So after our celebratory lunch and bubbly, we boarded the tourist train to take us back to Ollantaytambo which was an experience in itself. Bearing in mind that most people on that train just want a shower and a warm bed after 4 days of trekking, the last thing we expected was a crazy clown dancing down the aisles as well as the drinks trolley staff modelling the latest alpaca knitwear like on a catwalk - only in South America! Back in colonial Cusco we had a much needed night out to let our hair down after the Inca Trail and then headed through the Colca valley into Chivay the next day, posing with lots of llamas and alpacas en route. In Chivay, we spent the afternoon relaxing with some cocktails in the hot springs surrounded by andean mountains and volcanoes. For dinner, we went to a lovely restaurant filled with locals where you could Peruvian cuisine including alpaca steak. We were entertained for the evening by traditional dancers and some of us joined in although I'm not sure how much Sarah-Jayne enjoyed having to whip one man's legs with a bit of rope or being spun around on his shoulder!
The next day we travelled to the Colca canyon, one of the deepest in the world, a beautiful rocky red and orange terrain surrounded by cactus trees. We were lucky enough to see numerous condors flying around, soaring and gliding gracefully above our heads. These huge powerful birds have a wingspan of over 3 metres and it was great to see them flying around their natural habitat, everyone ooing and arhing everytime we spotted one swooping up from the canyon below. That afternoon we arrived in the town of Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru, with the Andes mountains in the background and streets lined with white buildings giving a colonial feel to the place. We went to a restaurant where Sarah-Jayne and I battled through a meat platter before having another fun night out exploring Arequipa's renound nightlife...lots of dancing, Martina dancing, Matt dancing on a stool, Shiraz and James dancing like you've never seen anyone dance before...
The next morning (after kissing an alpaca) we visited the Convent of Santa Catalina, and although it was very interesting I was slightly disappointed that we didn't get to see any nuns. It was very pretty though, a huge monastery painted with bright blue and terracotta walls, beautiful flowers in every corner and lots of peaceful, narrow paths within the high walls protecting the oasis of calm from the hustle and bustle of city life outside. That evening we got on a luxury night bus from Arequipa to Nazca but myself, Tim, Ging and Matt quickly realised that sitting in the front row wasn't a great idea and swiftly closed all curtains and blinds so as not to witness the crazy driving and overtaking on bends for the next 12 hours!
We arrived in Nazca at about 7am and by 9.30am I had somehow been convinced to to get in a very tiny 6 seater plane to fly over the Nazca Lines (as most of you know, I'm not a great flyer)! They are a great archaeological mystery and no one really knows who drew them or why. The lines are different patterns and pictures etched into the desert and the abstract images including a monkey, a spider and humming bird are best seen from a birds eye view. So myself and an equally nervous Matt shook on it that if he did it, I would do it too! Sarah-Jayne was lucky enough to sit next to me and was very good at calming me down and letting me squeeze her hands. By the end of the flight I was nearly in her lap but it was definitely all worth it when I opened my eyes to see the fascinating Nazca Lines down below and we even got a certificate at the end! Then, we visited an ancient cemetery in the Chauchilla desert where we saw mummies and bones that are over a thousand years old - some even still had hair on their heads! On the way back into town we also stopped off at a ceramicist's workshop where there was some very interesting and unusual pottery she had made!
The next day we travelled to Ica, famous for its sand dunes and had lots of fun on a bumpy buggy ride and then sandboarding! No standing up for me this time so instead I lay down head first to slide down the long steep dunes. Covered in sand (and some bruises!) we returned to the beautiful oasis of Huacachina and relaxed by the pool before trying a typical Peruvian dish called ceviche which is raw fish in lemon juice - very tasty! On the way to Pisco, we stopped off at a pisco distillery which is where they make the famous white grape brandy used to make the popular cocktail called Pisco Sour made with egg white (which our g group got to know very well)! After a our tour, we got to sample about eight different varieties of pisco and soon realised why our tour guide was so hyper - it was his 7th tour group of the day and he certainly wasn't holding back on having a shot every time we did! Just down the coast in Paracas we went on a boat trip around the Ballestas Islands where we saw lots of sea lions, penguins and numerous other birds. It was incredible how close the boat got to them - great for viewing but not so great for inhaling the strong smell of penguin poo!
From there we got the bus to our final stop - Lima, Peru's capital city and hometown of our guide Nury. We all spent a lovely final evening together at a nice restaurant where we gave Nury a card and thanked her for all her hard work over the previous three weeks. We couldn't not end up in a karaoke bar on our final night with Nury so much to her delight (and secretly to many of ours as well) we spent the rest of the evening singing our hearts out! The next couple of days were spent exploring Lima but also having to sadly say goodbye to various members of our g group as everyone had different flights to different destinations...
Myself and those remaining wandered around the modern affluent area of Miraflores, chilled out by the sea on the Gaudi style mosaic bench, shopped in the numerous inca markets, saw Skyfall at the cinema and enjoyed our last few pisco sours experiencing Lima's nightlife in the district of Barranco. We also visited one of Nury's favourite places, a park of beautiful fountains and lights. Of course, I couldn't resist trying to run in and out of one of the fountains before the water shot up and wet me - I failed and spent the rest of the evening in very damp jeans! We also visited Plaza de Armas which is the heart of old town Lima, a pretty square with an impressive cathedral and the government palace, as well wandered the streets of Spanish colonial architecture. Nury was very kind in inviting us to her home one evening too although we were disappointed to have missed her mami! Tom and I visited the chocolate museum, custom made our own chocolate and got to lick the spoons after! I also got chased down the road by a blue and yellow dragon with a film crew who interviewed me in Spanish about what I wanted for Christmas so I may pop up on Peruvian TV...watch this space. I ended on high (literally) as I paraglided (and screamed) for about 20 minutes over the beach in San Isidro. It was a great experience, quite scary getting up there but fairly calm once we were floating over the world below. Getting down was slightly more challenging but after a few attempts Tim and Tom finally managed to pull the right handles and pull us back down to the ground!
And that's it. The end of three incredible months travelling around South America. I really appreciate how lucky I am to have had another fantastic experience like this and many great memories to cherish. I've seen animals and birds I'd never dreamed of seeing in the wild and stunning scenery I never knew existed; I have done things I never thought I would have the courage or ability to do; but above all I've met so many wonderful people along the way - inspirational people who live such different lives to the one I know, the kindest and most welcoming people who I've been lucky enough to stay with on my journey and some amazing travellers who have become good friends and made my trip all the more special. Thank you to you all. Until next time...