Day 119-124: Puno and Lake Titicaca

Out of all the educational experiences we’ve had, this was probably the most profound. After coming back from the Amazon, we got on a bus straight to Lake Titicaca, Puno. Apparently the locals don’t call it that, because “caca’’ is offensive to them. Our mission when travelling was to try and not be a tourist whenever possible, and here we were given the opportunity to stay with a local in one of the small towns surrounding the lake.

But first, we had a full day planned. We began our tour by visiting one of the ‘floating islands’. About two thousands people live on these floating islands permanently, and meet once a week to buy/sell and allow the younger people to ‘mingle’. Traditionally, the girl goes to live with the boy once they get married, which often happens at around 18 or 19 years old.

We were introduced to the president of the islands, a guy whose name I can’t remember. It didn’t seem right to shove a camera in his face, so apologies for this elusive shot.

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The president of the island is chosen by the people in a sort of vote, and is only president for 2 years before someone else takes over. He gave us a tour of the island and explained (with our tour guide as a translator) how they build the islands, using a model for demonstration. It takes approximately a year to go from this:

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To this.

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Each island only lasts for ten years before they need to be rebuilt. So 10% of their life on them are spent building the next one. Not only that, but their boats take three months to make and only last another five after that before they need to be rebuilt.

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They were surprisingly comfortable, and I could have easily fallen asleep while he was taking us around the lake. After our tour, we were given a final farewell by these lovely ladies.

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Before I go on to talk about getting to our hosts town, I want to give out another ‘Bad Tourist’ award. The guy in the checked shirt in the picture above was one of the worst tourists we’ve come across. He spent the majority of the trip high out of his skull, playing loud music and screaming whenever he felt like it. We were staying with some of the mildest people I’ve ever met, so they must have been intimidated beyond belief by this guy. I wanted to push him off the boat for treating these people that way – the old lady he stayed with could have been my Nana!!! So if you find yourself in Puno and fancy snorting cocaine, please just go to a hostel.

The town was a beautiful town with a few schools, a town square, a few shops for the locals etc. Donkeys had right of way when walking up and down the streets. We made our way up to Pacha Mama to watch the sun set.

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We were already 4000m above sea level, which means walking up-hill can be a struggle, but we made it after an hour.

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Even though it was a clear day, it was freezing once we stopped moving!

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That clear sky was worth it though! Once the sky darkened, we made our way back down in time for some dinner, which was a traditional spread of quinoa soup and vegetables from the garden. Our family consisted of a man and wife in their fifties and a grown up daughter in her thirties. Between their small amount of Spanish (their main language is Quechan), and my small amount of Spanish, we managed that the man had been a farmer all of his life, while his wife made hats and scarves for tourists.

The house we were staying in belonged to the daughter, because their house was too small to accept guests. Tonight they had three guests; me, Dan and another girl from the UK called Louise. Once dinner was over, it was time to wear some traditional clothing that the wife had made and make our way to the local party.

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I know the photos don’t really show it, but the party was quite lively! Their version of dancing was to hold hands and walk round in a circle together until the song finished. The songs went on for a long long time, and we could tell that our host was getting tired after working all day. Just as some of the other tourists were getting boisterous, we asked to go back to the house to save our host from being dragged around by people three times her size.

That evening, a storm settled on the small town. As I think I’ve mentioned before, thunder and lightning is common here around this time of year, and the storms are far more frightening than back home, where you feel secure that the trees are a good distance away and the houses can take the impact of the lightning if needs be. It was the middle of the night and pitch-black, and Dan had dropped off to sleep.

Whenever I feel out of my comfort zone, I try to remember to cross bridges when I come to them. If nothing bad has happened yet, then there’s no need to worry yet is there? This theory was really being put to the test here, and I’m not the best self soother. All I could do was count the time between the strike and the thunder and estimate how far away the storm was. Eventually, the strikes seemed to be moving further away and I was able to sleep.

The next day, we were given a tour around one of the traditional, non-floating earth islands. On this island, it is customary for the men to do all of the knitting and craft work and for the women to go out and tend to the farms. This guy in particular was a newly-wed. We were told that his hat signified this and was one of four hats that the men on this island wear during their life-time. The women signaled their marital status AND how happy they were through their black headpiece. If they were unhappy for any reason, then the whole island had a meeting to discuss how to improve their situation, because getting divorced was not an option.

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It is amazing to be given a glimpse into a way of life and has developed with very few similarities to yours. No internet and only the odd visit from a tourist, they have developed a society that is unique and appears to work very well for them. I knew tribes and cultures that are completely removed from western culture existed, but I didn’t think we’d get the chance to meet any. When I asked how long their traditions had been around for, they said they weren’t sure exactly, but knew that they had been around for at least a few hundred years. In our society, each generation lives in a very different way to the generation before, yet these people lived in a way that didn’t change a great deal over the years. I couldn’t say if it seemed better or worse, just different and fascinating.

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Day 112-118: Amazon River, Peru

As much as we’d have loved to (maybe not Dan as he wasn’t loving the bugs so much), we didn’t spend 7 days in the Amazon. We spend a good four days in Cuzco after Machu Picchu doing not a whole lot. We were tired, I was sore, and we just enjoyed being in-between destinations for a little while. So realistically this post starts on day 116.

While we were in Huacachina, we met a lovely couple from London – the kind of couple who have their shit together. They were on the brink of mixing things up in their life though, as they had the travel bug and wanted to take advantage of being in-between careers/studying. They were doing our Peru trip, but in reverse, so a lot of what we had coming, they’d done etc etc. One thing they did that instantly seemed amazing was a trip to the Amazon. It’s the kind of thing I didn’t think would be available to us as we assumed it would be insanely expensive and would need an excess of shots that we didn’t have done. Both proved to be untrue, so after booking their exact trip with their exact itinerary, we were off to explore the jungle!

We took an overnight bus from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado, using the company Excluciva. I would recommend this company as, for 70 soles, we had a pretty decent ride and it was very spacious. Once we arrived at Puerto Maldonado, we had the old heebie jeebies again. The place is a bit creepy and is apparently growing in crime. Our bus arrived early, so when our driver finally caught up to us, she seemed glad that she had found us in one piece and warned us about wandering around the town. It was the middle of the day.

Day 1

In order to get to our hotel, we needed to go by boat. So our first view of the Amazon was this:

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It only got better. We went with a company called Inkaterra for our trip, which was 3 nights and 2 days. For $425pp, we had all our food, excursions and accommodation (obviously) included. They are an awesome company that try really hard to work for not only their customers, but their workers and the environment as well. We didn’t research the best prices ourselves as we booked a carbon copy of our friends, but they went for a mid-range option for that time range.

On our first day, we were introduced to our rooms and given a tour of the grounds, which were right in the middle of the jungle! I mean it when I say that. We had to step over a colony of ants to get to our cabana. Our cabana was beyond stunning – easily the nicest accommodation we’ve had since leaving Wales, if ever!

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These days, we’re just happy to have a functioning toilet and be surrounded by people that are fine with us not getting high, so this made us feel like kings. From our room alone, I saw a capybara – the biggest rodent in the Amazon (and the world?!). I was half asleep before I clocked what I saw, so I’ll just Google a photo for you.

He’s the one on the left.

After we picked our jaws up off the floor and left our cabana, we met the rest of our group and went about our tour of the grounds. Our tour guide was a cheeky man named –fuck I forgot- let’s call him Juan. Juan smiled a lot, believe it or not, but for some reason my camera always snapped him looking miserable.

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Juan started off gentle, by showing us the plant life and cocoa plants. Apparently some of the smaller ones are not so bitter and are actually quite sweet.

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It wasn’t long before some wildlife appeared join the party. I cannot remember the names of these monkeys, but I know that we saw three out of the five types of monkey living in that part of the Amazon.

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And then we stopped by a boat. It didn’t make a lot of sense for a boat to be in the middle of the rainforest, but it was of big importance here once upon a time. In the 1960’s, a doctor used to take this boat to reach the farmers that couldn’t get to hospital. It became stranded here when the water levels became too low for it to move through.

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Remember when I was fascinated by the woods in California? The trees here had LEGS – eventually they rooted themselves down, but in their early years, they would move to find a good amount of sunlight.

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Others would wrap themselves around other trees and suffocate them, and other would just spread seeds in the hope of some finding enough sunlight. At any given time, the floors would only see 2% of the sunlight from up top, so it is a constant struggle.

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After our tour of the grounds, we got to stop for dinner and I did my classic thing of enjoying the food too much to take pictures. It really was beautiful though. After dinner, we went out on another excursion, but this time it was out on the boat and the goal was to see a Caiman. Our eyes saw one, but our camera had no chance. You’ll just have to take my word for it that the Amazon river at night is even more enchanting than the day time.

Day 2

Day 2 started at 5am. Peru loves their early starts I’ve gathered, and so does the wildlife. We made our way down to breakfast and ate what we could for 5.30 in the morning, before tumbling onto the boat that would take us through one of the streams that had diverted away from the main river (if ever you want to know, that’s called a bifurcation). I’ll let the photos do the talking here, but the jest of it is that we saw several types of birds, plants and creepy crawlies. Our guide had a habit of saying things like “Be careful around XYZ, their sting is very very painful”, before picking said thing up like it was a kitten. The scariest creature he did this with was called a “Bullet Ant”. Yeah… crazy guy!

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I think we were on that boat for nearly 3 hours, but the time passed so quickly. It was an immense pleasure and privilege to see all of these animals going about their morning, without caring for us in our big boat, sailing by. We were in their world, not vice versa!

The evening gave us the opportunity to see animals from the tops of the trees. Ironically we only saw more ants from this angle, but the scenery was still beautiful. Two of our members were jittery with heights, so it was pretty impressive to see them tackling the bridges, which were scary for most average Joe’s!

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That evening, we spent most of our time getting to know each other as a group. Usually, we’re used to being the longest travellers by a good amount, but we were out-travelled by a woman in her early 30’s. She’d only been home to visit in the past two and a half years and had no intention of slowing down. She came with her friend who, after three pisco sours, dominated the conversation from then on. At one point in the night, he built a wall of pillows between us and the Mexicans in our group – in good humour!

Day 3

With a lot of sore heads and shuffling feet, we all made it to breakfast. It was the day of our departure, so as a good gesture from Inkaterra, we were taken to a butterfly house before being dropped off in the centre of Puerto Maldonado.

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I remember being 13 and finding my Dads meditation tapes. They consisted of a very monotone man talking about being in the rainforest and seeing white lights there and stuff. The point of me telling you this is never in a million years did I think I would get to spend two nights listening to those sounds for real! It’s experiences like this that are slowly making our world smaller and smaller. I just want to leave you with one more photo – my favourite plant here!

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Day 108-111: Machu Picchu

*Takes deep breath*

I’ve been avoiding writing about this.

Sorry for the dramatic beginning as that’s not usually my style, but I will always look back on Machu Picchu with mixed feelings, though mostly pride and surprise in my ability. Before we embarked on the trek, I did my research and I asked a LOT of people about what to expect. Both the internet and the people we spoke to were overwhelmingly positive about the experience, and rightly so. Whenever I voiced my concerns about being a bit chubby and not too athletic, however, I was unanimously reassured. “People in their seventies do this trek and thousands of people make it every year, you will be fine!!”.

It’s hard not to compare it to what I imagine being a newly pregnant woman is like. “Millions of women give birth every year, you will be fine!! “, “ It’s such a wonderful experience having a baby, congratulations!”. While both of those statements are true, it doesn’t really give the woman a full picture of what she can expect from having a child.

Not to discredit some of the advice we were given, as it was useful and I’m grateful for people giving us the time to talk about it. I just know that when I am nervous about something, I like to mentally prepare for the worst case scenarios and celebrate it when they don’t materialize. So what I want to do is not focus on the negatives and spook anyone out of doing it – in fact I want to do the opposite. I want to give you the full picture from my perspective so you go into the situation more prepared and end up having the best experience possible.

DAY 1

After a very restless sleep, we were picked up from our hostel at 5.30AM and taken to “Kilometer 82”, a.k.a our starting point. Day 1 is unanimous for being the easiest day, with a gentle 5 hour hike to the first camp. The very beginning of the hike looks like this.

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Spirits were pretty high for all of us at this point, and I even remember asking someone close by “So was that dead woman’s pass?” as a joke. In less than 24 hours I would not be feeling like joking around. The first day is a pretty cool day, as everyone is mostly together and you’re joined by a variety of animals, plants and some awesome scenery along the trek.

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The porters display some of the most impressive feats of human strength out there. These bags that they were carrying would go up to 35+kgs and they would speed past everyone on the trail, no matter how fit they were.

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Each group also has two guides, a main one and one who goes at the back of the group so ensure no one is sick/hurt. Ours were experienced and knew exactly what they were doing and the trail inside-out. This was our main guide, who oversaw everything from beginning to end.

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After five hours of ‘Inca Flat’ (a term used to describe land that isn’t that flat, but is gentle compared to most of the inclines you’ll encounter on the trail), you are greeted with a peak of the campgrounds that we would be staying in that night. They were stunning! Our tent was already set up, food was already being prepared and all we had to do was get ourselves ready for the next day. That evening, we were greeted with amazing, wholesome food that begs belief as to how it was prepared in a tent AND carried along the trail. I wish we’d taken our camera with us to photograph it, because both the quantity and the quality of the food was beyond impressive.

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For me, this is where the problems began. Day 1 isn’t very difficult, but it is not piss easy either, and most people were agreeing with me when I said so. It dawned on me that if Day 2 is meant to be monumentally harder, then I really was going to struggle. I completely lost my appetite there and then and struggled to relax and enjoy the amazing food that was given to us. Throughout the night, I could feel my heart racing and before I could calm myself down enough to sleep, a cockerel signaled that it was a new day.

Day 2

Day 2 is considered to be the hardest day of the Inca trail. You climb from 3000m to 4200m and experience ‘Inca Steps’, which can go nearly as high as your hip bone. This day is where we began to spend a significant amount of time with our second guide, because we (well, I) were the slowest. You can see in my face that I’m not feeling to smug anymore, but the spirits are generally still there.

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Just after this photo was taken, our guide spoke to us and gave us the option to turn back. He explained that it was purely our choice and many slow people still make it through, but he wanted to let us know that it would be unlikely that we would arrive at our second camp in the daylight and it was going to be hard. If I wasn’t with Dan, I definitely would have gone back at this point, because the minute someone shows a tiny loss of faith in me, I bolt. I’m sure you can tell from the length of this blog, that I chose to continue. At this point it was mainly that I didn’t want to rob Dan the chance of a lifetime and I had no idea how we would organise ourselves if I went back alone.

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As you can see from the pictures, Day 2 was just as beautiful as Day 1, with lots to see. Day 2 takes place in three parts mainly as you have the first 2-3 hour trek upwards, then lunch, then another 2-3 hour trek upwards, then a break at Dead Womans Pass, then another 2-3 hour trek downhill to the campsite. The first third was the most difficult physically for me, as we were hemmed in with trees which, albeit beautiful, didn’t allow us to see our progress going up the mountain. There were times where I had no idea how long we had walked for and how long we had to go, which made the trek mentally challenging.

The second third was apparently steeper, but I found it to be so much easier as it was out in the open. You could see where you were, and you could see Dead Woman’s Pass ahead of you, so you always had the context of where you were in the trail. I think it was at this point that I gained some of the time back from my being slow before and made it to Dead Woman’s Pass before it was expected of me. Spirits were pretty high at this point as I started to gain trust in my ability to shift myself up this mountain and get through the day. You can see the lack of energy on my face though – big difference from Day 1. I usually shy away from showing you the shittest photos of me, but I said I’d be honest. Dan pretty impressively still looks like a dude.

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And onto the last third. This was the decline of about 500m to take us down to camp. No one considers this bit to be easy, as going down Inca steps can be challenging on the knees, but it’s meant to be significantly easier than going up. It definitely was for a while, before a storm broke out. We had thunder, lightening and hail for a good 90 minutes before the weather tapered off. This made the steps VERY difficult to go down, and the lightening made the situation frightening as we were high up with no Empire State Building nearby to take the brunt of it.

What I felt confident would have taken us 2-2.5 hours took us over 3 with the adjusting of the ponchos and having to carefully plan our steps. Dan, bless his soul, took a pretty big tumble down the steps at one point and luckily only came out with a grazed shin and palm. As for myself, I had a very strong suspicion that I peed myself when a particularly close prong of lightening hit.

We did make it though and getting to campsite was wonderful. We were told to expect to be at campsite between 8-9 and we made it at around 5pm. This isn’t a big deal, but I felt proud of us to have gotten through that. Our guide who had to stick with us the whole time did not deserve that though – I doubt that was in his job description! The total time of this day was approximately 11 hours, including breaks.

DAY 3

Day 3 is easier than day 2, but is a fair bit longer. It’s a role reversal on Day 2 as well, as you only need to go up 500m, but you have to come down 1200m. The weather was promising to begin with, but it soon began to rain. The views we were meant to be greeted with looked more like this for a while.

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There’s not a wealth to say about Day 3’s morning, except that the energy levels were low. My appetite hadn’t come back and I still hadn’t gotten much rest. This trail did not allow me to feel too sorry for myself on this day for long, however. At about midday, our guide asked us to get to one side in a tone that was darker then his usual, cheerful self. You need to stand aside to allow the porters to get past, but this time was different. Six porters were rushing up the trail with a stretcher between them and an unconscious girl on top of it. She needed help quickly and the best thing for her was to allow the porters to rush her to the local town as quickly as possible. We were told later that it was also at this point that another group started to become really ill and had to stop to throw up at several points on the trail and in another group again, a girl had broken her arm.

So if you were conscious, nothing was broken and you weren’t projectile vomiting, then you were one of the lucky ones. It was also at this point on our trail that we bumped into a few Canadians, which had a cheerful disposition and had a better attitude about being slow and steady. “We’ll get there eventually. Just let the gazelles go past and keep going”. It was really nice to have them pass us, and then pass them at times as well. Our group was a fairly athletic one, so it was good to see that I wasn’t the only one struggling.

The last bit of encouragement came from the skies. The Inca Trail has a habit of hiding and revealing her secrets as she pleases, so I felt like she (or the voices in my head) was letting us know that “all was okay”, when she finally brushed away the clouds to reveal these views.

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The day before, we were at a big disadvantage making it back to camp later than the others, as they missed most if not all of the storm. On day 3, however, we got to see the last of the sun gliding across the mountains, while the others would have passed this scene in fog. I know it was random, but it felt like a gift and I really enjoyed this part of the trek. I’m gutted that I didn’t ask for them later, but even our guide asked to pose for photos and took photos of us here. After 36 hours, the clearing of weather had an incredible effect on everyone’s spirits.

Even though we had to be up at 3am the next day, we ate well (including a really moist vanilla cake that they made that night!) and slept really well.

Day 4

Day 4 was what I expected from Day 1. It was two hours worth of hiking, with only 20 minutes incline and one bit of Inca steps called ‘Gringo Killer’. I made the mistake of relaxing a little too much once we arrived, as my legs became beyond stiff and I went from 26 to 106 instantly. Once we arrived at Machu Picchu, our main guide gave us a tour of the grounds and explained away all the different nooks and crannies to the place. Did you know that Machu Picchu had a constant water supply from a nearby glacier? That and we got to see more of the amazing rock cutting which formed the seamless walls that didn’t need any cement to join. I could go on and on about all the different segments of genius that made up Machu Picchu, but I’ll let you discover them.

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So, to sum up, it was an incredible experience that I do not regret, even if I feel a little embarrassment at being last and keeping one of the guides behind. It brought out the extremes in me in terms of feeling happy and feeling shit, and everyone I spoke to agreed that it was the hardest thing they’d ever done.

As much pride as I feel for not turning back at the beginning of day 2, I’ll always remember that the guides and the porters get 0-2 days off in between each hike before they have to do it all over again, with up to 35+kgs on their backs –  Dan asked to try one of their bags on, and lasted about five minutes before he had to take it off. That and the Inka’s once did treks like this in order to build this beautiful site. A site they never got to finish because of the Spanish invasion and a site that had stood the test of time in an unbelievable way.

The trek is definitely a whole lot more than just your individual achievement, but it’s great to be part of it all the same. It adds to the experience to be able to share it with an awesome group, and we really did have a great group. Really encouraging and interesting to talk to at night in the dinner tent. I can’t imagine people not sharing and caring on a trek like this, but I’m still glad all the same. I’ve found re-living it for the purposes of this blog very cathartic and my mind is already pushing out some of the tougher moments and rose-tinting some of the better moments.

If I could give anyone wanting to do it any advice it would be this; get a decent poncho or as much waterproof’s as you can, get walking sticks, try and get some sleep, eat as much as you think you could keep down and enjoy it when you can. Go in the middle of the year if possible, as it significantly decreases your chance of getting rain on the trial. Physically training for it is a very good idea, even if the altitude gets you on the actual day. If anything, training would mentally prepare you for having to keep moving for hours on end. I DEFINITELY could have done more to prepare for Machu Picchu, but ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ are the words of a girl stuck up a mountain.

It’s very tough, but I have no regrets. Having said that, I’m never going to do it again.

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Day 106-107: Cusco and trying to relax before Machu Picchu

I very much prefer travelling by land. As much as an areal view of cities is amazing, you just do not see the countryside and nitty gritty bits that connect each town from that tiny window on a plane. In Peru, travelling by bus gave us the opportunity to see behind the curtain of tourism and into the real living situations of people here. Some cities were pretty spaced out, so we needed to stop and find food in some of the smaller towns.

In one particular town, the bus pulled up next to a lady in her fifties, who was sitting next to a shop door. All she said was ‘mama’ and ‘papa’ with a croaked voice and her hand outstretched. When she was given money, she didn’t seem to understand it and looked confused when I gave her a chocolate bar. In the UK, we LOVE to assume homeless people have drug and alcohol habits, as it eases our conscience when walking past them. Where was this woman going to get smack from?!

As far as the homes go, if all four walls and roof were sealed together, then that seemed to be a win. We travelled past them mostly at night, and I didn’t want to be caught taking pictures of peoples homes, so again I’ll use the internet to give you an idea.

 

Remember, we were travelling anywhere from 2000-4000m above sea level on average, so the temperatures here would get cold! Apparently it’s not unheard of to get down to –15 degrees C!

For this leg of our journey, we had an amazing tour guide names Nilo. He was one of the first employees of the PeruHop business and is one of the highest rated tour guides – with good reason. The guy didn’t stop talking. As soon as we got on the bus, he explained the rules of the bus in as much detail as you could imagine.

“Please, do not poo on the bus. I have put cameras down there to check. If you have an emergency, like the poo is coming out right now, we’ll stop the bus so you can do it round the side. Sorry to be graphic, but I will name and shame any shitter on this bus!”. He then went on to call someone who worked in his company retarded for not sorting out someone’s pick-up properly. He was full of passion when talking about Cusco and surrounding areas, and demanded that we go on at least one walking tour. So we did the next day.

The walking tour was more than worth it! The first thing our tour guide, Markos, did was show us his calf muscles from walking up and down the streets all day. I don’t have a better picture of him or his calf muscles, but there he is below.

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He then marched us up some streets to show us some of the typical steep and narrow streets to show us some of the Inca architecture. It is pretty impressive to know that these stones are not only from as early as the 15th century, but are not cemented together in anyway and are cut to fit in a way that is superior to building techniques even today.

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To add to how impressive these stones were, they were sometimes enormous! I hope these photos give you an idea, using the people in the background for scale. DSCF6719DSCF6714

We were then taken to see some alpaca clothing in the making. There’s a type of bug that clings to cacti here that, when squished and mixed with different ingredients, makes some vibrant and permanent colours. Most of the traditional Peruvian clothes are coloured this way, and definitely do look bright!

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Our last stop was a view of the city of Cusco. It impressive to see the city climb up the walls of the hills nearby! The last photo is something Dan took – I have no idea where he saw it, but it was somewhere during this walking tour!

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This was an awesome day, but slightly overshadowed by the fact that Machu Picchu was the next day. I know that thousands of people do Machu Picchu every year, but it didn’t stop me from feeling incredibly nervous for most of the day about it.

Day 104-105: Arequipa and Colca Canyon

After Huacachina (I still don’t know if I’m spelling that right and currently have no internet to check), our bus tour took us to Nazca for a quick stop before making our way to Arequipa for two nights. I was surprised when our tour guide announced that we had arrived at Nasca because there seemed to be nothing there, but a small rickety tower.

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The beauty of the place revealed itself to us as we climbed the tower, however. Once we got to the top, we could see vast sand-drawings that decorated the incredibly flat landscape. As we were told in Paracas, these drawings (sculptures?!) are apparently 2000+ years old. I want to believe that and the lack of rainfall lends itself to the possibility, but the idea that no one would have walked across those drawings in 2000+ years, especially later on with a road nearby seems a bit far fetched.

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Arequipa is a fairly large town which seemed to be constantly bustling with life. A lot of travellers we’ve made fell in love with Cusco, which is the stop after Arequipa for us, but our personal favourite was here. It seemed less built for tourists and more built for locals, which gave us the impression that any events that took place were not put on for tourists, but were a real part of Peruvian life. One guy we were travelling with told us that apparently there was a religious festival going on in the main square that evening.

When we got there, a massive stage had been set up and what looked like the entire population of the town was there. There was also a vast amount of incense wafting through the air and at several points, I genuinely wondered if the Pope was going to turn up. We knew better than to bother using our main camera for this as it was in the nighttime. The first picture is what the town square looked like before everything was set up, and through the power of the internet, I’ve either sourced a photo from the exact ceremony, or one very similar.

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It may sound odd, but its not often that you can see thousands of people in one area, yet only hear one voice. The sheer amount of respect that was given to the religious figure onstage from the crowd was huge. Any children over the age of 2-3 knew better than to fidget, and all adults seemed engrossed in what he had to say. Living in a western world, religion is not a big part of our lives, and it features in the news for negative reasons more than anything. To see it alive and thriving is strange, but not in a bad way. I just think they have to deal with a far harder life than we could imagine, and religion is a big feature in keeping the community together and strong.

The next day, we visited Colca Canyon, one of the highest points on our trip – literally as we went to over 5000 meters. If we wanted to, we could have spent two days hiking down into the Canyon and apparently this is the best way to appreciate the place, but with Machu Picchu looming ever so closely, we decided to leave our muscles be for now and concentrate on becoming acclimatized. On our way over, we stopped at a little village that was a well known tourist stop. Six days a week, the locals dress up in traditional clothes and bring out traditional Peruvian animals for tourists to see.

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For 1 Sole (about 20-25p depending on how the pound is doing), you can go further than just admiring these beauty’s and get to hold one for a little while. We went for this majestic creature. He was trained to climb onto hats, but we couldn’t keep a straight face when he was doing that.

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Onto Colca Canyon itself. It is both naturally beautiful and a testament to the ingenuity and skill of the farmers here. How they cultivated this land is incredible.

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Peru grows 3000 different types of potatoes, as well as a variety of corn, quinoa and other vegetables. It achieves this by creating micro climates – the lower levels of land will have a different temperature and humidity to a higher level of land. They’ve mastered knowing what to plant and where to gain the most varied and nutritious diet. This is one reason why the Inca’s and their descendants are said to live to an average of 95 years old!

One special plant that grows at such a high altitude is the Colca plant. We westerners know all about “Colca Blanco” as the locals call it. Shove it up your nostrils and have a great night. The plant, however, has a much calmer affect on the body, with ingredients that help altitude sickness and enough caffeine to give you an energy boost. Every time Colca is mentioned, there’s always a little snigger, but I think you’d have to consume a lethal amount of this plant to want to party. From this day onward, Colca would become a big ally in us being able to move more than a few meters up here.

After appreciating the beauuuutiful landscape, we travelled onwards to a spot where Condors are known to gather. The condor is one of the three national animals in Peru, with the other two being the snake and the Puma.

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We were very lucky. Apparently its only common to see one or two, and fairly often not at all. We saw about six, and they were all baby condors, which should give you an idea of how massive the adult condors become.

The rest of the trip consisted of casually seeing an active volcano in the distance and taking a photo of us at the highest point that we’re likely to get to in South America – about 5100 meters! It amazes me that water collects to form a lake at this height, but the proof is in the pudding.

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I’ll leave this post as it is now, because the more photos I add, the more time it takes to load, and getting a chance to do that is becoming more and more rare!

Day 101-103: Election, Connecting Flights and Lima

Day 101 was 9th November 2016, which will be remembered as a very shitty day for politics according to half the Americans who voted and most Europeans who listened in on the events. Seeing as this is being published more than two weeks after the event, there’s not much to say about it that hasn’t been said. I just hope that everyone learns a few lessons about it now as, on the day, every news channel I watched came across as incredibly arrogant and far too sure of themselves. It ain’t over till it’s over right?

We spent most of the evening at the Airport and found out the result just before departing for South America. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting – flipping of tables, screaming, crying – but I did expect more than the minimal reaction I saw. I guess everyone just had to continue on with their flights and the world doesn’t stop turning.

As far as our flights were concerned, we had three to catch over the course of the evening, with a very tight schedule to do so. We made it, but only just. My terrible Spanish came in handy as in both Guadalajara and Mexico City airport, we had to explain that we needed to make the next flight immediately after each connection kept putting our bags on the conveyor belts, making us go through check-in and security again. We celebrated finally arriving in Lima by having a long-overdue wee and walking as slowly as possible to the taxis.

I wish I could tell you more about Lima, but all we know about it is from the two taxi rides we took from the airport and to our Peru Hop pick-up destination. Both were an eye opener! Full sized busses did here what small cars wouldn’t dare in the UK! And lanes – what lanes?! I feel like a driving test in Peru must go something like this:

“The first rule is there are no rules, now put your foot down!”.

The next day, we began our journey through Peru with a bus company called Peru Hop. I would 100% recommend this company, as they take so much stress away from planning your trip and ensure that you see as many awesome sites as you with ease and safety. On top of this, all of the guides speak English for us gringos, which really comes in handy when you want to learn about the places you’re visiting. The bus took us to have breakfast and to various spots to sight see before stopping in Paracas for lunch.

Paracas is a quaint, seaside town which has one (that I know of) amazing pull for tourists. It has a small island cluster (can’t remember the name for a cluster of islands) just off the coast, which is considered to be the “poor man’s Galapagos”. There was nothing poor about it; it was teaming with life! Penguins, Sea Lions, Pelicans, and that’s just the animals I can remember the name of.

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These carvings are mystical apparently. They have no way of identifying who did them or how old they are. Some assume they could be thousands of years old, which I have a hard time believing but, seeing as they have no rainfall here, it may be true.

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Before we left, I had the perfect opportunity to post with some of the penguins. You’ll have to take my word for it, because I forgot to zoom out.

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After that, we went to do some Pisco Sour tasting before making our way to Huacachina, where we would be spending the night. Pisco Sour is like a national drink of Peru, and in the right cocktail is really good!

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Huacachina is an incredible town, which is essentially an oasis in the middle of a desert, as massive sand dunes surround the place. The Peruvians here came to a very clever conclusion that the best thing to do with gringos is to shuttle them up and down these sand dunes at terrific speed. It’s a weird situation to be in, where you don’t completely trust the driver, but you have no choice but to relax and hope he isn’t going to flip the buggy. If I hadn’t been to the loo beforehand, I would have definitely gone to the loo inside the buggy once we got going!

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Having only been in South America for less than 24 hours, we’d seen lots of wildlife, nearly died in a variety of vehicles and travelling had definitely gone up a gear. It was amazing! We knew entering SA that as far as travelling was concerned, this would be it. And so far it was completely living up to its expectations, and I felt passionate about being in a different country again.