Tag Archives: music

Death Road Part 1

We are interrupting our scheduled broadcast to bring you our first posting on Death Road. We recently reached 1,000 subscribers for the blog and thought putting this up would be a good way to celebrate.

Mark gets ready.

That's Mark raising his hand.

This is part one of two postings on our Death Road cycle tour in Bolivia. We've had to split it up as there is an hour of footage and a lot of photos. The second post will go up as soon as the remaining video has been edited.

We picked Altitude on the basis of a recommendation from friends. They proved to be a good choice, great guides and there were enough to accommodate different speeds.

Mark switching on his GoPro.

The tour was split into two stages. The first began at the top of the mountain pass and ended near a truck stop. This was all on tarmac. The second stage involved getting back in the vans and travelling to the start of Death Road, a dirt road that hugs the side of a mountain range. This road has now been replaced by another route so it is much safer to use. However, unbeknownst to us when we booked the tour, the new road was partially blocked by a recent landslide so there would be traffic coming back up towards us…kind of a problem when the road narrows to one lane with no rails to prevent a fall.

The tip went well though. No-one was hurt, apart from the guy that front-braked for a shopping bag…Saskia rode shotgun in one of the vans as she didn't fancy riding a bike, but this was just as scary as she had to deal with traffic coming from the opposite direction!

A bit of video for ya. Best with headphones.




Cusco (also spelt Cuzco and Qosqo) is essentially base camp for anyone looking to explore the heart of the Inca empire. A picturesque World Heritage Site, it hosts both impressive inca ruins and cobbled colonial suburbs. It is rich in history and one could spend a comfortable week exploring the town and it's immediate surroundings.

The Cathedral, Plaza de Armas.

The city centres around Plaza de Armas, an impressive square flanked by old colonial shop fronts and two impressive churches, the Cathedral and the Jesuit's Church. The former is a must visit. The Cathedral features a massive basilica with ornate wooden carvings, shrines and great stone pillars. The Cathedral hosts the remains of Gasilasco de la Vega, the Spanish chronicler of the Incas, and you will also see the famous Last Supper painting with a slight twist – roast guinea pig has been added to the table.

Top: The Cathedral at left and the Jesuit's Church on the right. Bottom: Shops overlooking Plaza de Armas.

Plaza de Armas at night.

The Jesuit's Church.

Plazoleta de San Blas.

Although the Spanish did their best to tear down most buildings of significance to the Incas, it is still possible to seethe remains of the Qorikancha, the Inca's principle Temple of the Sun. Garcilasco de la Vega reports that the Temple was an awesome site to behold, with the inner chambers lined wall to ceiling with plates of gold. Apparently each Inca emperor competed with his predecessor to make the Temple more impressive. At one point it featured a garden of silver and gold plant sculptures and hosted a wall size golden image of the sun.

Of course Pizarro and his thugs raided this with rabid glee, melting down the metals and using the gold to build their fortunes and that of the Spanish empire. To help further break the spirit of the Incas the Spanish built a church and convent on the site. Today only the foundations remain.

The site of the Qoricancha. There is a museum underneath the lawn in the foreground.

While we were there several parades popped up in Plaza de Armas. They wore elaborate costumes and played drums and wind instruments. We never fully understood why so many were staged or by whom, but they were fun to watch and proof of South America's love of festivals.

Of course any visit to Peru requires a tasting of guinea pig. This animal has been cherished as a food source since before the Conquistadores so Mark was keen to give it a go. Some friends of ours were also in town so we met up with them at a locally recommended restaurant.

Roast coy with stuffed pepper and spaghetti.

The meat was tasty, sort of a cross between mutton bird and lamb. Mark enjoyed it but of course Saskia abstained!

Cusco was good fun, the architecture is fantastic and there is a lot to see with many museums, restaurants and shops. This is a good place to buy alpaca textiles that would be considered fashionable back home, just be prepared to pay a higher price for it. There is also a lot of art for sale, we recommend stopping by at the Puna shop for music, graphic art and books (we bought several cds, including a fusion of electronica and cumbia by Dengue! Dengue! Dengue!).


A Fiesta in the Amazon: San Ignacio de Moxos (Fireworks)

At night the party really kicked off. The plaza was packed and bands competed with each other across the streets.

The action was centred on the church, where Achus were running through the crowd with fireworks spinning on their hats. The sky was also being lit up by fireworks, which were paid for by two wealthy families that compete with each other every festival.

It was great fun being there. There were dangers though – people were throwing small fireworks into the crowd. This, along with the Achus, was causing chaos as people scattered in all directions. At one point a small firework barely missed a child in a tree but instead hit the father in the face. Amazingly he wasn't hurt and despite this experience he left his child sitting exposed in the tree!

We left around midnight but the fiesta kicked on to around 4:00 am. Some people were still drinking the next morning and others had passed out on the sidewalk. This was easy to ignore though and the bands kept a good vibe going the next day.

Here's a recording of two songs played by the guys in the photo below.


On Luthiers and Music in South America

Taking a guitar on the road was one of the best decisions I (Mark) made. It is a great way to meet people and liven up a common room.

During our travels I've taken an interest in South America's traditional instruments and the people that make them. I thought I would share a few stories for fellow musicians.

Bariloche – A Cabin in the Snow

I have been travelling with a Martin & Co. Backpacker Guitar. You can see it in the photo above. It's an acoustic electric tapered to be light weight and to fit into overhead compartments on planes. It's been a great companion but eventually it needed some maintanence (the mic jack fell out).

So after a couple of enquiries I managed to get in touch with a luthier in Bariloche. With a street address and vague instructions about heading up the mountain behind town I jumped in a cab and headed out into the snow.

It soon became clear that the cabbie was lost. We knew that our destination was somewhere up on the mountain, the trick was finding it amongst the labrynthine back roads and forest. The snow was starting to fall heavily as well, which didn't help.

After driving for an hour through the forest we found a path in the woods. I struck out on my own and soon found a cabin surrounded by snow covered trees. I'll never forget the impression when the door opened: there was the smiling luthier and his apprentice. Behind them was a room full of guitars with a crackling fire. I could have stayed the night!

I must have been there for about two hours. We chatted and listened to Argentine folk music while they set about making the repairs. I was in no rush to leave. I remember watching big snow flakes fall outside the window. Magic.

Eventually things were sorted and I was on my way. It was a good time, my thanks to Hernán Rojo for the help (rojoluthier@hotmail.com, rojoluthier.blogspot.com, 02944 15411156).

Tilcara – A Flute and Kalimba

When we were planning our trip I hadn't thought about buying musical instruments as we travelled, but I got inspired when I met a Frenchie that had bought a kalimba in Córdoba. The kalimba is a popular folk instrument from the Argentine pampas. It is traditionally made out of gourde and wood, with the sound produced by striking a metal comb.

The kalimba produces beautiful tones and being so small it is easy to travel with. The idea of owning one grew on me, partly because I had begun to experiment with my own music recordings.

We were lucky to stumble across a luthier in Tilcara who made a range of musical instruments: charangos, guitars, flutes, kalimbas, pan pipes and rattles. Talk about a kid in a toy store! Even Sas got inspired, the craftsmanship was so good. We walked away with an instrument each; Sas bought a flute and I finally bought a kalimba. Happy days!

The flute and the kalimba.

The following is a short recording of my kalimba. The track was composed using a drum machine app (DM1) and a loop app (Loopy HD) on my iPad. Effects were added with Cubasis.

We purchased our instruments from 'El Sikuri', near the Pukara ruins in Tilcara, Argentina. The luthiers working out of the shop are De Micaela Chauque and Andrés Santanita (http://elsikuri.blogspot.com/).

La Paz – Home of the Charango

While I was happy with my kalimba the shop in Tilcara had left me hungry to purchase a charango. As it happened the guy managing our hostel in Tilcara could play and he ripped out a song for us. It was awesome and I had to have one!

Now, you may be wondering “what the hell is a charango?” The charango is a nylon 10 string solid body instrument. The strings are paired into five sets and tuned G-C-E-A-E. Inspired by the Spanish lute and guitar, the charango was invented because the Spanish colonisers refused to let the native people play their instruments.

Traditionally made out of armadillo shells and wood, it is now considered unethical to use armadillo (I've also seen them made out of turtle shells and a miner's helmet). The body and neck are one piece and the soundboard, bridge and fretboard are made from different types of wood (as with guitars). Note that it is good to ask about the woods as they do change, particularly with the fretboard.

La Paz has become the home of the charango with many stores selling the work of Bolivia's talented luthiers. I must have played around 20 across four shops in La Paz before I made my choice. There is a range of quality in terms of tone and craftsmanship and I wanted something that sounded good and was well made. This turned out to be a challenge but I got there…

Ain't she a beauty?

The charango was made by Everth Zapata of La Paz. Unfortunately I didn't meet him as the luthiers do not work in the music shops in La Paz, but that's ok.

As an aside, I highly recommend a visit to the Museo de Instrumentos Musicales de Bolivia in La Paz. For only 5 Bolivianos (less than 1 US dollar or AUD) it is possible to learn about the huge range of traditional instruments in South America, including those used by the Incas.

There's an incredible variation between countries. I saw guitars of many different shapes, such as elongated designs from Puerto Rico, Panama and Brazil. There were also 6, 8, 12, 15, 16 and 18 string guitars (try searching for a Guitarrón Chileno) and even double sided charangos, guitars and violins (two necks back to back).

String instruments are hugely popular but the collection also includes pan pipes, drums and flutes. I particularly liked the Inca flute designs, which are instantly recognisable and used a mix of zoomorphic and sexual designs. There's even a petrified mummy on display to show that instruments were buried with the dead pre-colonisation. Be sure to check it out if you are in town!


A Beat, a Bus and a Breakdancer

So picture this: Saskia and I are chilling out, waiting for our bus. It is 11:30 pm and the San Rafael bus stop is practically empty. In walk two young guys and one of them starts beat boxing on the spot. The other drops to the floor and busts his best moves.

Why? Who knows?

But they noticed us and asked if we would film them. “Si, no worries” I said. And here they are.

I had just bought a drum machine app and figured it might be cool to try and capture Soca's vocals. He was keen to be recorded so I took a vocal sample, cut it up, put it back together and made a track for us.

Good times.


Celebrating Four Months in South America

Hola from San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, where we have just celebrated four months on the road.

The view coming in.


The lake edge near the city centre of Bariloche.


We spent last night in our hostel drinking fine wines over a 'home cooked' meal of fish and chips. There was a good group of people in the common room and soon the guitars came out and we rocked the night away. Great fun, doesn't get any better!


Local trout with homemade chips.


Harry and Mark keeping the crowds happy.

Thanks for following our adventures!


Soundtracks for Travel

I've always liked the idea that songs or albums can form the soundtrack for our lives. I thrashed Pacific Heights' first album when I was living in Queenstown so it always pops into my head when I go back there. I'm sure most people can connect music to what they were doing at different times in their lives. Gotta love it.

Lately a few songs have been getting plenty of air time with us. I don't know why these particular songs are getting a blast, they just are. Thought it would be fun to share them. Shake ya booty.


Lollapalooza: Review

It was a cracker of a day. Sunny, not too crowded at 60,000 and a fantastic location in the centre of Sao Paulo. In fact, we reckon it is the best city venue for a festival that we have experienced.

Highlights were a blistering blues set from Gary Clarke Jnr and a blast of soul from Alabama Shakes. Queens of the Stone Age rocked a huge crowd with heavy riffs and the Black Keys got us dancing to Gold on the Ceiling.

The Black Keys performing live at Lollapalooza Brasil, 30 March 2013 ((c) Lollapalooza 2013).

Funny story: we were grabbing a courtesy beer after a stint on the Heineken ferris wheel when the bartender asked if we were from Australia. We said yeah. Turns out these guys had been flown over from Amsterdam to serve Heineken and were desperate to speak english. Struck up a yarn and scored free beers because apparently “the only way to satisfy Australians is to give them beer.” Gold!

Main stage ((c) Lollapalooza 2013).

Lollapalooza Brazil

I need a saga. What's the saga? It's a song for the deaf.

Lollapalooza has kicked off in Sao Paulo with The Killers, Pearl Jam, The Black Keys and Queens of the Stone Age invading Brazil. We are going to the second day of the three day festival on 30 March. Pumped!

The posters for the festival are really cool so have placed our favourites below.



Navimag Day Four

18 Febrero

Our last day on the Navimag was fairly uneventful,mostly because we slept through the morning! Weather had deteriorated so we kept in doors. Arrived at Puerto Natales around 3:00 pm but we did not dock the ferry until 10:00 pm! So we whiled away the night in the ferry bar with friends. At one stage I pulled out my guitar and had a strum. This little Chilean dude popped up and asked to play. He was good! Must have been about 15 years old. Cool kid. We spoke broken Spanish and English to each other, funny. Shortly after we were in the middle of Puerto Natales and it was midnight and raining. Accommodation was just a taxi away though. And thus ends this journey.

Colourful Natales. Photo taken on a rare sunny day.

Puerto Natales is surrounded by mountains and stark bluffs.