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By this Author: tricky

The End is Nigh

Nazca Lines, Boarding in Huacachina and Hanging Out in Lima

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One of the many mysteries Peru has to offer are the Nazca lines. That was to be the next place on our hit list before finally bringing the trip to an end with some relaxation. We arrived in Nazca at 4.15am and were picked up by someone from the airport, where in turn we hung out for another 4 hours. It turned out the airport had been closed the day before so there were quite a few flights to be caught up on and we were pushed back the queue a little.

By the time we finally got on our 6 seater plane - 5 tourists and 1 pilot - we had discovered the airport had closed the previous day because of an accident which killed 5 French tourists. Hardly re-assuring but we were here now and on the runway. The flight lasted just over 30 minutes and we passed over around 15-18 different sets of lines in the desert. There are many stories as to how they first appeared there ranging from aliens to early serttler's using them for sport to agriculture. The only sure thing is that the shapes the lines make are also represented on lots of pottery etc found that dates back to the same time. The flight itself wasn't too bad at times although you could see how an accident would be easy. The planes fly low and circle around the lines left and then right so everyone can get a look and/or photo. To be honest I was slightly dissappointed. I thought the lines would be wider, deeper and basically clearer from the air. It was a worth while trip but hardly one I have found myself recommending to those we have since met.

That same day we jumped on the first bus that came for Ica. Near Ica we had read of an oasis in the sand massive sand dunes called Huacachina. After a short time on the bus and a quick taxi ride we arrived at a hotel where we pitched up intending to stay for 3 days. In the end we were there for 5. It was beautiful there, not least because we were pretty much the only people there but because we got 35+ degrees and a lovely garden. It was time to relax. With less than 2 weeks of the trip left we had very few plans left and it was nice to sit back and reflect, something I think a lot of people miss out on at the end of a journey.

So other than sleep, sunbathe, eat and drink there was very little to do around here. Well, until I discovered sand boarding that is. The sand dunes cover something like 300 square km's and are huge. In fact, huge does not even do them justice. I found a company with some dune buggies and along with 2 others we set out for an afternoon's boarding. I had watched some others in action by now and it didn't look that difficult. In fact I had found myself almost shouting at them for making such a meal of it at times. So there we were at the top of one of these massive dunes. Before the instructor even had time to start I was off down. It wasn't planned, it just happened. I was quite taken aback by just how fast you could go and before I knew it I was approaching the bottom without even having fallen which was quite a surprise. Anyway, that was soon rectified as I tumbled, face first, down the last of the dune. It took a good few minutes before I managed to pull myself up although it felt like an eternity. And it bloody well hurt. A lot. After brushing myself down I was up and away again though with a lesson learned. We stayed out till the sun went down which was fairly stunning and then sped off back to the oasis. The driver was a bit of a luanitic but I am still on the assumption that he'd done that before.

We awoke on Tuesday 15th with a decision to make, do we go to Pisco and local islands or head on to our final destination Lima. Before long the maid in the hotel came over and asked if I had felt the earthquake in the night. I hadn't. Turned out there had been an earthquake reading 4.9 through the night. That pretty much made our mind up to go to Lima where we would be safe. Already last year Pisco was desemated by an earthquake and now this. Turns out there were about 3 volcano's on the fault line having a small eruption too. Lima it was then!

So, here we are in Lima. The last week has seen us find a really amazing new hostel right in the centre. We've a room over looking the park and christened the new bar last night with some beers. So new they have nothing else as yet!! It's definately been a week of lazing around and as such nothing much to report.

Catching movies, shopping for some momento's, and those final meal's out before we hit the reality of home prices. Having said that it was bliss to use a kitchen for the first time in over 2 months when we arrived here. Unbelievably eating out every meal, day, week and month does catch up.

So that's it, over for now. The trip has been everything we hoped it would be and more. Before long we'll no doubt find ourselves saving up for the next one. Until then see you all soon.

Posted by tricky 15:15 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Kebabs and Condors

The Colca Canyon

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On returning to Cusco from the Inca Trail we decided that we should celebrate my birthday with a proper meal out rather than the bowl of pasta that we had grabbed in Aguas Calientes so we scrubbed up and headed out to a restaurant called Cicciolina's near the town centre. Here we were treated to what was without a doubt one of the finest meals of our travels. It was a bit of an extravegance but worth every cent. By the time we had finished with our squid, prawns, scallops, risotto's, dessert's, fine wine and cocktails we were fairly feeling the exhaustion of the last few days and had to call it a night.

Before we finally headed off to Arequipa the following day we found a curry house called Maikhana just off the main plaza. Well, needs must and so we dived in for a quick lunch. Quick it may have been, but small it was not. We had pakora coming out of our ears, enough rice to feed 8 and 2 first class curries. Cusco really was good to us on the food front. We realise that moreso than ever now we are not there any more.

Cusco was not just missed for the food but also some friends. We had to say our goodbye's to Andreas and Christina there. Whilst we would be heading to Arequipa they were heading for the jungle for 3 weeks with a guide and horse. Hopefully they are having an amazing time as I write.

We arrived in Cusco early evening. The hostel was situated right in the heart of the city which was perfect given the beautiful architecture of the plaza and surroundings. We spent a few days here merely taking it easy and planning a trip to the Colca Canyon for some more trekking as if we had not had enough. Arequipa's only other real attraction is El Misti, a 6,000+ meter Volcano that casts it's shadow over the city below. Sadly we didn't have time to scale El Misti and do the trek.

Monday came and at 6am we met up with the 3 others who we organised to do the trekking with via the agency who supplied the guide. After a few hours we arrived at the start point and began to discuss the next 3 days itinerary. It was then that I realised the agent had sent us on the wrong trek. Our starting and end points were the same but most of the trek itself was completely different to what we were led to believe we were buying. It's fair to say I was pretty livid. Still, I would speak to the agent later.

The Colca Canyon is recognised as being one of the deepest in the world so it was going to be pretty tough going. Day 1 would be spent getting to the bottom where we would stay for the night. Day 2 we would trek along the bottom and stay overnight and day 3 we would come up the canyon at 2am in the dark so we would be up to the top in time to see the condors. This plan didn't really suit the group with the 2am start on day 3 so we amended day 2 to include the hike of day 3 too. It was going to be tough.

In the end the trekking itself was nothing spectacular. Certainly not close to anything else we had done during our travels. Unfortunately the terrain meant we spent more time looking at our foot and worrying about our footing than anything else. Several times you would see people flat on their backside sliding down the paths.

However, the guide was a nice chap called Alexandro and there was a nice girl from Ireland with us and 2 girls from France. Without trying to be overly harsh one of the French girl's (Sophie) has to go down as about as stupid a person as I have ever met in my entire life. Anyone who admits to having dinner 2 times a day regularly because she forgets the first has to I think. Just to re-iterate the point she managed to get completely lost on day 2 by wandering off. Not really a surprise given it was about the 3rd or 4th time she had done so. Either way it cost the group a fair bit of time and the guide some unwanted grief. Oddly her friend didn't seem to care one bit as she voted to hike on without her. Some friend I thought. Who needs enemies!

Going up the canyon turned out to be the hardest trek I have ever done. Usually it's a case of just getting on with it but I was really struggling at times with the afternoon heat hitting the high 30's on my back and having a severe lack of water. Just as the sun was beginning to set Ali and I hit the top. It was a massive relief to say the least. It's also fair to say I slept well that night.

Day 3 of the trek was to culminate in a viewing of the condors. We got on a local bus and 30 minutes later we were at the mirador. The condors were fabulous. Up to 4 meter's I had been told. I have no idea how big the one's that flew over our heads were but they were big. A few landed nearby allowing us to get some snaps in what proved to be a nice ending to a rather dissappointing trek.

On returning to Arequipa I was straight down to the agent's office. I had thought about it for 3 days and had plenty time to cool down but I was still rather angry that he had deliberately sent us on the wrong trek. It wasn't as if he hadn't had an opportunity to speak to us either. I was told that he would not give us any money back in no uncertain terms. Anyway, I think he took one look at how annoyed I was when I finally clapped eyes on him and he was straight into his pocket to give us money back. If I could have been bothered arguing I would have gone for the full amount but as it was I was totally knackered from the previous 3 days.

Arequipa didn't have much left to offer us so we would be leaving later that night. However, there was one last opportunity to get a kebab from the Turkish restaurant. How delicious it was and the previous few days were soon a distant memory.

Posted by tricky 14:34 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Inca Trail

Following in the footsteps of the Inca's

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For quite some years now Ali had dreamed of walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and was one of many reasons why we decided to come travelling in South America. However, over the years the paths have decayed somewhat and as such the number of people allowed to do it at any one time has rapidly decreased and using a guide and porter(s) has become essential. As such we looked into it late 2007 and booked ourselves up with a company called SAS for whom we had heard many good reports.

On the Friday evening we took in the short briefing and collected our sleeping bags and mats as well as meeting the guys and girls we would be trekking with for the next few days. It all went swimmingly well and it was great to see everyone looked in fairly good shape. We were to have two guides as the group was relatively big at 17, although in the end one person failed to show. The guides were Ruben, an amazingly passionate and knowledgable guide, and Edwin, his apprentice.

Saturday morning came and we were up and away come 6am with a drive of several hours in front of us before the start of the trek. As we left town I couldn't believe that I saw 2 or 3 football pitches full of kids playing the beautiful game. Ali rightly quips that kids in the UK don't even know there are two 6 o'clocks any more!!

By the time we got to the start point the sky's had opened and the rains came. Not what I had imagined, or hoped. Soon we were lapping up the poncho's on sale along with some wooden walking poles which proved invaluable come the end. The initial days trek is pretty straight forward on the trail itself but we just took our time taking in all the beauty surrounding us. We passed through several small settlements which was the first surprise for me. I hadn't realised so many people still lived on the trail itself. Still, it was salvation as it saved us from carrying essentials such as water for any great distance. We ended day 1 with a 1 hour ascent on top of what all the other agencies had their customers doing (the reasoning becoming more than apparent the following day). Camp was set up, an amazing dinner served and it wasn't long before lights out.

Day 2 and by 5am the sun was shinning through Ali and I's tent and we were up. Here came the first option to hire a porter to carry our gear. Day 2 is notoriously tough and many give in and cough up the extra 50 Soles. Not I though, too damned stubborn. I was carrying 4 days clothes, my sleeping mat and most importantly some bottles of cola for the rum and some bottles of beer. An excess some said. An essential I would reply. Soon enough it kicked in as to why we had got the first hour out of the way the previous evening. We were now amidst a 3.5 hour walk up hill every single step of the way. It was over 4,000 meter's and lots of people were running short of breath now. Meanwhile porters were skipping past with tents and the likes on their backs, with packs often up to 2 or 3 feet above their heads. Made a fool of many. Come late morning we finally hit the heights of Dead Womans Pass at 4,200 meter's. The views were stunning. I managed to crack open a beer and took a few envious looks. I had blooming well deserved it though! Long gone were the Peruvian ladies selling bottles of water and cola now!

The afternoon consisted of an hour downhill, another 2 hours uphill and then an hours descent. At the very end of the day we arrived at some ruins where the Inca's had held their University. This was Ruben's time. He was at his absolute best when we were somewhere he could talk about his anscestors. It's been a long long time since I have heard someone talk so passionately about anything, holding the attention of each and every one of us as he drew pictures on the ground and got more and more animated. For us the trip really was made by Ruben. Without a shadow of a doubt the best guide I have come across on the trip.

That evening we celebrated one of the guys (Goody) birthdays. It wasn't much but we scrambled together some rum and a hot fruit juice to make a punch. Pretty good on a cold night out in the middle of the inca trail!!

Again on day 2 SAS had made us do an extra hour on top of the other agencies. Not only did this mean we were always at the front but we also got the best camp sites which was nice. As such day 3 was to be relatively short and somewhat easier. After a few hours we arrived at an area the Inca's had used as an astronomical site in the past and again Ruben got on with the show. Everyone loved it when he talked, and people would eagerly talk about it in the lead up. The talks often involved a lot of laughter too so it wasn't all facts and the likes. By lunchtime we arrived at our camp for the night. It seems a little early but remeber we were getting up with sunrise and before each day. Day 3 also saw the first sighting of a shower. Ali and I braved it and took the free cold showers on offer rather than queuing up. Still not sure if that was the right decision!! Cold does not bgin to describe showering in water from the mountains.

There were to be several treats for us at camp 3. First up we were taken to a 'mini machu picchu' which I don't think anyone even knew existed. We spent quite a bit of time looking around there. Unfortunately being on the inca trail didn't prevent us from seeing an idiot. There is always one. Some guy started climbing the ruin so he could have his photo taken up there. As anyone could see he ended up knocking several loose stones down. Rightly so he was lambasted for doing so, but really, where is the need? After this we found a waterfall which was beautiful. Only Cookie, the token Australian in the group, dared get in under it. Colder than the shower probably!! No thanks.

Finally there was a large indoor area at the campsite which sold snacks and beer so a small celebration was had in reaching this far. It didn't last long though as the bar shut at 9.30pm with the day ahead in mind.

Day 4 was here now. It's what we had been waiting for all this time. Mind you, at the time of booking I hadn't realised just how much we would see or learn en route. We left camp at 5.30am in the dark which is as early as you are allowed. The weather was coming and going as we spent the next hour or two walking to the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate is the first point at which you can clap your eyes on Machu Picchu itself. When we got there the fog was so thick you literally could not see a thing. Dissappointing beyond belief. People started to pour away towards MP itself leaving us behind. Then, as if by magic, or Ruben blowing, the fog lifted and we saw MP for the very first time. It was truely stunning, almost more so in the fashion that it came about as it rose out under the mist and fog.

We soon hurried down the last 40 minutes of the trek and arrived at MP. Hundreds of group photo's were taken in the "photo position" overlooking the ruins with our new found friends and then we were off into see them close up. Of course Ruben took us around for the first 2 hours. It was bliss and you could see he was emotionally moved at times. The visit was first class not least because there were very few people around at that time in the morning. It was also my birthday so it was a nice way to spend it. Ali and I decided to take ourselves off to the Sanctuary Lodge which is a hotel a few yards from MP itself. A treat of a drink and some cake would go down well on this amazing day. Sadly they would not let us in unless we took a full meal. A bit of a shame but after seeing the place I really wasn't too bothered. For the most expensive hotel in South America it really wasn't up to much at all.

Instead we celebrated in the local town of Aguas Calientes. First of all we saw Manchester United gloriously ease past Roma 2-0 away from home and then we went out for a good few drinks. The evening ended with just myself and another guy from the trek in a bar as others faded away. On walking up the road we came across a few kids playing football in the street so we joined in only to have rings run around us. Drink, altitude or just plain lack of skill?

The following day Ali and I boarded the vistadome train which was a train with windows all around and overhead so you could see the terrain en route back to Cusco. If truth be told it wasn't that great other than the snack provided and the fashion show on board, and certainly not a patch on the 4 amazing days we had just spent fulfilling one of our dreams.

Posted by tricky 13:00 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Inca's Naval

Cusco City

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Easter Monday was somewhat strange. Everyone was packing up and heading home after the weekend´s festivities in and around Copacabana. Meanwhile Ali and I were packing up getting ready to leave Bolivia to head on to Peru. It was a little sad because Bolivia has been, without a doubt, our favourite country to date. It´s definately had the South American vibe we were looking for. The people have been fantastic, the sites amazing, and of course it is exceptionally affordable. Everything we were told that was bad about the country seemed to miss us. Anyway, we´ll definately be back at some point so it was onwards and upwards for us.

As had been the norm of late the border crossing was very straight forward. What was not great was the quality of transport. In what has now become normal in Peru it seemed we had been ´lied to´with respect to the type of bus we paid for. Before long we landed in Puno where we were due to stay for an afternoon only. A pre-booked trip to one of the Uros islands being our only objective here.

We spent an hour or so on one of the islands. Each is man made with reeds from Lake Titicaca, and each month a new layer is added to keep them afloat. I think the depth of the reeds as around 4 meters. The feel is quite peculiar as you walk around. The tourist is without a doubt the main source of income here. All the locals had their wares on show and we were able to take afew photographs with little hassle or worry.

On to the overnight bus and we were met with 30 degree´s inside the bus and no air con. A great start. By around 4am we arrived in Cusco and managed to arrange an early check in at our hostal which was a relief. The city centre of Cusco was more beautiful than I had imagined and certainly one of the best in South America. You could see the constant work and up keep going on as our stay went on. The hostel we chose was on the north side of the city in an area called San Blas. Here we were treated to an array of fine restaurants and shops in a kind of bohemian area. Any work on our fitness that we had been doing was heading downhill as the menu´s often proved too tempting to turn down.

In most of the cities we have visited to date we have taken ourselves around the main points of interest but it seemed there was a lot to learn in Cusco so we signed ourselves up for a city tour. It turned out to be a tour of the surrounding are´s more than the city itself but it was interesting nonetheless. We took in many Inca sites such as Qorikancha, Saqsaywaman, Q'enqo, Pukapukara and Tambomachay, learning more and more about the Inca´s. For instance their belief that Cusco itself was the naval of the earth, and machu picchu was it´s heart. Like any other tour it ended with a trip to a shop to buy some local products but we opted to do our shopping ourselves at the artisan market in the following days so we could hunt out the bargains and barter a little.

I spent an hour or two looking around the city centre for an activity to do and after looking at paragliding and white water rafting for a while I settled on quad biking as you got to see a lot of the cities surrounding area. I turned up for the session at 1pm to find that the other 5 guys had all pulled out. Something to do with a hangover but no problems, I just went myself. So there I was, me and two guides for 4 hours. They were pretty happy in that they didn´t have to look after anyone else and after 10 minutes they decided that I could basically do whatever I wanted on the bike. Happy days. We spent the next 4 hours pushing the bikes to the limit. It was then I realised that when I was cycling the worlds most dangerous road I was probably going faster than I thought. At least this thing had a speedo so I knew when to slow down!! The guys took me to a series of jumps which was good fun and over the afternoon we had a great time trying to out gun one another over the hills surrounding Cusco. Between showboating they also showed me some historic points of interest and told me a little of the cities history. We even fitted in some football chat as you do.

By Friday Ali and I decided we best have a day of rest pre Inca Trail. We had a few chores to do including a briefing for the trail itself and organising accommodation for the following week. In the evening we managed to get tickets to a theatre production called Chaska. It told the story of a young girl from an Andean town called Kusillaqta which had been branded with misfortune for several years. Chaska (the girl) is selected by the mayor to make an offering to Apus (the mountain Gods). Her adventure takes her across time where she learns the meanings of the divinities and becomes a warrior. Her mission, to save her town. Obviously in the end the town is saved but at the cost of Chaska sacrificing herself.

Posted by tricky 08:53 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Easter Festivities

Copacabana and Isla del Sol

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On returning from the pampas we met up with a fit and healthy Christina and Andreas again. This time we agreed to go on a slightly less strenuous trip to Copacabana and Isla del Sol for the Easter weekend. Easter here is massive with well over 90% of the population being catholic.

The bus over to Copacabana was an amazingly beautiful journey. As we approached our destination we passed literally thousands of pilgrims making their way to Copacabana to celebrate Good Friday. In order to shorten the journey we hoped on and off a small ferry across part of Lake Titicaca.

We arrived at our somewhat basic accommodation early Thursday evening. As we had left it so late to decide to come here very little was left for us to choose from. In fact, we were probably lucky to get anything at all as hundreds of people were setting up camp around the town as we arrived.

Copacabana itself was very busy with all the festivities. The streets were lined with stalls, small shops, bbq´s and gambling games. I couldn´t help myself and ended up playing a variety of games and coming away with a nice 8 fold profit, albeit that didn´t exactly amount to a great deal. But as all good accountants know - a profit´s a profit!!

On Good Friday we awoke to find the town in celebration. The town is surrounded by several small(ish) hills. On top of one the pilgrims were all congregating so we headed up to see what all the fuss was about. As we climbed the hill we met thousands of people coming down from an early mass. The stations of the cross were all placed alongside a path leading to the top. On the top itself there were many stalls selling small models of items such as cars, shops, passports, mobiles, money, passports etc etc. Basically people bought a model of what they were striving towards and then had it blessed. It was all very interesting to watch. The 4 of us became a bit of an attraction too as they took photographs of us. It seemed quite strange but one could hardly complain given the photographs we were taking ourselves. As the day progressed many more processions took place and in the evening we went to the church to see the service which itself was very odd albeit enjoyable to see.

On Saturday morning we packed up and started the 4 hour trek along the coast where we would hopefully find someone to take us by boat to Isla del Sol. The day was beautiful and we soon came across a football match which we watched for a while but it seemed that arguing was call of the day rather than actually playing the game. Soon after we found that a dog was following us and in turn he became our new adopted pet as he ended up following us all the way. I´m pretty sure he had made that walk many times before however. Hopefully he made it home ok!! After around 3.5 hours we met a man with a small boat, just big enough for the 4 of us, our bags and him to drive. A further 90 minutes later and we arrived on the island and made our way up the long winding path. We were met by a young kid who took us to some accommodation. Without a doubt this provided us with one of the best views of our trip. On the downside the beds also provided us with sore backs but to every upside there is a down I guess!!

Isla del Sol is a very important island for the Inca´s. They beleived it was where the Sun itself was born, and likewise there is another island (Isla del Luna) where the moon was born nearby.

The island was stunning and Ali and I used it to do a lot of walking to prepare for our upcoming Inca Trail which was little under a week away now. The inca paths over the island were definately heavy going. At over 3,000 meters it´s not hard top see why. The island is on Lake Titicaca which is one of the highest navigational lakes in the world, only beaten by another in Peru and one in Chile I think. However, neither of these lakes are nearly as big as Titicaca. After our treks we took a small ferry back to Copacabana where we spent what would be our final night in Bolivia.

Posted by tricky 11:27 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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