Last time I wrote, I´d just arrived in Peru, and now I´ve just arrived in Bolivia, so I´ve got a lot to catch up with but I´ll try and keep it brief! It´s getting quite difficult to find enough time to write this blog, but I will persevere!
After camping on the beach in Punta Sal, we drove to Huanchaco, a fishing port famous for its reed fishing boats. We visited the nearby Inca ruins of Chan Chan, which was the largest pre-Colombian city in South America, around 20km². Built between 850 and 1470, the site has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it was not difficult to see why as it was a huge place that had been well restored. We then went to see a couple of ancient pyramids called the Moche pyramids, which were also very impressive.
The following day we had an 8 hour drive to the capital, Lima. I´d heard some bad things about Lima, but I actually really liked it. There are two amazing town squares, one surrounded by a cathedral and the president´s palace, and I met my internet friend, Sandra, who showed me round a lovely
part of the city called Miraflores, which was on the coast. There was one slightly unnerving incident though. When I was showing Sandra some of the pictures on my camera at night, this guy approached us and said something in Spanish. I assumed he was trying to sell us something and I just kept saying 'no gracias' and he eventually walked away. It was only then that Sandra told me he´d said 'what would you do if I mugged you?'! Which was nice.
8 new people joined the tour in Lima - 2 couples, 2 guys and 2 girls, which means we now have a completely full truck of 34 people. The tour was advertised as having an average size of 15-24, so this is not ideal, especially when we go out for group meals as it takes ages to order, eat and pay! One girl has left the tour in La Paz, making 33 of us, and there are only 3 single girls, which seems to be a recurring theme of this trip.
To be honest, I'm starting to struggle a little with travelling in such a large group. Most of them are huge drinkers, but luckily
there are a few if us who like to do our own thing in the evening without getting drunk, although I think this is isolating us a little.
After Lima we headed to Paracas, via Pisco, which was devastated by an earthquake in August. It was quite disturbing to see people still living in tents as their houses had been destroyed. From Paracas, we visited the Ballestas Islands, billed as Peru´s version of the Galapagos Islands. I wasn´t expecting much from this boat trip, but was pleasantly surprised, as there were millions of birds and thousands of sealions to be seen, more than on the Galapagos Islands, although you can´t swim or walk among them as you can there. The islands are famous for the guano, otherwise known as bird shit, which is deposited in great quantities onto the rocks, and collected by people to be used as fertiliser. So you can imagine the smell.
We then drove to Nazca, where we camped for 2 nights. Nazca is famous for its geoglyphs, or drawings in the ground, which were created between 200BC and AD700, although no-one knows how or why. They can only be seen from the air
Cute local girls
Amazon jungle, Ecuador
on a rather hairy flight in a small 6-seater plane, which swoops very low whilst the pilot points out the various shapes (some of which are very difficult to see). Shapes included a hummingbird, hands, tree, parrot, monkey and a whale.
Then it was on to Arequipa, Peru's second city. I saw my first alpaca here, which looks like a llama and is especially tasty served with ostrich and beef steaks, as mine was. Arequipa is another lovely city, which a picturesque square flanked by a cathedral and some lovely colonial buildings, most of which are built using a white volcanic rock called sillar. I visited a museum containing the mummified body of a young girl who was sacrificed into a nearby volcano over 500 years ago as an offering to the gods, and also a convent which was the size of a small city and had some amazing architecture. I also met up with an internet friend, Claudia, who spent a couple of evenings showing me around the city.
After Arequipa, we visited the Colca Canyon, which meant getting up at 3.45am in order to stand a chance of spotting the condors that fly above the canyon
at certain times of the day. Colca Canyon is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and is the 2nd deepest canyon in the world at 3191m. The scenery there was stunning, and fortunately we saw a few condors, including a couple that flew directly overhead. What was not so fortunate was that they did so at exactly the same time as I was changing memory cards in my camera!
We had dinner at a rather touristy restaurant where there was a Peruvian band and some dancers, and I got dragged up a couple of times by the cute female dancer, which was lovely, especially as one of the dances involved lying on the floor whilst being whipped!
Then it was on to Cusco, the capital of the Inca empire, which is one of my favourite cities so far, despite the fact that it is very touristy and you have to say 'no gracias' literally every 5 seconds as there are so many people trying to sell you something. I bought a walking stick to replace the ones 'lost' on the flight to Quito, plus a cheap poncho in case it rained on the Inca trail.
It´s a lovely city to walk around, with narrow cobbled streets containing and lovely colonial buildings, many of which were built on top of the old Inca buildings that the Spanish had destroyed.
That evening in the hotel, we were given a briefing on what to expect on the Inca trail, as well as a duffel bag which we had to fill with everything we needed for the next 5 days, but with a maximum weight of 5kg. Needless to say, my first weigh-in came in at 6.5kg! But my sleeping back weighed 2kg so I didn't have much to play with.
After getting our duffel bag weighed again the following morning to make sure we hadn't sneaked an extra pair of pants in during the night (and I wish I had!), we left left Cusco for a trip to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which is an area of stunning natural beauty in which the Incas used to live and farm. It was an action-packed day, beginning with a visit to Saqsahuaman, an Inca fortress overlooking Cusco, then on to a llama and alpaca farm. We then drove to Pisac to visit some more Inca ruins
and a colourful market, and another Inca site called Ollantatambo. There was a lot of walking today which prepared us somewhat for the 4 days of walking which lay ahead. At this point, though, I still wasn't sure how I could possibly manage the Inca Trail.
I was pretty nervous as we made our way to the start of the trail the following morning, where we could buy our last-minute supplies like coca leaves, which help with the high altitude, and from which cocaine is made. Chewing them makes your mouth go completely numb, and they taste foul. But they do work.
As soon as we arrived at the checkpoint, the heavens opened, so I put on the cheap poncho that I bought and immediately ripped it! Just as well really, as I was told it looked like a condom, and I have pictures to prove it! I managed to buy another one which fared a little better.
Along the trail, we had 4 guides, one who stayed at the front, one at the back, and a couple in the middle, and there was a team of around 40 porters who did a wonderful job of lugging
our duffel bags, plus the tents, cooking equipment, food, gas bottles, etc, along the trail at great speed. It's amazing to see these people (most of whom are shorter than me) running past us carrying 20kg on their back! Each time we arrived at our camp, the tents were already set up, including a large tent which acted as our dining table. The food was amazing, with breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and a 2-course dinner provided every day.
The first day of the trek was relatively easy, only 8km (which is probably further than I've ever walked before!) but it was not a particularly steep climb or descent. I took it slowly, arriving at the campsite probably 4 hours after the first group, but it wasn't a race. I did have a few blisters which formed almost as soon as we started walking, though. The view from the first campsite was amazing, with snow-capped mountains appearing behind the cloud. Shame about the toilets though.
Day 2 was a killer! Up at 5.30am, and a walk of 16km, with a very tough uphill section to Dead Woman's Pass, which, at 4200m, is the highest point on the trail. The
relief getting to the top was immense, and again, I took it at my own pace, stopping every few yards to catch my breath. Fortunately, I didn't suffer from altitude sickness at all, unlike a few people who had headaches and nausea for a few days. There was then a long steep downhill section which was tough on the knees but having a walking stick helped considerably. Again, the view from the campsite was amazing, and the toilets were moderately bearable.
Day 3 was tougher than I expected, probably because I didn't psyche myself up as much as I did for day 2. There was a lot of downhill walking today, but it was broken up by a visit to a couple of Inca ruins, so it made it less punishing. It was a wonderful feeling getting to camp that evening knowing that the hard part was over. It was a huge campsite, I think everyone on the last day of the trail stayed here. Best not mention the toilets though.
The scenery throughout the trek was breathtaking, lots of mountains, hills, valleys, rivers and some nice flowers. At times we were above the clouds. The weather was
mixed, sometimes hot, sometimes cold and rainy. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable and challenging experience, undoubtedly the hardest thing I´ve ever done.
We were up at 4.30 for our final day of walking, so that we would reach Machupicchu before the hoardes of Japanese tourists coming off the train. Although it was only a 2-hour walk to the Sun Gate for the first glimpse of Machupicchu, it was pretty tough, as by now the legs were aching badly, the blisters had blisters of their own, and there was a very steep climb of 50 steps along the way. When we arrived at the Sun Gate, the was a heavy mist so we couldn´t see a thing. But it slowly cleared to give us the first view of the ´lost city of the Incas´, which was quite magical, although it was still around 45 minute's walk away.
Once we got to the site, I got quite emotional! It was still a little misty, and when we had a group photograph, by the time they got to my camera, you couldn´t see Machupicchu at all behind us! But again, the mist cleared and the famous site that you see
in all the pictures appeared. And it was as magical as I hoped it would be.
We had a 2-hour guided tour of the site with Ruben, who had been our guide for 5 days and who only had one arm! Words can´t really describe how amazing the site is. The Spanish didn´t know it existed, so it is still very well preserved, and considering how long ago it was built, the stonework and design is incredible.
After the tour, we took a bus to Aguas Calientes, the nearby town, from where we took a train and coach back to Cusco, and my first shower for 4 days! It was blissful, as was my bed.
We then had a couple of free days in Cusco, which were spent relaxing, getting a couple of massages to ease my sore legs and buying a few souveniers.
We left Cusco on Friday and had a long drive to Puno, which lies on the shores of lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 3812m above sea level, and the largest lake in South America. The lake was the most sacred body of water to the Incas, and
it straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia.
Yesterday, we took a boat trip across the lake to Taquille island, where we had a steep 45-minute walk up the hill to the town square, which reopened the blisters that had just about healed after the Inca trail. Being so high up, the sun is incredibly strong here, but it also gets freezing cold at night. After lunch we sailed to Amantani island, where we stayed the night in pairs with a local family, each pair being allocated our own 'mama' to look after us. Some of the mamas were elderly and spoke no English (they speak an ancient language called Quechuan, and a little Spanish), but fortunately mine, Marlene, was in her late teens or early twenties and spoke very good English. The islanders live in basic houses up on the hills, with outside toilets that you flush by pouring a bucket of water down the bowl, and they live pretty much as they have done for thousands of years (although I was lucky, my family had electricity). We each had to wear a Peruvian hat knitted by our mama so that they could recognise us later in the
Me just about to start the Inca trail
On the Inca trail to Machupicchu, Peru
Some of the guys played football against the locals (I was desperate to do so but didn´t want to risk injuring my knee again), so I made do with a hot chocolate to try and combat the freezing temperature. We then had dinner cooked by Marlene (soup followed by rice, potatoes, pasta and a little bit of carrot - no Atkins diet here!). Then we got changed in local costume (which was easy for us guys as we just had to wear a poncho and our hat whilst the girls had to dress up in full costume) and walked through the pouring rain to the local town hall where we had some dancing with the locals. It was a fun night.
After breakfast, we sailed to Uros, a group of about 40 artificial islands made of floating reeds. It´s interesting to see people living like this, but I couldn´t help thinking it was very touristy, especially when we went inside one of their houses (also made of reeds) and found a TV and stereo inside (not made of reeds). We then went back to Puno for our last night in Peru.
I was quite sad to
Me at Machupicchu
leave Peru. The scenery was wonderful, and at first not what I expected, with large areas of desert stretching for miles from the coast, before changing to a very mountainous landscape. The people were lovely too, and seemed very happy, despite many of them being desparately poor.
Bolivia is an even poorer country, the poorest in South America and facilities will be basic. We are doing a lot of camping there, so I´m not sure when I´ll next be able to update this blog.
You'll be pleased to hear that I didn't come last in the iPod challenge. I came 2nd last! I'm sure it was a fix!
But I did grow a nice goatee for the Movember challenge, although I didn't win that either!
Hope all is well back home, and keep those messages coming. I know I´ve been bad at replying to emails you´ve sent me, but I will get round to it when I can.
Love D xx
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