Goodbye Peru and Welcome to Heathrow

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My final two days in Lima were the least exciting days I have had in South America. I played hours of table tennis in the hostel (very enjoyable) with fellow guests and rejoined Dan and Joanna. We walked along the beachfront and saw what little Lima has to offer.

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One evening, we all went to the water fountain show in the centre of the city which was quite fun albeit a bit bizarre.DSC03364DSC03365

After 2 months, I finally had to bid farewell to Dan and Joanna and wish them both good luck as they continued on their travels and headed north to Colombia. The past two months travelling with them has been unforgettable and I am very jealous that they get to explore South America further.DSC03371This is now it. The end of my gap year travels and what a year it’s been. I am so lucky that I have been able to explore so many different beautiful places in this world and cannot wait to explore more. This year is only a taster of many more years of adventure and exploration to come. The travel bug has truly got me.

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An Oasis in the Peruvian Desert

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Today was a lazy day. We ate, slept and of course, Dan and I played table football. We said our final goodbyes to our good friends Tom and Sarah over a chocolate smoothie and later returned back to our hostel to watch the World Cup. In the evening, we left the fine city of Arequipa and took an overnight bus to Nazca (Lima is getting ever closer). DSC03331

We arrived at 5 30am (earlier than expected) to the bus terminal. There was a woman standing patiently outside awaiting vulnerable backpackers with money to spend – prey. Unfortunately we were the prey, and once she had tightened her grip on us, we were unable to escape. She flew us back to her nest (hostel) and told us all about the flights that were running over the Nazca lines.  At 6am we were sold and at 9am were driven to the airport. We paid an annoyingly large sum of money for a short flight in a 4 man plane and spent the next half an hour flying over the various inexplicable lines that have been carved into the dry ground years ago. It was fascinating, and to this day no one knows how or why they were formed. Some of them are as large as 300m. Towards the end of the flight, all of us were feeling slightly woozy, but luckily all was fine and we left the airport with a nice congratulatory certificate. DSC03340

DSC03341Nazca is one of those places where you get in and get out without spending any extra unnecessary time. Nazca is only famous for the Nazca lines and definitely not for the ugly, bland town which is depressing to be in for more than a day. For this reason, we left as soon as possible – direction Ica. We took a 2 hour bus which was made far more enjoyable by the Spanish version of Madagascar which was playing on the tiny monitor. In Nazca, we had tried booking accommodation online however everything seemed full. We searched for an hour looking for reasonably priced hostels but to no avail. So, when we arrived in Ica, we booked the first hostel that we saw. This happened to be the reputed bus terminal hostel (famous for its national connections and 24 hour attitude). We chose the ‘room with a view’ overlooking all the nicely aligned coaches. It will do for one night.

DSC03343Unexpectedly we had quite a comfortable nights sleep above the buses. They hardly made any noise at all. We left the bus terminal in the morning and took a taxi to Huacachina, a tiny town surrounded by sand dunes. The scenery was incredible however the town was slightly disappointing – very badly maintained with litter and bricks scattered about the streets. In the afternoon, Dan and I went sand boarding and buggying  as Joanna was not feeling well. It was absolutely brilliant, far better than we had anticipated. An old man (who looked about 80) was our driver. He was crazy! He drove up and down the dunes like a madman. Sand-boarding was also great fun, although quite nerve-racking at some points. You reach high speeds and there are some bumps in the sand that you can’t see which really do hurt. A few people who were lying down on the boards flew off and I’m amazed there weren’t any broken bones. We returned to the hostel with adrenalin still pumping and had a delicious burger in front of the football. Our plan was to go to a bar and have a few drinks after however we all fell asleep fully clothed around 10pm. Sandboarding had drained us. DSC03344

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The following day, I climbed up to the top of a sand dune with some French Canadian friends from the hostel. The view was very cool although slightly marred by the thought that kept circling in my mind about the prospect of England losing against Uruguay. I needed time to mentally prepare myself. We need a victory!DSC03353I cannot believe it! We have lost again. What a terrible game! Dan and I sulked for the rest of the evening in complete disillusionment with our nation’s football team. DSC03359

DSC03352The following day, Dan was feeling quite sick and so for the first time in 2 months I left Dan and Joanna and took my final South American bus to the nation’s capital – Lima. Hopefully they will join me tomorrow. I took a taxi to Miraflores (the tourist district of Lima) and met some very cool Australian guys in my hostel who confronted me with the news that England had been kicked out of the World Cup. It was devastating. Such a disappointment. The first time England have not made it through the group stages since 1958. We had some beers together after (to try and forget the terrible news) and later took part in the highly anticipated weekly table tennis tournament. Unfortunately, I had to play my new ozzy friends in the first two rounds. I showed no remorse and after a tense game I came out victorious. The second game was just as intense and amazingly I won. The third round was tough. I was against one of the hostel workers who is a keen ping-pong player. I managed to scrape a victory and he left the table in sheer embarrassment that an outsider had won. I was in the finals! Either way I was winning a free beer. My opponent was a Swiss man of high table tennis repute, this would be tricky. He won convincingly but it was a great achievement to make it that far in the competition. We all went out to some bars and clubs later in the evening which was really good fun. You are always guaranteed a good night when you go out with Australians. They are crazy.

Guinea Pig and the Deepest Canyon In The World, Peru

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After a nights sleep on the rickety top bunk we felt a little better. We decided to go on the reputed free walking tour of Cusco which turned out to be very interesting. I loved Cusco as it was, and now I loved it even more after learning a small bit about its history. We went out for another delicious sushi lunch with Ruben (our tour guide) and then returned to our hostel. Dan and I managed to squeeze in a few games of table football during the rather busy day we were having. Later we went to Sarah and Sophie’s hostel as they had made pizzas for us from scratch. Getting three people to one place on time sounds easy enough however the reality is, we are often late and so the pizzas were slightly cold; our fault of course. We ate the pizzas (which were surprising good) and then went to the hostel bar for a few drinks. There was also a free salsa lesson taking place and so we all joined in trying to impress our female counterparts with our English rhythm and natural dance moves however it was not easy. The salsa is a very difficult dance and my Colombian partner was not impressed by my inability to grasp the basics. It was so much fun though and we got free drinks for taking part. After hilarious salsa dancing we felt confident and so walked out into the town In search of a bar. First we went to the highest Irish pub in the world and later to a couple of clubs. It was a really fun night!

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We spent our final day In Cusco playing cards in the hostel with Tom and Sarah before going out for what we had been told was ‘the best pizza in South America.’ It was a very good pizza however it was a big claim to live up to.
Earlier in the hostel we had persuaded Huston, a new American  friend to abandon his Spanish lessons for a week and come to Arequipa with us. Amazingly, he said yes and so we inhaled the pizza and rushed back to the hostel to fetch our backpacks and take a taxi to the bus terminal. We were cutting it very fine, but luckily all went to plan, Huston bought a ticket and we all made the night bus.
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We arrived in Arequipa at 7am after a freezing cold night bus. We took a taxi to our hostel and after looking around the place we (the boys) were in heaven. There was a ping-pong table, darts, a pool table and a table football table. What more could you want? This was perfect. We spent the day playing table football and pool, venturing out of the hostel for a milkshake in between games. Joanna cooked us a nice dinner and after, Huston and I decided to go out and experience Arequipa’s nightlife.  We had quite high expectations (even though it was a Wednesday) as Arequipa is Peru´s second most populous city. We went to a few bars and they were all empty. I think we went to all the bars and clubs in Arequipa hoping to find other living human beings but to no avail. We settled on one club with the most amount of people and had really good fun together. We also finished the night around 3am in a salsa bar. The perfect way to lose all respect and dignity for ourselves through our dire dance moves.DSC03210
The following day, we became true tourists and visited a top trip advisor recommended activity – the monastery of Santa Catalina. It was beautiful, however there were 22 rooms to visit and all of them were identical. After the 7th room we had got the idea. I hate to say it, but the last 15 rooms were a bit tedious, although i cannot go against the majority who have rated the monastery 4.5 stars on trip advisor.
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We had a Nutella crepe and then booked a 3 day 2 night tour into the deepest canyon in the world – the Colca Canyon. What wasn’t so appealing about the tour however was the 3am pick up time in the morning. After interrupted sleep on the glacial bus and a few hours of drunken sleep the next night, it only seemed logical for Huston and I to go out in Arequipa and see if the nightlife would be better on a Thursday. We met up with Tom and Sarah for a delicious dinner and then Huston and I split off and walked stupidly to a bar instead of getting some much-needed rest before our 3am pickup time. Our plan was to have a few drinks, get back to the hostel around 12 30, have a couple hours of sleep and then be energised and ready for the early bus. Time went by faster than we had expected, and after a few drinks our 12 30 return time seemed impossible. Huston and I did have another really fun night dancing in the club although like the night before, there was a very disappointing amount of people. We lost track of time and hilariously my alarm that I had set for 2 45am went off whilst we were insIde the club!!!! So we jumped in a taxi, rushed back to the hostel feeling rather drunk and got our 3am bus 15 minutes later with no sleep. Was it worth it? I think so.
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We arrived into a town called Chivay (on the outskirts of the canyon) and had a quick breakfast. We then drove to a lookout where you can see Condors flying overhead. Condors are very impressive, majestic birds. They have a 3 metre wingspan and resemble eagles somewhat. What we didn’t know and what really surprised us was that the locals lay out dead animals at the lookout to assure the birds come and so that the tourists are guaranteed to see them. Anything to keep a smile on the tourists faces’.
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We arrived at the start of the trek and met with our group – 3 Americans and 2 other Brits. We set off down into the canyon descending a total of just over 1000m in 3 hours. The path was very dusty and rocky and we all finished with grey legs and dusty throats; the scenery was very beautiful however. Doing another trek only a few days after the Inca trail means our expectations are extremely high. Unfortunately nothing can compare to the Inca trail however the Colca Canyon is very striking. We had alpaca for lunch and then Huston and I had a much-needed rest before returning to watch the World Cup (in the tiny kitchen hut) – Holland vs Spain which was an incredible match. Holland played phenomenally. We went to bed in our cobbled floor huts and slept surprisingly well. DSC03267
We awoke to one tasty banana pancake which was very nice but not quite substantial enough for a morning of trekking. We left camp and walked on relatively flat ground for three hours before arriving at the oasis (a small area of greenery at the bottom of the canyon). Along the way, we stopped to buy guinea pig as it is a local delicacy in Peru. Omar (our guide) broke its neck with his bare hands right in front of us and then cut it in half to remove the intestines. It was quite gruesome to watch but tasted quite good; fairly similar to lamb although there was hardly any meat. WARNING – Gruesome picture below DSC03283
The oasis also had a swimming pool which was very refreshing; enjoyable after a morning of hiking. Alpaca was on the lunch menu again which was tasty (similar to beef) and then we spent the afternoon sunbathing in front of the pool and watching the football (Costa Rica vs Uruguay and more importantly England vs Italy). It was so disappointing to watch as our World Cup hopes dissipated after the second goal. The final whistle blew and our hearts sank. A solemn dinner followed.
We went to bed early, partly from depression and partly as we had an early wake up (5 15am).
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DSC03294We left camp by 5 30am and started walking up the canyon. Waking up so early means avoiding the heat of the sun making trekking far easier. It took us 2 hours to climb over 1000m which is quite fast and we met the sunrise at the top; perfect timing. It wasn’t too hard a climb, especially after having walked the Inca trail a few days prior.
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We had breakfast at the top of the canyon in Cabanaconde and then drove 2 hours to thermal pools. They were amazing! So so nice after a few days trekking; just what we needed.
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After an hour of pure, unspoilt relaxation, we headed back to Arequipa via a lunch buffet in which I ate far too much. On the way back, we were driving and saw an overturned minivan that had crashed around 10 minutes before we passed. We stopped immediately and took in the shocked and injured passengers and diverted our route to the hospital. I think they were ok, but the crash was awful. We eventually arrived back into Arequipa after a long drive and went for a chocolate waffle at the crepe restaurant. As expected, it was delicious although I’m sure it was not too healthy and nutritious especially after a 3 day hike. My kind of dinner!
Unfortunately the time had come to say goodbye to Huston and go our separate ways. I became really good friends with him and hopefully I will see him in the near future. After an emotional goodbye we went back to the hostel, showered and went to bed. We were all very tired.

The Incredible Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail

DSC03176We had one final crepe, and left our hostel to go to our Inca trail briefing. After reserving 4 months in advance, the time was finally here. The time to trek the Inca trail and visit one of the seven wonders of the world!!

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But first we were going to stay in our porters village. We left soon after lunch and drove into the Peruvian countryside. Our first stop was a small library built by Wayki (our tour operator) where we played games and read English books to the children.

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Our second stop was our porters house (he was 63 years old and had been a porter on the Inca trail for 24 years) where we dropped off our belongings and walked down to the corn fields. Here, we helped the locals pick their corn as it was time to harvest. It was very interesting to see how the local people made their living and how their lifestyle was so orientated towards farming (they only get 3 days off a year). 1 kilo of potatoes here is sold for 10 pence.

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We finished picking and walked back up the hill to our porters house for dinner. The kitchen was small with guinea pigs running crazily around the floor and a small fire in the corner – extremely basic living conditions. Dinner consisted of corn and corn soup which was not Michelin star but good considering where we were.DSC03032

After dinner, we went into another room where there were around 10 children waiting to dance and sing with us. For about half an hour we jumped up and down dancing with them and making fools of ourselves. They then sang us songs in their local dialect (Quechua) and we gave a few renditions of ‘incy wincy spider’ and other similar songs that we all knew. It was very very sweet and the kids really enjoyed themselves. We gave them colouring pencils and coca cola as gifts for their hospitality.

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After an evening of silly dancing and embarrassing singing we wandered back to our tents. A great day.DSC03034

We left our tents and drove one hour and a half to the start of the Inca trail. This was it! No turning back. We were 6 In total – 5 Brits and one Canadian lady, all of us raring to go. Ruben (a macho Peruvian man) was our tour guide and there were 9 porters (carrying all our food and tents for 4 days). We set off with 12km in front of us, luckily it was mostly flat so the trek was not too hard. We walked 7 km to our lunch spot and little did we know, a feast had been prepared. There was an array of nearly 10 different dishes which lay on the table for us to enjoy after a measly 7km.

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We carried on the trek and arrived at our campsite at 5pm. We had dinner soon after which was another feast. The food on this trip is going to be incredible. We had an early night as day 2 is the hardest day of the Inca trail.                                                                                                 Day 1 completed

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Day 2
We were awoken at 5 30am, had a delicious breakfast and left camp at 7am to try to avoid the heat whilst ascending the mighty hills. We had to climb from 3000m to 4215m which is far harder than it sounds. The first few hours were better than expected, we were all in good shape.
The last hour was by far the hardest. The altitude was taking its toll and our legs were worn down after 4 hours uphill. Eventually we made it, and what a relief that was. We trekked to the summit in good time and sat down to appreciate the incredible views that the Inca trail has to offer. That was one of the toughest walks I’ve ever done.DSC03072

We carried on for 1 and a half hours downhill to our campsite and lunch spot which lies at 3600m. We arrived at 1 30 (after what had been an extremely tiring day) to another feast. Wayki fails to disappoint. Hats off to the chef.DSC03124

There was also a river in Pakaymayo (our campsite) so we decided to clean ourselves and wash off the Incan mud. Dan braved the ice-cold water first and it was hilarious to watch. The water was glacial! Seeing Dan, Sophie and Sarah squeal and squirm was amazing. One of the funniest things!! At least we were clean. We relaxed in the afternoon enjoying each other’s company and had another fantastic dinner.DSC03077

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Day 3.
Our last and longest day – 16km. We awoke at 5 30am and had left camp by 7am. Whilst trekking today, we visited numerous Inca ruins, including sites called ‘Runkuraqay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Intipata,’ all of which were astounding.

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We trekked until two o clock on the rocky Inca trail passing the most beautiful scenery. The Andes mountains are spectacular!

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We had lunch on top of the clouds at 3600m and then left for our campsite. We arrived at 4 o clock after a long day of mostly downhill walking and our legs and knees were starting to feel the pain of three days hiking.

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Our last supper was great. We had a delicious dinner and after, the whole team including porters, cooks and guide came to the tent for a farewell goodbye and thank you as they were taking the early train the next morning. On behalf of the group, I spoke to the team in Spanish thanking and congratulating them for what was an impeccable trip. An experience of a lifetime! The cook also made a farewell cake which was so impressive as the kitchen consists solely of a gas tank and stove.DSC03165

The porters are all farmers who come from small Andean communities. They do the Inca trail twice a month to make extra money for their families as farming is their livelihood. All of them carry 20 kilos on their backs and run practically the whole trail. The porters are also not young, the head porter is 63 and still in great condition. All 9 of them were so impressive. We left as big a tip as we could (even on our tight backpacker budget) as a token of our appreciation.

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What I found so impressive whilst visiting these ancient Inca sites was the landscape. The Inca’s architectural ingenuity was years ahead of its time and merely gazing upon these ruins (which have remained intact through years of natures wrath) is unbelievable. Modern day buildings collapse after natural disasters and hardly live longer than a century. The Incan architecture was so great that after 500 years of rain, wind, earthquakes and mother matures torment, the majority of the building remain standing.DSC03147

After learning so much about Incan culture and tradition, one cannot help feel awe and admiration for the supreme intelligence exhibited by the Incan people. The Inca’s did not trade in coins and money, they lived peacefully in the Andes before the Spanish conquered and destroyed their lands in the 1500s. They had unparalleled respect for their environment, never destroying the landscape, merely building around it. They worshipped Mother Earth; the land, the sea, the sun etc. Unfortunately when the Spanish invaded, the Incas fled in fear of their lives and so much of the history, language and culture was lost. Remaining amongst the elder indigenous people here is resentment toward the Spaniards.

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Walking the religious path towards Machu Pichu and visiting these holy ruins is truly incredible. I have never felt such a profound, innate respect and appreciation for a people, religion and a race. The Inca trail demands respect, and to walk in the footsteps of the Incan people on their holy pilgrimage is humbling. This is one of the greatest things I have ever done.

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Day 4
Today was the day! We were awoken at 3 30am so that we could see the sunrise over Machu Pichu. We walked briskly to the sun gate where we caught our first glimpse of one of the seven wonders of the world.DSC03170
It was beautiful! This holy site lies peacefully on the peak of a mountain. The Incas were very prudent and diligent in where they built their cities. Some wonder why they were built so high and not nearer to the valley. The reason being water; they built where there were nearby springs.DSC03180

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Once again, the architecture of Machu Pichu city is remarkable. Numerous terraces, temples and buildings all constructed using rock litter the mountainside. To find such a secretive, elusive site so intricately designed and maintained after 500 years, hidden deep in the Peruvian Andes is truly amazing. It is hard to merely visit Machu Pichu without being psychologically affected by its peace, beauty and tranquility.DSC03200

After the most rewarding 4 days of my life, we solemnly took the train back to Cusco with the fondest memories fresh in our minds. We arrived back to the warmth of our creperie hostel just in time for two Nutella crepes. A perfect finish to a perfect trip.

A Week in Cusco, Peru

DSC02950The bus arrived into cusco at 4am which was far earlier than we expected. We debated staying at the bus terminal but ended up taking a taxi straight to the hostel. The room was not ready but they did have some beanbags that we rested on for a couple of hours. In the morning we walked to the local artesian market, bought some Peruvian souvenirs and then had a delicious albeit expensive Chinese lunch. We relaxed in the afternoon and found the elusive Starbucks (which is banned from advertising here – not sure why). For dinner, we met up with our good Australian friends who we met on our salt flats tour and went for a cheap burger in the city centre which was also delicious and a lot cheaper than lunch. We went to bed soon after as we had had hardly any sleep on the nightlong bus.DSC02932

At 9am the following day, we met up with our ozzy friends again to visit the Incan ruins on the outskirts of the city. We took a 50p bus and arrived at 3800m at an ancient, Incan fortress which was very cool. Their stone construction method was ingenious.

DSC02941We have been eating out very regularly these past few weeks and continued the trend by going to a sushi restaurant in the beautiful city of cusco for lunch which was brilliant. We returned to the hostel and dan and I played a few games of table tennis. We have now started rating hostels on the quality of their ping pong tables rather than the dorms, food or showers. A good ping pong table is of paramount importance of our enjoyment of a hostel, town and even a country! Fortunately I beat him although the games are getting too close for my liking.DSC02925After a terrible dinner (the gas tank ran out whilst cooking so instead of a delicious bolognese we had cold pasta with half cooked mince) we walked to our friends hostel and played drinking games for a couple of hours before going into the town to a couple of clubs. It was really good fun and the first time we’ve been out in a couple of weeks. Nightlife in Bolivia was not too good. Nightly survival rates are low.

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This morning we had to change hostels. We dejectedly departed our beloved ping pong table and walked to our new accommodation which is a duel combination of a hostel and a creperie. What a fantastic idea. A creperie hostel, we were in heaven. We visited a lot of museums today. Two Incan museums, one cathedral and more notably a chocolate museum. A rather cultured day for us. We ended the day with crepes at the hostel which were amazing!

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The following day we met up with Tom and Sarah (ozzy friends) and took a bus to Pisac – an ancient Incan city that lies at 3000m. We walked around the ruins for an hour or so before perching on a rock for a packed lunch. The views were fantastic, we could see the valley from start to end. The ruins were very interesting particularly because they were built at such high altitude with so few resources. We walked back down to the town which was quite strenuous on our legs but eventually we made it.DSC02981

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We returned to our hostel in Cusco one hour later via deadly Peruvian mountain roads. Unfortunately, this hostel does not have a ping pong table, however, it does have a table football table. Dan and I had to play. He had won the previous night 10-9 and had rubbed it in all day so I was keen for revenge. I won the second game convincingly and so we played a final game to determine who was the better player AND the better man. It was heart wrenchingly close. Dan was winning 9-6 and I made a miraculous recovery to 9-9. It was tantalisingly close. I hadn’t felt this nervous since witnessing a mugging at nighttime in Bolivia. I pulled it out the bad and won 10-9. I couldn’t believe it. I had beaten the most passionate football fan in his own miniature game. A great feeling!

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In jubilation, we went to get our haircuts. We put our trust in an old Peruvian lady and the end result was slightly disappointing. Dan and I will have to wear hats for the next week or two. We had a lovely dinner with friends from the hostel later that evening.DSC02989

The following day we took a long bus to a small town called Tarabamba. From here we attempted to find ´Las Salineras´ (the salt fields). Annoyingly I led us in the wrong direction and we got lost. We managed to re-trace our steps 30 minutes later and found our way to the entrance of the salt fields. It took us around an hour to climb the steepest hill, in scorching heat however when we arrived, the salt fields really were remarkable. DSC03002

We later visited Moray, a fascinating archaeological site constructed by the Inca´s.  It was incredible! Little is known about this site however it is thought it was an agricultural experiment to determine the optimal temperatures for successful crop growth.
DSC03013DSC03006We returned to Cusco and packed our bags for the Inca Trail. We leave in two days time!