majority of these animals have been taken in as a result of illegal pet trade and human-inflicted injury.

The centre is particularly famous for its bird life, including an incredible selection of Toucan species.

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The beautiful toco toucan (Ramphastos toco)

Güirá Oga even has its own falconry centre which is carefully designed to rehabilitate its members for eventual release.

 

So if you’re looking for a responsible way to see wildlife which not only benefits the animals but the environment as well, Güirá Oga is well worth the visit!

Chorrillo del Salto (Video)

The first of three videos to show three Patagonian treks in the same number of days! This short walk was my introduction to the wonderful world that is Patagonia, only 8km there and back, it was incredibly serene – and the waterfall was beautiful. If you’re interested in more details about the hike, see the original post. However, if you’re here to chill out … Read More Chorrillo del Salto (Video)

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El Chaltén 3 days 3 hikes: Day 2, Laguna de los Tres and Mt Fitz Roy

Hello again and welcome back to my quick rundown of walks from El Chaltén, in the heart of Argentinian Patagonia. I had three days so packed in three hikes, just enough to give me a breathtaking snapshot of this part of the world. Here you’ll find a little about the route, wildlife, and features of each walk. Today we’re off to Laguna de los Tres and Mount Fitz Roy, this is the most famous hike in the area, and the view at the top is one you’ll see topping photography charts worldwide!

If you’d prefer to watch a short video summarising the scenery around the walk, click here.

Breakdown
  • Difficulty: 8/10
  • Length: 13km each way, or a 26km different round route.
  • Highlights: Stunning scenery and mountains throughout, glimpse of glacier Fitz Roy and Laguna Piedras Blancas, rest at the amazing Laguna de los Tres, Laguna Sucia and the Fitz Roy range.
Route

This is easily the most famous walk in the area, if not one the most famous in South America. Although known by the picture postcard view of Mt. Fitz Roy at the top, the rest of the walk is what won me over (not that I needed winning over…). Every step you’re surrounded by beautiful wildflowers, expansive plains framed by dramatic peaks, and the odd glacier thrown in for fun. There are a few options for the walk, and often a ‘there and back’ is done from El Chaltén, however I’ll be describing the far superior round route which requires a drop off to begin.

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Orange line: Van drop-off route, Purple line: Walking route

There is a beautiful campsite at Poincenot which I’d highly recommend if you have the time. A benefit to camping here is not only the serenity, but getting up early to scale the last section and see a cloud-free Mt. Fitz Roy. When I go back here, this is an absolute must for me. Sadly, I had a day to rush through each hike, so my pictures will be rife with clouds!

  1. Make sure you book the drop off from your hostel the day before, the drop off point is ‘Hosteleria Pilar’ which is a 25 minute drive from El Chaltén. When you get off the bus there will be a red sign to Laguna de los Tres, and it’s continuously well signposted along the way. Everyone will be heading the same way, and you begin passing mountain backdrops, winding alongside the river and eventually enter some nice woodland. 16707587_10212189043102426_7008443428714351825_o_110069216665818_10212189040422359_4523660174257034766_o-1
  2. It’s incredibly peaceful walking alongside the river in the woods, and you’ll weave in and out, up and down for a while. Watch your feet in the early months of the year, as there are hundreds of caterpillars crossing the trail! Soon you’ll pass the awesome Glacier Fitz Roy and Laguna Piedras Blancas on your right, and emerge up at a viewpoint where you’ll get your first glimpse of the Fitz Roy range. Eventually you’ll wind up at a junction pointing to Camp Poincenot or El Chaltén, go right to the campsite. 16722451_10212189037622289_6313664174853991170_o16587362_10212189025821994_8556045490002733807_o16664922_10212189044582463_9219469973642906810_o
  3. After passing through the amazing campsite, the going gets tough. Cross the river (fill up your bottle from the stream – it’s totally safe!) and start the long climb uphill. Try to stick to the yellow arrows as the path is becoming increasingly worn. It’s a one hour slog to the top, and gets increasingly steep. When you get there, take in the amazing views of Mt. Fitz Roy, Laguna del los Tres, and Laguna Sucia to the left.16587310_10212189037502286_5714449101108888325_o.jpg16487039_10212189029822094_5342920137479306125_o16700396_10212189328269555_1980463034186031902_o-116722647_10212189041182378_2037848660405376180_o
  4. Head back down when you’re ready, turning right at the same junction after the campsite, following the signs for El Chaltén. There are great views of the range all the way back here, so remember to look behind you! I’d advise turning right to pass by Laguna Capri. Although much less dramatic, it’s a great place to wind down, dip your feet in the cold water, or relax with a book.16716144_10212189038982323_2276083830928902464_o16602402_10212189167865545_8462323843505553437_o
  5. Now it’s the gentle wind back to El Chaltén. It is a long route but the only really challenging part is the last couple of kilometres to the top (and back down). The rest is truly amazing scenery and a gentle trail. 16665246_10212189064942972_2556519082330808025_o16700435_10212189065782993_4444506717526103439_o

I’d definitely advise the round route if possible, and even more try and camp at the Poincenot. Beware in the colder months, the trail can become icy and quite dangerous, you can check with your hostel about the weather conditions and they’ll advise you accordingly. Make sure to bring layers, as the cold wind can be biting, but then the sun is also warm – you may spend most of the hike changing clothes!

Wildlife

The flora and fauna around Patagonia is beautiful. Although not the widest diversity of life, you’ll become familiar with the animals, flowers and general feel that Patagonia is so famous for.

On this hike you’ll see a fair bit of amazing wildlife, in particular amazing wildflowers. Keep your eyes peeled for the Robust Woodpecker with it’s bright red head, and always check those distant hills for a puma, they are around somewhere! Occasionally you’ll also see condors here, and it’s much rarer than further north in the Andes, other rare sights are the protected Huemlos (like deer) and also the Andean cat.

Good luck with this hike! If you’re heading to Argentine Patagonia then it’s pretty much the best hike to do, and fingers crossed for the weather. If you have the time, do this one over two days, if not it’s still great! Join me next time for my last hike of the three days, where I wandered to Laguna Torre and faced the windy path up to Mirador Maestri. 

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El Chaltén 3 days 3 hikes : Day 1, Chorrillo del Salto

Hello again and welcome to my quick rundown of walks from El Chaltén, in the heart of Argentinian Patagonia. I had three days so packed in three hikes, just enough to give me a breathtaking snapshot of this part of the world. Here you’ll find a little about the route, wildlife, and features of each walk, so without further ado let’s kick off with Day 1 -Chorrillo del Salto.

If you’d prefer to watch a short video summarising the scenery around the walk, click here.

Breakdown
  • Difficulty: 3/10
  • Length: 4km one way, 8km round route.
  • Highlights: Waterfall views from above and below

 

Route

This is the shortest and simplest walk from El Chaltén, perfect for the evening you arrive, or the morning you depart. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a rewarding walk, and for me on my first day, it was the perfect introduction to Patagonia.

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Follow the purple line!

The route is direct from the north side of El Chaltén. There are a few variants:

  1. If you follow the gravel road (stay alert for cars and dust) you can’t go wrong. Eventually you will come to a car park on your left, turn in to the car park and follow the footpath that heads in the same direction, but inside the woods. Soon you will hear and then reach the falls from below.
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    View from the roadside looking away from El Chaltén

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    Looking back to El Chaltén we can see the road below

  2. As you leave the north side of El Chaltén, take the left fork through and up to the wooden sign for FitzRoy. You will see a small sign for the chorrillo, and a narrow straight ahead. If you take that you will wind parallel to the road, eventually meeting up with it. This detour is for those who’d rather not walk on the road, I recommend it.

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    A small winding trail flanked by wildflowers

  3. Roughly 1km into the walk, after you reconnect with the road, there is a path on the right which winds into the trees of the plain. This is a short but beautiful little detour that meets up with the cycle path, once you’re on the cycle path, veer left until you meet the road once more. Once you hit the road, there is a path virtually opposite which meets up with the left hand trail until you get to the car park.

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    Just before the right turn, you pass swampy plains with stepping stones

  4. Once you pass the car park, keep an eye out on your left the ‘no smoking’ sign which comes after a couple of hundred metres. When you see it, look for a vague trail into the woods and up the hill on your left. Keep going up the hill and follow the rocky climb up to the top. You’ll find yourself above the waterfall, looking down on everyone below! It’s not for the faint hearted, and be careful because there’s some loose rock on the path – but you’ll get great views up the river and across the valley, well worth the effort!
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    The view from the top looking out

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    Looking back up the river from the top

Whichever version you take brings you to the waterfall one way or another. It’s relatively busy here, I recommend sunset for the sun dropping behind the falls, or sunrise to see the water lighting up at dawn. I also wouldn’t swim here, the water is extremely fast (and also cold), although I don’t see how dipping your feet in can hurt!

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Chorrillo del Salto just before sunset

Wildlife

The flora and fauna around Patagonia is beautiful. Although not the widest diversity of life, you’ll become familiar with the animals, flowers and general feel that Patagonia is so famous for.

On this walk, we are fairly close to the road at all times, so don’t expect to see any large mammals. However, here is a selection of the wildlife I saw on this trail:

So that’s it for this short hike! Remember to stick to the paths as much as possible and enjoy wandering through these beautiful foothills. Next time we increase the intensity for the slightly more well known trek to Laguna de los Tres and Mount FitzRoy.

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The Iguazú Dilemma

On most ‘Top 10 South America’ guides you’ll see the Iguazú falls, in fact I’d be surprised if it didn’t make the top three. As a natural wonder, largest waterfall complex in the world, and spanning three different borders, it’s no surprise Iguazú is one of the most popular tourist destinations worldwide. Journecology visited in March 2017, there was something that bugged us the entire time; something similar to other famous destinations we have visited. I coin this, ‘The Iguazú Dilemma’.

What are the Iguazú Falls?


The Iguazú Falls is the largest waterfall complex in the world with 2.7km of cascades along the Iguazú river and marking the intersection of the Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil borders. There is no doubt that they are an awesome sight, with an entire park dedicated on both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides of the falls and multiple viewing locations all surrounded by tropical jungle. The main attraction of the falls is the ‘Devil’s Throat’, a 82m deep U-shaped chasm where water plummets into the abyss, and the wind whips up clouds of spray.

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Exploring just the Argentinian side of the falls takes at least one whole day, with beautiful nature trails, Disney style train rides, and miles of walkways separated by viewing platforms and restaurants. The park is a huge money maker for each respective country as tourists from all over the world flock to this remarkable destination. So what’s the problem?

The Problem


It’s simple; there are too many people. Walking around the park is like a constant damp slalom. Walkways are (quite rightly) kept narrow so as to not disturb the forest, leaving barely enough room for two way traffic. Constant shoulder barging, screaming children banging into your legs, and the occasional slap from a soggy umbrella or selfie stick – Iguazú sadly is chaos. If it wasn’t for our visit to the less well known Sendero Macuco nature trail or the sheer awesomeness of the falls, it would’ve been an all round frustrating experience.

One issue is the poor designation of spaces in the park. Upon arrival, vast areas of forest have been slashed to provide huge paved areas, information buildings and general… space. However, nobody is going to stay there for more than a minute or so, they want to see the falls of course! Consequently, the average sized viewing platforms are throbbing with bodies with countless suspended iPhones and GoPros poking above. What’s more, ‘official’ photographers cordon off the majority of the area so couples can get the perfect picture, with no one else in it! There’s no system here, it’s a free for all of ponchos, gesticulating limbs, and desperate Instagram photos.

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On the left @bosstravelheadbandguy and on the right @freethenipatIguazu

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A standard view from the viewing platforms…

Iguazú is at the border of three countries, and each country has their own city which pretty much serves the falls, and a fair bit of drug trade – needless to say the Brazilian and Paraguayan sides are not the safest. There are two international airports which serve the attraction and huge roads have been sliced through the jungle to shuttle tourists in and out. On top of this, the turnover of tourists is very quick, with each person staying about 3 days before moving on so transport runs to the max.

Repercussions to the Environment


Needless to say there are severe repercussions to the surrounding environment, despite some efforts made by the park. Within the area, large areas have been cleared to make room for infrastructure, and consequently animals are disrupted. Notably the Coati population has become reliant on stealing tourist food as their habitats are destroyed. They are developing an increased confidence and even aggression towards tourists, and park rangers struggle to keep them under control, often reverting to hitting and kicking the animals away. This is a similar case for the Capuchin monkeys around the park. Children and adults were seen feeding them so they could take photos and selfies. Often food was given in plastic wrappers which were later tossed to the floor, and all the food would not normally be appropriate for a primate diet.

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Outside the park is where more notable damage is caused however. When visiting the Guira Oga Wildlife Sanctuary near Puerto Iguazú, we were told the stories of many of the animals here. Massive roads slicing through the forest make it difficult for animals to cross, and larger animals are often hit, injured, or killed. Smaller animals would rarely cross the road, leading to potential genetic isolation and disrupted seed dispersal. This confluence of borders also is a hot-spot for the illegal animal trade, with regular confiscations being made in the cities surrounding Iguazú Falls.

The Dilemma


Iguazú is a wonder that captures the imagination of many, gets people (especially children) excited about nature, and has the potential to draw vast crowds. Yet whilst doing this, it is destroying the very environment and experience it is trying to promote! So how do authorities get around this? There is no limit on the number of people allowed to enter the park, it’s a reasonable £15 entry and it’s becoming increasingly accessible – so there’s not really much deterrent to visit, especially for nationals (of which there are three countries!). A cap on visitors would reduce economic gain (potentially some eco-tourism/conservation value), an increase on the price may discriminate against poorer people entering the site, and also cutting back numbers would reduce the overall interest generated from a visit to Iguazú. But maybe there’s a benefit to all this?

What if a site like Iguazú is treated like a lost cause, or perhaps a ‘dumping ground’? Now hear me out… We live in a world of disposable highs, accumulating ‘followers’, ‘doing’ countries, and selfie sticks. Sadly my impression is that there are few people who truly care about what they are seeing, and look beyond the bubble of ‘seeing that place I saw on the 30 second UNILAD video’, rather a good opportunity for their next Facebook profile picture. Because of the ‘viral’ internet phenomenon, and power of ‘snowballing’, a few places on the Earth are becoming dis-proportionally popular, and consequently are suffering. For example: Iguazú Falls, Machu Picchu, Koh Phi Phi Leh, Angkor Wat, the Mona Lisa, Venice, Hallstatt, The Great Wall… I could go on. Perhaps doing this is actually acting as greater protection for those places less discovered. Maybe we should leave these places to ‘die’ at the hands of the ‘followerphilic’ Instagrammer and seek out lesser known destinations, knowing that only a responsible few will visit.

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The reality of Venice

Although an interesting thought, there’s no ideal solution to The Iguazú Dilemma. Do we increase prices and cap entry to reduce tourism flow as the world becomes increasingly navigable for a lot less money? Do we sacrifice some beautiful locations to flocks of tourists in the hope that it protects a lesser known hidden gem? Or should we just suck it up and accept that if we want to visit a ‘top ten’, we’re going to experience many irresponsible travellers, overcrowding, and a reality far from what we see online? Journecology recommends to do what you can, be responsible during your visit and lead by example.

 

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SERERE – Bolivian Amazon (Video)

In March 2017, journecology had the amazing opportunity of visiting the Madidi mosaic region in the western Amazon in Bolivia. During our time, we produced a 15-minute documentary on the biodiversity of the Serere Reserve.

Camera: Panasonic Lumix FZ-1000, Leica V-LUX
Editor: Final Cut Pro X

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How to be Vegan in Bolivia

Welcome to Bolivia, an incredible country of culture, nature and a mishmash of tastes. However for vegans, Bolivia brings a new challenge; low cleanliness standards, remote destinations and a heavy reliance on camelids. If (like us), you came from Argentina and Chile, it might be a shock to system, so let us give you a guiding hand to find some delicious (and safe) vegan food.


Rule no. 1 – If you want to, cook your own meals (BUT BEWARE!)

As always, this is our most important rule, but it ‘s much harder to achieve in certain areas of Bolivia. Firstly, there are so many day trips or ‘three day tours’ (Uyuni springs to mind) that you’ll no doubt end up at some point facing an omelette or cheese sandwich, so let’s be prepared for that. Secondly, kitchens in Bolivia were generally shabbier, less well equipped or even non-existent depending on where you stay. So yeah, we didn’t cook much here.

There is a benefit though – quinoa. This goddamn blessing of a superfood kept us tipped above the protein line most of the time, and it’s dirt cheap as well as more ethical in Bolivia. Funnily enough it was surprisingly difficult to find it in supermarkets, but you’ll see bags of the stuff at local markets. I worked it out, it’s 10x cheaper here than in the UK! Supermarkets are not such a big thing in Bolivia, instead you’ll mostly be wandering into smaller stores – in fact when we saw something that resembled a supermarket in Copacabana it was almost alien to us!

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If you buy anything from anywhere, wash it thoroughly before use, and avoid eating raw unless you want Salmonella. Speaking of which, we spent most of the month feeling a bit grotty, having long nights in the bathroom or visiting the local clinic – but don’t let that put you off, we’ve been your guinea pigs so you’ll be okay! Salads are almost always a no-no, and be weary of anything on the roadside. Oreo and Toddy are your biscuit friends, but not the healthiest option!

Rule no. 2 – Once again, there are plenty of vegan/veggie/veg-option eateries!

Oh HappyCow.net how you saved us once again. Nearly everywhere there’s at least an option for our plant based diets, and Bolivia surprised us in this way. It’s certainly cheaper to eat out Bolivia, and we did our best to avoid the inevitable food poisoning – here are our recommendations and warnings:

Uyuni


The Uyuni Tour with ‘Tawanda (Licancabur)’ – 6/10 (mainly for effort)

If you go to Uyuni and don’t do the tour to the salt flats / national park then something’s wrong. We had three days with a lovely Austrian family 4x4ing through the desert from San Pedro (Chile) to Uyuni, and somehow we had to eat vegan on the way. Consdiering this is at 4000m+ with remote villages it was a BIG ask. We were very pleased with the effort our company went to to help us. They asked questions, double checked and did the very best they could to give us what we could eat, and the food wasn’t bad. I’d highly recommend this company – they even were polite enough to warn people in their office that it’d be tough for vegans!

Otherwise Uyuni does have a few places to eat, but these are located on the central tourist area (Plaza Arce). You’ll be able to find quinoa soup, quinoa burgers and falafel down this way.

Potosí

Koala Café – 7.5/10

Potosí isn’t the best place for vegans but Koala was our favourite place. They offered soy burgers (but never had soy) and also quinoa burgers which were pretty decent. The quinoa soup was the highlight for us, and as we got bolder we discovered a nice vegetable pie. Worth noting to definitely take the mine tour with the associated agency rather than any of the others offered.

Location: Calle Ayacucho No 5

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Manzana Magica – 4/10

The only reason this place gets a 4 is because it’s super cheap. The portions are small and low quality, but hey – there’s a lot to choose from.

Location: Oruro 239

Sucre

Condor Café – 7.5/10

This café is part of a hostel and tour agency sitting right in the centre of town next to the world heritage site. It was our first falafel burger in South America, and although a little dry, was very welcome. Other than this they offered soy milk (bonus) and good smoothies.

Location: Calle Calvo 102

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El Germen – 5/10

A rather dark atmosphere and pricey menu was made up for by a decent quantity of tofu. The taste was average but portion sizes good.

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Location: San Alberto 231

Chifa & Thai – 8/10

A surprisingly nice and well priced restaurant near the central plaza. They had a really nice range of vegan dishes amongst the rest.

Location: Calvo 70

Cochabamba

Gopal – 6.5/10

Everything was vegan which is always a bonus (although depends on the day). Very cheap Indian buffet style with some interesting salads and desserts. It’s tucked away inside a courtyard to the right .

Location: Calle Espana N 25

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Menta – 8/10

Modern veggie/vegan restaurant on Calle Espana. Delicious peanut potatoes and you can veganise the burgers and pizzas. Quite pricey though.

Location: Calle España 356

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Toro Toro

Café del Pueblo – 6.5/10

Really charming little cafe in this beautiful remote town with lovely staff. It’s expensive because of the location and so the menu is also quite limited. Food tastes good and you can also get a takeaway made for the next day which is essential for your daily hikes.

Location: Calle Charcas Esquina Montes

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La Paz

Café Vida – 9/10

Entirely vegan menu with a tasty soup of the day, bread, hummus and (as far as I could gather) free bread refill. Amazing smoothies, savoury and sweet bowls and even some bigger meals for in the evening. Sandwiches just on the small side but otherwise lovely central café with decent wifi!

Location: Calle Sagarnaga 213

VinaPho – 9/10

In the wealthier Sopocachi area of La Paz, so you may find it’s a little pricier. However they offer a large range of delicious Vietnamese dishes and you can have anything with tofu (yay!). Also have some tasty tempura veggies and sauces. We even got ours delivered via Facebook and a taxi!

Location: Av. Sanchez Lima No. 2326

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Tierra Sana – 6/10

A mixed bag for us, it was basically the backup if Cafe Vida was closed. First off we were disappointed by the mango and ‘tofu’ curry which was quite watery and barely contained tofu. However, on our second visit, we were extremely pleased with the quinoa burger, the potatoes were also delicious.

Location: Tarija Street No 213

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Namaste – 8/10

Ok so we didn’t eat here, just a (delicious) tumbo smoothie – try it! We did have a long chat with the owner and look around the place. Namaste is one of the funkiest and well decorated places we entered, so worth a visit just for the paintings. We also heard the food was great, so let us know if you try it!

Location: Calle Zoilo Flores 1334

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Rurrenabaque

Luz del Mar – 7/10

Most of our time in Rurrenabaque was sadly spent with food poisoning in bed, at the doctors, or wandering the streets for meds. Luz del Mar was the place we ate after recovering, and it did okay. A very helpful owner and some vegan options, it’s your best bet in Rurre.

Location: Calle Avaroa, between Av. Aniceto Arce and Calle Pando

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Juliano’s – 4/10

This was a last resort for us. It gets 4 because of the ambience, and the helpfulness of the owner. The food tasted okay, but prices were high. It’s considered the best place to eat in Rurre but doesn’t offer much for plant based diets. A rather tired staff member was shocked at the idea of no cheese, but then proceeded to order mine WITH cheese – luckily corrected and deducted from the bill by the owner. This was also the last place we ate before Victoria got sick, it may have been lingering Salmonella, but we still feel Juliano’s was the trigger.

Location: Av. Santa Cruz

Copacabana

El Condor and The Eagle – 8.5/10

Three words: Beans on toast. At first glance El Condor seemed a little pricey with relatively small choice for us. After nearly giving up, we settled on beans on toast which turned out to be the best I have ever tasted. You cannot come to Copacabana without giving it a go – the secret ingredient was love.

Location: Av 6 de Agosto inside Residencial Paris

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Hostal Joshua – 8/10

A little far away from the main ‘strip’, Hostal Joshua is worth the walk. A run down road and fields lead you into an odd looking hippie-shack where you’re warmly welcomed by humans and animals. The portions are enormous, healthy, and there’s even a cart which wanders the promenade with tasty vegan treats.

Location: Calle Manko Kapac y Bueno

Thai Palace – 6/10

Despite the relatively low rating, we ate often at Thai Palace. A super chilled atmosphere (reflected by the relaxed pace of service) provides a pretty zen wind down to your day. The vegetarian menu is dirt cheap at 25 BOB (£3) for three or four mini courses. The food is okay, and you can get veggie quinoa sushi if you ask nicely.

Location: Avenida 6 De Agosto Y Calle

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Isla Del Sol

When you take the inevitable trip to Isla Del Sol, there are also options available on the island. After climbing the southern steps you’ll see a line of cute restaurants overlooking the bay. They are all similarly priced with virtually the same menus, we had a decent quinoa soup with vegetables and chips on the side.

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Bolivia will test your stomachs, there’s no doubt, but it does mean you get to eat out a lot. There’s a really surprising mix of vegan food in the big cities, and when you’re out in the countryside look for the quinoa! Remember to always ask for special meals on tours, and if all else fails then bread is super cheap.