November 2013 Posts

The Trip 2013 – Cusco to La Paz

Note: This is a condensed version of the pictures I took with some added narrative. The rest of the pics can be viewed in the album Trip 2013 – Cusco to La Paz. Each picture can be clicked to see a larger version and comment / like.

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Im now 6.5 months through my 8.5 month journey and finally reached one of the highlights of my trip, the Inca trail and Macchu Picchu. I have been looking forward to this one for a while, it started off by driving down into the Sacred Valley 1 hour outside of Cusco.

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We had the afternoon and evening to prepare ourselfs to begin the trail. We spent it exploring the beautiful Ollantaytambo and its ancient Inca ruins.

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On our mini-trail we bumped into a little troop of boys that gave us a song and dance in exchange for a few soles

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The next day it was time for the big show. The km 82 marks the start of the trail and our 4 day adventure.

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The first day was a gentle journey following the winding river. Along the way we bumped into a few animals, some in better condition than others.

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In the evening of the first day we were introduced to our team of porters. We had 28 of them to look after the 18 of us.

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They are incredible people who carry 25kg of load each and run up and down the trail as we gringos huff and puff our way around. I had a go at picking up one of the packs for a short while.

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Manageable but I wouldnt want to carry it up some of the hills on the second day. Incredibly only a few years ago they used to carry twice that amount each!

The second day of the trail was by far the toughest and had us hiking 1.2km vertically up to the summit of “Dead Womans Pass”. It was a tough slog and I was more than ready for a rest when I reached the top.

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The way down was much more interesting and I took great pleasure bounding down the stairs to reach the camp before some of the porters.

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The views from our second days camp were incredible.

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Each day we woke early (5am) and the third day was no exception though the views on this morning from the top of a short 300m hike were.

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The third day was the best day on the trail in my opinion.

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The trail wound its way around the steep cliffs and through the occasional tunnel until we were rewarded with the incredible views of our lunch spot.

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After lunch we hiked it yet further down to our third and final campsite. Just before we got there we visited two impressive terraced Incan ruins.

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The final day we woke at 3:45 and hiked for a short hour or so up to the famous Sun Gate of Macchu Piccu.

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After a little while observing the incredible view we hiked down to the famous photo spot before taking a tour around the wonder of the world

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After several hours exploring the site then having dinner down in the valley we hopped in a train and rode it back out of the valley.

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Back in Cusco we had a day to enjoy the comforts of a warm bed and good food once more

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Next up we travelled by bus to Puno then by boat to an island on lake Titicaca for a home-stay with a local family

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Before we headed to the home of the family we would be spending the night with we had a friendly gringos vs local footie match

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Afterwards we dressed up in the traditional highlanders dress and performed the ceremonial dance much to my great embarrassment

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Then it was off to the home of Blanca, mother of 3 girls and the cheeky chappy Brian

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We helped prepare meals which were cooked on a clay wood fire inside one of their farm buildings

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That first evening we presented them with some small gifts we had bought in Puno earlier in the day. They were over the moon with the pressies we gave them: Olives, Lentils, Corn, Oil, Waterbaloons, Candles, Matches, A Skipping Rope, Pencils, Washing up products.

Despite enjoying the water balloons, 3 year old Brian was hard to tear away from his favorite toy

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The followind day we helped Blanca with some of her daily chores. We took the sheep out of their pen and herded them(with difficulty) to some grass.

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Then it was down to the lake shore where we helped separate fish (and often fish heads) from the nets that had been used to catch them overnight.

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I had an awesome time on the homestay and felt privalidged to get just a small glance into how these people live thier lives. Unfortunately we could only stay one day and had to hop back in a boat back to Puno.

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Along the way we stopped at the famous floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca. These incredible structures are made entirely of reeds found in the lake. They are 10’s to 100’s of meters wide and several meters thick and can last up to 70 years. They are composed of layered reeds that must continually be added to else the ones below rot away and they sink.

I had been gagging to swim in the cold lake since we first arrived and saw my chance to take a dip.

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The next day it was across the border into Bolivia and the massive capital of La Paz

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On arrival we took a short tour of the hot, noisy and polluted city. The main attraction was the witches market. Called so because of the interesting varieties of ex-animals for sale including Llama feutus’ which are used as part of the Pachamama ceremony

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The following day we caught a bus up to 4900m and hopped on bikes and rode the famous Death Road.

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The ride was one of the best things I have done on the entire trip, even the soaking rain thunder, mud and fog couldnt dampen the incredible thrill of racing down the mountain just meters from certain death.

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The final day in Cusco I thought I would have a nice relaxing day by dressing up as Spider Man and jumping out of one of the tallest buildings in the city

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Well that’s it for this chunk of my travels and my time with 14 other people I had shared the last 21 days with. I have had so many incredible experiences enhanced by the company of those special people!

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The Trip 2013 – Huaraz to Cusco

Note: This is a condensed version of the pictures I took with some added narrative. The rest of the pics can be viewed in the album Trip 2013 – Huaraz to Cusco. Each picture can be clicked to see a larger version and comment / like.

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From the highlands of Huaraz we made our way back down to the coast and the capital city of Peru, Lima.

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We had one night and day there before joining our next GAdvetures tour group that would take us through southern Peru, ending in Bolivia 21 days late. We spent the day wandering around some of the city before meeting up with our group in the evening.

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This is the third tour I have done on this trip and is made up of 16 people of various ages and nationalities. This time there seemed to be a lot more Australians and New Zealanders as apposed to the British horde on the last one.

After spending one night in Lima we headed to our first destination of Pisco where we had an action packed day. First we made a visit to a Pisco maker.

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Pisco is the national drink of Peru and is made by fermenting and distilling grapes. We were shown the traditional way they produced it then given a tasting session of the various different sorts of Pisco they produce.

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After that we headed off to the desert to do something I have been looking forward to for a while, sand boarding.

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Unfortunately they wouldnt let us stand up on the boards so we went down the dunes on our front, a little disappointing but still fun.

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To get around the dunes we rode powerful off road buggies which were probably more fun than the actual boarding.

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In between the boarding I had some time to do what I do best in the dunes.

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We only just reached Nasca in time for the final activity that day, viewing the Nasca lines from the top of a tall tower.

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The following day we had chance to get a better look at the Nasca lines from the air. I had always been fascinated with the enigmatic lines so jumped at the opportunity to see them from above.

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They are an impressive sight though sad to see how modern man is destroying them by mining and building roads over them. We were told that perhaps in 10-20 years they will no longer be visible so I feel fortunate to have had the chance to see them.

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That evening we participated in a traditional Pachamama ceremony. This involves slowly cooking various meats and vegetables under the earth using coals and hot stones.

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While we were waiting for that to cook Alex (our tour leader) took us to an adjacent cactus field.

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Growing on the cacti was a white fungus

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This fungus is apparently very valuable as when its crushed it goes right red and is used in lipsticks and other makeups.

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The following day we headed to Arequipa, it was Halloween and one of the group member’s birthdays so we went out and partied.

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The following day we had a 2 day excursion to the Colca Canyon region. Along the way we had the opportunity to try the famous coca leaves. You roll 6 or 7 of them into a wad then chew on them.

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Its not a particularly pleasant taste and makes your tongue go slightly numb however its supposed to help with the altitude, particularly important as at points we were over 4900m above sea level!

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On the way we stopped a few times to take pictures of some of the native wildlife including the famous Peruvian Llamas, Alpacas and Vicuña

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We spent the next two nights in a small town called Chivay

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The first evening we walked around the town and some of the ancient pre-Inca ruins

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We ate dinner in the highest Irish pub in the world

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The following day we got up early to make our way to the incredible Colca Canyon

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The reason for getting there so early was so we could catch a glimpse of the huge Condors that sometimes visit the area. We were in luck as 3 of the magnificent birds turned up.

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They were incredible and huge and at times flew very close over our heads, I feel fortunate to have seen them.

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Sadly we had to return to Arequipa the following day. We had a free afternoon before our night bus so spent it at the Arequipa food festival.

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After a grueling 10 hour overnight bus from Arequipa we reached the famous and ancient Inca city of Cusco.

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Cusco was going to be our base before taking off on the Inca Trail and is the home town of our tour guide Alex, so for the first day he took us on a tour of his beloved city including one of the local markets.

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Cusco is a rather beautiful city with a lot of history and was a nice base to relax and gather our strength before we embark on (what is probably) the highlight of my entire South American trip so far, The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu but more of that in my next post!

The Trip 2013 – Montanita to Huaraz

Note: This is a condensed version of the pictures I took with some added narrative. The rest of the pics can be viewed in the album Trip 2013 – Montanita to Huaraz. Each picture can be clicked to see a larger version and comment / like.

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Continuing on my South American travels next up was some nature watching at the “Poor Mans Galapogos” of Isla de la Plata. To get there we took a boat from Puerto Lopez for an hour. On the way we were fortunate enough to see some whales splashing about

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The main purpose for visiting the islands tho was the birds, including the famous Blue Footed Boobie

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Unfortunately they weren’t the most intelligent birds and often built their nests on the walking paths then would freak out when people walked past and abandon their eggs:

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There were a few types of birds on the island including one our guide named “A Tropical Bird”

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After the hot and sweaty walk around the island we took a dip in the water before heading back

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After Puerto Lopez we started to make our way towards Peru. We made a couple of stops along the way, one of them was Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador.

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We had a couple of nights in the city which we spent wandering around down by the waterfront.

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On the way we came across a park that was infested with iguanas for some reason

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The next day we headed to Cuenca, a small town in the southern Ecuadorean highlands. Along the way we saw the remnants of a bus crash with a lorry.

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We were only in Cuenca for one night and neither of us were feeling very well so we didnt do a lot there. The next day we took a long bus journey across the border into Peru and the famous beach town of Mancora.

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We spent a few days there waiting for good wind conditions so I could go kite surfing once more. Finally on the last day the sun came out and I finally got my chance.

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Thankfully I hadnt forgotten everything from my 4 days kiting in Ecuador and even improved, managing to surf for a good 20-30 seconds at a time.

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Sadly we had to leave Mancora and move on down the coast to Trijillo the second largest city in Peru. The main reason for going there was to see the famous ruins of Chan Chan.

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Its an impressive structure constructed over a thousand years ago and is huge. Incredibly it is just one of 10 similar structures that the ancient Chimu people built out in the (what is now) desert.

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We visited a number of other ancient structures and museums while we were in Trijillo such as the temple of the moon belonging to the Moche people.

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Around some of the temples there were the very strange looking hairless Peruvian dogs.

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We had a slight transport hickup in Trijillo caused by a misscommunication with the hostel owner which mean we missed our intended bus to Huaraz so we were forced to spend an extra day in Trijillo. It wasnt all bad however as we spent it down the beach.

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Eventually we managed to catch our night bus up to the mountain town of Huaraz high in the Andean mountains.

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We had spent some time at altitude in Quito and didnt suffer any altitude sickness. Well Huaraz was quite a bit higher and it was really noticeable. Every time you stood up you would be dizzy. Walking just a few meters up a hill would result in a loss of breath. It made hiking up to the Llaca lagoon tricky, but totally worth it.

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The final day I decided to do a bike ride high in the mountains with a man called Hulio who had been taking people up there for 20 years. It was an incredible ride of single and double track down challenging gradients and conditions.

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We rode all the way down to Huraz from the top passing through a number of small villages, remembering to say ‘Hola’ to the locals. It was incredible to see how these mountain people still lived and farmed. At times I felt like a some sort of future cyborg whizzing past the mud and dirt hovels on my mountain bike fully kitted out in gear.

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Anyways I had a great time in Huaraz, it made a nice change of scenery to all the beaches and gave me a tase of what its going to be like when doing the Inca Trail in a couple of weeks!

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