Now then everyone - it has been a long time and for that I apologise.
In a break from convention I am doing back to back blogs, the reason for which will become apparent in Zoe´s next installment.
Right, Quito, not a bad place if you discount the constant threat from pick pockets and muggers and such like but the old part of the city is beautiful. We got back from Galapagos on Saturday 3rd and the flight to Lima wasn´t until the 6th so we had a couple of days to kill. Having found a hostal we outlined a plan of action for the following few days:·Sunday - visit the equator at Mitad Del Mundo a few miles north of Quito·Monday - visit the Otavalo market·Tuesday - visit the old part of Quito city and then fly to LimaSunday was ace. The Equator as calculated by people from the olden days is marked with a magnificent monument which contains a museum and all kinds of gimicky displays. We saw the displays, visited the museum, took the photos, etc. and then we set off for the other attraction just up the road.For years everyone had celebrated the equator in one position and then some smartarse invented GPS and went and moved it 200 yards to the north! This site has monuments and gimmicky displays on a much smaller scale to the original one and I reckon it was actually a lot more interesting. We did the water spinning different directions either side of the line experiment and balanced an egg on the head of a nail on the line experiment (well I did anyway). This pretty much exhausted our equator related options so we went home.Monday we packed our day packs full of enthusiasm for the journey ahead to Otovalo and the famous market. On the way to the bus station we needed to withdraw some money and Zoe was going to do this, but divine intervention of some kind meant that we decided I should draw cash instead, which I did. As we neared the station we were confronted by a couple of lads (middle teens we reckon) and one of them decided he was going to try to rob us - with his fingers used to simulate a gun inside his Tshirt. We didn´t understand the actual words but his intent was clear so we told him to f**k off, which he did. With this violent attempt on our lives thwarted we continued to the Terminal Terrestre.Now, because of the stories we have heard of bags being snatched from laps on buses we have been clamping bags between our feet on the floor of the bus - smart eh? Not as smart as the group of 4 lads who got on the bus and in a carefully executed operation crawled under Zoe´s seat from behind, slit her bag with a knife, removed her purse and then got off at the next stop. We had no idea until a couple of hours later.As we got off the bus Zoe saw the slash on her bag and we leapt to the conclusion that it had been the two teen muggers from Quito. Again we laughed at their pathetic attempt and continued on our way. Once at the market we wandered round for an hour or so and haggled over a few bits and pieces. Our final purchase was to be a long sleeved shirt for Zoe. My haggling plan was to offer half the asking price pretending that was all I had and then if necessary get Zoe to search her purse for a few more dollars to meet the riposte from the stall owner. This was working fine until the moment when Zoe went to get her purse from her bag and it wasn't there! What followed was a whirlwind panic and flapping and then calls to banks (God bless Skype, without it we would be bankrupt from international phone call charges) to cancel cards and arrange new ones. The police were useless and merely said that there was no point in writing up a report as thefts were so common that there was little or no chance of bringing anyone to justice over it.Anyway, by the end of the day we were back in Quito, the thief had a broken purse with a load of cancelled cards, six dollars (remember the divine intervention from before that made me withdraw $200 instead of Zoe?) and we got the Tshirt for my original offer as that was all the money we had. Moral of the story is to be mega-mega-careful everywhere!And so to Tuesday, with our bags packed and stored at the hostal for the day we went off to explore Quito. We were both very jittery all day, looking over our shoulders at every potential sneak thief or mugger. The day went without a hitch, we visited many of the historic and famous sites of Old Quito including the recently build but classically styled cathedral. From a distance it is beautiful with carved buttresses, spires and gargoyles - as you get closer you see that much of it is actually cast concrete giving the effect of carved stone. We paid our money and explored the place fully, climbing the spires and the bell tower and even into the roof space above the beautifully domed ceiling.That evening we caught our flight to Lima and it was surprisingly easy and painless. I drew out some Soles so that we could pay for our taxi to the hostal and we went looking for transport. The first line of taxi companies wanted $48 for the trip so we passed them and found another rank of desks with a much more reasonable tariff of $20 - didn´t need the Peruvian Soles then which is ironic as I will come to in a minute.Wednesday arrived after a sleepless night as the hostal was so damned noisy and we decided to pack up and find somewhere quieter. As we packed our bags we each performed our checklist, mine went: passport, wallet, money, cashcard - where is my cashcard? To cut a long story short I had been in such a hurry to withdraw the Soles at the airport (you know the ones I didn´t need) that I had left my card in the ATM and it got eaten. I rang the bank (thanks again Skype) to cancel the card and arrange a new one. In the space of 3 days we had been reduced from 4 debit cards to 1. We salvaged some of the day by visiting the historic centre of Lima and then spent the night at the same hostal (although in a quieter room). The next day we planned to hit the road again going south.Thursday we got a bus to Pisco mostly along the Pan American Highway. The road takes you through some fantastic mountainous desert landscape covered in tracks from 4x4s and other such buggies but is otherwise bleak and desolate. At Pisco we got accosted by a lovely lady probably in her 50s who took us back to her hostal for the night. We went to the beach at Paracas and Zoe had her first Pisco Sour of the trip. Other than that we marveled at how derelict and run-down Pisco appeared to be. Turns out it was almost razed to the ground by an earthquake a few years ago and they´re still trying to rebuilt everything. Here is our formal apology for the comments we made, "Sorry Pisco from Nick and Zoe".Friday we bused to Nazca with the intention of flying over the lines and then staying over night. What actually happened is that we arrived, paid $10 dollars over the odds ($60 each as opposed to $50) for a flight over the lines which were impressive but a bit of a let down and then decided to get an overnight bus to Arequipa. To while away the afternoon in Nazca we visited a family run gold processing plant which was very small scale and amazing in its manual labour intensity and seemingly low profit margin. We then went for a wander in the hills to the south of the town followed by drinks with a couple of Londerners we had met earlier in the day. Saturday in Arequipa promised to be a glorious day and it delivered! We got a really nice hotel and set about our day. The only real item on the agenda was to sort out a trip to the Colca Canyon to occupy the days until we needed to be in Cusco for our Inca Trail. We got a 3 day/2 night trip for a good price setting off the next day and with that sorted went about our Saturday. Zoe wandered the town sightseeing while I set off to find a place to swim - I was given directions to an open air swimming pool which was a bus trip away from the town and when I arrived I found it was closed and there had been no water in the b***** for some years by that point. Never trust a local who gives you directions to a swimming pool! After a long walk back to town I met Zoe and we got the beers in, went for pizza with wine, drank cocktails and then hit the sack a little drunk at 10.00pm with a 3.30am start looming the next day.Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were amazing. The first real stop of the trip is at the viewing area called Cruz Del Condor where we saw a couple of condors (this really isn't the right time of year for them so we were lucky to see what we saw). Then on to Cabanaconde for lunch and a trek briefing where we have formal introductions to the rest of the group. Here we first met the German couple Stefan and Sandra. We hit it off from the start and our paths have crossed repeatedly since then.The trek starts at the top of the canyon at 3400m above sea level and drops over the next 3 hours or so to the base of the canyon where we stayed in very basic accommodation at about 2300m. Monday morning is spent trekking along an undulating track at the floor of the canyon for about 3.5 hours to the Oasis where we stayed again in very rudimentary accommodation for the night. Having walked in blistering heat all morning looking forward to swimming in the cool waters of the artificial pools at the Oasis a cruel twist of fate meant it rained and was a bit on the cold side for the afternoon so swimming was a very brief affair and we retired to the warmth of our thatched huts and blankets.The final day saw us up at a sparrow´s fart to climb out of the gorge before the sun got too high in the sky. 1000m altitude is gained in about 6.5km and the guide said it can take up to 3 hours for the climb. We had an American "Emergency Response Forest Fire Fighter" in the group and he did it in 1hr 25mins, I was next across the line in 1hr 30mins and Zoe a very respectable 1hr 45mins. This was follows by a trip to a hot springs at Chivay and then an eating competition at an all you can eat restaurant. This was our first taste of Alpaca and of the lemon/lime juice cooked fish dish known as ceviche. Our drive back to Arequipa was in thick fog and took so long that we were rushed to get our bus from there to Cusco which was scheduled to set off at 8.00pm.Wednesday dawned in Cusco as we got off the bus and we were ready for the Inca Trail. We found a hostal in the San Blas region of the city, dumped our kit and went to pay the balance of our fee to Peru Treks for the trek which was due to commence on Friday the 16th - 2 days away. This simple task was made nigh on impossible by the steadfast refusal of any of the many ATMs in the city to give me any money. After a lot of hair pulling I was able to scrape together the necessary readies and we were all paid up and ready to go.Here is where I put my pen down to let Zoe take over the tale when she has a chance. We did some good stuff in Cusco and the Inca Trail - wait and see what happened.Hope everyone is well because we certainly are. New Zealand is firmly on the horizon now but we have loads to do in the meantime.Bye for now,Nick and Zoe.