The Final Chapter: End of Days

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August 21st 2011
Published: August 21st 2011
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This is unfortunately the last blog of our big adventure. We are at home now, surrounded by boxes of household stuff and we are waiting for Virgin Media to connect our television, internet and telephone – back to the realities of life then!

Ok, so after we left La Paz, Bolivia for the last time, the two of us (accompanied by our German buddy Bjorn and friend from home Chris) took the coach westwards to Copacabana, located on the shores of Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.

We had been warned of potential cancellations due to political unrest on the way to the lake, but we all got on the coach with no problems and assumed we had a nice comfortable four hour journey ahead of us.

Two hours into the journey, the bus came to a sudden halt about 100m in front of a group of locals – who proceeded to run towards the bus clasping sticks, pick axes and shovels, frantically waving their ‘weapons’ in the air whilst running at speed. Gun fire was heard in the distance and the bus driver along with his 55 or so passengers looked genuinely frightened for their lives. The coach accelerated passed them without haste and once through the rabble back out on to the open road again, the atmosphere on the bus seemed to turn to normality, as though this was a regular occurrence. Our hearts were pounding and Barrie had locked all of our expensive and important things in his day pack under the seat very quickly! Characteristically, Chris slept through the entire near kidnapping/death experience. The joys of travelling.

We got to Copacabana with out any more shocking moments (apart from the bus driver nearly leaving without half of his passengers after a toilet break – this has happened before so we tend to hold it in!). With 6000 inhabitants, this quaint little tourist town is right on the shores of the Lake and had a resort feel to it. With lots of bars, restaurants, markets and souvenir shops – it reminded us of a Spanish or Greek Island resort. The first night was spent making full use of the bars and restaurants.
Lake Titicaca is located on the border of Peru and Bolivia. It sits 3800m above sea level, making it the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. It was so huge that it felt as though we were by the ocean, rather than a lake, as we couldn’t see any land on the horizon to the west – just miles and miles of beautiful calm water. However to the north and south, it was bordered by the snow capped mountains of the Andes, making it all rather picturesque.
We left our big rucksacks at the hostel in Copacabana, and armed with just our day packs, we set out for a very long walk in search of a pier and boat to take us over to the Isla del Sol. The weather was perfect and the sun hot and we began our walk with the best of intentions. But things soon went downhill - Chris led us on the wrong path for 30 minutes; Barrie had to use a bush as a toilet (number two!); and the altitude generally got the better of us. We were very glad to get to the highest point of our walk, where we could look down beyond the valley towards our destination.
It was a beautiful view and we were encouraged by the lack of steep gradients in front of us. We walked through the most local and abandoned villages – where were all the people? Until we were greeted by an old local man named Horacio who proceeded to tell us (in Spanish) that he was mentioned in the Lonely Planet, and that he could take us over to the Isle Del Sol for half the price of other boat company - as well as take us to his own personal island on the way – ‘why not?’ We said.
He began by offering us four Alpaca sling shots that his wife had made and then sailed us across to his island, where he told us that he had spent a lifetime making the stone steps leading up to the summit. He was quite a character and what he lacked in English, he made up for by shouting, laughing a sign language. He took us to Inca Ruins, an ancient cave and then at the summit of the island, he taught us how to launch small rocks hundreds of meters out into the lake using our new sling shots– wow, for a small old guy, could he sling those rocks.
The four of us tried our luck to varying degrees of success; Barrie’s rocks kept flying skywards and crashing down near anyone who was not hiding behind a rock; Chris’s kept hitting the ground in front of him and Bjorn’s were quite good – except he kept pulling a funny ‘throwing’ face as he launched his rocks. Marieke’s attempts weren’t too bad either – it was all good fun anyway.
Horacio finally took us over to the Isla del Sol just before sunset and we said our goodbyes and shook his hand – we won’t forget him in a hurry!
The Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) is situated in the southern part of Lake Titicaca. Geographically, it is a rocky and hilly island. There are no vehicles or paved roads on the island – just lots of donkeys. The main economic activity of the 800 families on the island is farming, with fishing and tourism secondary. Of the several villages, Yumani is the largest, which is where we decided to base ourselves. The island is well known for its Inca ruins, where they carved great terraces for farming crops out of the hillsides hundreds of years ago.
The four of us spent two nights on the island and had a magical time. We showered in lake water brought up the hills by donkey’s; we went to bed early as the generator’s were turned off by nine and on the second day we took a local boat to the far north of the island and walked the five odd undulating miles back to our village along the central spine of the island, providing us with breathtaking views, Inca ruins and plenty of rocks to practice our sling shot skills. Chris brought a very strange looking hat along the way that stopped him from looking like a frazzled beetroot – the sun’s rays at altitude are even more harmful than at sea level! We hope he wears it for years to come. Honestly.
We returned to Copacabana after two nights on the Island and had a final farewell ‘night out’ with Chris, who unfortunately had to return to England the following day. He made a really good travel companion and we hope that he had a memorable two weeks – what with the jungle, crocodiles, piranhas, Death Road and the Lake!
The next day, Marieke, Bjorn and Barrie left Bolivia bound for Peru with sore heads but good memories. Bjorn decided to travel directly to Cusco so that he could book an easier Inca Trek (he was VERY concerned that he wouldn’t be able to complete the intense trek he’d booked due to his fitness, or rather lack of!) The two of us broke the journey up in the lovely town of Puno.
In Puno, we tried Alpaca meat for the first time, walked the markets and went on a very bad tour of the famous Reed Islands on Lake Titicaca and to visit their inhabitants – to say this was a tourist trap is an understatement. We suppose it was when we were greeted by three ladies in their traditional gear, singing ‘row row row your boat’ with a choreographed dance was the time we should have sailed back to Puno – oh well!
We got to Cuzco the next day after a very scenic seven hour coach ride and we met up again with Bjorn, who, even though he’d booked another Inca trek, was still looking very nervous…. We, on the other hand, couldn’t wait!
Cusco was the site of the historic capital of the Inca Empire and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 by UNESCO. It was both a historic and beautiful city, and we could have spent a month there. Unfortunately, it is a major tourist destination and receives almost 1.5 million visitors a year and was packed full of tourists all waiting eagerly to embark on one of many treks that were on offer.
We were in Cusco for one reason and that was to walk the Lares Trek and to climb the steps of Machu Picchu – our FINAL and one of the most exciting activities we had planned. We had been waiting to do this since we left England! We met our tour group the night before in a very posh hotel and were given a run down of what to expect. We packed our 4kg of stuff for the 5 day trek and went to bed early, excited about the following day.
The Lares trail is an alternative route from the Inca Trail, which takes you off the beaten track and through some spectacular scenery. We hiked with seven interesting people from Canada, Australia Denmark and New Zealand and our two Peruvian guides, Max and Roddy. (Very Peruvian names of course). At the end of our trek we were some of the first people onto the site of Machu Picchu. Having Machu Picchu all to yourselves at sunrise is like no other experience that you could ever have.
The Lares trek takes you away from the over hiked Inca Trail and through some majestic scenery. We saw how the very rural people live and work in this part of Peru with llama and alpaca farming as the main trade. In fact, one of the great things about this trek were the people we saw along the way. We were hiking in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere when far ahead in the mountain you see an old woman racing ahead to cut you off on the trail to attempt to sell you coca cola, hand made alpaca gloves and alpaca hats. – Where did she come from?
The scenery was always stunning and sometimes it rained, sometimes it snowed and at other times the sun burned our skin. The nights were spent playing cards in the dinner tent or by the camp fire if wood was there to burn, and then going to bed in our tent, shivering, as the cold travelled from the ground through our sleeping mats and into our bodies. It often got to around -10 degrees Celsius and we probably slept for a total of six hours in three nights. It’s these kinds of experiences that make a trek like this one to remember!
Barrie brought out his sling shot and before long everyone had a go, aiming for large rocks or simply launching small boulders out into the wilderness – it became a great tool to make friends! We all got on very well as a group and it really was a great way to finish this wonderful adventure. We also made friends with a local dog, who we named Chris – after our human friend. We had met many stray dogs along the way – particularly in South America where we got in the habit of calling them names of human backpacking friends we’d met. Chris (the dog obviously) was cool!
Once we had finished the Lares trek, we were taken by coach to the local train station. Once on the train, we all took a lovely scenic route out into the cloud forests where we stopped off for the night in the small touristic town of Machu Picchu. We enjoyed a well deserved shower (it had been four days – yuck!) and a good bite to eat, oh and a beer or two!
The group was woken early and we all took one of the first buses up to the site of Machu Picchu. Now the problem is that everyone wants to get to the top by sunrise, and when the first buses leave the town as the sun is rising, this obviously means that there is no way that you can be at the top for sun rise – slightly annoying for everyone, but it did mean we were one of the first groups to have the site to ourselves.
The anticipation was great as we started to walk the steep stone steps and after stopping many times to catch our breath, we got to the top and (I know this has been written before) the view was breathtaking. We have seen this image in books or on the internet so many times, but it was far better than we had expected. It sent shivers down our spines.
Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca site located 2,430 meters above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley, 80km northwest of Cusco. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). It is often referred to as the "Lost City of the Incas", and it is the most familiar icon of the Inca World, yet also the most mysterious.
Machu Picchu’s location high up in the cloud forest was so impressive - like a memorable scene from an Indiana Jones movie. The iconic, iron shaped mountain set behind the ruins was spectacular and provided the most interesting of back drops to the famous Inca ruins. We spent around two hours taking in the view, taking photos and generally appreciating the moment. The sun came out, clouds dispersed and the shadows changed on the mountain and ruins, creating better and better photo opportunities. Afterwards, we were given a good tour of the ruins by Max and we were left to do as we pleased until lunchtime. We shan’t forget this day.
So, once we had returned back to Cusco, we spent a few days walking around, relaxing and catching up on sleep. We had a few nights out, where not only did we say farewell to our tour group, but we also had to say bon voyage to our great friend Bjorn, who sadly (for us) had to continue on his round the world tour, whereas we had to go back to England. He was a great travel buddy and he will be missed. We’re sure we’ll keep in touch with him though.
We flew out of Cusco and touched down in Lima where we stayed in a horribly run down area close to the airport. It was the type of place where all of the shops are behind metal bars for security reasons, and the streets were full of rubbish. Needless to say, we had food delivered to our hostel that night. Marieke got a terrible bout of food poisoning on this last night in South America, so was laid out in bed all evening (or rather, in the bathroom). I guess if you’re going to get it, it may as well be in this nasty place!
The two of us flew to Miami and spent two nights in this playful city. It was a nice stop over between Lima and London and broke up what would have been a really long flight. We did a lot of ‘people watching’ from cafes and bars and reflected on how different this place was to South America.
It was a place for beautiful people. The men had biceps the size of tree trunks, with plucked eyebrows and tattoos on their bronzed skin. The women were immaculately dressed, most had fake boobs and orange skin and a tiny rat like dog under their arms or poking out of their Prada purses. It was funny to watch them tottering about. We relaxed, Barrie got a tattoo in the tattooist made famous on the program ‘Miami Ink’ and we generally rested before getting on the plane for our final flight back to the U.K.
Well we did it! Nearly seven months ago now we stepped out of our house in Enfield, with our lives crammed into two rucksacks and we began what will probably be our biggest ever adventure and a life defining trip – and we made it back in one piece.
I think we have learnt a lot about ourselves. We dealt with situations that we weren’t used to in our normal lives; Language barriers, freezing temperatures, scrupulous people, stupid people, fear and extreme challenge and we generally passed or achieved our goals.
It has been the greatest event of our lives so far.
The travelers were wonderful - we can’t praise the backpacking community enough. Nearly everyone had the same attitude and ideas as us, everyone was interested in us and most of them were interesting. Everyone wanted to talk and find out things and to pass on any information that might help. We met some wonderful and inspirational people, both locals and fellow travelers who have helped us look at the world differently, and we are thankful to have met up with them and to be in that right place at that right time.
Travelling has opened our minds to limitless opportunities. There is so much out there and so much to see. If things don’t go to plan in England for anybody, all it takes is a plane flight to a selected destination and there you are, potentially with a new life in front of you. People are kind and will help you, most will go out of their way to help you – and there is nearly always work to do, you won’t get bored!
Back in the ‘real’ world, most people just keep their heads down and don’t try to communicate with other people. They live in their bubble and don’t want to come out, too intent in making money, catching the bus, thinking about a business meeting or something unimportant. No one wants to speak – this is a great shame. We’d like to learn from this because we had the time to meet and chat with people from all around the world, to listen and to laugh and it was so refreshing to make and meet so many friends, and to experience different cultures.
We saw many beautiful things and places that will stay with us forever. We have seen how indigenous communities live in extreme climates, miles away from the nearest doctor but never get sick. We saw children with no shoes and blisters on their feet, herding alpacas in arctic temperatures to bring food to the table. We have seen families in what we would call ‘poverty’, make do with what they have got, and never complain. We saw women in their 80’s carrying very heavy crops on their backs for miles and miles back to their village. There is no retirement pension here. There are no Playstations or Xboxes here.
But just what is ‘poverty’? This is one of the questions we have been asking ourselves; A family who lives in a stone hut in the mountains in Peru with no central heating, no running water, no oven, no doctor for 50 miles, no NHS, no phone, no internet no plasma TV with over 200 channels, no playstation, no car, no supermarket near by. They don’t know much about dental hygiene, but the coca leaves seem to sort that out. Yet they are happy. They farm the land, make all of their clothes from alpaca wool. They build their own house. They eat what they can rear and grow, and pass on their traditions and skills to the next generation. They are extremely self sufficient, and most of all they seem HAPPY. It really makes you think. This difference in culture (as well as mindset) is what makes the world such an interesting and amazing place.
The world isn’t dangerous, if a little common sense is applied. If you are a single traveler and you don’t do your research and wander into a poor, rundown area at night, then of course you are asking for trouble. If you walk around with a £1000 camera or watch or with your wallet in your back pocket – then the same applies.
Our holidays won’t ever be the same again, and we certainly won’t do the whole ‘package’ thing. It is so much more fun and cheaper to book an inexpensive flight and to arrive, get on a local bus and get to your choice of destination.
So who knows whether we’ll ever do this again? We really hope so. We can’t recommend this enough to everyone – it is a wonderful experience. We are not stressed (yet) and we are happy in ourselves. We miss our travelling times already – it already seems like a long time ago, we hope the memories will last.
We did miss England; our friends and families, roast lamb, full English breakfasts, good fruit and healthy food, our clothes, our wardrobes and our memory foam mattress – and (funny enough) English bank notes – the £20 is the biggest note ever!
However, soon, these things will be taken for granted once again, as a sense of reality takes over.
Think we’ll go travelling again.
Anyone want to come?

Additional photos below
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21st August 2011

Aie! This brought a tear to my eye. Beautiful! And yes I'll definitely go with you-where shall we go? Amazing memories, and it's only a flight away! xxx
21st August 2011

let's go! I think I can recommend a few places...x
28th August 2011

Great final blog guys, Lares trail looks amazing gutted I missed it! Oh well gives me a great reason to return. P.S Name the time and place and I'm there see you both soon. Chris

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