Posts Tagged With: peru

31st May – Day 12 – Good morning, Vietnam

After last nights fun cycle tour and dinner, I slept really well and woke up at 6am naturally. These mornings are really becoming normal now!
After a small breakfast at 7, we met in the hotel lobby at 8:15 to head to the airport for our flight to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Dek had given us a little longer in the hotel than he normally would, so we had a short wait in the airport before the flight – I bought a small sandwich and some green tea because the in-flight meals haven’t exactly been glorious so far!

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A step up from the inflight options, believe me

During the flight I went through my Peru photos with Karl and Petra, who are considering a trip to Peru as their next adventure. It was fun to relive the memories of that trip and to share it with some new friends.

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Obligatory plane selfie

The flight was fairly short and as expected, we were presented with a terrible in flight meal. I enjoyed my egg sandwich instead, and shortly after we landed in Ho Chi Minh City, better known as Saigon. The city was renamed after the Vietnam war to honour the leader of the time, who still holds mountains of respect in the country.

One really weird thing about our arrival was that one of the first planes we saw when we touched down was a US air force transport plane.  It resounded with us just how monumental this could be, coming just a week after Barak Obamas visit in which he agreed to sell arms to the Vietnamese forces again. Perhaps this plane was carrying a shipment?

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An ominous delivery?

A short transfer in the airport and we were headed to our hotel – the Continental Hotel in District 1. District 1 is really fancy, and the hotel is stunning – it’s actually where all of the western journalists were based during the Vietnam war, so it’s got a pile of history itself. I was amused to see that Saigon is divided into districts, which reminded me of the Hunger Games – perhaps an unfortunate coincidence in a communist country.

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The continental hotel

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My room

Across the road from our hotel was an ATM and I easily withdrew 2 million dong to cover the next few days activities, then headed to my room to cool down before our first activity of the day. It’s really great how they pile these activities into travel days, so you’re not wasting any time in a new city.

At 3pm we met for our cyclo tour of the city – our second cyclo tour in as many days! Our guide in Saigon is called Tiger and he guided us around the city as we stopped in various locations. The first stop was at the Vietnam War Remnants museum, which had some US army helicopter and tanks outside. We were only given 30 minutes in the museum which was quite disappointing as it was nowhere near enough time to explore the whole place and in order to get a feel for it, we had to skim over a lot of the exhibits. It was actually pretty harrowing to read the local perspective on the war and hear some of the stories of the events of the war. I’m not going to cover too much of my opinion here, but there’s no denying that the after effects of the war are being felt by the Vietnamese people today and onwards.

Our next stop on the tour was “Reunification Palace” which has served as a royal palace as well as a political palace and was famous during the Vietnam war as the place where the gates were closed and helicopters lifted around a thousand Vietnamese out of the country during the ending of the war. We only had a chance for photos here before moving on with our Cyclos.

The next stop with our Cyclos was the Cathedral in Saigon which was built by the French in the style of Notre Dame. It’s really interesting how the occupants of these countries imposed their own religious style and beliefs upon the locals during the colonial times, and there are still many Catholics in Vietnam because of the French occupancy.

After our photos and explanations at the cathedral, we crossed the road to the Post Office – our final stop on the tour. The Post Office was historically very important in Vietnam and again the building style was very European, yet in the centre of the building was a huge portrait of Ho Chi Minh. Now it’s a tourist attraction, with tons of small shops selling Vietnamese souvenirs at inflated prices.

Once we were photo’d out, our Cyclos brought us back to the hotel where we had a couple of hours to cool off and change before dinner. The hotel is in a really great location, so I was happy to relax there but used my time to go out to a local coffee shop.

At 7 we met Dek for a short walk to our dinner location – the famous Pho 2000, which was made famous by Bill Clinton visiting in the year 2000 (not sure what the name was before then) – this was seen by the Vietnamese as a huge sign of respect and the start of rebuilding their relations with the Americans. In the restaurant (which was a little place up the stairs at the back of a coffee shop), there are photos of Bill Clintons visit and the table where he sat has details of what they ordered. I chose the Vegetable Pho and a pineapple juice, and the food was really good – authentic and flavourful. Thankfully that place hasn’t turned into a huge tourist trap, and there were locals enjoying the food too.

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Pho 2000

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Pho fit for a president

After our dinner we walked around the Night Market where the sellers seemed really desperate and pushy – grabbing onto us and trying to lure us into their stalls where they all sell pretty much the same t-shirts. I like the Vietnam t-shirts but don’t really want to be pushed into it, so I’ll probably come back tomorrow alone when hopefully they will be a little less pushy!

For our journey tomorrow, Dek has warned us that there aren’t as many lunch opportunities so we stopped in a little convenience store to buy some snacks for the journey – I bought a pack of dried pineapple and some drinks, plus a bottle of ‘English Breakfast Tea’ – mainly because I really want to see how awful it is!

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It was predictably disgusting

It’s another 8am start tomorrow, so we headed to bed early-ish. I like Saigon, it’s got a real buzz about it.

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Adventure number 2

Indochina Explorer mapSo, i’ve gone and done it – i’ve booked my second G Adventures trip!

This time, i’m going to be exploring South East Asia – following the G Adventures “Indochina Explorer” itinerary.    The trip starts off in Thailand, travels up through Laos to Vietnam and then finishes in Cambodia.  I’m super super excited because that’s a bunch of countries I haven’t had to chance to visit for work, and likely won’t in the foreseeable future (there’s not much call for media servers in Laos, as far as I can tell!).

This trip is quite different than my Peru trip – in Peru there were one or two ‘peaks’ of the trip and the rest of the trip felt like a built up or come down from that – this new itinerary is full of highs!  It has everything – riverboat cruises, cooking classes, elephants, temples, busy cities and small independent trades.

I won’t spoil it all for now – i’m reading up on it, and i’ll blog more in the coming weeks and months before my departure.  Oh, I didn’t mention… I leave in 6 months – May 2016!  Plenty of time to tell you everything i’ll be up to!

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Quest of the Gods – Photo Gallery

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Quest of the Gods – Day 15, Journey home

Boarding started at 00:30, and everything was normal – I took my seat, did up my belt, stuck on my eye mask and fell deep asleep.  I’d love to tell you a lot about the flight, but honestly… I woke up 30 minutes before landing, when they turned the lights back on.  The lady next to me commented that “you slept like a baby” – I had managed to sleep for almost 5 hours non stop.  My flight route was: Lima – Houston – Chicago – Frankfurt – Gothenburg.

Plane selfie

Plane selfie

When we landed in Houston, I made my way to the next gate.  My boarding pass was flagged up as TSA-PRE which means I should get the expedited security process, but on connecting flights in Houston there was no TSA-PRE line so I had to join the normal security line and go through the usual TSA rubbish of taking shoes off, emptying laptops out, etc.

I had a while to kill in Houston and even though it was only 7am local time, I stopped in at a diner in the terminal and ordered a veggie burger and a milkshake.  I was trying to shift my body back into European time, so eating a lunch sized meal at breakfast is part of the process.  I had actually been craving french fries and a veggie burger for a few days (the food in Peru was amazing, but always very healthy… sometimes you need to cheat a bit!).

Once I got to the gate, they announced that the plane was “still in the hanger” and that the “super” machines they use to transport them aren’t to super, because 2 of them had broken down and therefore we would be delayed departing out of Houston.  I was freaking out because I had a 1:09 connection in Houston and the lady at the gate looked sympathetic but was unable to do anything until we started boarding, by which time it was too late.   Luckily Chicago is a busy airport so if I missed my german connection i’m sure there would be another possible route.

Plane selfie

Plane selfie

As it happens, I slept almost all of the Houston-Chicago flight as well, waking just before landing again.  I wish I could write a manual for how I do it, because i’m sure everyone would like to be able to do this – but I have no idea.  I think it’s a combination of being on far too many planes, and having a small body.

Knowing Chicago well, I was sad to see we arrived in the B gates and my connecting flight was departing from C…. this meant I had to tackle THE TUNNEL.  If you’ve been to Chicago, you’ll know what I mean. It’s a crazy underground tunnel which passes right under the jetway between the two terminals, and is decorated in horrible neon sculptures.  I RAN from B14 to C10, literally sprinting, and was pleased to make it to the gate before they started boarding the last group… I sat down in my seat, wondering if someone was also running with my bag.

We arrived early in Frankfurt, at 5:15am.  I have been to Frankfurt well over 30 times this year, and made it extremely quickly through immigration and into the executive lounge. Life was starting to feel a bit more normal now – croissant, coffee, yoghurt and familiar surroundings.

I headed to the gate a little early to enquire about my bag… had it made it?  I was told by the gate assistant that it had, and they were loading it onto the plane as we spoke.  Phew!  That would have been a frustrating end to the holiday, albeit an all too familiar situation for me.  Once we boarded the plane, I was surprised by just how quiet the flight was…. I guess a 7am departure from Frankfurt on a Monday isn’t a popular flight to Sweden.

Plane selfie

Plane selfie

On the last leg, I finished reading The Book Thief, which was a really well written and touching storyline.  I need to try and see the movie now, since it really intrigues me how you can create a movie covering such a broad timeline in a teenage life.

Landing in Gothenburg, I reflected that i’d last seen a bed at 7am two days before (this was now Monday morning, I had woken up on Saturday in Lima).  Thank god I can sleep on planes! It had somehow turned into Christmas time when we got to the terminal in Gothenburg, which kind of took me by surprise.  I wasn’t able to enjoy that though, since I felt pretty gross, and desperate for a shower, which is exactly what I did as soon as I got home.

Christmas in GOT

Christmas in GOT

Home… the end of the journey.

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Quest of the Gods – Day 14, Departures

Today, like any other day on the trip, I woke before my alarm – this time at 6:45am.  By the time I had showered and made myself presentable, I had already missed Ruths departure which is a shame but we had made sure to say goodbye last night since she was first to leave.  I headed downstairs in time to see Mike, Kirsten and Harold leaving and say my goodbyes, and to meet with Steffi for breakfast before her departure.  It was a sad feeling to say goodbye and see our ‘family’ break up after just two weeks together, but i’m sure we’ll keep in touch with one another after such an amazing shared experience.

Still loving how quirky the hotel is

Still loving how quirky the hotel is

Steffi and I had breakfast – I had scrambled eggs and breads, orange juice and tea, and we talked non stop about the trip and our favourite memories.  Steffi and I will definitely be keeping in touch, and we were both emotional to say goodbye after the experiences of the last week.  Steffi is continuing on to Argentina and Brazil with another Gadventures tour, and I felt really jealous that her holiday was only half through instead of nearly over like mine was!

Once Steffi left in her taxi to the airport, I really felt strange – it was strange to be alone in the hotel and not have anyone to just go and play a card game with or a deadline to be following.  I had 12 hours to kill, and I decided to break my self-imposed computer ban and log onto the computers in the hotel lobby to start writing up my blog, allowing me to relive the memories of the last few weeks whilst they were still fresh.

I ended up spending most of the day infant of the computer, and wrote up days 1-3 as well as spending a chunk of time looking at photos.  I headed out to lunch at a cafe where I ordered a vegetarian sandwich which had walnuts, feta cheese and some unidentifiable vegetables inside it) and a cappuccino.  I read my book, and again reflected on such an amazing experience.  I was feeling a little sad, so I found Pinkberry and treated myself to a really yummy Frozen Yoghurt, and my book.

A little treat

A little treat

Later, I headed out again to a pizza place to buy a vegetarian pizza for dinner, before taking my taxi at 21:00 to the airport.  The taxi ride and airport were uneventful, but the executive lounge was full so I ended up walking the terminal instead just to have something to do.  I was pushing myself to be as tired as possible so I could sleep on the journeys, and by the end of the day when boarding started, I was exhausted.  Exhausted, but so so happy.

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Quest of the Gods – Day 13, Back to Lima

Sleeping in a sauna isn’t easy, and I woke up at 5am with a headache.  Feeling ready to start the day (we had to leave at 6 anyway), I got up and took a shower.  This was interrupted at 5:15am by the wake up call I had booked with the hotel – not ideal!  At around 5:30, I headed downstairs expecting a quiet breakfast but arrived into mayhem, as a large tour of french canadians were also leaving at 6am and the breakfast room was heaving.  I had a quick breakfast of cornflakes and yoghurt, before our departure at 6am to Juliaca.

The airport in Juliaca is tiny, with only two gates, and once again (as they did in Puerto Maldonado) they manually searched our checked bags with hands.  Everyone was pretty quiet/tired at this point.

Once through security, a local band piped up and tried to get us all to buy their CDs by playing very loudly at 6:30am… not the best sales pitch i’ve ever heard, and I quite honestly considered buying a CD to make them go away!

Boarding in Juliaca

Boarding in Juliaca

The flight was uneventful, except that Mike managed finally to get a photo of me sleeping (which I had prided myself on not doing the entire time we were travelling together!)

Once we arrived in Lima we were picked up by a local transfer, which just so happened to be Fantasy Transport… that amused me greatly, although it may have been the tiredness and altitude adjustment that made it seem funny.

Fantasy transport

Fantasy transport

We checked back into the Miraflores hotel we started at, and they had given me a suite!  We headed quickly back out from the hotel and split into two groups – Mike and Kirsten had a cooking lesson, so Steffi, Ruth and I headed to a local fish restaurant for lunch since they wanted to try Cebiche.

Asparagus risotto

Asparagus risotto

Cebiche, 4 ways

Cebiche, 4 ways

Cebiche and Sushi

Cebiche and Sushi

The Cebiche looked amazing but seafood is something I think i’ll never enjoy, even if I were to start eating meat again.  The thought of it kind of makes me feel strange!

After lunch we pottered around the shopping mall for a bit, which mainly had western brands.  Ruth found a book shop and bought a couple of cooking books, and then we headed for coffee in a coffee shop I had spotted the first time we were in Lima.

Arabica, amazing coffee

Arabica, amazing coffee

Arabica was my kind of mecca, with great coffee and quirky decor.  I could have wasted many days there, but sadly we only had time for one coffee.

Once we got back to the hotel I called (using a real phone!) United to try and adjust my flights.  Everyone else is leaving before 10am tomorrow, and my flight isn’t until 1am the next day!  Unfortunately there wasn’t a better flight option, so I chose to stay with the original plan which gives me a full day on my own in Lima.

With some effort, I managed to repack everything back into one bag which is great since lugging two bags around the world seemed to increase the risk of losing one of them quite considerably.

Successful, I met with Steffi for a couple of rounds of Shithead and Pisco sours in the hotel bar… I tried a Ginger infused Pisco which was amazing.  As the others became ready, they also joined us and we ended up with a big group game before meeting at 18:30 for taxis to our final dinner together in a Chifa restaurant.  Chifa is Peruvian style Chinese cuisine and Harold had (true to form) booked us a table at a really great restaurant (Madam Tusan).  Infact this place is known as one of the best in the country.

After sitting down for dinner, we ordered our food and were merrily making conversation when suddenly there was a rumble quickly followed by an extremely abrupt “everyone, get out now!” by Harold.  Half a second later, we felt a second rumble and this time there was no mistaking it – we were being hit by an earthquake!  We quickly made our way outside and explained what was happening to the rest of the group who were less aware of the tremor.  It was quite an exciting experience, but after a few minutes we were let back into the restaurant since things seemed to have quietened down.  Everyone stayed on edge for a few minutes though!

The food was great, with vegetarian fried rice and some braised tofu dishes along with amazing looking meat dishes.

Vegetarian fried rice

Vegetarian fried rice

Something with meat

Something with meat

Braised tofu

Braised tofu

After the main course we said a big thank you to Harold and gave him his appreciation for the amazing effort of the last two weeks.  We added a lot of jokes into his thank you card.

After receiving our tips, Harold told us his story: 7 years ago his parents house was hit by an earthquake.  He and his family were trapped underground for 20 minutes whilst the rubble trapped them, and since then he has been donating his tips to his parents to help them rebuild their lives.  Everyone felt very humbled hearing this, and i’m sure life in Peru is a lot harder than we have been led to believe.  We all promised to pass word to our friends about how amazing Peru is, since tourism is helping the country to develop.

Sobered, and humbled, we headed to a book store across the road where I bought a cooking book and then we jumped into a taxi to head to a water park for a night time fountain show which is kind of famous.  The taxi rides were hilarious, and I think we all put an extra effort into feeling good since it was the last night.

Taxi selfie

Taxi selfie

Fountain selfie

Fountain selfie

Fountain photo

Fountain photo

Arty fountain

Arty fountain

Beautiful fountain

Beautiful fountain

Fountain tunnel

Fountain tunnel

Group in the tunnel

Group in the tunnel

Steffi with lasers

Steffi with lasers

Laser show

Laser show

Laser show selfie

Laser show selfie

After the water park, we went back to the hotel in one taxi which was certainly intimate!  We sat down for a few final rounds of Shithead before bed, and made sure to exchange email addresses so we could keep in touch after departure tomorrow.  Ruth leaves at 7am, so we won’t be up to see her, but will make an effort to see Steffi, Mike, Kirsten and Harold before they all go their separate ways in the morning.

I went to bed reflecting on just what an amazing experience this had been.  More on that soon.

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Quest of the Gods – Day 12, Lake Titicaca

Waking at 5am seems to be a theme on this trip, and again I woke early…. this time due to the intense heat being provided in my sauna/hotel room.  After a quick shower, I headed down for breakfast and had french toast, yoghurt and papaya juice.

We all met early and at 7:15 started our trip to Lake Titicaca with a ride on some local cycle taxis to the ferry.

Cycle taxi selfie, the driver photobombed

Cycle taxi selfie, the driver photobombed

After a hair raising race through the city we arrived at the port and boarded a boat.  We were using a commercial tour company for this day, so Harold introduced us to “Clever”, our tour operator, who was guiding us for the day.  The boat would visit two islands – first Taquile, which is a “real” island, and then on to the floating islands later in the day.

Boat selfie, photobombs all over the place

Boat selfie, photobombs all over the place

Lake titicaca

Lake titicaca

Being brave on top of the boat

Being brave on top of the boat

The ride to Taquile took about an hour and Clever gave us a rundown on the life of the lake – it’s the “highest navigable lake in the world”, at 3800m and big enough that some pretty large boats ferry around people and goods from Peru to Bolivia and back.

Once we arrived at Taquile we had a short hike across the island to see how life is living in the middle of the lake.  For a lot of the people on the group tour, this was a real challenge but for all of us who had just finished the Inca Trail, this was a walk in the park, and we steamed ahead!

Taquile

Taquile

We visited another weaving project, this one based on the island, and were shown a lot of the same techniques as were demonstrated back in the Planeterra project.  Harold found me a “single” lady (you can tell by the big pompoms on her dress, apparently) and insisted we should have photos together.  She fitted me with the customary “single guys” hat, so we would match.  Awkward photo below.

Weaving

Weaving

More weaving

More weaving

Awkward photo

Awkward photo

After we finished our shopping (of course the weavers tried to sell us everything), we headed to a nearby beach for a 25 minute relax before our boat continued its tour.  Our group made the most of that time, and Steffi and Mike actually went for a swim in the lake.  The rest of us just paddled.

Archway

Archway

Beach selfie

Beach selfie

Seffi doing her Bong girl impression

Seffi doing her Bong girl impression

Mike trying to splash us

Mike trying to splash us

Group beach photo

Group beach photo

Next we re-boarded the boat and sailed back to the mainland for lunch.  We docked at a peninsula on the mainland and were greeted by a shaman who took us through a traditional food blessing ceremony.  Our food was buried in the ground and had been cooking for 45 minutes under ground, and after some ceremonial blessings it was dug up for us to feast on.

Shaman

Shaman

Kirsten and her new friend

Kirsten and her new friend

Lunch cooking under ground

Lunch cooking under ground

Lunch being dug up

Lunch being dug up

Lunch was great, although they had to cook an omelette for me in the ‘real’ kitchen since they hadn’t arranged anything specific for a vegetarian in the underground oven.  I still ate the potatoes, beans and sweet potato from the ground and it was great to try something cooked so traditionally.  The rest of the group ate trout (caught from the lake) and chicken (not caught from the lake).

Once lunch was over and we were sated, we headed on a short boat ride over to the floating islands, or Uros.

Uros selfie

Uros selfie

Uros

Uros

The floating islands are made by constructing reeds from the lake into a weaved mesh and then placing them on top of one another, until they create a floating platform.  They are anchored the same way a boat would anchor to the bottom of the lake, and people live there the whole year around.  The lake reeds eventually rot away, so every week they need replenishing.  It’s a fascinating way of life, and it was amazing and privileged to be able to walk around and meet these people.  The build EVERYTHING out of reeds, including their houses, boats, seats, and beds.  We were greeted by the residents when we arrived and given a speech by the leader of the island, before being given time to explore (and do shopping if we wished).  There were piles of cheeky children on the island who enjoyed trying to steal our trinkets and climbing over our boat.

A mobile made of reeds

A mobile made of reeds

Kirsten, mike and more cheeky kids

Kirsten, mike and more cheeky kids

Cheeky kids

Cheeky kids

Harold being attacked

Harold being attacked

Lounging around

Lounging around

Once the tour of the island was complete, we headed back on the boat to the mainland and a quick bus tour back to our hotel.  During the boat ride back we were given a cocktail of Pisco and Sprite which actually tasted great!

Pisco and Sprite

Pisco and Sprite

Bus selfie

Bus selfie

After returning we were given a bit of free time (what’s that?!) and Kirsten, Ruth and I headed towards the shops for some postcards and coffee.  It was nice to relax and we reflected a lot on the past days, since this was our last day of planned adventure.  I then settled back into my sauna/hotel room to write postcards for a little while, before meeting at 19:00 for dinner.

We were briefed on the plan for tomorrow before dinner, which involves a 6am departure since we have to catch a flight that leaves only once a day.  We went for dinner to a pizzeria which mysteriously didn’t serve pizzas, so I ended up ordering lasagne.  The rest of the group were feeling adventurous so they ordered a local speciality – Cuy!  Cuy is the quetcha word for Guinea Pig, and is a special local delicacy.  It was weird to see it presented on a plate, such a small animal, but the group tucked in and seemed to comment that it tasted okay, although as expected there wasn’t a lot of meat there!

Cuy

Cuy

Finished cuy

Finished cuy

After dinner, and a very strong Caprhinia, we went to a “Rock and Reggae” club next door for a few more cocktails.  The club had a corner of artwork submitted by Gadventures groups, so we added our own little doodle to the wall in memory of our experience.

By 9:45 we were all sufficiently merry and having played even more Shithead in the bar, we retired to our saunas to be ready for the early start tomorrow.

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Quest of the Gods – Day 11, Bus ride to Puno

After a relaxing/hungover day in Cusco, I found it really hard to sleep in the hotel.  You could argue that this was because I spent most of the previous day “napping”, but really it was noise on the street outside.  There seemed to be something going on out in the street and at 3, 4:15, 5 and various other times I found myself awake.  In the end I gave up trying to sleep and packed my stuff.  Somehow my neatly packed backpack no longer closed, so I ended up with two bags – mainly due to tiredness and lack of logic in packing, I later found out!

Once packed, I headed down for another buffet style breakfast… scrambled eggs, croissant and cereal.  Could just as well have been in europe! I didn’t go for the Tuna fruit!

We met at 7:30 to board our big blue bus for the dreaded 7 hour journey to Puno.  All the journeys on this trip so far have been relatively short and long distances are covered by plane.  But the best way to reach Puno is by road, due to the altitude.  Puno is located at 3800m above sea level, and we met a few people who had flown into it and were suffering awful altitude sickness for 24 hours from arrival.  By arriving by bus you adjust naturally to the altitude, so 7 hours on the fun-bus began!

Big Blue Bus

Big Blue Bus

Bus selfie

Bus selfie

During the journey we stopped at an Inca ruin just outside Cusco which acted as one of two gatehouses to Cusco.  This was pretty neat and it still amazed me that we could just walk all over the site, with no entrance fee, no borders preventing us touching the ruin…. the European tourism style is definitely more restricted!

Inca ruin

Inca ruin

Along the journey, most people chose to sleep but unfortunately for me, I prefer not to sleep on busses so I spent most of the journey reading my new book, The Book Thief, and was progressing through it at an insane pace.  I read slowly, and by the end of the journey I had already read 250 pages of the 540 in the book.  Unheard of for me, so I guess it must be a good book!

We also stopped at some roadside stalls, including one which sold roast lamb and was famous across the whole country.  They had apparently taken their roast lamb to Lima to a food festival a few weeks ago, which is where Harold had met them.  These are the sort of connections you miss when you travel outside of a guided tour, and the carnivores of the group all agreed it was a great tasting piece of meat.  I just watched and tried not to take photos of the lambs head wrapped in beautiful weaved fabric!

Roadside stalls

Roadside stalls

The "high point" of our trip

The “high point” of our trip

At one point we stopped at what was declared the high point of the whole trip.  This pass, we were told, is the highest we would reach during the whole trip – 4335m above sea level.  Of course, that meant we had to get a group photo!

There isn’t that much else to say about the 7 hours… it passed, we got to Puno.  Puno, and neighbouring Juliaca, are both pretty basic cities – Juliaca has 250,000 people and Puno has 150,000.  Unfortunately I would summarise them to be primarily shanty town cities, with a lot of poor housing and dirt roads.  It was really interesting to see the other side of Peru, with both Lima and Cusco reminiscent of European styles.

We checked into the hotel in Puno, and were given rooms on the top floor.  I say rooms, I wondered if the hotel had messed up and checked us into the Sauna instead… the heating was on and the rooms were upwards of 25c.  Figuring that they must know what they were doing, I left the heating on incase it got super cold in the night time, and we headed out for our orientation walk.

Harold took us to the main square in Puno, just a few 100ms from the hotel, and we headed to a market to try some more local foods.  Here we saw the Tuna fruit it its native form – it comes from a Cactus and is actually quite tasty.   Apparently the red variety we had in the hotel in Cusco is very expensive… so now I know I missed out on that!

Harold also ordered us some sort of ‘strength’ drink which a lady at a stall happily prepared for us, including some syrup with half naked movie stars on the bottle!  The drink also included a raw egg, some mystery powder, carrot, banana, papaya and a whole bunch of other stuff… it didn’t taste too bad, but none of us wanted to finish a whole cup of it!

Strange syrup

Strange syrup

Strength drink

Strength drink

Drink consumed, we went down to the market proper to buy some supplies for tomorrow.  Since we will be visiting the floating islands, where produce is very difficult to grow, they rely on donations from visitors of the basics.  We each set about buying something of a staple – rice, pasta, oil, spices – for a very small amount (I spent S6 on some cooking oil) which would make a huge difference to the community we were going to visit.

We also stopped at an ATM and thankfully I was able to withdraw S400, which means my money worries of the last few days had gone away.  After finishing our orientation trip, we headed back to the hotel and had 90 minutes to freshen up. I spent most of it reading my book!

At 19:00 we met for dinner, and Harold had promised us a spectacular experience… a dinner show in a local style.  It was a pretty fun affair but definitely low key… one spotlight lit up the stage, and the performers just ran off stage and changed costumes between songs.

Dinner show

Dinner show

My dinner at the dinner show

My dinner at the dinner show

Mike and his "captain" cocktail

Mike and his “captain” cocktail

More dinner show

More dinner show

Still more

Still more

Group selfie

Group selfie

After dinner as we walked back, a jovial Harold serenaded us with his impression of famous singers including Whitney Houston and Celine Dion.  My ears still haven’t forgiven him for that.

We played 3 rounds of ‘sheathed’, and then headed to bed in our saunas.  And no, the hotel were not correct… it was crazy hot.  Turning the heating off, opening the windows and praying… I lay in bed awake for a long time before the temperature eventually normalised to boiling point.  Tomorrow we would set off at 7:15am for our trip on Lake Titicaca!

Peru key in the hotel

Peru key in the hotel

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Quest of the Gods – Day 10, Cusco hangover

I’d love to say that I woke up at 7am feeling perfect after my night out, but that would be a total lie.  I woke up at 9:45, definitely still drunk.  After a shower and generally wobbling around my room for a while, I decided to find “the ultimate breakfast cafe” Harold had recommended – Jack’s Cafe.

Harold had left annotated maps for each of us along with our room keys, so finding my way should in theory have been easy. I’m sure it was easy, but I remember really struggling to relate my current position to the piece of paper in my hand.  I was in a bad way, and desperately needed hangover food!

On the way, I tried and failed to withdraw cash, which left me panicking hoping I had enough cash to last the rest of the trip.

Jack's cafe

Jack’s cafe

Once I found Jacks Cafe I ordered their Veggie breakfast, which was amazing.. Drunk food at it’s best!

Veggie breakfast and a flat white

Veggie breakfast and a flat white

It definitely helped and I began to feel a lot better after walking around for a while.  After brunch I did a bit of shopping for some small souvenirs, and I booked a massage (also on harolds map).  Resna and Mark who we had met in the jungle had insisted that a massage was a very worthwhile thing after the Inca trail, so it seemed like a good excuse!

Massage booked, I headed back to the hotel to see everyone and say goodbye to Al & Asfia who were heading to Miami to continue their honeymoon in more luxurious, less strenuous circumstances.  I was glad to see that both Steffi and Harold were equally worse for wear!

The massage was really nice and relaxing, and after that I realised I still had 4 hours until the time we had agreed to meet for dinner – since the last day had been so long I decided to reward myself with a nap.  Okay, honestly, I felt like death and the nap was the only thing I could manage.

I realised I might have a cash problem however, since I had an older looking $100 bill.  A lot of the shops in Peru are really wary about older money, and nobody was willing to change it, which meant I was short on my funds I though t I had.  Not a huge panic, I still had S400 left, but unless I persuaded some machines to work, I would have to watch out what souvenirs I buy in the coming days.

Whilst relaxing in the hotel I finished my first book of the trip – “The ocean at the end of the lane” by Neil Gaiman which is a brilliant fantasy telling of a childs view on the world.  At the end of the book Neil Gaiman talks about his influences of his childhood and it’s clear he’s put a lot of his heart and soul into telling the story.  It feels like a privilege to read those sort of childhood thoughts from someone since those thoughts are generally so personal.

After finishing the book, I started my next book – “The book thief” by Markus Zusak – which I immediately got into and couldn’t put down!

At 6:30 we met to pay our laundry bills and had a short briefing about tomorrow (the dreaded 7 hour bus ride!).  Once the briefing was over we headed to a fancy restaurant for our dinner.  I ordered a Peruvian stuffed potato dish which was really amazing!

Ruth and her passion fruit "drink"

Ruth and her passion fruit “drink”

Peruvian stuffed potato

Peruvian stuffed potato

After last nights persist, Steffi was feeling pretty rubbish today so my rehydration tablets got another user – their 4th user since we arrived!  Consider we have a nurse and a doctor on our group, I was surprised to be the one dishing our remedies!

After dinner we opened a bottle of wine in the hotel and taught Mike and Kirsten to play Shithead – a nice bonding experience and a great way to end a relaxing day.

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Quest of the Gods – Day 9, Inca Trail ·Day 4 (Machu Picchu!)

To say that I was excited about this day would be a huge understatement.  Machu Picchu is somewhere which has fascinated me for years, and especially since I booked the trip – deciding to fly half way around the world to visit a ruin isn’t something I do every week!

I woke in the tent around 3am, well ahead of a 3:30am wake up “call”… I was so excited, I really couldn’t sleep much but that didn’t matter – today we would see Machu Picchu!  I was dressed and packed by 3:15am, and as soon as I stepped out of my tent the porters set about dismantling it!  I guess they were eager not to miss their train!

I had an awkward (cold) wait around whilst the rest of the group were woken and got ready for breakfast at 4am.  Breakfast was quite quick – some brioche/cake and tea – since we needed to get out of there ASAP, and we were given snack packs with cheese sandwiches and a juice box to keep us going due to the early start.

By 4:15 we were on our way, but Israel announced we would be making a surprise visit, rather than joining the queue of other tours.  Normally at this point the tours all head down to queue at the checkpoint, waiting for the 5:30am opening time before making their way to Machu Picchu as quickly as possible in an attempt to see the haze rise above the mountains.  Instead, Israel planned to take us to Intipata – the ruin which we skipped yesterday due to the rain!  It was fantastic being there before sunrise and we got to see the day lighten up as the sun rose on the horizon and the ruin revealed itself to us.

The moon at Intipata

The moon at Intipata

Pre sunrise

Pre sunrise

Sunrise selfie

Sunrise selfie

More arty photos

More arty photos

Llama!

Llama!

Llama again!

Llama again!

After sunrise

After sunrise

More ruin

More ruin

Intipata

Intipata

Group shot at Intipata

Group shot at Intipata

It was amazing watching the llamas wake up and the cloud rise from below us to above us, and truly magical to be the only group there at that time of day.  Once day break happened we headed towards the checkpoint, which opened at 5:30, and were able to walk almost straight through – we hadn’t lost any time however, as we quickly caught up and overtook groups on the trail.

After the checkpoint it was just a short 1 1/2 hour hike to the “sun gate”, and our first view of Machu Picchu!

More stairs

More stairs

Arriving at the sun gate

Arriving at the sun gate

First view of Machu Picchu

First view of Machu Picchu

Me and Machu Picchu

Me and Machu Picchu

The horizon from the Sun Gate

The horizon from the Sun Gate

Close up of Machu Picchu

Close up of Machu Picchu

It was such an incredible feeling to see the view that i’d been lusting after since booking the trip, and I can’t put into words the feeling.  It was overwhelming and magical to see the site, and to know that we had made it.  We rested for 15 minutes at the Sun Gate before beginning our descent to Machu Picchu and on to the end of the Inca trail, which officially finishes on a large rock at the edge of Machu Picchu.  We were so lucky with the weather, which was almost a cloudless sky.  Perfect Machu Picchu weather – we had been warned along the trail that there is always a chance of a rainy day or cloud cover which can ruin the whole experience.

Along the descent we stopped at a couple of viewing points before finally reaching the “end of the inca trail” and posing for our obligatory photos from the typical spot!

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Me at Machu Picchu

Me at Machu Picchu

The photos took a while since we had to queue, but it was worth it to get that iconic shot (which inevitably will be a Facebook profile photo at some point!), and as soon as these were over we headed quickly down to the entrance gate and the promise of “real” toilets, which were definitely a welcome sight after 3 days on the trail!  Spending 1 sol on the toilet was possibly the best sol I spent whilst in Peru!

We had a reunion with Harold at a cafe outside the Machu Picchu gate, and were able to chill out before heading back into Machu Picchu.  This time is important because you’re not allowed to take walking poles around Machu Picchu (for fear of damaging the ruin), so Harold had to stay outside with our stuff!

Once we had all rejuvenated and consumed our packed snack, we headed into Machu Picchu for a guided tour by Israel.  It was fascinating to learn all about the discovery of MP and in particular Hiram Bingham, who is critical to the discovery story.

After the tour we were given free time to explore, and we went on a hunt for Llamas and photo opportunities.  The site really is incredible and below is a small selection of the huge number of photos I took.  I’ve tried to caption them appropriately, but the history is way larger than I can tell in a blog entry!

Machu Picchu from near the top

Machu Picchu from near the top

Steffi on the terraces

Steffi on the terraces

Recreated thatched roof

Recreated thatched roof

A view of Wainapicchu

A view of Wainapicchu

Inca stairs, and modern stairs

Inca stairs, and modern stairs

Israel showing us an important building

Israel showing us an important building

More stairs!

More stairs!

More of Wainapicchu

More of Wainapicchu

The Quarry area

The Quarry area

How the Incas split the rocks

How the Incas split the rocks

A pretty flower

A pretty flower

The main temple

The main temple

Israel showing his Inca Cross

Israel showing his Inca Cross

Amazing tessellation

Amazing tessellation

Al, boyband style

Al, boyband style

Israel, boyband style

Israel, boyband style

Asfia

Asfia

MP selfie

MP selfie

Llama!

Llama!

Llama!

Llama!

Llama, 3rd angle projection

Llama, 3rd angle projection

Me with a llama!

Me with a llama!

After we finished exploring, we headed out of the exit gate and were able to complete our passport page, with the final Machu Picchu stamp.  Once the stamp is in there, it means the hike is officially over!

Fourth stamp!

Fourth stamp!

What an amazing journey it had been!

We took a 30 minute windy bus ride down the hill to the town of Machu Picchu, which is clearly a tourist down and set up for us – full of markets selling trinkets, and we were able to meet with Harold and our duffle bags from the tents (which had magically been transported there!)

Machupicchu town

Machupicchu town

I bought a t-shirt (“I survived the Inca trail”) and some postcards, and then we regrouped for lunch in a restaurant.  It was a big group, with the original 7 of us together with 5 from another tour (which Mark, Katie and Simone were part of).  Steffi and I shared some Nachos and then I had Veggie Burritos, before we made a presentation to Israel and passed over our appreciation to him as well.  This was the last time we would see him, and it was really heartfelt to say goodbye after him guiding us through 4 amazing days of lives!

Once lunch was over we headed to the train station and caught a train back to Ollantaytambo.  We have to take the tourist train, since the local train is not available unless you have Peruvian IDs.  The train took an hour and a half and was really bumpy, but we were given drinks and snacks (Inca Cola, of course!).  Most people slept through the journey, whilst I just took selfies!

Train selfie

Train selfie

Asfia...zzz

Asfia…zzz

Steffi...zzz

Steffi…zzz

I spent a lot of the journey chatting with Mike and Kirsten about how they had enjoyed the Lares trek, which sounds incredible and very different to the Inca trail – much more cultural and they spent time in houses filled with Guineapigs, and met hundreds of local children.

After the bumpy train ride, we switched to a bus ride for a bumpy 90 minute ride around windy streets to get back to Cusco.  Our mini bus got pulled over in the main square in Cusco for driving there after dark – which apparently was a law which came into force just 3 days ago!  Hardly fair, and our driver protested but ended up paying a hefty fine!

Bus selfie

Bus selfie, Mike Photobombs!

Once we got to the hotel, we showered and met again for a traditional post-trail evening – Peruvian pizza and wine in the hotel and then out on the town to enjoy the celebratory feeling of completing the trail!

Harold had arranged honeymoon gifts in the rooms of Al & Asfia and Mike & Kirsten, and the feeling throughout the group was one of elation as we headed first to the “Museo del Pisco” – which isn’t actually a museum, just a bar that serves amazing Peruvian cocktails.

Museo del Pisco

Museo del Pisco

Needless to say the cocktails went down well after the trail and the night became gradually more blurry, as Steffi and I decided to meet up with Harold in a club he had recommended…

Club photo

Club photo

Blurry night

Blurry night

After lots of dancing and drinking, we finally managed to complete the 24 hour challenge – at 3:30am, we had officially been up for 24 hours (although Steffi slept on the train, so she cheated!).  An amazing feeling… Inca trail: done!

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