South America

Day 4 Inca Trail – The Summit on my 30th!

The guides had woken us up well and truly before sunrise, in order to get seats at the final gate (just in case it rained…). I was feeling horrible – I couldn’t even put breakfast down my throat. I could barely walk… at least we got to the gate early so we did manage to get seats. An Irish couple gave me some tablets for my upset tummy – I wished so bad that the drugs would kick in immediately… the Turtles stuck with me as I was walking very very slowly… I simply didn’t have the energy to walk at all. They force fed me an energy bar and juice. A friend carried my day pack for me, which helped me immensely – total lifesaver!! Just as we got to the base of the “sun gate” I was faced with the worlds most steepest stairs – which didn’t even look safe. I don’t know how I managed to get up without cracking my head, but I managed YAAY!

The rest of the group had managed to secure a good vantage point to see the sunrise above Macchu Picchu, so we joined them. I simply wanted to sit down. To everyone’s disappointment, the clouds did not part. The “faster” portion of the group continued to walk to Macchu Picchu, whereas I needed some more time, so the Turtles waited with me. We were somewhat lucky, the clouds parted for about 5 minutes and we saw Macchu Picchu in all its glory – but it wasn’t long enough. We decided to continue our walk and we made it to Macchu Picchu. Close up it was far more amazing. To be honest, the view from the Sun Gate was abit of an anti-climax. But seeing it up close, was AMAZING!

Our guide took us to a few sites and explained the importance. After this, we had free time to explore the Incan site ourselves. It was really cool to be wandering around and taking in our surroundings…

All in all, wandering around Macchu Picchu was truly SPECTACULAR!

We then made our way to Aguas Calientes to catch up with our group. (NOTE: do not spend a lot of time here, it isn’t a very nice place, all the prices are severely inflated).

We bid our farewells to our Inca Trail guides: Angel and Clisor, then caught the train and bus back to Cusco.

We spent one final night in Cusco, where we went for wood fire pizza in celebration of my 30th. The group had even chipped in to buy me a gift – which was very very thoughtful. Our night of fun continued at karaoke – this was sooo much fun! One of the guys even sung “Single Ladies” by Beyonce, which brought the house down!!! I had a very enjoyable and memorable 30th =)

Day 3 Inca Trail – Cloud Forest & Incan Sites

This was my absolute favourite day of the hike! The cloud forest was AMAZING!!! The slower group, mind you, by this stage we had named ourselves “The Turtles”, were taking our time, enjoying the moment and taking photos. We even stopped at one stage for about half an hour to listen to the birds – we saw woodpeckers, they were amazing! The fauna was spectacular – due to the moisture, all the leaves and petals had droplets of water, which made it all the more magical…

We reached the lunch stop and were treated to a nice surprise – the cooks had backed us a cake and had even piped “SEXY LAMAS” on it!!! How amazing?!?!?! The lunch itself was also very tasty. I ate a lot more than what I ate on previous days (which panned out to be a very bad idea…). After full tummy’s we continued on our trek.

The trek was not difficult – in fact it was enjoyable. Again, the Turtles had fallen behind, in fact so behind, that Clisor (the apprentice guide) stayed behind and hiked with us. He was a character – he had a portable speaker connected to his phone with awesome dance beats. So walking next to him – no one could simply walk normally. We all were busting out a groove. We reached an Incan site which we had all to ourselves – it was probably one of the best parts of the trek. Who can say that they were atop an Incan site with a great bunch of friends, dancing to awesome tunes…? We all agreed that this was simply awesome!

We reached camp, and I bee-lined it to the showers. It was still freezing cold water, but it just felt so good to be clean. After dinner, the porters had come into the tent and we thanked them all. We also gave them our tips – which they completely deserved!

We then settled in for sleep. After an hour or two of sleep, I woke up feeling very sick – I had only just realised that I had eaten way too much and that I had a severely upset stomach (digestion takes twice as long when you are at higher altitude). I was drifting in and out of sleep…. I had a very rough night….

Day 2 Inca Trail – Dead Woman’s Pass is Deadly!

We got woken up quite early – but Clisor had come to each of our tents with a mug of cocoa tea, which was very nice. After a nice breakfast (we had pancakes!) we all filled up our hydration bladders and set off. (NOTE: even though the water was boiled, I still used the water purification tablets). The first segment was medium-not too easy yet not too hard. The group still got separated into two, I was in the slower group… This section was like a rainforest with lots of butterflies and caterpillars hanging from webs, which I nearly walked into multiple times. There was also a stream – the fauna and flora was simply amazing. We all enjoyed this part and took it easy as well as taking photos every now and again. We reached the “top” where we met up with the rest of the group and had a little snack. As we joined the others, Anger and Clisor high-fived us – little things like this just gave you the motivation to keep on going… The view was spectacular, so we got some good shots here. It was a little windy so I put on the fleece, but it was still sunny! After a nice little break, we set off again.

This is where it got REALLY hard!

The incline was so steep, plus the altitude was making it hard to breathe. To make matters worse, there was a very very loud Spanish group who were so annoying – they somehow were keeping up with us (unfortunately!!). By this stage the group had completely split up. I could see a few members of the group in the distance in front. When I turned around I could see 2 members of the group not far behind me – whereas I walked solo. This section really tested my will power. Even though I kept going, in my mind I was strategising escape plan routes – I really did not want to go up the stupid mountain… I could see the woman’s face in the mountain (hence the name – Dead Woman’s Pass), yet all I wanted to do was to stop for long periods. I finally could see the first 3 people from my group on the summit in the distance. My friend gave me a wave – which motivated me to keep on going. I finally reached the summit of 4215m and I needed to lie down for about 10mins. The altitude had gotten to me and I wasn’t breathing easily. Sibylle, who is a nurse, told me to have my Snickers bar – my body needed sugar. After I had the bar, I felt normal again, YAAAY! So I began to take in my surroundings – and oh my word, it was such a beautiful view! After a few minutes snapping away, Angel called out to the “sexy lamas” (our group name) to get a shot of us altogether at 4215m.

We then started the descent. As I hadn’t ever using hiking poles, the guide instructed that the poles should be lengthened to about shoulder height when descending. The hiking poles where very very helpful. The descent was much much much better – I was even jolly and began to joke around with the other “slow” hikers from my group. It was actually quite enjoyable.

There was a stream by the camp site – a few members of the group had a “stream shower” – however, I did not. Instead, I braved the ultra cold water in the showers – it was definitely worth it. It felt so good to be clean!

Day 1 Inca Trail – Training Day

In the morning, everyone was slightly panicked at what they could take as we were only allowed to take 6kg including the air mattress, sleeping bag plus clothes and accessories. After packing, unpacking and repacking, we all managed to get to about 6kg in our duffel bags. We were also told to put all our stuff into plastic bags – so if it did rain, our things wouldn’t get wet (also many blogs that I read said the same thing). We met our trail guides Angel and the trainee guide Clisor – both of who were very awesome lads. We got transferred to kilometer 82 and handed over our duffel bags to the porters. We then made our way to the trail “gate” and lined up with all the other trekkers. Passports ready in hand, the officer was checking if the trail permit matched the passport details. So Angel told us all to check to see if all the details were correct. My eyeballs nearly popped out of my head as my passport number was clearly made up – it was written as 123456789! As I called out to Angel and explained that obviously STA Travel had screwed up – he assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem, and right he was! The officer simply said – look I trust that you are indeed this person – and simply allowed me to cross the bridge and “officially” enter the trail! After a group photo at the km82 sign we began the trek.

The terrain was mostly flat and the scenery was nice. I think we were all excited by the fact that we were actually here! As we continued the hike, Angel explained to us what “Andean flat” was (slight incline) and that it was going to be mostly like this for today. The sun was out – and it was a gorgeous day for hiking! We made it to the “stop” where the porters had already set up a “dining tent” which had tables and chairs – we were all amazed! As we all took our seats, lunch was served. For the starter we had a soup of some sort – which was delicious. For the main we had rice molded in a dome-like shape served with fish! Truly scrumptious! We even had dessert! All the food was very yummy and impressive. After a little rest, we continued on our hike.

We arrived at camp way before Angel had anticipated – which made us all very proud. He had told us that the first day was the training day, so it was good that we all had done so well. After a little break after tea and popcorn for afternoon tea, dinner was served. Again this was a set of yummy meals, leaving us all satiated! NOTE: I had requested vegetarian meals throughout the hike and boy did the chefs deliver – truly awesome! Also, on the first day we had the option for paying for toilets or using the free ones. Angel told us that we should use the paid toilets (only 1 sole) as these were clean. I’m so glad that we opted for these ones as the toilets on the rest of the hike were dreadful drop toilets – very smelly!

The porters had also put up all our tents and showed us how to inflate the air mattress. Mind you they were uber thin but I’m sure they were in part useful… the first night was actually quite warm, so I had a good sleep.

 

 

Crazy Cosmopolitan Cusco

NOTE: sorry I haven’t been able to publish these next few blogs – I’ve been in Australia constantly travelling… publishing timely blogs will resume =)

My first impressions of Cusco were WOW! I really didn’t think it was that big of a city – how wrong I was… As we were given an orientation walk of the city, I immediately realised that Lima was officially the capital, but Cusco was the Cosmopolitan Capital! Grecia, our guide took us to the main square, which was huge, and there was a large cathedral, the architecture was simply beautiful! We were quite hungry, so we made our way over to a café – Grecia ensured that this was a very good place. We ended up at Jack’s Café – I was extremely thrilled that there were pancakes on the menu!!! You see, every single breakfast that I had until now consisted of balls of butter and strawberry jam with hollow circular breads – not nice at all! And so pancakes it was! Oh my word – they were delicious!!! I also ordered a mango con leche, which is basically a mango smoothie and this was THE BEST mango con leche I had in Peru! Jack’s was definitely a winner! A group of us kept going back to Jack’s as it clearly was amazing!!!

We made our way to another square, where we joined a free walking tour (well tips were given at the end). There were a lot of people on the tour so it was slightly difficult to hear the tour guide. In any case, he took us to the local markets, showed us a few more “squares” of Cusco, we then ended up in a bar (mind you if was about midday, so naturally the bar was empty). The barmen then demonstrated how to make a pisco sour and when he was finished he invited everyone to take a free sample and showed how to salute (something along the lines of: to mother nature, to inca and so on…).

One of my most favourite things about Cusco was the Chocolate Museum – it was FREE and FANTASTIC! As you enter the museum, a guide tells you about the chocolate industry in Peru. You are then taken to the next room where you can watch the Chocolatier’s working. The chocolatier that we were watching was very friendly, she told us about the different flavours – even gave us free samples to try! One of the peculiar (well I found it strange) was the cocoa leaf flavour – it seems as though it’s everywhere… We were also given a small glass of chocolate tea to try – which was delicious. You then have the option to buy chocolate and related products OR you can even have a sit down treat at the cafe, which has a nice view out to the square.

On our last day in Cusco, we all went into town to buy some bits and bobs before we moved onto the next stage of the journey. Once we arrived at the main square, we were all gobsmacked – there were hundreds of people there, ALL in festive outfits. We didn’t really understand what was going on, but we gathered that it was some sort of school festivity as there were loads of school aged children. It was amazing site to see, all those bright colours were AMAZING!

Cusco is a definite must – ok there are loads of tourists here but all the same, it really was an amazing place!

Ccaccolla, Peru: Living like a local

We arrived in Ccaccolla after a short drive from Ollantaytambo. Our driver parked in the “main square” of the town and we all filed out of the vehicle and were greeted by middle-aged Peruvian women dressed in traditional clothes, each holding a lovely colourful bunch of flowers. Our guide Grecia, translated that they had all welcomed us to their village. Then one by one each described the guests or said the names of the guests who would be staying with them. I heard one of them say “vegeteriano” and I thought, “yep that’s who I’m going with” (mind you I am not an actual vegetarian, I’m just picky with my meat, so this works better…).

Dani (the other vego in the group) and myself were handed flowers from this lady and we were told to follow her. We didn’t walk too far as she her house was in prime location – right on the main square! She showed us to the room that we’d be staying in, so we left our luggage and then followed her to the kitchen. She made us lunch – which consisted of a soup followed by rice and boiled vegies. She kept us company and we tried to have a conversation (neither Dani nor myself speak Spanish…) and I think we actually  did quite well! I asked her about her family and children etc and she replied using hand gestures and spoke half in Spanish and Quechua (native language before the Spanish invasion).

After lunch, she walked us to our room and dressed us in traditional clothes – which were very colourful! She then told us to go down to the main square where we would meet the rest of our group. A few minutes after we arrived, 2 other girls dressed similarly joined us. Slowly, the group had all arrived and were all dressed up. We went for a short walk with all of our mama’s (our hosts) and they explained how the weaving industry in this town came about and how the proceeds allow their children to get an education. After this informative walk, we went down to the football arena and played football in our outfits with the local kids. Some of us, mainly us Aussie’s, did seem to take it seriously – being very verbal (and occasionally screaming out Müllerrr to a German girl!). It was a lot of fun. We all went back to our mama’s houses and had dinner over conversations with the family members (well attempted to anyway…).

The next morning a few of us hiked up a small mountain and watched the sunrise – it was a nice sight! After breakfast, we all were taken to the hall where all the looms were located and were informed about the various patterns of weaving. We were also told that a woman should weave in order to be chosen for a good wife. We all then had a go at weaving using the looms – even a guy from the group had a go and all the mama’s laughed at him!!! We all then went to an area where they showed us the natural products for colouring the wool and how the whole process took place. Stalls enclosed the area and we were able to purchase scarves, gloves hats etc – which were all made from alpaca wool.

All in all, it was a nice experience to see how the locals lived and how they earned a living…

Colca Canyon, Peru: an animal expedition

We were woken up very early in order to get to the Colca Canyon and to get a good spot at the Condor crossing before the waves of tourists arrived. En route to the canyon, we had a little break at a truck stop where our guide recommended for us to buy cocoa tea – which basically was cocoa leaves in hot water. Surprisingly it was nice, but I think by this stage I had gown accustomed to the “cocoa” flavour. After about a 2.5hr drive, we arrived at the canyon.

Our initial impressions were not that positive. We could see maybe, 2 condors in the distance and we were not very impressed. However, we were told to be patient and to get a good “seat” along the cliff and simply wait. And so wait we did… it actually paid off!! Our guide had told us that the condors fly according to the thermals and this is EXACTLY what these huge beasts did. They were about 3-4m wide, clearly very large birds. Our guide also explained the features of males compared to females and juveniles vs adults. We sat there on the edge of the cliff for about 2 hours – I was in awe of these amazing creatures. They actually came very close to us – yes, I did get a little scared at some point when they were directly above us! A group of 5 condors were flying in a mesmerising pattern and they kept a whole bunch of us entertained.

Our guide took us on a little walk – I was actually quite breathless as we were at around 5600m above sea level! The canyon was absolutely beautiful, and I think the nice weather played a huge role in this great experience…

On the way to Chivay (small town semi-close to the canyon), we drove past a field of wild vicunas, alpacas and lamas. Our guide explained that vicuna wool was the best quality followed by alpaca then lama. It was such an amazing sight – it looked like something out of National Geographic! We actually pulled over and were busy taking photos and absorbing these gorgeous animals! Apparently vicunas are nationally protected animals, because the wool is so valuable, the animals have become very sought after. So the Peruvian government is slightly worried that these animals in the future may become extinct…

We stopped at another “truck stop” and we were told that they make fresh pisco sour here. If you EVER go to Peru, you will hear pisco sour everywhere! It’s basically an alcoholic shot with egg white and limejuice. BUT at this truck stop they made it with a local fruit (the name escapes me…). There was also non-alcoholic ones available – I ofcourse opted for this option. It was nice – it was basically fruit juice. Once we got to Chivay, our guide took us for a walk, up a look out. There were so many stray dogs in this town – one even befriended a friend on the tour and actually did the mini hike with us!

The Colca Canyon was definitely worth waking up über early for! The animals that we saw were unique to Peru – which made the experience all the more interesting!!

 

Arequipa, Peru: Unique Food Experiences…

After a long long journey on the night bus (over 10hrs!!!), we arrived in Arequipa in the morning. I wasn’t feeling too well, I think the altitude had effected me as we were now about 2300m above sea level. I was feeling very nauseous…

We were all hungry, so Grecia took us to an empanada café – oh my word it was VERY delicious! I got a spinach and cheese empanada with a mango con leche (mango smoothie). We were taken to the markets where we had the chance to try fruit that was unique to Peru. Among these, there was something that looked like a huge passion fruit but the pulp was white/clear – had a similar taste but sweeter. There was also something the looked like pumpkin but it tasted like cheesecake – very odd; I didn’t like the taste at all… My eyes were on the mangoes; they looked very similar to the ones back home in Australia. After I had a sampling, I couldn’t stop! I actually bought around 6 mangoes!!!

We continued on our food journey and were taken to a stall at the end of the market: this is where it got weird! We were told that “frog juice” was a delicacy. YES you heard it right – literally frog juice! Basically the lady pulled on a rubber glove, scooped a frog out of a bucket below the bench. She then showed it to us, and ofcourse we all took photos as though none of us had seen a frog before (guilty…), the frog was then stunned (BANG!) and decapitated. She then placed the frog into a pot and cooked it, put it in the blender along with chia seeds, honey and milk and blitzed the whole thing! She then sieved the contents and placed it in a mug with a few straws… nearly everyone in the group tried it, besides me ofcourse… I think there are far better things to drink in this world than frog juice – so so rank!

Finally we were shown the infamous cocoa leaves, so we all bought a bag that also contained stevia. We were told to stack about 10 leaves with a little piece of stevia placed in the middle and then to roll it up like a cigarette. Then place this in the corner of our mouths and leave it there for about 30mins or so to prevent altitude sickness. Later on back at the hotel, 3 of us did this ritual; mind you it felt like we were doing drugs BUT WE WEREN’T!!! It was actually uncomfortable to have this huge mass in the side of your cheek. Though it did help with the sickness – so believing in its properties, I opted to buy the lollies, which were way more practical…

The look out point in Arequipa was not anything special. It was honestly quite disappointing… but the walk wasn’t too bad… actually on the way back I took a different route and ended up on a street where there were loads of artist studios. I walked into one and met an artist named Gabriel; his work was unique in that he painted not on canvas but on black “felt”. After a nice chat with Gabriel (with very broken Spanish…), I purchased a piece of art and was on my way. I came across friends from the group in front of the grand cathedral in the main square. When the cathedral opened (at 5pm), we all went in to have a look around. Well most of us walked in, 2 girls were wearing shorts and singlets/vest tops so the security guard didn’t allow them to enter…

On our first evening we went to a restaurant that had all sorts of “meat” on the menu for instance alpaca and even guinea pig! We were aware that guinea pig was like “chicken” in Peru, so naturally we were all curious. So the group ordered one to share (umm not me!). it came out looking like a stunned flat animal – all the teeth were still intact, it was hideous! But the people who tried it said it was actually nice and that it simply tasted like chicken… On the next evening we went to a dinner show in the evening, where there was a live band and dancers in traditional costumes. The dancers would tell stories with the various outfits (one was about malaria – which involved a mask). The guys from our group were called up: one was asked to lie down and got whipped (he didn’t get hurt). In the next dance, the other guy got dressed up in a skirt and was twirled around, which was quite comical but all good fun! In the end they got everyone in the restaurant to join them and did a “zorba” like dance around the entire restaurant. Both the food and entertainment was great!

Towards the end of our stay in Arequipa, my body had adjusted to the altitude – partly thanks to the effects of the cocoa leaves/lollies, they really are magical!

 

 

 

Nazca, Peru: Desert Adrenaline Adventures

Grecia, the CEO of our G Adventures tour explained that we have a range of activities that we could chose to do whilst we were in Nazca. Before she said anything, all I could think was: OVERFLIGHT OVERFLIGHT OVERFLIGHT!! I really wanted to see the Nazca lines!!! After calming down and listening to what she actually had to say, I couldn’t refuse the sand dune buggying and sand boarding!

Jorge – our esteemed driver, came to pick us up from our hotel. On our way to the sand dunes, we stopped by the recently discovered Cahuachi pyramids. Apparently, people would make the pilgrimage here biennially: during the winter and summer solstice with approximately 50,000 people being there at the one time. The group of people who lived here year round were stargazers and this is the expertise that the pilgrims came for. Jorge also told us that it is unknown as to where these people went and what actually happened to them, but there are plenty of human remains with bleached skulls and femurs scattered about, so it doesn’t seem like it ended well for them… One of the skulls even still had hair! We even saw one body that appeared to be buried in the fetal position… While explaining all of this, Jorge’s phone rings, and he looks at the screen and says, “Excuse me I must take this”. He answers the phone “Ola Mama” and the entire group begins to laugh!!! After he ends his call, he tells us that it was his birthday – so festivities for the evening were being organised by “Mama”…

After driving on, we eventually went off-road and began driving on the sand dunes. We had to stop a few times, as Jorge had to adjust the amount of air in the tyres. The buggy eventually made it to the top of a very steep hill – no one in the group expected what came next: Jorge drove down!!! The rush of adrenaline sparked by fear was thrilling! After this initial one, I actually enjoyed the rest of the crazy speedy descents – it was so exhilarating =) Jorge then parked the buggy and started taking out the sand boards which were practically snowboards. There were three positions: laying down face first, sitting up and standing. I always went face down as it was more fun (and speedy!!) and less chance of hurting myself, although I did get sand-burn slightly on my elbows.

After we finished up on the sand dunes, Jorge stared to drive us to the airport for the over flight. However, en route he suddenly pulled over: the steering wheel had broken. So, Arthur (an Aussie guy on the tour) helped him and we were again on our way. We actually stopped in total 3 times to fix it – finally after Jorge called his mates, we were transferred to another buggy and we finally made it to the airport.

At the airport, we were all weighed and grouped into four. They even organised where each person was sitting… We were seated in a Cessna 203 (tiny tiny plane) where 2 people were seated in the 3rd row, me and another sat in the second and the two pilots sat up front. Up we went – initially it was ok, but then, oh my word did we get sick!!! You could literally feel everything on the plane; the stupid wind didn’t make it any better PLUS looking through a lens and taking photos just made it worse! So, after a while I stopped taking photos and just tried to not be sick-SUCCESS! Mind you, I do fly quite a lot and I never get sick!! The Nazca lines were amazing – you could tell what they were (by referring to the little map the pilots had given us) and it was unbelievable that they still remained after all these years (believed to be made 400-650AD!!!). As we were coming into landing, there was a horn-like sound, which I didn’t take any note of. But Alex (who was seated next to me) said that was some sort of safety alarm (she has flown one of these planes before) and that alarm shouldn’t have sounded. When she asked the pilots about it, they simply shrugged their shoulders and said that it was nothing to be worried about… weird I say…

In the evening we had a Pachamanca ceremony, which was basically food, cooked in the ground. We thanked Mother Nature for the foods provided, Arthur and Alex did the ceremony as we all stood around the mound. Food was great – there were seriously about 5 different potatoes!

I definitely recommend a visit to Nazca – it was amazing!!!
IMG_0065 copyWM

IMG_0067 copyWM

IMG_0085 copyWM

IMG_0110 copyWM

IMG_0148 copyWM

IMG_0173 copyWM

IMG_0179 copyWM

IMG_0180 copyWM

IMG_0193 copyWM

IMG_0200 copyWM

IMG_0205 copyWM

IMG_0207 copyWM

IMG_0211 copyWM

IMG_0225 copyWM

IMG_0230 copyWM

IMG_0236 copyWM

IMG_0238 copyWM

IMG_0256 copyWM

IMG_0257 copyWM

IMG_0262 copyWM

IMG_0269 copyWM

Our noble cook extracting the food from the “Pachamanca Ceremony”

IMG_0273 copyWM

IMG_0274 copyWM (more…)