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 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.

Day 98-100: Universal Studios, LA!!

Yet another Last-Post; this time for the USA and it’s gonna be a long-un! We were only a couple of days away from heading south to one of the most exhilarating challenges of our life, so we figured we would spend our last couple of days in California somewhere fancy. Universal Studios had an awesome deal where you only have to pay an extra $4 for a two day pass instead of a one day, though you could do Universal Studios in one day if you got up early and was strict with what you wanted to see and when.

DAY 1 – Journey down to LA

This was a long day, but spectacular in scenery! The first bit of beauty was just past Hearst Castle. Most of the zoo-like animals that were brought over to the mansion eventually had to be donated to local zoo’s. One group of animals that acclimatised well, however, was the zebra. As much as I willed it, they wouldn’t come near. After what I’ve seen from other tourists over the past few days, it’s just as well that they kept their distance. 

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After that we passed by a small, but very quaint town called San Luis. My memory is falling me a little here, but most of these cow statues were around this town, and the whole place was very colourful!

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It was around here that there was a very famous wall. It was famous for a really disgusting reason. I think it’s interesting to see how differently we reacted to it.

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And it made total sense that a gum-ball machine would be in the shop right next to it.

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Our last stop of the journey before hitting up LA was Santa Monica. More cows, watching people surf, eating salt-water taffy. Bliss.

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DAY 2+3 – Universal Studios

After arriving at our AirBnB, we quickly learnt that our host was going through some emotional time and we needed to give him some space. He had just cheated on his girlfriend or something and clearly wanted to just sit there and get high instead of showing us how anything in his house worked. His three cats were more of a host to us than him. It was a good thing in the end though, as we needed an early night in order to make the most of the next couple of days.

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As far as recommendations go, I would recommend whatever you can possibly do here. The studio tour was incredible!  Some of the special effects that they put on in the rides blew my mind! You also HAVE to go to Harry Potter world while you’re there and check out the ride, but just to warn you, it’ll be uncomfortable if you’re scared of spiders! My last personal favourite was the Simpsons ride. I never knew I could scream so much without actually moving anywhere but, like I said, the special effects were awesome!

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And so our time came to an end in the USA. I can only assume that going to Peru after here would be like night and day. The USA has been pretty stunning, warm and… comfortable. It’s been difficult trying to drum up a lot of passion when talking about California, even though I really can see what the fuss is about. I think it boils down to the lack of challenge – our traditions, language, and being haven’t been challenged here. It may also be down to the fact that we haven’t met as many people that we’ve had a genuine connection with here and that’s my fuel. That’s not anyone’s fault, but it may have been what has driven my mood here.

We’ve had a lot of fun, but I think I can speak for both of us when I say we’re ready to shake things up a bit and find out how life south of the hemisphere is.

Day 96-97: Paso Robles #2

To begin with, sorry for the massive delay in posts. We’re not currently in Peru and travelling has really stepped up a notch. I kid you not, we have barely enough time to go to the bathroom, let alone blog!

While we were in Paso Robles, we stayed with a very left-wing couple called “Steve” and “Matt”. They’d invested the best part of $200,000 into their home to make it fit for a B’n’B, and they were pretty much set up for life. They’d already hosted 800 groups of people, so by the time we came along, their establishment was a well oiled machine. We were one of three couples who stayed with them, the other two being a Dad and son from the UK and a married couple from Australia. We inevitably started talking about politics within ten minutes – remember that this was before the election. The hosts were adamant that Hillary was going to win, with a lot of pretty sound statistics to back it up. Both us and the other UK pair agreed, but the Aussies seemed less sure. They didn’t think we should have counted our chickens just yet, and I wish we’d listened to them!

For our second day, our hosts recommended that we visit Hearst Castle.

William Hearst was an eccentric millionaire, whose father came into fortune in his 40’s when he successfully found a massive batch of silver. His father very carefully gave Williams inheritance to a trustee, who would only give William what he needed and when. William was passionate about a patch of land in California, and was eventually granted the rights to own and build upon it at the beginning of the 20th century. He built one of the grandest and most luxurious buildings in California and invited some of the biggest names in Hollywood, such as Charlie Chaplin and the like (I can’t remember..).

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In it’s hay-day, Hearst had all manner of exotic animals, such as polar bears, at his place. He also had a very unique way of allotting time to each guest. Every evening, he would invite everyone into the dining hall for dinner. Each guest would find their names along this beautiful table.

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On your first night, you would find your name very close to Hearst and each night after, your name would be placed further and further away. When your name finally reached the end of the table, that was Hearst’s signal to you that you had maybe outstayed your welcome. If he liked you, however, you would be invited back.

He was passionate about the land the mansion was built upon, and was often heard saying that he would rather the building fell apart than have any of the trees burnt down. He lived by that principle by moving any trees that needed to be moved instead of cutting them down, which would have been much less costly. He also demanded that his guests stay out of their rooms as much as possible and enjoy themselves outside in the sunshine.

And now time for my Bad Tourist award. This one goes to a lovely couple who, after a five minute and very explicit lecture about leading/touching/sitting on anything other than the ground or the handrails, sat here for a full half hour. I’m getting better at my passive-aggressive behaviour though as they originally asked me to take a photo, and I said no. I was shaking with the adrenaline.

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Our next destination will be the end of our time in USA, North America and the Northern Hemisphere for a while! We figured we may as well go out with a bang and head to LA. If I don’t see Tom Hanks, I will be pissed!

Quick Bathroom Story

I just want to write this one down quickly before I forget that it happened. I’m then going to publish it because I have no sense of embarrassment – I strongly believe that it’s a wasted emotion.

During one night in California, we were staying with an Asian man in an AirBnB. The only reason I’m mentioning his race is because his English was very basic and we generally had a hard time understanding each other. He knew just enough English to show us around the house, “bedroom….bathroom….kitchen….second bathroom”. The second bathroom looked a little like this.

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So we continued with our evening by having very little to do with our host as attempts at conversation seemed futile. We ordered take-away and settled in for the night as we were tired and fairly far away from anything there. There were other guests we talked to for a while, but everyone in the house seemed ready for an early night.

Just as I was going to sleep, I felt my stomach rumble and not because I was hungry. Within ten minutes I knew for sure that I wasn’t very well and I needed to go to the bathroom pronto. In my hurried state, I made the quick decision to go to the second bathroom so that no one would have to go through the ordeal of going in to brush their teeth straight after I’d been in. I rushed into the bathroom, quickly locked the door and got to business straight away.

After about 15 minutes, I wasn’t feeling any better, and was resigning myself to staying in that bathroom for the whole night, when I suddenly heard “sorry, sorry!!”. The Asian host darted across from the corner of the room with the washer/dryer in. In my rushed state I must have missed the fact that he was there because it was dark in that corner and I wasn’t able to concentrate on much else.

I couldn’t move or try to make myself seem more decent, which would have been a lost cause anyway seeing as he must have been there the whole time. He was probably working out what to say when I dropped trough, so he decided to hide in order to save me from embarrassment. He bashed into the door with full force and spent what felt like a life-time working the lock to free himself. It must have been a full two minutes of him scrambling at the lock and me having to carry on before the poor fella finally freed himself into the rest of the house.

I never saw that man again.

Day 94–96: Paso Robles, CA #1

We continued along the 1 Freeway on the way to Paso Robles. There was nothing in particular about this place that we wanted to see, it was just a stop on the way to LA. The journey was stunning though, and dotted with amazing sights.

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Our first stop was McWay falls (pictures above). It’s most famous for the waterfall that tumbles onto the beach, creating a scene that is pure paradise. A slightly lesser known fact about this place is that there used to be a multi-million dollar house built on this site. In the 1980’s, a landslide caused the house to me almost completely covered in earth, with only a few broken remains of walls and the view from the patio. As always, nature has a habit of returning the land to glory and it didn’t take the plant-life long to regrow in the areas.

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Next up was Bixby Creek Bridge. I apologise for the cheap pose, but when would I next get a chance to hang off a bridge?! There was also a pathway that led down the side of the bridge and gave you some amazing views of the beach below. Me and Dan have started to have a “anywhere you can walk, I can walk further” competition, so if he could get down to a certain spot, then I had to follow.

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I can’t really provide a location for these photos. They were just along the way. The horses were beautiful and incredibly curious, though they may have been hungry and willing to take a chance on some strangers. It was around this time that I truly began to appreciate what California had to offer. It took a little time, but I’ve got some love for you now Cali!

The next place we went to was completely by chance. It may be because the 1 Freeway isn’t commonly used to get from A to B, but not one person we asked told us about this. I’ll get the small grievance out of the way first, because it was truly sensational. Whenever I’m doing anything, I always want to follow one golden rule. If 1000 people could do the same as me without changing anything or damaging anything, then I go ahead. If 1000 me’s would create damage to anything, I stop. This rule means that I am not one of those travellers – someone who doesn’t care about their surroundings. This lady was one of those travellers and shame on her.

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Ok now I’m done, so here’s the good bit. This is what they didn’t tell us about.

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Elephant seals! Everywhere! All huddled and muddled along this beach, showing all of the emotions.

Bliss.

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Worry.

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Horror.

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Fear.

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Cuddle-road rage.

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Acceptance.

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And finally, love.

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It was amazing to see how individual all of their faces were. Not a single one looked exactly like the other. They did have one thing in common though. It became evident that each of these glorious animals had the instinct to turn towards the sea and head back out into the big blue. It was touching to see this one give a final farewell before heading out.

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There’s something amazing about seeing an age-old tradition take place, such as this. Once that precedes me and mankind, and one that will hopefully outlive me as well. These eccentric looking creatures knew what they needed to do – now we just need to figure that out!

Day 91-93: Halloween and Monterey

Our  Canadian Thanksgiving mission, which was to spend it with a local, was pretty successful. We did not have roast turkey and all the trimmings, but we did have a Canadian breakfast in a Canadian home with a Canadian host. And I put some maple syrup in my tea. The reason that we were so adamant that we had to spend thanksgiving this way was because we can’t spend 9 months feeling like a tourist. Sure, its not our holiday, but as I keep explaining to people we meet, we don’t go crazy over much in the UK apart from Christmas.

Monterey was a beautiful sea-side town, which was our first stop between San Francisco and LA. We’ve done a lot of back and forth in our journey in order to see as much as possible, and we’re still only going to scratch the surface. The town is just off the 1 freeway and has stunning drives to and from the place in any direction. The main attraction here is the Aquarium, which I think is the largest in the world? I’m sure that’s what someone told me.

Our AirBnB hosts were kind enough to lend us their annual pass, which stopped us from being $100 out of pocket. It’s not a cheap place to get into, but a lot of the money goes towards keeping the wildlife in the area healthy and sustainable and researching into global warming. I’m sure most of these pictures are going to speak for themselves, so I’m just going to pop them below:

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Here, just like in any zoo or wildlife enclosure anywhere now, they spoke a lot about the impact of climate change. I personally never gave the oceans much thought before this visit, and focused most of my concern on wildlife in the rainforests and the climate closer to home. But the truth is that nearly half of the known coral reef in our oceans has already died and we have reached a point in time where the climate will wipe out all of it if we do not intervene. The oceans absorb most of the CO2 we release into the atmosphere, but become more and more acidic as a result, which affect the balance needed for ocean life to thrive. That fact is indisputable and it’s terrifying. How arrogant are we to come along and wipe out species of animals who’ve been here for millions of years? Do we really want to be in a position where all we can do is mourn these beautiful, living sculptures?

Now back onto Halloween. Dusk was approaching and we had made no plans. We asked people on the street, waiters, supermarket workers, anyone within reach, but they all said the same thing; Halloween is on a Monday this year. If we weren’t around to celebrate it at the weekend, then we pretty much had lost out chance. We could try and go to a bar, or we could go back to our AirBnB and admit defeat in front of a TV with some candy (that’s sweets/chocolate to you and me).

We drove home and shuffled up to the front door with the keys in hand. Before we put the key in the lock, the door opened and we were faced with two people and a dog in fancy dress. As usual with the people we meet, the British-ness in me feels that taking a photo of them would be an invasion of their personal space, so I’ll find the best replica I can on the internet.

Is this in any way how they looked? You’ll never know. Our hosts didn’t have much Halloween luck either, as they thought we would be their fourth trick ‘o’ treaters, but they made the effort to dress up and provide candy regardless. We ended up eating most of it and watched Cloverfield 10 with them, so it wasn’t the Halloween we expected, but it was a good one.