A Travellerspoint blog

November 2011

Cusco and Spanish School (3-12 November)

After the Inca trail, we decided that the time was right to get into study mode with a week of Spanish lessons in Cusco

On our return to Cusco we decided we should take some Spanish lessons before we got any further into our trip. Having been recommended the San Blas Spanish School we arranged 22 hours of private lessons and found a pleasant and quiet hostel just off the plaza and settled in for a bit of a brain blast - it had been a while since our brains had had to cope with memorising and making sense of so much new information!

We also made time for a few fun evenings - dinner at Patcha Papas with Daniella and Glauco where we found out that this holiday had been their honeymoon! Congratulations!! Caparinhas at Norton's pub with Barry (how did it get to 2am without us noticing...), drinks with Denis, one of M's Spanish teachers and a great curry at Kurma Sutra where we met Larry, an American chap who susses out whether a mine will be viable etc, and who was missing his family.

We also did a few cultural things...Mass in the Cathedral, walked up to Cristo Blanco and Saqsawoman and chatted to a few locals in the plaza.

Oh, and we suffered a brief bout of food poisoning - guess it was the ice at a tourist restaurant, but who knows. I'm hopeful that it'll make us more hardy as we go down the line.

After all the lessons, we enjoyed a final day in Cusco chilling in a lovely little cafe, "The Meeting Place", catching up on the blog and e-mails. We then filled in the time before our night bus with a sunset drink on the central Plaza del Armas, then dinner and a magic show at Aldea Yanapay before a cab to the bus terminal.

I was pleased we arrived at the terminal with some time to spare - it was rammed! And there was a 'departure tax' that we had to pay with a disorderly queue of at least 100 people. At one point the pushing got so bad that M had to act as my bodyguard as I took my turn at the counter as one Peruvian guy that was at least 20 places behind took to English to tell us off for pushing in! The audacity! But we made it on the bus just fine and were impressed with the big seats which reclined 160 degrees, muy bien :-) The journey was a tad bumpy, and so didn't lend itself to the best night's sleep, but it was sufficient for a few hours and before we knew it we were in Puno and could see lake Titicaca, awesome!

Posted by DebandMatt 18:17 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Peru (part 2 - Camino Inca)

Hiking the Inca Trail: Mountain passes, high jungle and Inca archaeological sites

Day 1

We're up at 4:45am and it's getting light already!! We run around madly getting ready for our 5:20am pick up and then wait until 5:45...Peru time...On the drive to Ollyantaytambo the rain starts - typical, it had only been hot and sunny for the last week. So at breakfast we all buy ponchos and waterproof trousers in addition to some high energy treats to keep us going.

Our group consists of six people, M and I, an Italian couple (Daniella and Gloucho), a lady from Oz (also Daniella) and a fella from Northern Ireland (Barry). And our guide, Hilbert. We're very happy that we haven't got a group full of kids (OK, I know, age is getting the better of me with these things...), but then M realises that he's the oldest in the group, he he. Anyway, all appear to be the sort of people we'd be content to hang out with for a few days, so that's a good start.

The remainder of the drive to the start of the trail is narrow. Two buses wouldn't have attempted to pass on this road in the UK, but here they seam content with 2cm spare...

We start the walk (and wait in line while bureaucracy grinds it's cogs) in the rain. But after a couple of hours the sun comes out and the ponchos, raincoats and waterproof trousers are peeled off.

Tummies grumbling, we all start tucking into some of the chocolate we bought earlier. But then we're told our lunch stop is about to come up. Wow! We're all surprised by our lunch - the dining tent is erected, bowls of water for us to wash in sit ready and a porter waits with a towel. We're served soup, then a smorgasbord follows - avocado, meat, veggies, there's tonnes of choice and large quantities too! I could have had a siesta before starting hiking again...

Before long the scenery start to change, becoming lusher and more mountainous. And the Ponchos stay off :)

We camp a couple of hours further along the trail than most trekkers. M and the boys storm the last hour while us ladies chat and take a more sedate pace. When we arrive the camp is all set up for us and we are greeted with high fives and calls of "congratulations" and "well done" from the porters and Lois, the co-ordinator. Dinner was just as great as lunch and then we all headed straight to bed - M and I were all cosy in our sleeping bags by 8:30pm.

Day 2

This morning's wake up call was at 5am, and we were very happy to see a fairly blue sky to start us off. Today it's 'Dead Woman's Pass' at 4215m, the highest we will go on this trek.

M and I keep a steady pace while enjoying some scenery, photo and chocolate breaks. We made the top of the pass in a little under 3 hours and were later told it takes most people over 4 hours - we hadn't tried to be fast!

Over the pass it was all downhill on big, stone steps to lunch at 3600m. Lots of other trekking groups were stopping here for the night here, but we had another pass of 3985m, and an important archaeological site, to do first.

By the time we summitted the second pass it was starting to rain. All the waterproof gear went on and we had a slippery decent in front of us - and we were very grateful that we had the walking poles.

Another archaeological site was to be visited before camp, but as the rain was still coming down we weren't so sure about it. M and Barry headed straight onto camp while the rest of us visited what would probably have been a really beautiful site if we could have seen it through the mist and rain...

And then the hail came down...I was very happy once I finally found the kitchen tent and had M let me in. Shelter and hot chocolate, oh yes! We waited the storm out and tried our best to dry the waterproofs off, but the rain continued so we were lulled to sleep with rain pattering on the tent and the porters digging trenches to prevent us from being flooded (they were so attentive!)

Day 3

At 5am we were woken with tea, hot water for washing and the quietness that told us the storm had passed. I stuck my head out the tent and caught the first glimpse of the mountains! We were surrounded by snow capped mountains - WOW! So pleased to have had the early start as before long the clouds came down obscuring the view and after an hour of walking the rain returned, although thankfully a fair bit lighter this time.

Stopping at another archaeological site, Hilbert informed us that we would be here for an hour's lecture. Not what I tend to want on holiday, especially when huddled under ponchos with rain slapping down on the plastic covering our tired bodies, but luckily it was more interesting than most lectures (although I wasn't too sure about the accuracy).

We approached our last camp site before lunch and, praise the sun gods, the sun came out and the jungle showed its beauty to us. Swathed in mist, colourful begonias popped out of the rocks and cliff faces, Inca ruins appearing and disappearing out of the mist.

We had a rest afternoon and so returned to the ruin near our campsite to explore it at our own pace. A small group of lazy llamas were hanging out on the terraces and suddenly two of them started getting it on - it gave necking a whole new meaning! We also found a spring on the site to take some sparkling clear, refreshing water from (and purify it with the steripen of course).

The only mar of our afternoon was due to the tipping...we were told that we had to tip the porters, chef and co-ordinator. They had all been great and we were very happy to tip them, especially the porters who had worked so hard. However, the line up and demand from our guide to hand over the money felt a bit off, and then we were told that the way we had planned to divide the tips (evenly across them all) wasn't "the right way" - so as treasurer I had to think on my feet to split the cash. Unfortunately that meant that the others got a little more than porters. But there wasn't much in it and luckily that all seemed happy...

Tipping duties over it was time to crash - our wake up call was at 3:30am!

Day 4

Our wake up call didn't include a tea or hot water for washing...no, they hadn't been offended by the tipping fiasco, apparently the porters just had to be packed and down the mountain for the morning train. And we got to stand in a queue to get though Peruvian bureaucracy...hmmm - lots of jumping around to keep warm (chika es poco loco...?) and enjoying the sunrise through the trees as the expectation of what would come next grew. It was a beautiful day!

Once let through we had a 1 1/2 hour walk to the sun gate, stripping off layers of clothes as the day warmed.

And there it was through the Sun Gate, MACHU PICCHU!

Walking down to Machu Picchu from the sun gate, M spotted a hummingbird - and from the gold necklace it sported, we recognised it as the 'Gould's Inca' hummingbird. Rather appropriate :)

In Machu Picchu proper, Hilbert took us on a tour of the site, giving us lots of info about the significance of "the most important Inca archaeological site". This time we tended agree (although don't get me wrong some of the smaller sites were ace too).

By 11am the clouds came over and the first spots of rain pushed us towards the bus down to Aguas Calientes. We didn't mind though, we would be back again tomorrow and right now were tired, dirty and hungry and knew that there was a shower, food and hot springs waiting for us ;-)

Day 5 - Wanyu Picchu climb

The hostel came to life at 4:30am and despite having set the alarm for 5:30, so did we. We were shrouded by mist in the valley, but by the time we reached Machu Picchu it had thinned and the swathes of mist added a mysterious dimension to the landscape.

M teased some American tourists who were exclaiming "these llamas are so spaced out, do you reckon they've drugged them?!" "My girlfriend told me that tree over there (Datura) is hallucinogenic. Maybe they've been nibbling on it?" "Gee - really!" Or maybe they like the coca leaves...

Our slot to climb Wanyu Picchu was 7-8am, and there was more queueing...but by 8am we were climbing the steep and narrow rock stairs. Luckily there were some railings to hold onto...And the views from the top were magnificent!

Our decent took us around the grand cavern, through the noisy jungle and down steep log ladders to the 'temple de la luna' (temple of the moon).

We checked out some more of Machu Picchu, including a long walk out to the Inca bridge - the cliff face path was impressive, the bridge not so much...And then the rain came down! Everyone seemed to be heading for the bus back down to Aguas Calientes, but luckily the queue moved fast and we were on a bus without getting too wet and with time for a quick bite of lunch before our train back to Cusco.

M had been looking forward to this train ride - there aren't many running in South America any more. The train had big windows and skylights so the views along the river, through the jungle and up at the mountains were great. Plus it went super slow, averaging only 40km/hr, so we could take in the scenery at leisure and in comfort. A lovely way to finish an awesome five days :)

Posted by DebandMatt 18:02 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Peru (part 1)

Fun and games in Lima, Cusco and the Sacred Valley while preparing for the Inca trail, 23-28 October

Straight after the Rugby World Cup final (have I already said New Zealand won???!!!) we were off to Vancouver airport for our flight down to Peru :)

There was some palava at the airport as we were told we didn't have our ESTAs (!?!) which were needed for the privilege of spending 2 hours at Houston airport. 30mins and $14 each later we had these ESTAs. I believe we will need to repeat the process again on the way back too... At least at Houston we were able to have a good laugh at a few very silly Americans ;)

At Lima we were met by our hotel's taxi driver who got us outside the airport building only to lose his taxi! Not the best place to be standing around with all our stuff as he scooted around the car park. But 10mins later he pulled up - in the most rickety taxi in the place. He didn't need to worry about it being stolen. Finally, after being bumped all over Lima in the middle of the night, we arrive at "Safe in Lima", our hostel for the night. We breath a sigh of relief as a guard opens the gate and we enter a quiet enclosed pocket of security. Our room is clean, quiet and with a good supply of hot water, everything we could want before crashing (although there was initial confusion as the C and H are the opposite way around here, 'caliente' being hot in spanish).

At 8am the following morning our favourite taxi man was there waiting for us for our return journey to the airport, in rush hour. Luckily rush hour in Lima is better than in London. There was just one jam down on the beach front where there had been an accident, phew. At Lima airport we were greeted by very polite and friendly Star Airline staff (a pleasant change from Continental & United Airways) and a few hours later we were in Cusco! And wow, was it hot! We weren't expecting 30+ degrees at 3400m, but have since found out that when the sun is out, that is what you get.

Accommodation was needed and a friendly Carlos offered us a nice looking place for $35, plus he had a car that wasn't held together with gaffer tape. Alas, in our knackered state he took us to a different hotel first which we decided was fine. And it was not until late evening when all the Peruvian tourists returned, and then 3am when our neighbours decided it was an appropriate time to converse at the top of their voices (which saw a semi-naked and rather pissed off M knocking on their door - they soon got the message).

Carlos organised our next three days in the Sacred Valley and then we struck out to do some organising of our own - sorting out the final details of our Inca Trail trek with our tour company, SAS, and trooping around ATMs to get enough cash out to pay for it all and hitting the ATM limits.

Near SAS we found a great local restaurant - M had a yummy soup and 'bisteak', I had Alpaca :) We also found a colourful little bar where all the profits go to supporting an afternoon school and community projects for kids. We shared a two pint bottle of beer and then realised that altitude and alcohol aren't the best of friends (was that a hangover or the first signs of altitude sickness at 3am? Hmmm).

Another disturbed night's sleep was followed by our Sacred Valley tour. This reminded us both that we don't like tours. There were 2 Inca sites visited and we got an hour at each with the rest of the day being either in a very hot coach (which soon smelt of sick courtesy of one of the passengers), being left at markets for shopping (boring!) or being fed a touristy lunch. Our guide's catch phrases were "this is the most important Inca archaeological site" and "go take a nice picture and wait for me"!

But Carlos came good with our guest house in Urabamba - a large house in which we had both a bedroom, bathroom and a lounge area. And it was quiet! We slept like babies for 10 hours.

I'm horse riding in Urabamba, part of my birthday pressy :-) M comes up to the stables with me to see me jump on my Caballyo and check that my pressie is up to scratch. Oswaldo and I amble along the road on our horses and quickly discover that my Spanish is better than his English, and that is not saying much!! But we still have a great ride up to the Salt Pans of Maras. And I like the envious looks I get from tourists who are seeing the Salt Pans the normal way on foot :) In the steeper sections, Oswaldo instructs me to dismount and lead my horse, Condoro. I do, but I can't help thinking that my Joey or Gally (two of my horses from back home in NZ) would have done it without breaking sweat. The Peruvian horses have a beautiful walk, they flick their forefeet in little circles with each step. But they are clumsy and slip around which makes me direct every step that Condoro makes. And in doing so I come away with a minor war wound from an overgrown cactus which embeds itself in my temple, ouch! Still, less ouch than slipping over the cliff!

Back at out guest house I find M, and he has discovered where the local market is and we go check it out! There are literally 101 types of potatoes, maize, rice, live chicks and ducklings, tights and underwear filling the large dirt field. As we leave the market we see lambs being packed into the back of a taxi! In search of some lunch we find a little cafe which is also a place where local kids can come and learn theatre skills and come and do performances. The Danish proprietor serves us up some great pumpkin soup and a sandwich full of avocado and other goodies, and this is washed down with yummy pancakes.

Onto Ollyantaytambo (try saying that after a few Pisco Sours!) and we find ourselves staying in a noisy guest house, with a busy road right outside, and creaky floorboards. Not quite the lodge that we had been sold, but the views of the ruins were good. We manage to find a great local eatery, which promptly fills up with locals, a good sign, or maybe they were just following us! We eat Sopa de Fido (pasta soup) and a Saltada de Lomo (a beef dish with rice and chips) and have our waitress run to the local shop when M asks for a beer! Later at a more classy joint we try a couple of super strength cocktails, which leave us buzzing for hours and wondering what was actually in them!

The next day, we finally get a proper breakfast (bread and jam gets very boring!) and we are set up for a morning's walk on the other side of the Ollyantaytambo valley. We find the path up to the ruins, which were old Inca storehouses. The views are stunning and the sun scorching. Only 3 hours without sun cream on the tiny patch where my watch usually sits has left me with a nasty burn, lesson learnt!

As we waited for our lift back to Cusco, we were lucky enough to see our first hummingbird. Fascinating to watch as they hover to get the nectar and so quick when they move to the next flower. Fingers crossed that we get to see the Gould's Inca hummingbird, which apparently lives in the area near Machu Picchu.

Back in Cusco after another ride where sometimes it is better not to look at the road ahead, crazy crazy drivers, we rush around getting enough cash to pay for the rest of our Inca Trail tour. Having eaten in lots of local places, we fancied somewhere a little nicer, and treated ourselves to a fancy restaurant overlooking the main square. Excellent service, and we were very surprised by the Peruvian wine we choose, a Temparanillo made by an Italian family that have been living and making wine in Peru for over 150 years. Rich and fruity, yum! The food was equally good, I go for a slow cooked rack of lamb with noodles, and M is very happy with his perfectly cooked fillet steak, with local vegetables and a cream cheese sauce, an unusual combination that worked surprisingly well. We treat ourselves to a taxi back to our hostel, and are told the next day, that at that time of night, a taxi is the only option.

I wake with a cold so we decide that it's time for a very chilled day. Washing, packing, then at 7pm we have our orientation with our guide for the Inca trail, Hilbert. We'll need to be up at 4:45am, so decide on an early night....

Posted by DebandMatt 10:52 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Rockies road trip (part 2)

Two weeks of stunning scenery, heavenly hikes and dramatic driving; with the icing on the cake being the All Blacks winning the World Cup!!

It is with excitement (mainly about NZ being in the final of the rugby world cup, but also about discovering some more gorgeous scenery) that we meet up with Lucy for the Johnson Canyon and the Inkpots hike.

Lucy is a couchsurfer who has offered to host us for a couple of nights at her place and who was keen to come along on a hike with us too. Lucy informs us that the temperature was -10 as she left her flat this morning, brrr. We have good heating in the car and the ice is soon scraped off and it's toasty warm for the drive down to the start of the trail.

The frozen canyon walls and partly frozen waterfalls are beautiful in the morning light! And again there's hardly anyone around. We continue up to the inkpots, which are cold springs which have formed pools of water. The pools are meant to be different colours, which are hardly noticeable, but the meadow we find ourselves in is surrounded by mountains and the dried wildflowers still in the shade shimmer with frost.

Hike finished, we take a drive into the nearside of Katooney National Park doing a much shorter walk around another canyon and finding out about the wildfires that look to devastate the area, but are actually an important part of the forest's regeneration.

Heading back to Lucy's we find we're literally staying on the sofa this time, and it's a bit on the short side...not our most comfy surf. Neither does the constant people traffic passing our sofa help. M and I decide to be a little more discerning with our couchsurfing choices in the future. As we're heading into Banff to meet up with Cat and Mark for a coffee, we make our excuses to Lucy and agree that a hotel in Banff will be the order of the day.

Mark suggests hiking up Sulphur Mt to Sanson peak which gives us fantastic views on both sides of the mountain range - cheers Mark! And once we've had our fill of the views we jump on the gondalar down. Perfect. (Especially as we get down for free!)

Our hotel is in the centre of town and has a Mexican bar next door. We have Margarita's in jam jar glasses while trying to work out the rules for ice hockey and other patrons munch on peanuts and scatter their shells all over the floor. Very rustic.

A fantastic night's sleep and we are up before the sun ready for our drive up to Jasper along the icefield parkway. A spectacular sunrise greets us and we are on the road north. As we pass Lake Louise the few other vehicles on the road peel off and we have to road to ourselves.

Breakfast is served in the back of the SUV in a layby overlooking a lake and flanked by mountains at -3 degrees. I manage to rustle up some surprisingly tasty pan fried bread with jam and tea on our little gas stove (maybe my standards were lowered by the cold and a grumbling belly, but it really was good!).

The scenery really is dramatic and it seems that every 15mins there is another spot to pull over in, check out the view, clamber down to a lake or up to a glacier! On Megan and Mick's recommendation (cheers!) we hike up Parker's Ridgway. It is snow on the ground almost immediately from the car park until we emerge into the sun at the top of the ridge and hit amazing glacier and mountain views. Magnificent!

We reach Jasper as night falls and find a pub for dinner and some local beers - I try the pumpkin and spice ale - Yummy!

A well deserved lazy morning is followed by hiking through Maligne Canyon and driving down to Maligne Lake. We are struck by how low the water levels are - just a trickle in what we can see could be a forceful torrent of a river, and one lake is dry enough to walk in!

On our drive back into town we see some bigger animals... a moose! He/she isn't bothered by our presence as it has an afternoon snack by the side of the road. And then we spot some bighorn sheep posing by the river :-)

Our spell of great weather is broken the next morning as we wake to rain. As it clears we can see that there is now more snow on the top of the mountains too - nice. We take a look around the very sleepy Jasper town, pick a bottle of 'Baco Noir' (new to us - it was really good! Med-full bodied with lots of plummy fruit and only lightly tanninic) to have with steaks and roast veggies as a late lunch and drive to the picturesque Patricia and Pyramid lakes for a quick peek.

We'd posted an add for someone to get a ride to Vancouver with us and share the petrol. Jeff knocks on our door and, hey presto, we have the company of an Ozzie chap for the long (12 hours thanks to a traffic jam just outside Vancouver) and mainly wet drive. We drop Jeff off, check into our hostel, cook up the last of our food, give the rest away to a couple of French girls and pop out to a nearby bar for a well earnt drink.


We have some shopping to do, so start by heading to the Mountain Equipemnt Co-op (MEC) and buy a steripen (it sterilises water using UV light and means that we wont have to buy 100's of plastic bottles of water in South America), rechargeable batteries and a rather groovy Camelback water bottle. We love MEC - so many awesome bits of kit for all kinds of outdoor adventure!

We pop our head into the 'Sin-bin' bar that we found would be showing the Rugby World Cup - but it's sold out! The owner calls a mate who has a bar over in Kitsilano and within a minute we have 'seats' booked there. Apparently you have to book a seat in a bar here - a crush around the screen isn't allowed...

Stanley park is next on our list. Stanley park, by the sea, is a real oasis in the middle of the city with loads of joggers, cyclists and rollerbladers (I would have loved to have had my blades with me). There are beautiful autumn colours, herons catching fish in a pond full of waterlillies and great views over the harbour. I direct us to a tea house on the top of a hill and we warm ourselves through and enjoy being pampered.

We continue our walk along the waterfront and down to Gastown - the old hub of Vancouver. Rachel has recommended The Old Spaghetti Factory and the long queue outside is clearly a good sign, so in we go inside to enjoy a drink at the bar. I order a massive margareta - it is totally kitstch and completely yummy! Food there is great, and plentiful, and the decor interesting with an entire tram sitting in the middle of the restaurant!

I get very excited as we head to Kitsilano, to our allocated bar for the rugby. Kick off is at 1am so we have plenty of time to introduce ourselves to the local Kiwis and get a few drinks in (how kind of M to offer to drive after!) The pub crowd is split 50:50 with the French, so there is some good banter, especially when the French players make their intention known with a show of force at The Haka. Somehow the French seem to unnerve us, one of the few nations capable of doing so, but we still WON! New Zealand the worthy holders of the Webb Ellis Trophy for the next 4 years. Well done boys! After much hugging of my fellow Kiwis (and the presentation of a Silver Fern flag to me from one of the Kiwi ladies, cheers Chris) and hand shakes with the French, we head to the airport for our early morning flight to Lima for the next chapter of our adventure...

Posted by DebandMatt 09:19 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

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