Hola amigos! Welcome to our second South America blog from Bolivia. We have been very busy and have travelled the whole of Peru since our last blog. Unfortunately we made a big mistake in deciding to do the blog in Bolivia. We tried in La Paz and after sitting in the third sweaty internet cafe of the day and waiting 10 minutes for google to load, we realised it wasn't going to work. Turns out Bolivia is in the top ten worst countries in the world for internet. So I'm sat in a cafe writing this up on Helen's kindle, but unfortunately the photos will have to wait until we come across good enough internet.
We ended the blog last time having just arrived in Peru's capital Lima. We didn't really do too much in Lima. We stayed in a good hostel and chatted with fellow travellers and sampled the capital's good food...and of course started on the Peruvian beers. We did the free walking tour which took us around the historic centre and tried a few local drinks including Chicha morada and pisco sour. That about all we did in Lima.
Next destination was Huacachina, a desert oasis about four hours south of Lima. It's a tiny town and lagoon just a couple of miles into the desert surrounded by huge sand dunes. We got the bus from lima to Ica and then shared a taxi with another traveller to our hostel Desert Nights. We had a dorm room booked here so we were sharing with eight others. The main reason everyone goes to huacachina is for the desert dune buggying and sand boarding, and we were no different. We booked it through the hostel and the next day found ourselves getting thrown around in the back of a dune buggy as it roared up and down the dunes. The sand boarding is basically snow boarding but down sand dunes. However if you don't know how to snowboard it's pretty difficult and boring. So everyone was just lying flat on the boards and racing down the dunes that way. Was very fun and we arrived back at the hostel tired and covered in sand. We also walked up to the top of the huge dune next to the town and braved the sandstorm at the top to watch the sunset which was nice.
With that done we caught a night bus to our next destination Arequipa. Peru's second largest city but only one-tenth the size of Lima. It is a very picturesque city, with impressive colonial architecture made of local white sillar rock and surrounded by three huge volcanoes. On our second day in Arequipa we first visited the Cathedral. Then we went to the Catholic University's Museum of Andean Sanctuaries - yes it sounds really boring. But the reason we went was because the museum holds Juanita the 'Incan Ice Maiden' - said to be the most well preserved mummy ever recovered. So we went and it was pretty interesting, but to our dismay Juanita wasn't there. Very disappointing, but they did have a guest mummy filling in for her.
We had booked to do a three day trek of the nearby colca canyon, a huge long canyon nearly twice as deep as the grand canyon at it's deepest point. So we paid a very reasonable £44 for the three day trek and set off on the 20th April. We got picked up from our hostel at 3AM and set off on the 4 hour journey to the canyon. Our first stop was at Cruz Del Condor, a spectacular spot where you can see Andean Condors - one of the largest birds in the world with wing spans up to three metres. After this we drove a little further and then started our trek. The first day was all relentless downhill and pretty hard going on the knees! We had a good guide, Omar, and a good group. We had lunch before trekking a further hour to camp. We arrived, grabbed a cold shower and played cards with some of the group. Had a basic dinner then headed to bed as it was getting pretty cold! The second day was a shorter day with a mixture of up and down inside the canyon, making our way to a little oasis at the bottom. Today was also the day we could try a traditional Peruvian dish 'cuy', otherwise known as guinea pig. Near the end of the days trek we stopped at the little guinea pig shop. Five of us decided to go in on trying it. But it wasn't just tasting it...it was everything involved from picking it out to eating it. The whole process! It was an interesting experience, and the end product was tasty but not much meat on it! We haven't uploaded the pictures as some viewers may find them a bit unpleasant! They are available by request though! After we had made it to the second camp we relaxed, played more cards, shared some rum around, and admired one of the best night skies we've ever seen. We were in bed early though for a painful 5am start the next day. The third day is the big one, only 4km in length, but 1100m up and out of the canyon. We set off at 5am so we could complete it without the sun and heat. And we managed to do it in just two and a half hours which we were very pleased with. After that we grabbed breakfast, and set off back to Arequipa very tired. We went out that night as a group for dinner and a couple of drinks.
On our last day in Arequipa we had booked to go white water rafting down the Chilli River. Another bargain at only £15. We got picked up in from the hostel with another group of English guys. Got kitted up in wetsuits, booties, jacket, life jacket and helmet...and were soon in a raft going down the rapids. It was a good river and better than our Thailand rafting. Half way down we got to get out the raft and walk up the rock ledge and jump the few metres into the ice cold river...it was so cold it even made one guy's nose bleed. After the great rafting experience we got back to Arequipa, and that night caught another night bus to Cusco.
Cusco was the city from which we would start the Inca Trail, and we had a few days to explore before we started. We visited the Inca museum so that we could learn a bit about the Incas before starting our trip that would lead us to Machu Picchu . We also did the free walking tour of the city which was interesting and gave us our first taste of Alpaca...pretty good! Before we knew it it was time to start the much anticipated Inca Trail!
The Inca Trail has a limit of 500 people on the trail at a time, and more than half of these are porters and guides. So at any one time there are less than 250 tourists on the whole trail, and everyone has to have a guide. We had decided to go with G Adventures again after three outstanding trips with them in Asia. On the 26th April we had the group briefing and met the rest of the group and our leader Anjel. There were 11 of us in the group in total. We didn't start walking on the first day, we packed up the things we needed - we had a 6kg allowance for our things that the porters would carry, this included the sleeping bag and air mat. Once we had got our things down to that allowance we set off. In the morning we visited a G Adventures sponsored Planeterra project, where G Adventures have put money into a small community project for the women to start their own business weaving products. We bought a few things from them, it was good to see and charity done right. Over the rest of the day we visited our first two Incan ruins - Pisac and Ollantaytambo. These ruins were crowded with day trippers from cusco. But were still very fascinating and Anjel was excellent at explaining the sites and the history. After that we stopped at the local shops to stock up on the snacks and water we'd need. Walking out of the shop I managed to not look at the pavement where I was walking and fall into a small two foot deep drainage channel running down the street. Very embarrassing, but amusing to everyone else....luckily I didn't injure myself and very luckily it wasn't sewage.
The following day we started the Inca Trail. We were up about 7 and set off in the van to KM82 - the trek starting point. When we pulled in we saw for the first time our army of porters....25 in total. It's quite embarrassing we need so many but that's how it goes! They were all well dressed in G Adventures purple and busy getting all the gear ready. We got ready at the same time, had a quick briefing from Anjel and got introduced to the two secondary guides Chino and Kennedy. Then through the check point and we were away hiking the famous Inca Trail! The first day was easy going with nothing too steep or strenuous. We walked the whole morning, stopping occasionally for Anjel to explain things to us. At lunchtime we were treated to our first meal. The porters had put up a long mess tent with table and stools, and we got a three course meal of soup, followed by trout rice and salad, and a little jelly type pudding...amazing! We gave it half an hour to digest before setting off and shortly later making it to camp to find our two man tents already set up and bowls of hot water for us to wash. After this we were served hot drinks and popcorn and we played cards until dinner. Followed by Anjel's briefing for day two...which everyone says is the toughest day.
We were woken in our tents by the porters at 5:30 who brought us hot coca tea...apparently a natural remedy for altitude sickness. We then dragged ourselves out of our sleeping bags and got ready and packed up. Breakfast at 6:00 where we had quino porridge and a pancake, and were off walking at 6:30. Today we were to walk constantly uphill and gain near 1000m in height to reach Dead Woman's Pass at 4,200m. They said it would take 6 hours to reach the top but we and two others from the group managed to do it in 3.5 hours....Nailed it. After we had rested at the top we made our way downhill and were at camp before lunch time...fasted in two years Chino said. With the walking done by lunchtime we also managed to play a record number of cards games in the afternoon and evening....at one point we had the whole team and guides playing cards. Oh and it was one of the group's birthday and so the two chefs somehow managed to bake a huge cake and decorate it with lots of different icings....amazing! After we had consumed our afternoon tea we did something very nice. Anjel gathered all the porters in a circle and we joined. Then he got them all to introduce themselves, where they came from, what family they have and what job they do. Then we had to do the same in our broken Spanish. What made us very happy about going with G Adventures was that they treated the porters very well, good salary and bought them their clothes, walking shoes, jackets etc. The third day was a 16km walk with both up and downhill and a few Inca ruins to explore in between. It was a good trek through the beautiful cloud forest, arriving at camp at about 5pm. We had dinner and got to bed soon after that for the final day tomorrow.
We were woken at 3AM by the porters and got up feeling very tired. We hurriedly packed up our stuff and ate breakfast, and at 3:50 set off marching the 10 minutes downhill to the checkpoint. We got there and managed to get the last few seats...which was lucky as the checkpoint didn't open till half 5. Once it was open and we got signed through we walked at a very fast pace for about an hour until we reached the sun gate and got our first view of the magnificent Machu Picchu. Still in the dark waiting for the sun to rise. We rested and got photo's before carrying on walking down the path to the city. We could not have been luckier with the weather, it was crystal clear and as we walked we saw the sun light up the city as it rose...an amazing sight. Once we had reached the ruins and got our group photo we rested a while and had a snack. Then Anjel started his tour of the city that lasted over two hours. It was very interesting but by the end we were all shattered. We had some time afterwards to explore on our own and so we went to see the Inca Bridge. After that we got the bus down to the town Aguas Calientes, had a nice group lunch and a delicious beer. Then caught the bus back to Cusco. The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu were definitely one of the big highlights of the whole trip, an excellent trip made all the better by our outstanding guide Anjel.
We spent another day in Cusco relaxing before catching a night bus to Puno, the town by Lake Titicaca. Puno wasn't nicest place we've been, but we were only there for Lake Titicaca - the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,800 metres. We booked a tour to go see the famous floating islands. We went and although they are now very touristy they were good to see. But we didn't spend long and soon left there, bound for Bolivia.
We caught a bus and crossed the border leaving Peru where we have had a great time. Our first stop was only 20 minutes past the border - Copacabana. Still on Lake Titicaca but at what everyone claims is the nicer bit...and we couldn't argue. We wasted no time and the next day we caught a boat out to Isla Del Sol (Island of Sun), the legendary creation place of the Incas. We arrived and payed the small island entrance fee. We didn't have anywhere booked but had read about a place with four cabins that was cheap and had excellent views. So we set off climbing the steep hill up about 200m, and were soon gasping for breath the thin air. When we finally made it to the place the guy came out and greeted us, but we made him wait a few minutes to catch our breath as we were incapable of speaking. The little cabin didn't disappoint, it offered the most spectacular views across the lake with snow capped mountains in the background. In the afternoon we had a walk around and had trout from the lake for lunch. The next day we trekked to the north of the island...not too far but the altitude made it tricky in parts. We also took a suspicious path at the end which turned into not a path and forced us to walk down a rubbish dump, climb over a wall and through a pig sty. But we made it and ate more trout to celebrate before catching the boat back to Copacabana.
La Paz was our next destination. The highest capital city in the world....can't remember what it feels like to breathe at sea level anymore. La Paz is ok...not our favourite city and not much to do. We did have our first Indian curry of the South America trip, but kept it traditional by having llama tika masala. And last night we went to an English pub and had steak and ale pie with chips which was so good...sometimes you just need that British fix!
Which takes us to now. This morning we hopped on a tiny 20 seater plane that flew us into Rurrenebaque in the Amazon jungle. We touched down on a small landing strip that was surrounded by jungle with seemingly not an airport in sight. But we got on a bus that drove us down a dirt track to someone's house...which actually turned out to be the terminal. Made it into town and found somewhere to stay for the night. Since then we've been treated to torrential Amazon rain. Tomorrow we start a three day Palmas tour of the Amazonian wetlands. Thanks for reading!