Archive for June, 2013

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa

After the adventures in Colca Canyon, we headed to Peru’s second largest city, Arequipa, also known as the White City, due to the majority of the World Heritage historical centre being built out of white volcanic rock.  As you can see from the photo above, it makes for some amazing architecture, and we spent a couple of days enjoying not only the buildings, also the volcanoes that surround the city and add an amazing backdrop.  It reminded me of Antigua in Guatemala, albeit a bigger city…

One of the highlights of the city (other than eating in some of the most beautiful restaurants of the entire trip (and our lives) due to the use of the 15th and 16th century white lava constructed buildings) is the Convent of Santa Catalina.  We spent a few hours wandering the “city within a city”.  Built in 1579, it is an amazing piece of work, and has been preserved brilliantly, I will let the photo’s below tell the story.

With a great couple of days done in Arequipa, time for another (and perhaps the last!) South American overnight bus ride to the capital of Peru, Lima!

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The Colca Canyon

Posted: June 11, 2013 in Peru, South America

After a very comfortable overnight bus ride from Cusco to Arequipa, we bought a ticket to Cabanaconde, a tiny little town in the Colca Canyon, a Peruvian hot spot for Andean Condors and great hiking in the second deepest canyon in the world (for those that are wondering, the deepest is Cotahuasi, also in Peru).  We hopped on, excited to get to our final destination after 36 hours of travelling.  Little did we know how badly the next few hours would go!

The drive started off innocuously enough, with the driver cruising through the outskirts of Arequipa.  As we headed further from town, the Son of Satan (sorry, the bus driver) decided that it was important that we tested out all facets of the 20-year-old plus bus, and started to perform manoeuvres that I have also performed (albeit in a race ready, small car).  To make this more exciting, we were descending into one of the world’s deepest canyons, with the margin for error being unforgiving, to say the least.

After an exciting descent from 4,900+ metres to the largest town in the Canyon, the best it seemed was yet to come.  It was obvious that the Son of Satan had been given a large drink of Pisco, and instructions that a new land speed record needed to be set in the Canyon.  This was truly exciting, my highlight being when we came around a blind corner, with nothing but a 1000m plus drop off to our right hand side, and were faced with a slow-moving lorry coming in the other direction.  It is difficult to describe the feeling of a fully laden, old bus locking up all four wheels on loose gravel, and sliding toward inexorable death.  For those that have had the pleasure, I salute you, but at 37 years of age, it is just not fun anymore!

After surviving another 30 minutes or so, a new twist to the joy was added, as the Son of Satan accelerated(!) on to the dirt road(!).  Where did the asphalt go????

Another ten minutes of this (including a run through an unlit natural tunnel where any oncoming traffic would have had all 54 passengers dead), and I had decided that enough was perhaps enough.  We hopped off, after I let the Son of Satan know what I thought of his driving skills.  This was the view we were afforded:

Good to be alive!

Good to be alive!

A walk that we had planned to do in the next couple of days, from the most popular Condor viewing spot to Cabanaconde, was brought forward.  15km later, whilst enjoying a beautiful hike, we arrived 38 hours after leaving Puno to a beautiful little hotel in Cabanaconde.

We spent a pretty chilled next couple of days in and around town, I think my heart rate even dropped below 200bpm on day three….

Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

Inspired scenery, a good cold beer, and great eats, made Cabanaconde well worth the excitement of approach.  We wrangled our way on to a tourist bus on the way back to Arequipa, normally against all my principles of travel, in this case welcomed as we eased out of the death trap 🙂  The views were astounding (and much better at less than 150km/hr).

Incan terraces

Incan terraces

Mirella even found a new friend on the way back to Arequipa.

Is there something on my hat?

What, is there something on my hat?

We ended the trip at the highest point we have ever been….

Volcano city...

Volcano city…

Who, me?

Who, me?

Not a bad view

Not a bad view

need more oxygen!

need more oxygen!

The Orient Express in Peru

Posted: June 11, 2013 in Peru, South America

We crossed back in to Peru, and stayed another night in Puno.  The reason for staying here was to catch an Orient Express owned train from Puno to Cusco.  Both of us have always loved train journeys, it is by far our most preferred method of travel.  Not often would an Orient Express journey fall into the Flashpacker budget, so we seized on this opportunity to enjoy 5 star luxury on a 12 hour journey over the high plains of eastern Peru.

Andean Explorer

Andean Explorer

An amazing experience, as we left early in the morning and slowly trundled around the western edge of Lake Titicaca.  As we moved further west, we left the lake and started to climb even higher into the Andes.  Whilst the scenery astounded, the service on board was equally good, as we were fed and watered constantly for 12 hours in true 5 star style.  It made one princess very happy…

Princess with Pisco Sour in hand...

Princess with Pisco Sour in hand…

The views just got better and better, and the viewing carriage allowed for shots like below.

Wide open spaces

Wide open spaces

All good things come to an end, as did our magnificent train journey through Peru.  We hopped off and headed for the bus station for an overnight ride to Arequipa, otherwise known as the white city, as it was built with white lava stone for hundreds of years…

Peruvian Rail in Photos

Posted: June 11, 2013 in Peru, Photos, South America

After an amazing couple of weeks in Peru, we decided to add Bolivia to our South American adventure.  We were very keen to go and do some hiking on and around Isla Del Sol, the Island of the Sun.  This island is believed to be the birthplace of the Inca’s, and is surrounded by Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world.  At 3,800m above sea level, it was going to be a real tester for lung capacity!

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View from the hotel room in Copacabana

A bus ride to Puno (from Cusco) brought us to the lake.  A unique experience on the local bus, with the Peruvian’s on board abusing the bus driver every time he made a stop, and telling him to hurry!  No idea why, as it made the bus go slower and slower each time they yelled, certainly made the trip more interesting though!  We stayed in Puno for the night (due to it being so slow!), and then moved on to Bolivia, and the small town of Copacabana the next day.  As you can see from the photo above, it was a beautiful little town perched on the edge of the great lake.  We spent a lazy day or two chilling in and around town.  One evening we went up the hill overlooking the town and the lake.  We gained 200 metres in elevation from 3,800m to 4,000m and felt like we had climbed Everest!

Expressing the joy of 4,000m+

Expressing the joy of 4,000m+

The next couple of days were spent hiking.  From the above photo (where Mirella is showing how much fun elevation over 4,000m can be) you can see the peninsula and beyond, Isla del Sol.  We spent one day catching a taxi out to the tip of the peninsula, and then hiking 20km or so back to town along some old pre-Colombian trails.  The views were breathtaking (literally).

Cordillera Real mountains

Cordillera Real mountains

On the way back, we stumbled across a small village, and there were some small man-made reed islands on the lake where the locals served food.  Surreal experience to say the least, as we crossed a series of makeshift bridges to an “island” made of river reeds.  There were trout farms in the middle of the reeds, and we chose our fish, and then sat down to one of the greatest fish meals ever!

Reed island lunch!

Reed island lunch!

The next day, after a couple of fortifying beers in town the night before, we took a boat over to Isla del Sol, and hiked another lazy 20km across the spine of the island, popping up and over 4,000m on a number of occasions.  We discussed that the Incan people, whilst masters of astrology, mathematics and construction, were not that clever with path building, as sticking to the coast of the island would have made the hike a lot easier!

Inca Trail over Isla del Sol

Inca Trail over Isla del Sol

More incredible views, and some amazing ruins made this a great day out, and was topped off by a great meal at the end of the hike, and a new friend at the boat launch home.

A new buddy

A new buddy

Whilst only a very short sojourn in to Bolivia, it was a great taste of an amazing country, and I am sure there will be a return visit in the future to explore more…

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I love to travel.  When speaking to people, I find that there are many that also love to see new places, experience new sounds, smells and vistas.  There are many people who are not that interested in travel.  And there is nothing wrong with this, as there are so many pursuits available to us in this day and age.

One thing I do find, no matter who you speak to, is say the words “Machu Picchu” to most people, and they will know exactly what you are talking about!  The Incan people, whilst only powerful for a short period of history, left an indelible mark on the planet, and Machu Picchu is the crowning glory.

Mirella and I rejoined forces at the base of the great ruin, in a small town called Aguas Calientes (hot waters).  Whilst Mirella looked like she had just walked 80km over four days across huge mountains and lost almost all remaining body fat (of which there was none to begin with!), I was fresh as a daisy!

We were up early, as the sunrise is always spectacular at the ruins, and a quick bus ride up the side of the mountain delivers you to the view above (after a quick walk!).

We spent the day exploring the ruins, and doing a little more hiking (as Mirella had not done enough already!) up Huayna Picchu, the mountain pictured above behind the ruins.  The walk up is tough, and reveals this view.

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It is an amazing place, and we spent the majority of a day hiking all over the site.  It was surprisingly uncrowded, an advantage of being here off-season.  Below is a post of pictures, it is a photographer’s worst nightmare, as every step reveals a new and interesting image…

Machu Picchu Pics

Posted: June 10, 2013 in Peru, Photos, South America

After a few days in the clouds in Cusco, Mirella headed off for a trek in Salkantay (a future post for sure as she had quite an adventure traipsing across 4,500m plus mountain passes!), and I took the very tough decision to fly down to the Amazon basin to chill out for a few days before meeting Mirella in Machu Picchu.

I have dreamt of getting to the Amazon River for a long time, and whilst this was not quite it (the Amazon is a few hundred kilometres further north), it is a jungle region formed by some of the many tributaries that flow from the great river.  I decided to stay just outside of town (as opposed to a jungle lodge), as I was only here for three nights,  and wanted to relax in a hammock listening to the sounds of the jungle. Knowing that there was a chance to do the Amazon proper as we head slowly north helped make the decision too!

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Above was my new best friend for the three days at the jungle lodge.  The owner of the lodge has adopted three howler monkeys, and they required a lot of tlc.  Days were spent lying in the hammock, reading a book, whilst three of the monkeys pictured above made it their business to remove my book, groom my beard, and demand attention constantly.

I managed to pull myself away for one day for a trip to Lake Sandoval, an oxbow lake in the jungle, where the hope was to see Giant River Otters.  Unfortunately luck was not with me, but I did see some other animals.

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To my chagrin, I cannot remember the name of the bird, he does look imperious though!

After three days of jungle, it was time to get back to one of the most amazing archeological sites in the world, Machu Picchu!

The Sacred Valley, Peru

Posted: June 10, 2013 in Peru, South America

As soon as we had sorted out Mirella’s plans for her upcoming pilgrimage to Machu Picchu, we realised we had a few days prior to the hike and a whole valley of Incan ruins to go and see!

Ollantaytambo Ruins

Ollantaytambo Ruins

Often overlooked by visitors to Cusco and Macchu Picchu (as it was by me when I first came a few years back), the Sacred Valley is a series of Incan towns spread over a 100 square kilometre or so area.  The great majority of the sites are incredibly well maintained, and I think in some instances are as impressive (or more so) than the most famous site in Peru.

The valley is really easy to visit, a short bus ride will bring you to any of the main sites, including Pisac (known for a great market and ruins), Ollantaytambo (where the locals are still living in Incan houses!), and Urubamba.

Our first foray in to the valley was at Pisac, where Mirella decided she was in need of some retail therapy.  This resulted in a five hour market shopping spree, where we bought some incredibly cheap textiles.  This extravaganza of shopping did preclude a visit to the ruins perched on top of a mountain, as we were inundated under our own mountain of alpaca and llama goods!

Pisac Market Clothing!

Pisac Market Clothing!

Pisac Market

Pisac Market

So, our ruin expedition was a fail, but a superb day of shopping was had.

We set out again to Ollantaytambo, a town and ruins that is often compared to Machu Picchu, it is truly spectacular.  We stayed for a couple of nights, and had the chance to ride horses to another smaller ruin a few kilometres from town.

First time rider

First time rider

Mirella handled herself with aplomb, and rider and horse got on famously.  My nag was not as keen on my company, and repeatedly tried to remove me and smash me in to whatever was close at hand (walls, trees, rivers etc).  Mirella found this hilarious, me not so much.

The main ruins at Ollantaytambo are amazing, a few pics below.

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After a couple of days in Ollanta, we then headed out for a day tour of three other amazing sites in the valley, namely Moray, Maras and Chinchero.  This was one of the more spectacular sightseeing days of the trip so far, as we saw two incredible ruins and a huge salt mine.  With cameras working overtime, and our lungs bursting as we were well over 3500m above sea level most of the time, we spent the day in awe of the ability of the Incan people and their ability to create such incredible agricultural structures and beautiful cities.  The stonework has to be seen to be believed….

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As we descended back to Ollanta, we were met with this view, a really great day!

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Our last ruin viewing day was held much closer to Cusco, at a series of sites including Saqsaywaman (pronounced, believe it or not, as Sexy Waman!).  The stonework here was absolutely awesome, and we had the company of a llama or two as well!

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And so ended a great week around the Sacred Valley.  It was now time for me to retire to a hammock in the Amazon basin, and for Mirella to hike through the Andes.  We would meet up at Machu Picchu, one of the new seven wonders of the world.