Location: Machu Picchu & Inca Trail, Peru
From Cusco we set out on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which was to be one of our trip highlights. We set off early the first morning with a three hour bus ride to where we started the hike. The first day way was reasonably easy with some uphill at the end, interupted by a great 4 course lunch. There were 15 trekkers and 20 porters who carried all the tents, cooking equipment and food. The porters were running the trail in sandals and gym shoes and carrying up to 25kilos - unbelievable. When we arrived for lunch they already had the lunch tent set up with table and chairs and all we had to do was eat - the most luxurious hiking we have ever done. The second day was the hardest as we walked over Dead Woman´s Pass which reached a height of 4,200 metres. Everyone was feeling the altitude by that point. In the evening we had to play a game with the porters where they had to guess our ages, Rich did quite well with the porters gradually increasing there bids till someone guessed his age as 60 - the light was poor in the tent... Third day started off cloudy but then as we headed down the valley the mist cleared to give great views of the mountains. On the forth day we were up at 4am in order to walk to the lost city of Machu Picchu. We arrived and it was cloudy but by 8am it had cleared to provide us with some of the most impressive views of our trip. The city is quite amazing with a spectacular setting, its impossible to comprehend how the Incas actually built in this location. We spent all day at the site then headed down to Aguas Calientes where we were staying before getting the train back to Cusco the next day. Luckily some of our fellow trekkers have allowed us copies of their photos which we have displayed on the photo page.
Now we are back in Cusco with only about one week left before we come home. The plan is to relax and not do anything too exciting whilst gradually making our way to Lima for our flight. So basically "Thats All Folks", as this is our last update so hope you have enjoyed the site and hopefully catch up with you when we are back in the UK.
Location: Lake Titicaca and Cusco, Peru
From La Paz, we headed over to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. From here, we caught a ferry over to the Isla Del Sol (Island of the Sun), a small island a couple of hours away. Here we did some excellent hiking over the 4000 metre hills, with fine views across the lake. It was almost as though we were on a Greek Island. We visited some of the Inca ruins around the island and stayed over at one of the nicest hostels on our trip so far. Next it was time to head over to Cusco in Peru, although we did stop over at Puno in Peru so that we could take a short boat tour of the floating islands. These are islands hand made from reeds where a number of families have been living for hundreds of years and use reed boats to get around.
After an overnight bus journey, we arrived in Cusco, once the capital of the Inca Empire. The city still has lots of Inca ruins in and around it, which we explored over a couple of days. One of the days we went on a tour around the Sacred Valley, taking in an Inca settlement and a fortress, one of the few locations where the Incas defeated the Spanish in a battle. Unfortunately we couldnt take any digital photos of all of these places as our camera had broken - we were forced to use a highly advanced bright yellow Kodak disposable, so we havent been able to upload any pics.
Location: Sucre - Amazon, Bolivia
Spent 2 weeks in Sucre while Sheena did some Spanish lessons while Rich caught up with the football. Its the most beautiful city in Bolivia, all the buildings are white with red tile roofs. Did a walk in the mountains to see some rock paintings and also took an inca trail but unfortunately the weather was rubbish. After Sucre headed to La Paz. From a distance the city is really impresive as it has an amazing location in a valley in the mountains. Close up though, most of it is pretty shabby with half built houses and a lot of the lovely architecture has been left to ruins. After a few days we took a mountain bike trip down the World´s Most Dangerous Road from La Paz to Coroico, a distance of about 68km. Basically the road is a narrow track on the edge of the mountains with a sheer drop on one side. We started at an altitude of 4,700m in the clouds and freezing conditions. After an hour it was more bearable but it was misty and we could not see down into the jungle below which was probably just as well as it was scarey enough as it was. An average of 26 vehicles go over the edge each year mostly through bad driving.
After surviving that we spent a night in Corico and then took a bus down to Rurrenabaque in the Amazon from where you can do jungle and pampas tours. We did a 6 day Jungle and Pampas tour which was excellent. In the jungle we saw lots of wild pigs and some monkeys plus hundreds of insects. In the Pampas we saw an amazing selection of birdlife - eagles, herons, kingfishers, peregrin falcons, jabirus etc and the largest rodent in the world, a capyvara which is like a huge guinea pig. Also lots of aligators and pink dolphins which Rich tried to swim with. Went pirahna fishing and caught a few fish. Rich caught a sardine....! We were able to try the pirahnas but they are pretty small with not too much meat on them. Rather than the 20 hour bus trip back to La Paz we opted for the 45 minute flight in a 20 seater plane. Got some good views from the plane but the last five mintues were a bit scarey with the turbulance. Currently relaxing in La Paz for a couple of days, Rich wants to watch the FA Cup final, then its off to Lake Titicaca and to Peru for our last 3 weeks!
After an uneventful border crossing in to Bolivia, we arrived at Tupiza, which is a real wild west town. Here we did a triathlon tour, involving cycling, a 4 wheel drive and horseriding around the area which was excellent fun, especially the final cycle ride where we got driven up to the top of the surrounding mountains and got to freewheel for about an hour back to town.
The next day we set off for a 4 day jeep tour of the South West of Bolivia, which has some other world scenery. The tour consisted of us, a driver/guide, a cook and four other travellers we had met previously. We spent the 4 days driving around weird coloured lakes that contained Flamingoes, beautiful mountains, deserts, snowy passes, deserted towns and the biggest salt lake in the world. During this time we had to cope with altitude sickness (we reached a maximum height of 5200 metres), hot days, freezing nights, a jeep that kept breaking down but overall, an amazing landscape that constantly took our breath away.
After the tour we headed for Potosi, once the worlds richest city and still the worlds heighest city (4070 metres). It was the worlds richest in previous centuries because of the adjacent mountain, that used to be packed full of silver but is now mainly mined for zinc. Most of Spains wealth came from this city as their coins were made here during the 16th - 18th century, and also a lot of the wealth ended up in British hands, thanks to the pirating skills of Sir Francis Drake and others.
The conditions in the mines that are still in operation have changed little in the last 400 years and we got to experience this through a tour. First we put on all the miners kit, then we went to the miners market to buy drinks, cigarettes and dynamite (no ID necessary) as gifts for the miners. This was followed by a 3 hour tour of the mine involving clambering up and down shafts, through tight tunnels and watching the actual miners at work with picks, shovels and drills. Some how office work doesn´t seem so bad anymore!
Location: Heading North, Argentina
The days spent chilling out in Bariloche worked wonders for our energy levels, although we still managed to squeeze in a 60km bike around the area and a hike to the top of the hill overlooking town.
We were now ready for Pucon (back in Chile) and the live volcano climb. This entailed getting up at 4.15 am to start the climb at 5.30 (in the dark). We walked for about an hour before we reached the snow line where we had to put on crampons and helmet, and were each given an ice axe. Luckily the sun had come up by then which provided us with fantastic views across to Argentina. We then climbed for a further 3 hours to the top (crater) which was hard work, especially as we had to speed up to avoid the clouds that were chasing us up the volcano. We made it to the top, still in the sunshine, and got to look in to the crater itself which was giving out lots of volcanic gases and you could see the odd splash of lava. We could only stay for about 10 minutes as the gases made breathing difficult so we then headed back down, getting to the bottom in about a third of the time. It was a really enjoyable day but we were left exhausted - so we planned a 3 day hike in the local national park for the next day.
This hike, although in a less spectacular park than some of the previous parks, was really worthwhile . It had a mixture of mountains, monkey puzzle trees and lakes, was extremely quiet (the second day we didnt see any other hikers) and had the added bonus of open air thermal pools during the second day which we also had to ourselves.
After returning to Pucon, we then left Chile for the last time to head on up to Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina. We spent one of the days visiting the local wineries where we sampled some (lots) of the produce and bought a couple of bottles for good measure.
From there it was another overnight bus journey to Buenos Aires before heading up to Iguazu, home of the mighty Iguazu Falls. This is a collection of waterfalls that were without doubt the most spectacular we had ever seen. Check the photos - we enjoyed them so much that we spent a second day over the border in Brazil, seeing them from the other side of the river. While in Brazil, we also managed to take in Itaipu, the largest hydro electric project in the world and the 7th wonder of the modern world (as they kept telling us). All very impressive though, and worth the 11 bus journeys of the day to see the dam/falls.
The next day we did a marathon 28 hour bus journey to get over to Salta, where we are staying for a couple of days before we head up to the border of Bolivia, a mere 5121 km from Ushuia (and all covered by bus!). Its going to be sad to leave Argentina as its had fantastic scenery and sights, great steaks (for Sheena), excellent wine and friendly people. Then again, we have only heard good things about Bolivia and its even cheaper - yipee!
Location: Patagonia, Argentina
We went to the Boca Juniors football match which was an excellent experience, right in amongst the local fans, singing along with them as they watched their side win 3-0.
Then we headed south by bus for the tip of South America, Tierra Del Fuego. After 4 days of travelling, we eventually made it to Ushuaia, the most Southern city in the world and a major depature point for trips to Antartica (which we decided against due to the $3600 price tag). On one of the days we did a boat trip on the beagle channel, visting uninhabited islands and various bird and seal colonies. It also gave us fantastic views back over the National Park. We also did a tour of the prison which used to hold all of Argentinas most notorious criminals - it was really quite bleak and would have been horrible being sent here.
Next stop was a trip to Torres Del Paine in Chile, reported as the best National Park in South America and we found out why. We did a 5 day hike around the park, sleeping in our tent and cooking all our own food which meant the bags were pretty heavy. The scenery was fantastic, as the photos hopefully show, although the walk was the toughest yet. The highlight was camping above Glacier Grey, which provided us with views all the way up the Glacier to the mountain range behind.
Hopping back in to Argentina, we visited Los Glaciares National Park, which contains the Moreno Glacier and the Fitz Roy Range. The Moreno Glacier is a monster of a Glacier which regularly calves huge chunks of ice in to the lake below, causing massive waves to spread out into the lake - boats have to keep their distance in case they become overcome. In the Fitz Roy Range, we did a day walk and a 2 day walk up into the mountains, which have fantastic formations and are popular with rock climbers (who must be mad to climb them).
From here, we planned to leave Patagonia for the Lake District, and decided it would be a bit of an adventure to go via the Carretera Austral in Chile, a gravel road trip that had been recommended for its fantastic scenery. 6 wet days later we arrived in the Lake District having seen only glimpses of the scenery through the clouds, having spent a night in a remote village with an ex Chilean Navy captain who enjoyed sticking dead Pumas and Eagles (as well as pictures of near naked women) around his lodgings, and having endured an 8 hour ferry trip that took 16 hours but no one seemed to worry about it. It seems that our luck with the weather had finally given out, but the scenery was fantastic and it was a mini adventure.
Now we have arrived in Bariloche in the Lake District, Sheena is on cloud nine as its the chocolate capital of Argentina, with shops selling mountains of top quality chocs at rock bottom prices. The plan now is to head up to luxury lodgings on the hillside above Bariloche and chill for a couple of days before we continue our journey North.
Location: Santiago and Buenos Aires, Argentina
After the longest day we have had (going through the international date line, the 30 January lasted about 40 hours!) we arrived in Santiago for three days before our onward flight to Argentina. Most of the three days was spent trying to recover from the jet lag - always waking up at 3.30 am starving. We did a walking tour of the centre one day and visited a couple of museums but didnt really do much else except try to relax and go out for meals. Things are cheap here and we were making the most of it, Rich even allowed us to go to some nice restaurants for a change.
Then flew to Buenos Aires where we are staying in a trendy area with loads of bars and eateries. BA is a real party city with people not even going out for meals till about 10 and then you shouldnt go to the clubs before 2am - its not cool. So this is all doing wonders for our sleep pattern. We looked aroung the Evita Museum and one of the Government Buildings and also the Recoleta Cemetery where all the rich and famous of Argentina are buried in very ornate tombs/mausoleums ( wish we knew who half of them were, but we did see Evitas tomb). Tonight we are off to see Boca Juniors who are Buenos Aires most famous Football team - won the Argentinian league etc. Rich is getting excited.
Location: The North - Part 2, New Zealand
We arrived in Lake Taupo to a torrential storm that bucketed down for 2 entire days. Luckily the 3rd day cleared up, allowing us to go jet boating on the rapids jet. This involved bombing it up and down a river in an aluminium boat, doing 180 degrees spins, getting very close to various obstacles in the water and flying over rapids so the boat almost left the water. In the process we got absolutely soaked but it was a really fun experience.
Following this, we decided to make the most of the good weather and booked ourselves on a tandem skydive that evening. It was one of the most amazing experiences we have ever had, although it did get the nerves jangling, especially when they open the door of the plane and you have to shuffle up to the edge before jumping out. This is then followed by 5 seconds of sheer terror as your body/mind tries to fathom what you are doing to it, but once you are levelled out with your arms out to balance, the next 40 seconds of freefall are absolutely fantastic. Then your instructor pulls the parachute and its a leisurely 4 minutes drifting to the ground with great views over the lakes and mountains. Superb.
The next day we did the Tongariro crossing, which is reckoned as one of the best day walks in New Zealand. This goes over a really barren landscape of volcanoes, lava fields and craters, and was used as the backdrop for Mordor in Lord of the Rings.
We then left the lake Taupo area to head up to visit Sheenas relative Jim via a stop over at the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua for some rest and relaxation. Jim owns a Kiwi farm so we got a guided tour of his place and a very welcome bed for the night (after almost a month of sleeping in a tent). Finally we headed back to Auckland to catch our flight over to Santiago in Chile - better get practicing our Spanish! Adios Amigos.