The theme for the whole of our South American Adventure to this date has been "Safe or Dangerous" and over the last couple of weeks, this question has been posed many times.
At the end of the last journal I stated that we were in Cusco for the Inca Trail but before that, we headed to Ica which is the setting for some spectactular Sand Dunes. After our truck being bogged in sand for 8 hours the previous night, we had pretty much had our fill of sand but the activity soon changed our minds. We climbed aboard a sand buggy whos last minute engine repairs looked distinctly "Dangerous" and were driven across the dunes at high speed. We were driven slowly up, near vertical dunes and then bazzed it down the other side prompting us to throw our arms up in the air as if we were on Nemesis at Alton Towers.
These high speed rides were interrupted in order to climb on our individual sandboards and zoom down very steep parts of the dunes. Previous history indicates that I am pretty s*** at board sports (notably surfing in Oz and River Boarding in NZ) but as this was sand based and nothing to do with water I thought I would be ok. The first attempt I had dispproved this theory as I wiped out spectactuarly, the only the one in the group to do so. The only one, that is, bar one. A certain blonde gentleman with a double barrelled name also ate sand but this was due to over confidence and him attempting a elaborate turn. I f***ed it up going completely straight! We had several more attempts and improved distinctly and even had a go standing up on the boards rather than lying down and DSWs surfing ability shone through as did my surfing disability. We the drove back over the dunes and saw an excellent view of Ica and Huacachina by night before we headed off to Nazca.
Nazca is famous for the Nazca lines and not car rallying as we thought we might see. The lines were created by the Nazca cultures between 200BC and 700AD and can only be seen from the air, so the lads who created them couldnt actually see them. Strange. Several of our group rose early to get on a scenic flight to view these lines from the sky but we decided to save some soles and have a lie in.
From Nazca, we attacked a 24 hour drive in order to arrive in Cusco in plenty of time before the Inca Trail began. This involved many different, interesting sleeping positions with DSW adopting the aisle as his bed for the evening. If we are talking emergency exit procedures then this was certainly "Dangerous" but he had a lovely kip so that was all that mattered. We arrived in Cusco at about 7AM and headed to a restaurant that did excellent ENGLISH breakfasts and you could even pay a little bit extra in order to secure Heinz baked beans on your plate.
Cusco is the base for all those doing the Inca Trail and the day before we began our trek we acclimatized to the altitude and shopped for warm and some would say Gaaaaayyyy clothing as the temperature on the trail could drop below zero in the evenings. Amongst our purchases were some wooly, Nacho Libre style masks.(As a side point, several people have commented that I look like Nacho Libres partner in the film, which I am not sure that I like). The masks prompted a great deal of Soccer AM banter...EASY EASY EASY...You shud uppppppppp!!.
The Inca Trail itself proved to be an absolutely awesome experience and me and "The Big D" both agree that it was a highlight of all of our time travelling. The 1st day we visited the Inca ruins of Saskaywaman and visited a llama and alpaca farm before arriving in our remote campsite location. All the tents were set up for us and we had a trek chef who prepared all of meals for us and they were amazing. The 2nd day was when the trekking actually began and armed with walking spike we set off. The trekking itself was not too hard but combined with the altitude, loss of breath was a common feature. There was one dutch lad in our group and as an experienced trekker he stormed ahead of us up the mountains and had to wait for 20 minutes for the rest of the group to arrive. It was later discovered that he filled in this spare time by relaxing, admiring the phenomenal views and leaving a massive log at the top of the mountain. BLOODY DUTCH!
After a hard days trekking we got to our campsite and fancied kicking back and relaxing but when we arrived at the village, there was a group of locals ready to challenge us to a game of football. 20 minutes each way soon turned into 40 minutes each way as they were losing and although we are used to such lengths, the altitude meant that soon we were blowing out of our arses big time. Against such adversity we, helped by our very Peruvian named guide, Smithy, won the game 6-3. Getting on the scoresheet twice was Dave who showed that altitude does not affect his silky skills and he was only denied a well deserved hat trick by good goalkeeping and his own left foot failing him.
The next day was our hardest of the trek with a long, steep climb to the summit. In Inca tradition we had to choose a rock from the bottom and carry it all the way up to the summit in order to be granted a wish. This rock had to signify our sins with a large rock showing that we were sinful. A extra llama had to be recruited to take Smudgers rock up the mountain! After the challenging climb we toasted our achievement with a drink of Pisco and laid our rocks and made our respective wishes. The views throughout the trail were absolutely brilliant and all could have been made into postcards. The people and guides who were with us were also amazing and by the time we finished our days trekking, our tents were set up and the food was being prepared.
The culmination of the trail, was the Inca Ruins of Machu Picchu which is vying to be voted one of the modern wonders of the world currently. We took an impressive tour thorugh the ruins and then had the option to climb Waynapicchu mountain to get a great view of Machu Picchu. This climb was supposed to take 45 mins to an hour and the record is 17 mins. We attacked it and did it in a very respectable 22 mins. The view from the top was worth the effort and we could have stayed there for hours but we had another walk to the Sungate to gain another equally good view of the ruins. This was, again, hard work but was worth every bit of sweat.
We returned to Cusco that evening and prepared to set off. We decided that despite the hard walks and the high altitudes, that the Inca Trail was "Safe".
Next stop was Puno and while the group went to a Reed Island, myself and DSW got some admin done and then secured several bottles of free red wine and the headed out when the group returned for an amusing, peruvian night out. Puno was our last Peruvian venue and we then crossed the border into Bolivia and stayed next to Lake Titicaca in a town called the Copa, the Copacabana. The highlight of this place was when we took our 16 tonne truck to the main square and church and got it blessed by the local priest. We decorated it in an abundance of colourful decorations and figurines and watched as the priest threw Holy Water over it. Once he finished we sprayed Champagne (F1 Style) and lager over the truck in celebration and hugged friends and random, small Bolivians alike.
The next venue represented the end of the 1st part of our trip and we lost 7 of our group as there headed off back home. It was a place that we felt sounded like it should be in one of Batman and Robins fights. Biff - Bosh - Ke pow - LE PAZ! We had a great leaving night out in their honour and said our emotional goodbyes as our group size fell.
In le Paz, there is the opportunity to get on a mountainbike and cycle down a road. This may sound pretty "Safe" but the road is known as "The Most Dangerous Road in the World" as you cycle right next to a vertical drop on loose gravel and on a very narrow road. If you swerved a little bit and went off the side then you are DEFINETELY DEAD. As you cycle you can see many crosses on the road in honour of those who have lost their lives on the road. This activity was deemed so unsafe that we had to be officially signed off the trip in order to participate, but we gave it a bash anyway. Despite all the warnings and scare stories, Smith-Watson bombed it down from the start often leading the pack and proving that his yellow jersey choice was an appropriate one. I had also chosen to were my yellow jersey but was less of a speed demon and chose to be a bit more cautious and sat in the middle of the pack. All of our group managed to arrive at the bottom unscathed fortunately and it was a quality day.
Before the ride, we had to choose whether we wanted a bike with top drawer suspension for 20 more dollars or the budget option which had little suspension. We, of course went budget and suffered the consequences with our buttocks being very tender afterwards. It could be said that the morning after, we felt that we had spent the night being tag-teamed by Norton, Clary and Lennox Lewis for good measure.
We have now begun the 2nd part of our South American trip which takes us from Le Paz to Rio.
We now have only just over 1 month of our "Life Experience" remained and so are on the final stretch.
Stay "Safe" not "Dangerous".
Jake and Dave