A Travellerspoint blog

Lima, back to the UK and thank you

20 - 21 November

rain
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After and excellent lie in we spent the morning in our massive suite sorting our bags out and preparing for the long haul back to the UK. Having spent the morning in the hotel we spent a boring few hours in the laundry sorting our clothes out, so we didn't go back with anything unsavoury.... and then headed out into Lima to find some fun. We milled about and found Pizza road, where of course we had pasta Chatted to another couple who had just arrived in Lima at the start of a three week holiday that saw them doing just about the same trip as we had done but backwards. Jealous much? Not at all!! :-(

After our late lunch we found the two local parks and some lovely local churches and had a wonder about looking at a local art sale in the streets before we headed down towards the coastline and the beach. The beach was covered in surfer dudes and chicks and plenty of others, young and old, either learning to surf, flaunting their surf skills or just walking along the beach without tops on and flexing their muscles. I chose not to show off my surf skills, or show off my chest, so as not to make anyone feel insignificant. We wandered out to a jetty on the seaside and gazed at the hundreds of crabs on the rocks and watched the surfers and paragliders jumping off the edge of the cliffs above us and floating around a bit! All a bit like hard work for me although Rache was tempted for a flight... Maybe next time.

After a walk back and a chill out at the hotel we headed out for another Italian dinner on our last night... I had successfully managed to avoid guinea pig for the whole duration of the trip!! Woo hoo!! A very chilled out day although Lima was much nicer than I expected, even if we weren't staying in Lima really but Miraflores.

The following day we had scored a late check out from our suite meaning that we didn't have to leave until 1pm. With that in mind we spent the morning re-packing the bags for the last time and just chilling out watching re-runs of episodes of friends before we headed out to Lima to kill some time. With not much time to kill and not much to do in the area we were staying in we spent a few hours in Starbucks, very backpacker travel-ish, finally finishing my book and then wandering about before we had to head off. First to Lima airport for a fight to Madrid and then from Madrid to Heathrow.... Really boring flights with nothing to credit them except that we were on the same fight as Ed Stafford... The chap who walked the Amazon, we did have a chat when we got back to Heathrow as we waited for our bags (which were left in Madrid, sigh!!), a really nice guy!!

Back in the UK mum and dad met us to take us back to Buckingham and we could finally complain about the weather being too cold after 4 months of little but heat.

Looking back over the blog over the last 4.5 months and the countless photos we have taken (at least 15,000), we can categorically say that we have had the most incredible time and we're really luck to have been everywhere that we have been, den everything that we've done and experienced everything that we have. It feels strange to be back in the UK and after so long away it feels strange to settle back in and not have to think about packing the bag or booking a bus to take us somewhere else. Writing this blog has been very therapeutic and thoroughly enjoyable, I just hope that it has been an enjoyable read. Several people have said that they have enjoyed reading it so I must have done something right and we've had over 2,500 views in total on the various blogs. To everyone that has spent even just a few minutes reading one of the blogs a big thank you and to everyone who has made this trip as incredible as it has been a big than you to too.

Stay safe, stay happy... Now go book yourselves a holiday!! :-)

Posted by jon_rache2011 24.11.2011 05:32 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Puerto Maldonado and exploring the rainforest

15 - 19 November

15 November:

Feeling refreshed from our day of shopping and a chill out in Cusco today we started the last real part of our trip and the part that Rache had probably dreaded the most, a trip out into the rainforest to see some proper wildlife. After breakfast we made out way to Cusco's tiny airport set in the valleys and boarded a plane bound to Puerto Maldonado... A small town built on the Tambopata river, one of the tributaries that flows towards the Amazon and Brazil where we would be based for 4 nights. Although the flight was only about 20 minutes and no sooner had we taken off than we seemed to be landing it was a really scenic one. Firstly cruising over the incredible valleys and snow capped mountains around Cusco before that gave way to endless rainforest as far as the eye could see and rivers the colour of chocolate carving windy paths through the trees.

Puerto Maldonado airport was tiny and on arrival our guide was ready for us and another bus full to take us to the Posada Amazonas where we would be staying, the nearest of three lodges on the Tambopata River owned by a cooperative company that was staffed and run by the local community of Infierno. The bus took us 45mins down a bumpy mud track and past groups of black vultures towards a small jetty on the side of the river... we did some good snacks on the way :-) and we boarded a boat for the final 45 min stint to the lodge.

Not really knowing what to expect when we got there the lodge was really nice, 25-30 rooms all built in a small clearing in the rainforest next to the river, big high ceilings and one wall completely open to the rainforest so that you could just sit in your hammock and watch the wildlife. No windows or doors, just curtains, very back to nature. Although the had no doors one thing we had plenty of was bats, sleeping in our roof. We asked if that was normal and the guide said yes, just don't get any pooh on your clothes cos it stinks!! Great! With day 1 already spent on travelling there was no time for anything else and after a small talk on the history of the lodge we had a buffet dinner, trying to explain to the kitchen that Rachael was a vegetarian, and off to bed for an early night ahead of an early start.

16 November:

Having suffered a sleepless night on account of the constantly screaming bats above our heads the 3.45am wake up call found us already awake and for me relieved to leave the room. How can 2 dozen tiny bats make so much noise? It's beyond me!! This morning we took a trip Tina nearby oxbow lake and the early nature of the trip was supposed to make it more likely that we would see more wildlife as they woke up for brekkie. A short hop on the boat and a group of 20 of us took a walk through the rainforest in the dark to another boat on the lake where we would take our tour. We were told that there were giant sea otters, caiman, snakes and all sorts living in the lake and if we were lucky we would have a good morning for it. Unfortunately pickings were slim for us for the couple of hours we spent on the boat. We did see both caiman and macaws from afar but we spent most of our time looking at bats (I saw enough of those last night) and a bird called a bassoon (?). We did do a spot of fishing though.... for piranhas, which was quite cool, I'm not so sure that I would have been so confident holding them as the guides were though! Vicious little bleeders!!

Our disappointing trip over we headed back to the lodge for breakfast and saw some red howler monkeys as we walked the trail back from the jetty. Our action packed day continued with a trip to a clay lick where the local macaws came to eat. We sat in a bird hide next to the lick for about an hour and the best we had was a tree full of macaws a few hundred metres away on the other side of the river... Again disappointing!

The day had to get better and in the afternoon we headed to a local shaman who made and supplied botanical drugs to the locals, using the plants growing in and around their part of the rainforest. We were told that people came from all over the world to see him for his herbal remedies and to cure all manner of ills... We could have done with him a few weeks ago when we felt rubbish! We had a tour of the gardens and various plants, chewing some leaves that made my mouth numb and ending our trip tasting three shots of these remedies, all of which seemed to be drowned in a secret ingredient, Pisco. Interesting but no animals :-(

With time left in the day a much smaller group of 7 of us headed out for a short night walk into the local jungle. Armed with torches we searched for bright eyes staring back at us out of the darkness as we moved quickly through the forest. We happened across a tiny possum, much smaller than the ones we had seen in New Zealand and countless ants, creepy crawlies and odd bugs. At one point our guide Robin said do you want to see a spider and whilst all of the guys in the group jumped forward Rache and the other girl jumped back... He he! We walked off the path into the lair of a chicken spider, one of the biggest in the world. The girls screamed as we were ushered within a metre of this giant spider and told to turn our lights off so Robin could take some pictures. Although Rache was scared she was outdone by the other brit in the group, a middle aged chap who having said he wanted to see the spider suddenly starting hopping from one foot to the other panicking... Hilarious! We took pics and wandered through the forest, with most hoping that we would see no more spiders and were back at the lodge within the hour. We switched rooms during the day to get away from the bats and returning to our room our oil lamps had been lit for us and the mosquito nets lowered. We enjoyed a much better, bat-less night sleep after a pretty full if disappointing day.

17 November:

Feeling better rested we were up at 6am for a walk to a watchtower nearby the lodge which stood at 37 metres high, up lots more steps (sigh) and took us up into the forest canopy to find wildlife. From the top we had an excellent view of lots of green parrots and a really nice sunrise in the distance over the forest.

After a break and some brekkie we headed back to the clay lick that we had visited the following morning where this time we were treated to several dozen macaws just metres away from the hide that we were sat in. They were awesome and we spent ages, and several hundred photos, just watching them in the trees and eating at the clay lick... They were hilarious and it was great fun to watch them and a highlight of our rainforest trip so far. When we had to walk back to the lodge we were even saw Tamarins leaping around in the trees just metres away... Really cool.

After a chill out... And with the bulk of the rest of our group gone the four of us that remained headed out for a longer walk into the forest to a huge fig tree. Our guide told us about some good and evil tree spirits and told us more about the forest as we walked along looking for wildlife. Arriving at this giant tree we saw a huge gecko and lots of butterflies and after taking pics we went in search of a giant python that had been seen by another group nearby, drawing a blank we made our way back to the lodge and after dinner settled into bed with the rain and a big thunderstorm roaring all around us.

18 November:

Having not really seen much wildlife while in the rainforest we had to hope that our last full day would give us something fun to look at. We didn't get off to a great start as it was still raining and the morning was spent chilling out at the lodge waiting for the rain to stop. As it did we headed out for an impromptu walk into the rainforest before lunch... and we were really glad that we did. Within a few minutes we were surrounded by saddle back tamarins, brown capuchins, squirrel monkeys, red howler monkeys and oho oho monkeys. They were all over the place and leapt in huge jumps between the trees around us and over our heads just metres away from us. It was really amazing and a huge highlight of the entire trip. We took countless pictures and followed them through the forest as they played around us. We even saw a lone black spider monkey, Robin told us that they were rare and even more rarely seen in this area, we were really lucky. It was amazing and although we had to head back after an hour or so we really didn't want to! In the afternoon we took a 3 hour walk through the forest in search of tapirs, wild pigs and anaconda. We didn't find any but we had a really nice walk through the forest and it had been a really good day!

19 November:

For our last day in the rainforest we were up early again and took a short walk through the forest before breakfast looking for wildlife. We drew another blank though and returned having not seen much. As we were heading off that morning there was no time for any more exploration so we chilled out listening to the sounds of the jungle waiting for our transfer back to Puerto Maldonado and our flight on to Lima. We had been a little disappointed at the amount of wildlife that we had seen (or hadn't) but it was great fun and good to spend some time in the rainforest. When the group sizes were smaller we had a great time and seeing the monkeys was a huge highlight of the while trip, we left with good feelings of the trip.

A short trip back to the airport where we took a flight through Cusco, again seeing the miles of rainforest beneath us and on to Lima. Not quite as scenic as the rainforest but it was a means to an end. I'm not a fan of cities and the hour long cab ride from the airport didn't help much. We weren't that fussed about being in Lima and arriving in the dark we had time only to buy dinner and a beer and then to bed... In the hostel where we had been given a suite... With three double beds, a set of bunk beds and two balconies... Hilarious!!

Posted by jon_rache2011 20.11.2011 06:45 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Walking the Inca Trail

10 - 14 November

overcast

Day 1: Up bright and early our group was ready to go at 5.30am when Cesar arrived with the bus. Minus three of the Dutch group who had fallen victim to food poisoning the day before and had to pull out. We headed out of Cusco picking up another two on the way (Roy and Marjam) more Dutch, sigh - he he, on our way to Ollantaytambo town... To pick up some final bits and bobs, Coca leaves, water etc... and have to check we had everything we needed. After our pit-stop and with a mixture of excitement and illness we took the final short hop by bus to kilometre 82 on the Machu Picchu railway where we were bound to start our trek. I picked up a sun hat that Rache said made me look like Indiana Jones although I think it was probably more like a nerdy tourist abroad we took some nice group photos under the sign for the trail and we wandered through a checkpoint, getting a stamp in the passport (woo hoo) and over a bridge to start our trek. WOO HOO!!! Having dreamt of doing this trek for as long as I can remember it felt both very cool and very bizarre to finally be underway.

The first day was quite an easy one following the Urubamba river along a fairly flat path towards an Inca ruin at Patallacta where we took lots of photos and had an explanation of the layout and the buildings former function. A really nice ruin set by the river in a deep recess of the valley much of which had been restored. Shortly after this we paused for a really nice lunch by the river and some maize beer (yummy - especially with strawberry). Although a fairly easy walk it was really beautiful... Through a steep valley with an amazing view of the 6000m high snow capped mountains in the background. Explanations of various plants and sites along the way we walked as a group towards our first camp site at Wayllabamba at 3000m where we arrived after 4 hours and about 12km. All along the way even though they had been carrying up to 20kilos our porters were ahead of us all the way. They carried all the food, tents, equipment etc... (all but for our individual backpacks) and always arrived before us, even though they had to set up the tents and cook lunch, dinner etc... They never failed to be ready for us, amazing, how they have the energy I will never know!! Our first camp site gave us a beautiful view of the mountains and we had a good night sleep after a group dinner that just kept coming dish after dish, soup, various plates of tasty stuff and fruity puddings! We even got countless cups of hot chocolate and coca tea and popcorn!!! Yum!! We also had an opportunity to meet our guides and porters properly and try to remember the names of all 13... I'm not ashamed to say that within a few minutes most of the names were gone... It must be my age, I am 30 now after all :-(

Day 2: Up early the next morning we left the tents For the porters and had a hearty breakfast before adding another stamp in the passport for day 2 and through the checkpoint onto the trail. We wound our way up towards Lluluchapampa Village a steep trek uphill and up steep steps that made the legs groan and wonder what was going on. We took several stops along the way as a group with chats, hi-fives and applause along the way. It was nice to feel like the group was bonding a bit and that everyone was starting to chat to one another more and help one another along, both in our own group and with others. Cesar said that now we were on the trail we were more like a big family and that was the way it started to feel. Our goal was the dead woman's pass (warmiwanuska), a mountain pass at 4200m, which was so named because the mountains looked like a woman lying down. The valley we walked through towards the pass was highlighted by beautiful mountains, streams, sections of rainforest and llamas looking at us like we were mad.

We would our way 1200m up the ridiculously steep steps to the top of the mountain pass, which took around 5 hours, chewing sweets and coca leaves on the way to ward off altitude sickness. It wasn't until after we had been chewing them for two days that Cesar mentioned they could be used in cocaine production and if we were heading home within the next couple of weeks we should probably avoid any drugs tests! He he! When it felt like the legs couldn't take it anymore and after several false alarms were we thought we had reached the top but hadn't we finally emerged to the top of the pass where most of our group waited along with several others and we all shared a break, and a kit Kat, and enjoyed the amazing view and some group photos and as they had shouted us in we shouted in the last couple of people from our group. The last few kms had been the hardest where we could see the top and people starting to emerge on the top, knowing that we were so close and yet it never seemed to get any closer was the hardest part. It was like being back on Colca Canyon again, but having conquered that we knew we could do this too. This was the highest point on the trail and after a few minutes without walking the cold set in and with energy back in the legs having walked all the way up the steps we had to walk all the way down steps for 2 hours on the other side towards our campsite on the Pacaymayo Valley. Whilst one side of the mountain pass had been perfectly clear and warm Te other side was shrouded in fog and we walked down the long stairway into the fog beneath us. Cesar had said this would be the most challenging day of the 4 because of the steepness of the first 5 hours of the walk so with that done whilst it had been a struggle we knew that the worst of the uphill done! :)

We arrived at Pacaymayu at 3600m after the best part of 7 hours walking at lunch time where our tents were typically set up already and a fresh pot of hot chocolate was waiting for us. Our camp site was really scenic, set down in the valley with waterfalls above us cascading down the mountains and a deep valley stretching out in front of us. We had time to chill out, a freezing cold shower, some games in the tent before dinner and time to watch the slower groups arrive who for the most part didn't come in until after dark, that made us feel pretty good that on this 'most difficult day' we had come in earlier than planned. Dinner included a dessert that was aflame and drowned in Pisco, which threatened to set half the tent alight. As it was cold the boozy pud was very welcome however. Although there are a limited number of people and porters allowed on the trail one of the most noticeable things about the day had been the number of people on the trail and the queues that we sometimes got stuck behind. With the track that much narrower in some places it also made it more difficult to move over for porters who were running down the trail quite casually with their 20 kilos. As we were at altitude it was much colder that night, below freezing, and we definitely felt it... especially with one knackered sleeping bag, it tipped with rain all evening and through the night as well. The guides had made us hot water bottles but still we struggled to get to sleep and were glad when the morning rolled around and we could get up.

Day 3: With the highest of the climbs out of the way the rest of the trek was of course down hill and today was supposed to be, the most spectacular and longest day of the 4 as well as the day with the most downhill steps! Even though we were headed down hill the day started with a steep uphill climb to the Runkurakay pass at 3970m. Here we stopped to take photos of the site of Runkurakay and look at the view from this watchtower set up in the clouds and at the time covered in fog. Another short hop up the hill and further into the clouds to the highest point of the day where we stopped to take some more picks and to climb a small ridge where did a ceremony to say thanks to nature, giving small offerings of fruit and coca leaves to the Pacha Mama (mother earth).

Feeling very spiritual we descended down more steps and headed towards Sayacmarca (3580m) where we visited these spectacular ruins set on the edge of the valley with amazing views all around. The fog setting in the valley below only served to make the setting more spectacular and add a real air of mystery about the location. From here we headed through cloudforest and past the ruins of Qonchamarka towards our resting spot for lunch, which looked back across the valley at the ruins of Sayacmarca, when the clouds lifted. After lunch we ventured further into the beautiful cloud forest, climbing down steep steps and walking past lush green trees they melted into the track winding our way to the ruins of Phuyupatamarca and an incredible view of the mountains and surrounding countryside. At one pass we even got phone signal for the first time (no internet though sooner couldn't look up the Saints v Munster score). As they say it's all down hill from here... and it was. We walked downhill seemingly forever, down steep and slippy moss covered steps. We all visited the ruins of Phuyupatamarka where we had a quick chat and enjoyed the view as a group before breaking up again and carrying on. Rache and I had visited several ruins by ourselves with just Roy and Marjam and had spent much of the day walking and chatting to them. When given the choice of a short cut to the campsite at Winaywayna or a longer route with more ruins the four us chose to head the longer route to the ruins of Intipata where suffering from withdrawal symptoms we climbed countless steps upwards to the top of the ruin for an amazing view of the valley stretching out in front of us, the river and even the train heading off from Aguas Calientes towards Cusco... It was truly breathtaking. After a short while we headed onto one final set of ruins for the day at Winaywayna where again we had a spectacular view to end the day as the sun set. Unfortunately the bar at the campsite was closed so after a great dinner, with the hard walking behind us we settled in for the night with an alarm call set for 3am for the final day and a date with Machu Picchu.

Day 4: Waking obediently at 3am we were up an ready to go by 3.30am. The aim of the morning was to race to do everything, up as early as possible in the race to join the queue to get through the control gate onto the trail. Despite our worries about getting stuck at the back we were near the front of the queue when we arrived and had but to wait 2 hours before the gate opened at 5.30am and we could start to make our way towards Intipunko, or more commonly known as the 'sun gate'. As the control opened we almost rain the 40mins to Intipunko and despite the steps and harsh cobbled path we made it in good time before the majority of other walkers, Cesar had told us to think of it as a race and we did. Although the rest of our group arrived about 15-20 mins after we did for our efforts we were treated to an amazing view of the valley and the sun breaking through that was clouded by fog and invisible by the time most of the other trekkers appeared. It was nice to have some quiet time at the gate away from the crowds but all the same it was nice to have our group back together again when everyone was there.

From Intipunko put group stayed together and led by Cesar we started to make our way down the valley towards Machu Picchu being given our first view of the incredible Incan city as the fog lifted to give us a beautiful clear day. Having dreamt for so long of doing the inca trail and going to Machu Picchu I don't mind saying that I felt a bit emotional and after 4 days of walking the trip had again been all the more worth it. We took countless photos as we got closer and closer eventually emerging inside Machu Picchu for group photos etc.... before having to head out, dump our bags and walking sticks, gaining another excellent stamp for the passport, and then heading back in for a guided tour of the ruins and plenty of free time to ourselves. It was truly amazing and really interesting to learn about the history of the place and to see the architecture. Having spent so long wanting to be here it was to finally actually be here!!

After our tour Roy and Marjam headed up Wayna Picchu, the smaller peak that appears in all the postcard pictures and overlooks Machu Picchu and although we were very jealous and tempted to go as well we gave it a miss. Heading back through the ruins and chilling for a bit we lasted as long as we could before we got infinitely fed up of all the tourists who swarmed from every corner in huge groups before we headed out to the bus to Machu Picchu town feeling both exhausted and thrilled at what we had achieved. A nice lunch with the group before a wander around the local market and then back on the Peru Rail bus bound to Cusco, watching other ruins, the mountains, the river and even the starting point of our trek passing by the window as we enjoyed a few well deserved beers on the way back. Picked up by bus and a quick transfer back to our hostel, serenaded by some bizarre Dutch songs... it was like sitting in on the worst of X-factor highlights.

The 43km inca trail had been amazing and whilst challenging for both of us in places we felt immensely proud that we had completed it, and we have the stamps in the passport to prove it, even if the 'traditional' inca trail was made up mostly from non-original paths that had been rebuilt over the years (only some secrions were original). Although Machu Picchu had been amazing as well for me it was the trek that made it as the central attraction had been filled with people, there were times on the trek when you felt like you were experiencing it alone. The views on the trail were incredible an it was nice to have to work for them! It was also the group we had travelled with that made much of it... having nice people to chat to and feeling like we had accomplished it all as a team was great! I had always dreamed of doing the trek to Machu Picchu an now I have done it I will have to find another one, maybe Everest will suffice! Happy days!!

After a good nights sleep back in our hostel in Cusco we had another nice lie-in in the morning and chilled out for a bit to give our legs a well deserved rest. With a day to chill out in Cusco and suffering withdrawal from not getting up early to walk for hours we did the most relaxing thing we could think of, shopping. We wondered around Cusco picking up some bits to take home and just had a chilled out day. Returning to the hotel we had a note waiting for us from Roy and Marjam inviting us for dinner, which was great as we thought we would not see them again before we left. A really nice evening and a good close to a good week! We ended the night with another pint of IPA in Paddy's bar before bed and another good night's sleep.

Posted by jon_rache2011 20.11.2011 06:43 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Touring (and shopping) around Cusco

8 - 9 November

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With a full day to do whatever we wanted in Cusco we had a small lie-in (luxury!!!) before heading down the hill and through Cusco's cobbled streets to have a proper look at the various churches, the cathedral and the many many tourist shops. Cusco was set typically with a series of big hills rising ominously in the background. Although we were at 3300m having been at much higher altitudes over the previous weeks the altitude sickness started to subside And we had a feet tiring day walking around the beautiful cathedral, a museum full of (some) interesting Incan artefacts and then the Iglesia de San Blas and the ruins of Qorikancha and Santa Catalina Angosta. Each of the churches were really beautiful and provided a feel for the cultural and religious history of the town. Although the town had a really touristy feel and there were tour groups of bus based travellers gawping at every corner it was still really lovely and it wasn't difficult to get away from the crowds.

With tired feet we headed back to the hostel to chill out before our rearranged meeting which happened this time and we met the rest of our group. The same Dutch group that we had shared the trip to the islands on Lake Titicaca with. We had a full briefing on the Inca trail from our guides Cesar and Judith and some advice on what to bring and some equipment that we might want to hire from the Peru Plant company that we were travelling with. We were given a map as well so as to instil as much fear in us as possible about the walk and the effort ahead and to try and ensure that we had a sleepless night beforehand thinking about it all.

The following morning we had another lie-in (disgraceful) and had a day ahead of us to chill and prepare for the trail buying the bits that we needed. We bought more carrier bags stuffed full of every manner of sweet imaginable and bars of chocolate to survive us 4 days and hired a rucksack ad mine wasn't going to do me any good. We also took some sleeping mats from the company in an attempt to try and get some sleep during the trip. With the effort ahead of us it was a very chilled out and un-exciting day watching the rain and thunder-storm pound down outside in the afternoon, great timing!! We did have lunch in the Muse bar recommended by mate Tall Paul, which was clearly a pretty cool backpacker hang-out, where they did awesome nachos!! Bags packed in the evening and doubts about our fitness creeping into our heads we took an early night in readiness for the following day and a 5.30am pick-up.

Posted by jon_rache2011 20.11.2011 06:41 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Arequipa to Puno and Lake Titicaca on the road to Cusco

4 - 7 November

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Having recharged our batteries in Arequipa we were up early again this morning to make our way to the bus station (again) for the next leg of the trip to Puno, a starting point where we would take a 2 day trip out onto Lake Titicaca.  In typical Peruvian style the bus journey was a lengthy one but this time we were treating to a waiting lounge before we got on the bus with big comfy sofas and we even got some shortbread as a snack!! As the films were fairly good as well, the blindside and something with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kuetcher in it the journey passed by fairly quickly. We were treated along the way to the sight of huge lakes spreading out into the desert-like landscape most of which were host to groups of alpacas and flamingos enjoying the scalding heat and no doubt the cold water.

Arriving in Puno in the late afternoon and still feeling the effects of altitude sickness we arrived to find our hostel cocooned in scaffolding and not sure if it was actually open for business.  On realising that it was, shame, we dropped our bags and ventured out for something to eat before taking an afternoon nap to try and kick the sickness.  

It wasn't until the evening that we ventured out into Puno, which is famed in Peru for being a 'folklore-ific' town where the locals love nothing more than a good drink, a spot of dressing up and a good old dance. It took us all of 5 metres to the end of the street to find evidence of that with some random merriment ensuing and the locals waving their hankies around like their lives depended on it.  Whilst we would have loved to join in we were on a mission for our trip the following day.  A carrier bag full of snickers, crisps, pasta and tomato sauce later we headed out for dinner and a dodgy pizza later we returned to our scaffolded abode, with the outdoor merriment having finished and fell asleep watching the fantastic four in Spanish... The alarm set for another early morning.

Fully stocked on snickers and after the usual breakfast of ham
Sandwiches (!!) we were up for a 9am pick-up with a group of 10 other Dutch tourists who were doing the same tour as us from Puno out onto Lake Titicaca.  The bus took us the few minutes to the local port and after buying some bits as a gift for the family that we would be staying with we clambered over countless boats that all looked exactly the same and were all headed out to the islands and waited.  In fact we were the last boat of several dozen to leave... Presumably as they were hoping to sell the remaining seats to some random late arrivals.

Leaving the busy and bustling port behind us we headed out onto the water to Islas Uros... The floating islands within the Uros national park where the locals lived on islands made from reed beds and in homes made from the reeds as well.  We powered past smaller canoes, also made from the reeds, paddled by local on their way to the port and other locals on larger reed boats, the equivalent of cruise liners in the reed boating business, all dressed up in old school Incan dress, probably off for a good old party  at the port.

We had a good view behind us of Puno and the thousands of homes climbing up into the hills beyond.  We even 'sailed' past a steam ship that had been given to Peru by the British back in the day to help open the first commercial trading routes. Ever helpful nobody had considered how to transport this ship all the way Peru and it ended up being dismantled and carried by donkey over the dessert before being reassembled for use in Puno.  Nice idea but... !!  It seemed very strange to think that although we were on a lake we were still at over 3800m.  Thus was to be the highest we would reach throughout the trip.

Reaching the islands after a few minutes we were given a demonstration of how the reeds were pulled together to make the foundation of the islands... Using a model that was also made of reeds, how very economical.  The only thing not made of reed was the real life flapping fish used to demonstrate the oven!!  We were given a tour of the few houses and the buildings on the island that the locals 'lived' in and invited to spend our soles on some home made treats.  I say 'lived' in as there's some debate over whether the locals actually live on the islands or if they just go out there for the tourists and then back to the mainland during the rest of the day... Most of their kids were at school on the mainland anyway so it seemed to make sense that they would live on the mainland. Although the houses were made of reeds the television and electric sockets made it all look similar to home!!

After a nice visit to the island and the home of the 'president' we had a short trip on a large reed canoe before heading back onto our boat and trotting over to the island of Amantani where we were staying the night.  An island with some 4000 inhabitants mostly living in buildings made of mud bricks.  We met our mama Gladys at the port who took us to her house and introduced us to her family.  The gifts of fruit and pasta went down really well and the colouring book and pens made a little girl very happy when Rache dished then out.  We had been quite worried about this part of the trip due to our lack of the Spanish... We found out pretty quickly that the locals spoke no Spanish, only Quechua, so problem solved!!  Our hosts were really fantastic and we shared our accommodation with a Belgian couple.  It was basic but really nice to feel part of their family and we felt really welcome.  We ate lunch and dinner together at the families dining table and even spoke a little English to their daughter who was learning.  She showed us the lyrics to the Michael Jackson songs that she was trying to learn and with the use of the iPod we played the girliest songs I could find.  

We watched a beautiful sunset from a hill that overlooked the island although it was a difficult walk due to the altitude, we were at 4200m at the top and we felt it!! It was truly stunning though and well worth the walk... Even if it was easier going back down.

After a restless nights sleep, as Rache was really feeling unwell, we ate a very 'jammy' breakfast before taking some pictures and saying goodbye to our family.  Our apprehension gone as we had  been made to feel so welcome.  We headed back on our boat and took the trip over to Tanguile island.  Another island on the lake inhabited by just 2000 with a stunning view of the surrounding islands and another steep walk to the top of a hill.  We had lunch with a family on the island and had a demonstration of some local handicrafts before a 3.5hr trip back on the boat to Puno.  A nice snooze on route and a dinner back in Puno before a night in a proper bed... Lush!

After a decent sleep we were up early yet again and having shared a cab with the Belgian couple that we stayed with at the homestay we arrived at the bus station and met up with the Dutch group that had also been on our trip.  Boarding a Cruz Del
Sur bus and luckily scoring the front seats on the top deck, with more leg room that you can shake a stick at, we made our 6 hour journey through the mountains and valleys towards Cusco.  A really beautiful journey that left the desert behind and showed us rivers, trees and finally grasses and green stuff!  Much more exciting.  The journey gave us the landscape that i had always hoped to see in Peru rather than the constant desert and sand that we had become used to over the last 2-3 weeks.  I actually started to get excited about the the fact we were in Peru and that the Inca trail wasn't far away!

Arriving in Cusco we were treated to a big traffic jam when making our way into the centre a drove past the local 'airport', one runway and one small building set into the middle of two larger hills... Very scenic.   Arriving at the hotel in the afternoon... at the top of a hill, that's gonna be fun to walk up, we were told that there would be a meeting that evening to discuss the inca trail with the rest of our group so we settled in to watch the Kings Speech as there was no point going out and waited for our meeting.  7pm came and went without our meeting, rearranged for tomorrow, grrr... So we went to Paddy's Irish bar down the road (actually run by an Irish man) for some amazing comfort food, burger and nachos and two pints of Green King IPA, and had a look at the amazing cathedral and churches by nights before back to bed for a full day the next day.

Posted by jon_rache2011 20.11.2011 06:33 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Arequipa, the Colca Canyon and round again

sunny 35 °C

Arica to Arequipa, Peru

30 - 31 October

Glad to leave our hotel behind us we made our way to the bus station (again!) to start our prearranged tour through Peru.  At the bus station we jumped the queue of locals and travellers waiting for taxis to transport them across the border from Chile into Peru and found the office of the taxi company that we had booked to take us across.  The service was cheap and simple, pay someone to drive you the hour or so through the various border crossings from Arica in Chile to Tacna in Peru.  Jumping the whole queue we eventually got into our cab with 3 others and made our way through the first border, jumping out of the car for passport control and then through to the Peruvian side.  On stepping through the border our driver informed us that we now had to turn our watches back 2 hours.  Seriously? How random!! With one small step we had taken ourselves back in time... An we didn't need a flux capacitor or a Delorian to do it in, eat your heart out marty mcfly!

We didn't think we'd have to wait around long on the Peru side for our connecting bus to Arequipa but as we had managed to gain ourselves 2 hours we had a longer wait than expected.  A hopeless search for some cheese sandwiches, a few inca colas and a call home ensued after we had checked our bags in for the next stage of the journey.  The journey followed the pretty typical pattern, video of everyone in their seats, baggage checks, ham rolls and boring films.  Not much to look at either as we travelled and the sun set, not as desolate as Chile but still not much more than sand and some curious alpacas.

Arriving in Arequipa in the dark we were met by a man with a clipboard with 'Miss Rachael Allsop' scrawled across it... Seemed like a good idea to go with him and with an envelope with our itinerary in hands we were driven the short hop to our hotel... a hotel based in an old monastery in the centre of Arequipa. It was really beautiful and although our room was quite small it had a high ceiling and the courtyards around it gave it loads if character... and it had cable!! :-)

Thoroughly fed up from the long bus journey the day before we were up pretty early the following morning for a buffet brekkie at our hostel/monastery and headed out for a walk around Arequipa.  It was really beautiful, built in the shadow of a snowy mountain range and several volcanoes, it just melted into the hill side.  Compared to a lot of the towns that we had visited it was very touristy but not uncomfortably, it wasn't swamped by tourists but had a nice local feel with lots of big  churches, fountains and little back streets to wander down with shops, restaurants and cafes etc... We walked around the town for most of the day just milling into shops selling every item of clothing imaginable made from alpaca, I bought the obligatory bobble hat, and having the occasional ice cream!  We even found an Irish bar for a cheeky beer with our lunch! :-) we avoided the £8 pint of Guinness though!

With this being a bit of a step up in altitude we took a couple of hours in the afternoon to chill out and acclimatise before heading back out to the centre of town to have dinner on a rooftop restaurant overlooking the main square.  I took my first taste of alpaca... Very nice!  As it was Halloween there was plenty going on and throughout the night endless streams if kids seemed to appear with their parents dressed in full Halloween garb and shaking little lanterns at all the shop keepers looking for sweets, quite cute really... the tigger and smurf outfits definitely had to be the best!!  There was plenty going on and w soaked up the atmosphere before heading back to the hotel to sort our bags for the following day.

Arequipa to Cabanaconde, Colca Canyon, Peru... and round again!

1 - 3 November

The first trip we had booked through our company was a 2 night stay in the Colca Canyon north of Arequipa, the worlds deepest canyon... yes deeper than the grand canyon!! As we were returning to the same hotel though afterwards we were able to leave our bags at the monastery... they must be trustworthy right?  The journey did however require yet another bus and we were up at 4.45am (it does happen!) to pick up a cab and drive to the bus station.  We knew that there had been some partying going on in the town centre round the corner the night before but the several buses loading up with riot police in full gear suggested it had turned a bit sour after we left the square.  

Our local bus took us up towards Cabanaconde, a climb of 1000m over the course of 5 hours with locals jumping on and off seemingly in the middle of nowhere to farm their lands.  Whilst the first half of the journey was perhaps a little dull we were sat on the right side of the bus as we drove along the canyon and the view was amazing.  Mountains all around, sharp descents down to rivers and trees at the bottom of the canyon, condors floating around. It was truly breathtaking... so much so that we both suffered badly from altitude sickness and fell pretty ill.  

Cabanaconde is over 3800m above sea level and as this was our first trip that high it was a bit of a shock to feel as horrendous as we did. The local remedy, Coca tea, helped a little but we were fit for nothing but sleep.  We did stir in the evening feeling a little better and well enough to go next door for some dinner but neither of us were up to anything!! Rubbish!!

With not much time to do anything the following morning we sized up our options for the day.  The tour company had arranged nothing and not told us to take any money with us... There were no ATMs and nobody accepted cards (money well spent then!).  With little cash on us the activity for the day needed to be free and we decided on a 5.5hr trek 1000m down to the bottom of the canyon and then back up again.  It seemed a good idea to be able to say we had treked down and up the worlds deepest canyon. 

Still suffering from altitude sickness we headed off in the morning sun with a little advice from a chap that worked at the hostel next door and started to make our way down the canyon. Leaving at 9.30am we were advised to leave the bottom no later than 2.30pm in order to get back before sunset at around 6pm.  The walk down went zig-zag across the canyon walking sideways seemingly forever before turning back on ourselves and walking the other way but maybe 1 metre further down.  It was really steep too and the constant walk down in extreme heat soon took its toll on the knees despite the walking sticks that we were using.  The views however were stunning and showed off the vastness, and dryness, of the canyon, with just a single fast flowing river cutting out in some spots at the bottom.  Cactii were dotted around everywhere and the occasional condor flew overhead just to remind us they were there!

We passed other intrepid travellers journeying down with guides and were repeatedly passed by a group of school children and their teachers who were practically running down the canyon to get to the bottom... clearly a lot fitter than we were!  After 3 hrs we found ourselves at the 'oasis' at the bottom of the canyon,  a series of hostel and camp sites that would put you up for the night, each with their own freezing cold swimming pool.  Having been out in the heat it was a real welcome break to jump into the pool and freeze ourselves for an hour before we had to take the far more difficult task of climbing back up again.

The walk up was supposed to take around 3hrs, so we headed away from the oasis at 1.30pm to give ourselves plenty of time. Within 15mins, having taken a slight detour already we were both shattered and I was hit really hard again by the altitude sickness.  On the way down we had marked our progress on the hour so we could tell how far back up we were and if we were making good time.   With me having to stop every 5-6 steps to rest or for water and at times literally unable to lift my feet off the ground we made very slow progress.  Our first hour took us 3hrs in total and was a real struggle,  I felt pretty certain at that point that there was no way I would be able to make it all the way up.  The locals did offer mules and horses to take you up to the top but as our helpful agent hadn't advised us to take any money we didn't have enough to pay them. We pressed on struggling with every step and feeling thoroughly defeated by what was clearly a stupid idea when we were both unwell.  My requests to Rache of just leave me here to die fell on deaf ears and she took on the role of motivator extraordinaire just to keep me moving.  Without Rache's constant pushing to keep moving I swear I would still be down that bloody canyon now!  We made very slow progress being passed by other groups that had left after us... Each of them looking concerned and offering advice to help get to the top.  

We got closer and closer to 6pm and the realisation that we could actually get stuck on the trail with no light and thoughts started to turn to whether we would sleep on the trail or Rache would carry on up the canyon to send down a horse to pick me up with what little money we had.  After a sickie break however things seemed to get a bit easier.  Progress was still slow but at least I could walk more than 5 steps without needing a break.  We continued to walk as the sun set around us making the canyon even more beautiful, if only we had been able to enjoy it and we made our final hour in the pitch black with just the light of the moon to cast some small on the trail so that we had some idea of where we were headed.  Although we both thought we had gone the wrong way, but neither of us wanted to say anything we eventually arrived at the plateau at the top of the canyon after 5hrs walking from the base.  The feeling of relief was just unreal,  especially as we had run out of water, 4.5 litres not enough!  I have never felt so defeated, exhausted or dehydrated in all my life an my legs were just like jelly.  The feeling of elation for us both at just having made it back out was incredible, we had both come to the conclusion we would be sleeping in the side of the canyon that night.

Despite reaching the plateau we still had to walk back to the village and to our hotel where our bed awaited and we both collapsed in exhaustion. A 5hr walk that took 8.75hrs... never again.  We learned a pretty valuable lesson not to take the mick With altitude sickness that day.  After a little rest and no shower (no hot water) we headed down to the bar in the hostel were we enjoyed a big bowl of soup as a reward for our efforts.  Ironically one of the groups that had passed us on the way up was also staying in our hostel and we chatted to them about the trek that they had done,  a different route but essentially the same walk over 2 days, they each thought we were barmy for doing it in one day with only 1hr rest in the middle, I would agree (any more bright ideas I will keep to myself!).  Dinner done and denied the pudding we wanted we headed to bed for a very well earned sleep.
 
Still feeling shattered the following morning we had brekkie and headed to the square in Cabanaconde to pick up our bus back to Arequipa for the night.  Travelling on the local bus again we stopped at various random points and enjoyed the views of the canyon also pausing at the mirador del condor,  which is a real highlight of the area where you get an excellent view of the condors soaring above, beneath and alongside you.  Another brief pause in Chivay and we continued our 6th journey back to Arequipa.

Arriving late in the afternoon we checked back into the same hotel where our bags awaited us in our new room.  We were sure it was a joke when they showed us in...  A bed that must have been two queen size beds pushes together, two sofas, huge high painted ceilings,  massive oak doors... this room was crazy and has to be seen to be believed.

Having finally gotten hot water for a shower we headed back out intoning town centre and had dinner in a roof top restaurant that looked out over the neighbouring volcanoes and mountains.  As the sun set it was truly spectacular.  We had a nice relaxing dinner and chatted to a couple of the table next to us, former Leicester Tigers fans but now support Saracens... I guess there's no hope for some people, before heading back to our mansion to unpack and repack our bags yet again for another day of travelling ahead of us tomorrow.  Not an entirely successful start to our organised tour, crap advice, not value for money and they had actually arranged nothing... The canyon was beautiful though and at least we can say we've walked down and back up the biggest canyon in the world in one day!!
  

Posted by jon_rache2011 06.11.2011 17:08 Archived in Peru Tagged oasis canyon peru bus trekking crossing arequipa border colca condor arica altitude chivay cabanaconde sickness tacna Comments (0)

North through Chile (23 - 29 October)

sunny 30 °C

Santiago, Chile

23 - 24 October

Having spent most of our day already in the airport travelling from Fiji to Auckland and then waiting for our connection to Santiago it was nice to finally be on our flight to S. America,  which in typical style was delayed by 4 hours.  As it was a transfer flight though we didn't have to go through customs or anything, just a small security check where we spent a few minutes talking about rugby rather than being checked over. We didn't even have to check in at a normal desk... A much smaller desk within the departure lounge... Felt like royalty... Maybe they thought I was John Clarke of Northampton Saints fame.

Our uneventful flight to Santiago was 11 hours during which the clocks went back 10 hours so in effect we arrived one hour after we had left NZ! Bizarre.  The flight was spent in typical style watching as many movies as we could cram in before I gave up and went to sleep... Rache watched just about every film going.  We did get a nudge from one of air stewards mid-flight though with the RWC final score, I thought he was taking the mick but he assured me it was right.... And he was!

We arrived in the heat of Santiago and with a hostel already booked for a couple of nights we took a taxi and headed to bed, after what had to be the longest day in living memory, for a quick nap which actually turned into the following morning. Whoops!

Up pretty early the next morning we took a walk in fairly chilly chile to the main bus station to sort some bus tickets to start our way north and take us up to La Serena the following day.  Our walk took us past the university and showed the aftermath of months of rioting in the capital, that we had seen on the tele back home, and was still underway.  With tickets sorted, and the day really heating up, we finally had a chance for a proper look at Santiago.  Set against a backdrop of a huge snowy mountain range Santiago was much like any other city only really huge dominated by churches and architecture that were reminded us both of Our trip to Madrid.  

We wandered around various churches and a small park, where we randomly gained a cute stray dog who followed us for about 30mins, with a small castle at the top.  The highlight of the day was a trip in a small cable car up to the top of a hill that overlooked the city and gave a great view towards the snowy mountains around it.  It was a great chance to see the huge expanse of the city which seemed to just merge into the mountains in the distance. It go us to thinking of just how rare it was to see a city in that way... there was knowhere in the UK that we could think of where you  would get that great a view of a whole city unless you were flying over it.  

A pretty typical city day but nice to have a walk around and stretch the legs after a long flight.  Also very interesting to see a city set in this location that was quite unique.

Santiago to La Serena, Chile

25 - 26 October 

With a week to make our way up to Arica on the Peru/Chile border we took our first steps north taking a morning bus 8hrs north to the seaside town of La Serena.  A bit different to the buses that we had experienced in Thailand... the seats reclined well back, tv's throughout with a decent selection of films and sandwiches served every couple of hours! Luxury.  

The landscape towards La Serena was really bizarre,  nothing but dessert for hundreds of miles all around us.  Broken only by a seaside town every couple of hours with the most immaculate looking and tropical beaches.  Mountains ranged off in the distance as the only thing that broke the landscape inland and I doubt we saw another car for 8 hours.

La Serena is the seaside town that Chileans go to in the summer for some chill out and sunshine time (apparently) and arriving it was easy to see why. We had booked a double room in a fairly new hostel which turned out to be a 3 bedroom apartment with its own kitchen and sitting room, awesome.  It sounds sad but we even had a tele with cable so we could watch some English tv, a little Jamie Oliver, some ace of cakes and even the film 'the hangover' amazing film.  It was nice to feel a little close to home for a night or so.  Having spent so long on the bus what was left of the afternoon was spent wondering around the little shops, a trip to the supermarket and just figuring out what we would do for the next couple of days.  

Having booked a trip the day before we were picked up from our front door by mini-bus and headed to the port of Puerto De Chronos where we would take a boat trip out to visit some Humboldt Penguins and some dolphins (in Chile... Who would have thought it?).  Out bus ride was through steep valleys surrounded on one side by desert and mountains and the sunny seaside on the other. We had a stop on the way 'to get to know one another' interesting when there were people from Chile, France and England... The different languages were flowing nicely even if we couldn't understand a word of it, or maybe that was because we stopped at a garage next to a main road where the sound of passing lorries and cars made it impossible to hear anything...  it's good to talk!

When we arrived at the 'port' (a tiny jetty) we stopped at a restaurant to order our lunch and headed out in the 'safest boat in the port', a small speedboat thy looked like it could sink at any moment with a sheet between two poles on one side to shelter us from the wind!!  A short trip out in the boat to a series of islands off the mainland (names escape me) that were crawling with sea lions, massive albatross and Humboldt penguins... I don't know why but I never expected to see anything like that in Chile but because we are so close to the South Pole the currents make the water really cold and perfect for penguins.  We skirted around the island dotting into small bays, into little caves and small beaches looking at the wildlife,  all the time getting pushed about by the waves.  After an hour,  and not having been pushed around enough we headed out into the ocean away from the island and into deeper choppier water in search of dolphins.  We didn't have to wait long and when we could see past the 6 foot high waves (!!) we came across the largest pod of dolphins I have ever seen, at least 8 or 10, with little ones too.  They played around our boat, probably wondering why we were out in that sea, for what seemed like ages... It was really amazing.  After our fill of dolphins and the waves we headed to another small island, Isla Damas.  A small, uninhabited, nature reserve where we were given the opportunity to walk around for an hour.  It was really nice and as there had been so much rain over the last few months (apparently) there were loads of flowers out, which according to our guide is very rare. We even got up close and personal (ish) to some huge condors!

With our thirst for wildlife quenched we boarded our trusty boat back to the mainland where our lunch was waiting for us.  We headed back through the desert and mountains that were mysteriously becoming covered in a blanket of fog, like someone had turned on the smoke machine at a dodgy 80s nightclub, and back towards La Serena hopping off in town to get some bus tickets for the next leg... Chatting on route to a Canadian couple who were planning a very similar trip through Asia to the one that we had already done... I felt like a true adventurer being able to impart advice on these exotic we had already been to... very Tintin!! Bus tickets bought and another walk through the little cobbled streets of La Serena we headed back to our palace to moan about only have 3 bedrooms and for me to burn home made pizzas in the microwave... Sigh! Another trip to the supermarket ensued and the gnocchi was far better than the pizzas would have been.

La Serena to Arica, Chile

27 - 29 October 

We knew that we would have at least one crazily long bus journey while we were in Chile, it is a little longer than the length if the UK, and having taken a fairly modest 8hr step north to La Serena today was the day we were going to pay for it.  With a bus booked for the early afternoon we had a long lie in and left our modest 3 bed home to find the beach... with a little help from the iPhone. An hours wander through the town took us to the seaside and the wave swept beach where we could look across the bay at the length of La Serena, the towns beyond and the brave souls surfing in what I am sure was freezing cold water.  A nice walk along the beach, which was littered with empty crab shells (big ones) before we headed back into town for lunch and to pick up our bags.  For some reason the owner of the hostel asked us to read through an english script he had written of an interview, which he filmed and said he would post on Facebook.... really bizarre but he was a very happy chappy,  even if he did seem to spend all of his days watching Bon Jovi videos so we were happy to do it, if a little perplexed.  

Our bus turned up an hour late at the local terminal and with the crazy security checks, a video of us getting on the bus and having our bags checked and then a video of us sat in our seats on the bus, we were underway on our 23hr journey from La Serena to Arica on the Chilean border with Peru.  There isn't really much to say about the journey... mainly as I slept through most of it... but we had an array of films and food as we journeyed seemingly endlessly through the desert with mountains on all sides with only mines to break up the constant view if nothing but sand and rock... It was like the countryside had been destroyed and deserted after some terrible accident... if it wasn't for the mines you would have thought there was nothing in the country at all.  As stark as the landscape was however it was truly stunning and during the journey we had the most incredible sunset and sunrise over the desert.

Arriving in the afternoon of the 28th at the seaside town of Arica and thoroughly shattered, despite getting some good sleep on the bus we spent our first afternoon sleeping in our crap hostel.  Wanting to stretch the legs we took a short walk into town and through the main pedestrian shopping route in the centre for some dinner.  Not feeling up to a late night we stared begrudgingly at the huge pumps of beer being consumed by people in our restaurant and settled for a modest 2 litre jug of local cerveza to wash down the pizza and then back to bed to rest for a full day tomorrow.

The following day (29th) we had another lie-in, still trying to recover from the long bus journey and missed most of the morning.  Arica had very little to offer really and not an amazing place to spend a couple of days but we did take a very nice walk up a hill that overlooked Arica, which gave us a great view of the town stretching out in front of us, the surrounding desert and mountains and the seaside at the bottom of the cliffs.  It also gave us a great view of huge condors just soaring around beneath us.  It was another good opportunity to have a walk around and stretch the legs a bit, which despite the heat was a very welcome break from just sitting on a bus.  After walking back down the steep hill we had a wander through the shops again and picked up a few bits and pieces before a rest in our hotel and then a late dinner.

Arica had been quite boring really and we hadn't really had much time in Chile to see much of it because of the need to make it into Peru by 30 October for our pre-booked stuff.  That said what we had seen of Chile was really beautiful.  I don't think either of us had expected to see so much desert or that the country would be as huge as it proved to be... parts of it were truly beautiful!  The trip to see the dolphins, sea lions and penguins was a definite highlight of our week and I think we were both glad to have things sorted from this point forward for the remainder of the trip. Onwards to Peru and muchos gracias Chile!!

Posted by jon_rache2011 04.11.2011 16:19 Archived in Chile Tagged sea desert penguin bus chile la santiago dolphin mines lions condor seals arica serena Comments (0)

Suva & Nadi, Fiji

16 October

We had already booked an early transfer for the next day by bus to Suva, which would pick us up from our hotel and take us to our next hotel, the Novotel Suva at Lami Bay... Seriously look it up (posh backpackers!!).  Our short journey took us only four hours with a short stop at a handicraft shop, where we did the only polite thing and bought some peanut butter Oreo cookies, amazing. We had hoped to see more of the coastline as we travelled across the country but only caught a few glimpses. The predominant landscape was beautiful green trees stretching off into the distance with small wooden homes jutting up now and again amidst palm trees and small fruit farms.  It was really beautiful and but for the lack of sheep you would have said it was the forgotten world highway in NZ.

Our bus continued along the coast stopping at ridiculously posh hotels that we were sure were leagues nicer than our modest cheap little Novotel at Lami Bay.  We couldn't have been more wrong.  We picked the Novotel as it had been somewhere that my dad visited while he was living in Suva as a young un.  The hotel had changed significantly and whilst by most standards it was probably a fairly typical hotel, compared to what we were used to it was a palace fit for a king.  The view was pretty amazing as well... A pool, lounge and restaurant area all sat on a wooden deck that jutted out into  the bay with a view over three nearby islands and the sea beyond, just a few large sailing boats between the two...  a view that dad had showed us from the photos he had of his time here.  It was really lovely and left us with no choice again but for relaxation!! Once we had settled on a room that we were happy with, the view was not as good from the first and it was the view we wanted, we settled in with dinner and watched the NZ v Aus game before going back to the room and our own plasma screen! We could definitely get used to this life... Although we probably shouldn't!

17 October:

Fresh from our very strenuous day yesterday we took the hotel's free shuttle into Suva town this morning, in search of Dad's old haunts and retracing his steps for some good photos. Suva was not at all what I had expected from the google photos I had seen before I came out, far from being undeveloped it was a capital city the same as any other... Large office blocks, big air conditioned shopping malls, traffic lights and traffic. It was nice to be walking around though and feeling more active than just sitting by the pool, even if it was roasting hot.  

We had a walk along the water front, found my dad's old house, a park where he had played rugby (to a packed crowd), gazed at views that he would have looked at and walked down streets that he would have walked down... Taking hundreds of photos to take back for him.  It gave me an immense feeling of pride to be there where my dad had been,  I love my dad dearly and it was really nice to feel so close for the day.  The main point of our trip to Fiji was to come here and follow dad's footsteps so to know that we have seen these places and that the photos have brought back some great memories for him makes it all worth it!

With the sub being typically roasting we couldn't stand the sun for long and after a quick respite in the air-conned shopping centre we caught the first bus back to the hotel for some swimming, some eating, some chilling and some sleeping. Excellent day!

18 October:

As a believer in karma,  having watched so many episodes of 'my name is earl', it comes as no surprise that when you are having an amazing time sooner or later you are going to get I'll and it's going to be rubbish! Rache had it and is still getting over her cough and today I was hit by what I can only describe as the headache from hell.  It felt like the hangover I mustered after my 20th birthday only I felt a bit cheated that this time I hadn't had the night out that went with it. Maybe it was sun stroke, maybe it was the food from the night before but whatever it was it was rubbish!! The day spent in our darkened bedroom therefore was an uninspiring mix of sleep, water and re-runs of america's next top model and Hell's Kitchen US. At least the weather had the good decency to pour with rain all day otherwise it would have been really depressing!

19 October:

Unable to get on the bus we wanted early this morning,  it was full,  we booked onto a later coral sun bus for that afternoon.  Although we had to check out of the room we chilled by the pool all morning, eating our home-made cheese sandwiches and drying our dirty washing in the sun.  Still not feeling 100% but feeling much better it was nice to just relax and sleep it off in the shade.

When our bus did arrive, early, an parked down the road we were told that we really should hurry as the bus wouldn't wait for us... Erm, excuse me? Ignoring the rude hotel staff we took our time getting onto the bus... Making sure it left when it should (and not early). It was nicely air-conned but did sound like the bottom could drop off at any second as it scraped uncomfortably over every speed bump and pot hole we went through and over (seriously who decided to put speed bumps on a road that has a 50kph speed limit and so many pot holes that you could do 50 even if you wanted to, looking at most of the cars on the road I would have said 40kph was a mechanical impossibility anyway!).   The four hour journey only delayed the inevitable and as we arrived back in Nadi we were told by our helpful steward that due to 'mechanical difficulties' we would need to swap buses for the final leg to our hotel (predictable), I didn't have the heart to ask if it was because the bottom of the bus was about to fall off.  So on arrival in Nadi town we all piled off the bus and waited for a new chariot to carry us back to the Nadi Bay hotel where as we had stayed before the lady on reception greeted us and sent us straight to our room.

20 October:

With a few days left in Fiji before we flew off to S. America  we used today mostly to plan for the next couple of days ad book things to keep us busy before we headed on.  

With things booked we headed to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, just outside Nadi town, for a good walk around rainforest type gardens and bucket loads of orchids. It was really pretty and somewhere that I know my mum would love!  We even got an ice cold fruit juice at the end for free... Sweet!

21 October:

Taking what will probably be the last opportunity I will get for a while to do some diving, while Rache chilled at the hotel, I headed out for a couple of reef dives from a very plush hotel in Port Denerau.  Picking up all the gear we loaded the boat and I set up my own gear, with a little help from the instructor, before we headed off.  The speedboat we were on was only small and although it was a warm day there was a large swell making the journey quite tricky.  Every wave crashed over the side making sure that we were all suitably soaked to the skin before we had even got in the water.  The sight of the captain wearing a mask at the wheel so he could see where he was going was quite amusing.

Eventually we arrived at our dive sites, diving first 'coral garden' and then 'fish market', both 20m dives of around 40-45mins with a surface interval of around 25mins.  The coral was beautiful on both and filled the ocean with a wide range of colours,  all of it covered with tiny tropical fish, plenty of nemos and various hundreds of other species of fish that I will have to look up.  Although we had snorkelled several times on the reef before this was like snorkelling on acid, everything was bigger and there was just more of it. Highlights of both dives a white tip reef shark, seemingly fast asleep on the sand at around 20m and 4 turtles, both hawksbill and green turtles.  I even had a minute or so with the green turtle swimming around and underneath me... Amazing.

The journey back to mainland was no less exciting and huddled on the floor of the boat I got no drier out of the water than I had been in it.  Thoroughly shattered I headed back to the hotel to tell Rache what I had seen and we chilled together, she kicking my ass at pool and darts before we chilled eating dinner and watching Wales lose again to Australia at the rugby.

22 October:

Our final full day in Fiji and having been saying for weeks and weeks how we wanted to go on a boat with real sails we booked ourselves onto a Captain Cook Cruise day to 'mystery island'.  Essentially a 1.5 hour ride to the island where you could do all manner of things for free and food, drink etc... Included.  Picked up from our hotel we were invited to board the boat by a Fijian dressed as Captain Cooke, having shopped for some more sandals... me having lost my third pair, and having also decided that at a mere $2,000,000FJ buying our own fijian island was probably a great idea! 

Our cruise was short, really a speedboat with a sail, but very pleasant. We received various briefings on the things that we could do and partook in a traditional kava ceremony, me being the honorary chief for the day.  With dad's advice not to drink kava I felt pretty good having made it 2 weeks without but it seemed like a good time to break the duck and as I didn't start seeing double or flying elephants I reckon I got off pretty lightly.

On booking the cruise we knew that there was an option to do some scuba from the island but yesterday had been a cheaper and deeper option.  However this was a simple half hour dive with good instruction and an opportunity to learn in shallow water and dive off the beach.  As this was a rare chance for us to do it together I thought i'd ask Rache how she'd feel about it and unexpectedly before I'd even finished the question she snapped my hand off and said yes.  So from not swimming in the sea four months ago to now being 'scuba Rache' as she insists on being called.  We had a short briefing on the beach before swimming out to the dive site and going down... a 10m dive for 35mins.  I felt bad for Rache that there wasn't more to see... the site was quite poor in reality but this was more about getting over any fears in the water and I was really proud that Rache had done it and that she'd enjoyed it as well.  She is now thoroughly hooked on this very expensive hobby and hopefully this will be the first of many dives together.  Highlight a blue spotted stingray... No sharks :-(

Back on the island we had an excellent BBQ lunch and a few beers to celebrate Rache's first dive before walking around the island (5 mins) a spot of line fishing off the beach (some vegetarian) and then heading back onto the boat.  It was a short day but really good fun and all the better for having done some diving... Rache grinning like a Cheshire cat.

We had a nice dinner to round off our time in Fiji and reflect on the last couple of weeks.  Fiji had been a really nice break even though it had taken us a while to get used to Fiji time and not doing much during the days.  Despite being ill Suva had been a definite highlight.  The whole point of this part of the trip for me had been to go to where my dad had been and it was quite an emotional day walking around the places that he had talked about.  The islands too had been a highlight and if we were to return I would definitely spend all of my time out there rather than the mainland.  Of course it had been great to dive as well and for Rache to get that first notch on her belt. It really feels like we are on the home stretch now with S. America our last port of call... A long day in the airport and a RWC final to miss yet though.

Posted by jon_rache2011 26.10.2011 19:51 Archived in Fiji Tagged diving beach fiji scuba nadi suva Comments (0)

Nadi and the Yasawas, Fiji

9 - 15 October

9 October:>
Having spent most of the day in the airport it was really nice to finally be on a flight and on our way to Fiji... Especially as we had some good films and a great view as we flew over NZ of many of the places in the north island that we had been to over the last few weeks.

With our accommodation already booked for our first night in Nadi we arrived, to be greeted by a small band singing a Fijian greeting a we stepped into immigration, wondering if we would be met on the other side to be taken to our resort. We weren't... Although it became clear when I asked at information for the easiest way to get to our resort where it was pointed out that I had booked the hotel for 9-10 September and not October, whoops! Funnily there was someone from the resort at the airport, there just in case anyone needed a hotel. A short hop and we arrived in the pitch black at the Club Fiji Resort just in time to see the end of the NZ game :-). We were shown to our palatial bure set just back from the beach (a huge room with massive double bed, sofa etc...) and after dinner settled in with the rain hammering down outside.


10 October

With the rain still falling outside we had a chilled out day, falling into the swing of 'Fiji time', essentially just chill out and do nowt! Even though it was raining we did now manage to get a chance to see properly where we were staying. A fairly small resort with it's own beach made up of bures of various sizes... All with nice balconies, some of which looked out onto the sea. It was a nice quiet resort and even though it was raining it was quite nice to chill.... Even though it did feel strange to not be doing anything after the last 2.5 months that we had lived at seemingly break neck speed... Fiji time and relaxation will take some getting used to!

11 October

Hoping to sort out some trips and something to do while we were on the West coast we headed I to Nadi town hoping to find a tourist office... A few chats with some private operators, a taxi ride and a chat with Tourism Fiji later we arrived back in our hotel not really any clearer on what we wanted to do. We realised that we had been properly spoiled in NZ by the way they pushed their tourist activities and things to do, in more relaxed Fiji we were going to have to sort a lot more by ourselves. An afternoon spent on the internet and a few phone calls later we were sorted for the next 4 days, out to the Yasawa islands.... So the rest of the day was Fiji time.

Even though I'd had a fantastic surprise birthday party a few months before Rache didn't let the 30 year mark go unmarked. An excellent cheesecake with ice cream, a cheeky bottle of wine bought with money from my lovely parents, a chat with the folks and a swim in the afternoon rain. Another excellent day but I couldn't help but wonder how my iPad was doing and if Cody had figured out how to work it yet!! He he!

12 - 15 October

With our trip booked we were up at 6.30am to check out of our hotel and to be picked and taken to Port Denerau where we boarded our South Sea Cruises boat to the Yasawa Islands and to Korovou Eco-Tour resort. We had decided that rather than island hopping we would stay in one of the reputedly nicer resorts for 3 nights.

Our fast catamaran took us out for almost 3 hours past an array of impossibly perfect sandy islands and some more rugged forest covered ones. Each one looking like something from the film castaway or treasure island!! All that was missing were the pirates and the big 'x marks the spot'.

As we finally had some really nice warm weather the colour of the sea was unbelievably blue and throughout you could make out the coral reefs and the sand just below the surface of the water. We arrived at our resort to be greeted by another welcome song and all of the staff out on the balcony to say hello to us and welcome us to the resort. It was lovely, a beach maybe a kilometre across, two small resorts in the middle, which were each resident to no more than 20 while we were there, surrounded by large green hills and fronted by colourful coral, with a small pathway jutting out into the water from the beach. It was really beautiful, the water impossibly clear, blue and beautiful and into the distance nothing but the sea. It was hard to feel anything but isolated and relaxed... It was really lovely.

Our accommodation was fantastic, a palatial suite right on the beach front with about 4 beds and two sofas in it (posh back-packing!!), really nice!

The pattern over the next three days followed a very similar pattern, each day hotter than the next and with very little rain to cool it down. With various activities on offer, both paid and unpaid, we spent the four days with a mix of kayaking, swimming, chilling in the hammocks and walking along the beach. We must have snorkelled at least four times just off the beach where there was good visibility and a drop of around 3-4 metres. Whilst the coral wasn't the most vibrant there was plenty of life and every time we went down there was something bigger or something brighter than before. It was really great fun and all the better as Rache was feeling more and more confident in the water, having not been too keen on swimming in the sea at all before we came out. Having been diving by myself before we went to NZ it was really nice to be in the water together. We even managed to find a pump for the rugby ball that Rache had bought in the airport in Auckland... Much the amazement of the staff who asked constantly, when we weren't using it, if they could borrow it and would then be seen doing various things around the resort , like cleaning or carrying boxes, just with a ball under their arm, really quite funny!

The food was excellent and every day we had three good meals prepared by an excellent chef served to us on a balcony that overlooked the beach and the bay. On our penultimate evening we were treated to a huge buffet cooled lovo style, same as hangi in NZ, (cooked in a pit under the ground), awesome!! A show every evening, that involved the 'bula' boys and various embarrassing dances for the guests passed the evenings nicely. The same day we had spent the morning line fishing over the reef using snails for bait. A group of four of us must have caught at least 16 fish between us... Rache even caught 3 fish, and released 1, some vegetarian! He he.

The trip to the island was great and really relaxing, it was so intimate that even though there were 18 other people and various people coming and going every day it felt like we were more or less by ourselves! Our final day saw the first blast of rain, just as were getting in to the uncovered transfer boat for the 2 minute drive to our big cat back to Port Denerau. Fully soaked we journeyed back to Nadi by fast cat, in the freezing cold air con, before arriving at the Nadi Bay resort for one night where we ate heartily and watched the Wales v France game on the tele. A complete injustice of a game, I feel really sorry for the Welsh, how France have managed to get to the final playing the way they have is a disgrace!

Posted by jon_rache2011 17.10.2011 04:14 Archived in Fiji Comments (0)

Waitomo to Auckland (and around)

5 - 9 October


View Little adventure 2011 on jon_rache2011's travel map.

With Rache feeling a little better (although still coughing well) we decided to spend the morning at the Waitomo glow-worm caves, not doing the crazy stuff but looking in the caves and seeing the glow-worms. The trip was much the same as the one we had done at Te Anau, only it was far more commercial, the sections of the cave we walked were far less impressive (apart from a section they likened to a cathedral, with a beautiful high ceiling, they also held concerts here), and it was more expensive. The glow-worms were cool though, although again there were less... I felt feeling a little like we had been ripped off!!

Anyway looking for easy things to do we headed to one our fav touristy attractions, a zoo in Hamilton. We mingled with the meerkats (awesome), rhinos and tigers for the afternoon (for far less than Waitomo!!!) before leaving thoroughly happy and heading on our way back to Auckland.

It felt really strange to be back somewhere that was so urban after all the time we had spent isolated in the countryside and we both said that it wasn't an entirely nice feeling. Having not booked ahead we took what we could get for this first night and after ringing around to eventually sort our accommodation for the next three days and a curry (the usual) we settled in with a cheeky bottle of wine (pop for the poorly girl) and a DVD.

Desperate for some countryside and Rache feeling up to a longer walk we headed to the Waiketere ranges where a trek took us up through a beautiful forest and then back down the coast out to pure black sandy beaches. It was incredible to think that less than one hour outside the city of Auckland there was somewhere so beautiful. We had some amazing views of the local area and the most beautiful sea views as we climbed up to several hundred metres... A good thing as the walk was bloody hard, he he! The less said about me getting us lost the better, he he. Even with a slight detour it was a good 8k coastal walk that took us around 4.5hrs, not feeling well Rache did amazingly!!

We rounded the night off at our new campsite (actually an old new campsite at Takapuna Beach, where stayed at the start of the trip before heading south that we fell in love with, mainly for the views but they did have a really cute dalmation!!) with some eats and a walk along the beach saying how beautiful all the several million dollars worth of houses were that lined the beach front.

Feeling more comfortable with walking we headed the next day to Rangitoto island, somewhere we had wanted to go months ago (it is really weird to think we have been here 'months' now!) before we headed south. The weather thankfully better we boarded our ferry from Devonport and headed to this volcano with a stunning view back over the Auckland skyline. It was another one of those weird experiences to think that you were walking around on a volcano and the paths were made of lava... anyway, a beautiful walk to the crater which gave us views back over Auckland and the gulf around it, dotted with stunning green islands. We walked around the coast as well, through random sections of forest that grew through the rock. We even walked trough tunnels that had been left behind as layers of lava eroded back leaving natural caves... Without a torch pretty spooky. On arrival back in Devonport we didn't jump into the water, a la Manu Tuilagi, he was on the same trip but different island to us a few days later, but calmly headed back to our campsite at Takapuna where we chilled and chatted to a really nice couple that we met from Brizzle... Who jammily managed to get tickets to the England game the next day at the last minute through a 'contact', sigh!!

On our final full day in NZ (8th) we had to move our crib, no more room at the inn, to Alexandra Park, a racehorse track where the car park served as a basic unpowered campsite on game days as overflow. It was basic but we got free flags so what more could you ask for?

Having not really seen much of Auckland centre we used the day to catch the bus into the centre and walk around the amazing harbour (where was this on our first night? We walked within about 100m but couldn't see it in the dark, lol!) and into the rugby fanzone, which was buzzing with atmosphere and rugby fans. They even had an Aston Martin jet pack just like James bond's on show! Sweet as!

We had good fun waking about and after a quick lunch we headed up the specially sign posted fan trail towards Eden park, through clearly well chosen areas adorned with sex shops, lap dancing clubs, the really classy places like that. Having bumped into some Saints fans on the way, one of whom was a retiree that randomly used to work for the former Beds Borough Council, and seemed to enjoy a trip down memory lane chatting about many of the people that had worked with and I still do, we headed to the ground together for chips, hot dogs and drinks whilst watching the Wales game in the ground. Eden Park was really nice, particularly with the very scenic Mt Eden behind it, and a rainbow over the ground for much of the day. Our seats were behind the posts that England would 'attack' in the second half and we spent much of the build up chatting to French fans around us. There was a really good atmosphere, it's a shame the same can't be said of the quality of the rugby. I won't talk about the game suffice to say that England sunk back to the performance they had managed in the loss to Wales in the build up to the RWC. Whilst watching that game in Thailand I had hoped it would be a one off but unfortunately it lasted the duration of the RWC. A shame that Ireland were knocked out, not because Wales didn't deserve to win but because both Ireland and Wales deserve to be semi-finalists far more so for the excellent performances they have put in when compared to pathetic displays from England and France. Rant over - despite the game and the feeling of despair at the final whistle we would both say that it was a great night, even if the rugby and the take-away pizza weren't up to much.

It would be fair to say that we both woke on the 9th feeling a bit emotional. It could be that it was the rugby, maybe the hangover or perhaps the sheer desolation of a poor pizza but it's probably truer that it had something to do with us leaving NZ. With a few hours before our afternoon flight we had already packed and headed to a small cafe just outside the airport for a quick read of the papers and some excellent eggs on toast. From there the journey back to Jucy to drop off the crib was a very short one, and far easier than the journey away having mastered the art of driving an automatic. It felt really sad to be handing back the car that had superbly been or home for 7 weeks (and 5,000 miles) and even more so that it started to feel more definite that this part of our travel was finally over and neither if us really wanted it to be. it nearly wasn't as we went into the airport to find that the flight to Fiji had been cancelled, but another one had been chartered for later that evening so although we would be delayed we were ok!

Reflecting on what we had done and the experiences that we had whilst we had been in this incredible country however was awesome to think about. Although we had expected NZ to be incredible we could not with our wildest imagination have thought it would be so amazing. The things that we had done and seen with stay with us both for the try of our lives and I think that if you can say that and be genuinely desperate not to leave a country then you must have had a pretty successful trip. It was really hard to leave but we both knew that we would be back.... There is just too much still to do, and not enough time to do it in!!

Posted by jon_rache2011 17.10.2011 04:12 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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