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!

Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

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We left La Paz at 8am on a coach heading towards Lake Titicaca. By chance, Joanna was wearing her school hoodie with the emblem on show. As the people were getting on the bus, one man stopped abruptly and said ‘I went to that school.’ What are the chances that on a tiny Bolivian bus heading to Lake Titicaca we would bump into a former student from our school. Our bus ride was very short and soon we arrived into a lake front town called Copacabana. We had a quick lunch and took a 2 hour ferry to Isla del Sol – a stunning island with no running water and just enough electricity to power a small bulb for a few minutes. We were at 3800m and what we didn’t realise was that our hostel was at the top of the hill. Climbing with around 15kg on your back at this height is extremely difficult. After about 20 minutes, we arrived, completely out of breath. We checked in and an hour later walked along the island to its eastern point to watch the sunset which was beautiful. This island is magical. A gem in the middle of a lake standing at 3800m above sea level. Truly amazing.

DSC02901There are few inhabitants on Isla del sol, those that live here are either farmers with their many donkeys and alpaca or the Cholitas (traditional Bolivian women) who run the hostels.

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After the sunset we walked up to a restaurant which is reputed to be the best on the island. It turned out to be one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to. It lies at 4010m (definitely the highest restaurant I’ve been to) with a spectacular view over the island and lake. The tiny, hilltop restaurant, which is lit purely by candlelight is run by one man. He is the chef, the waiter and the barman. Due to this, the food does take a bit longer than normal however the food is just phenomenal; worth every minute waiting. We met some fellow backpackers on the island and there were 12 of us at dinner. Australians, Swiss, British, French and more (a very multinational table). Finding little places like this is what travelling is all about!

DSC02873We have been at high altitudes now for a while and so sleeping around 4000m is no problem. We had a continental breakfast (which sounds far more luxurious than it was) and then I set off for an all day trek around the entire island with a French couple who I had met in the hostel. Dan and Joanna stayed around the South island for the day. The trek was brilliant – the perfect way to appreciate the island’s beauty and history. We walked for 3 hours along the hilltops overlooking both sides of the island before finally arriving at the northern tip for lunch.

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We rested for an hour before setting off again on our return journey hoping to make it back to the south before dark. We arrived into the village at 6pm just in time for sunset after what had been a super day. We walked up to our hostel and to our surprise the door was locked with Joanna and dan waiting outside. We continuously knocked on the door and searched for open windows before finding the owners bedroom door unlocked. So, (like in a film) we cautiously tip toed through her room and unlocked the door from the inside. 10 minutes later she returned and we let her in. We acted like nothing had happened and were completely oblivious to the law we had just broken. The poor old lady was completely confused and bewildered and couldn’t figure out how we had entered. The French couple eventually told her that we had broken in to her hostel! She was not amused.

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Dinner was a no-brainer, the best restaurant in Bolivia and probably South America – las velas. We all had wild trout fresh from the lake which was superb. The perfect way to end a perfect stay on Lake Titicaca.

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We left Isla del sol on the slowest ferry imaginable and had a nice lunch on a rooftop restaurant on the mainland. We left Bolivia in the evening on an overnight bus and arrived in Cusco, Peru in the morning! My final country of the trip. Cusco is the gateway to Machu Picchu which we will climb in less than a weeks time. Very exciting!

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Cycling the world´s most dangerous road

10329055_649329795137283_4271816091285292899_nSadly, we departed our hotel and took a 9 hour bus to la Paz which was extremely dull. We arrived around 8pm and fortunately managed to book death road for the following day. This is something Dan and I have been looking forward to most in South America.
10407398_649322001804729_8340885272374334390_nWe awoke at 6:30am and were picked up by minibus which drove us one hour up the mountains to 4700m. It is the start of the winter season now and so it is starting to get rather cold; there was even a tiny bit of snow on the mountain.

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This was the beginning of an all day ride that would leave us at 1200m in a hotel with a buffet lunch awaiting. We were given full body suits, helmets, knee and elbow pads, gloves and a bike with questionable brakes. After a short brief we set off on the tarmac part of death road. This was brilliant as we reached speeds of up to 60kph although it was far too safe for our liking. After about half an hour, we arrived at the ‘real’ death road.

10372005_649322348471361_6287687995616710564_nDeath road is a gravel path that has been carved out of the cliff side which is now used mostly for cyclists. There are occasional cars and even lorries that drive down this meandering road which descends around 36km! In recent years, the road was used more regularly by public buses and the road is only wide enough for one vehicle so many buses used to crash into one another and fall off the edge. In the past, there have also been around 16 cyclists who have disappeared. Luckily we were all fine!
10363387_649333161803613_7172987070783699680_nWe started riding quite slowly with all this information fresh in our minds. But regardless, the ride was absolutely fantastic! The scenery was spectacular and for a few hours we rode down the infamous death road with no problems whatsoever. Dan did fall off twice, once colliding with a stationary bus, but Joanna and I were fine. In our group, one man hit a protruding rock and flew over his handlebars. Also, in another group who were just behind, three cyclists were hospitalised. The infamous death road failed to disappoint.
10414598_649327261804203_194614222329147618_nWe ended the ride at a hotel where there were showers (cold unfortunately) and a buffet lunch. We rested for a couple of hours before getting a 3 hour minibus back to la Paz. There were three like-minded Australians guys in our van who were all 19 and for the 3 hours, we were all in hysterics. The Ozzys were hilarious; three hours flew by. Such a brilliant day!

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Cousins in Cochabamba

DSC02776After the most uncomfortable, cramped overnight bus we arrived in Cochabamba. Accommodation in Bolivia is cheap and so we decided to splash out and relax for two nights in a hotel rather than a hostel. We took a taxi to our 4-star hotel (at 5:15 – luckily reception was 24hrs) and our room was UNBELIEVABLE. We had two floors of luxury and all for £13 a night!
Unfortunately however, we will soon have to return to hostel life, as this luxury living is not sustainable for backpackers.

DSC02764We had a quick nap and later feasted on the buffet breakfast which was great (for Bolivian standards). In the afternoon, we went to visit Joanna’s cousin Katie who is doing charity work here in Cochabamba. It was great to see her and I think Joanna really appreciated having a girl to talk to. We went out for dinner and after they planned on going to a local church with the charity group. I have been to the church twice in my life and am not religious at all, so was very hesitant when this was mentioned. They all went, and so instead of risking my life alone in a Bolivian taxi, I decided to come along. It was only 45 minutes and therefore bearable but I will not be returning to the church in the near future. My views seem to clash with that of the church. It was an experience nonetheless and I definitely did not expect to be going to the church in Central Bolivia. We returned to our hotel and slept like kings.
DSC02762Another buffet breakfast was the perfect start to the day. We returned to our rooms and heard what sounded like gunshots getting closer and closer. We looked out of our window and there was a huge riot going on. The university students were protesting as there is a lack of state funding towards education. It was crazy! For more than an hour the police and students clashed. The ruthless Bolivian police were firing tear gas whilst the students overturned and burned the bins and set up blockades around the block. It was quite scary to watch; even from the safety of our hotel. The riots were later on national news and they looked even crazier than what we had seen. A real Bolivian experience.
DSC02759Around noon (after the riots had abated) we walked to ‘La Cancha’ which is an area hosting the biggest market in South America – a hotspot for pickpockets. The market was enormous and after 5 minutes we were lost in its labyrinth. There are hundreds and hundreds of stalls that sell absolutely anything. We spent most of our time in the artesian market buying souvenirs and Bolivian memorabilia which were all so cheap.
In the evening, we went to meet Katie and her Brazilian friends for ice skating. The ice rink was not what we were expecting. It was not made of real ice but synthetic ice otherwise known as plastic. I never knew you could ice skate on plastic. It was very different but great fun.

DSC02773We went out for a nice Mexican dinner after and said goodbye to Katie. We head to La Paz tomorrow; the nation’s capital.

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Quad-Biking in the hills of Bolivia

DSC02749Today, we did not strain ourselves much. We had a wonderful lie in and around 12 o clock walked up the hill to one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been too. It boasts views over the whole city and serves the best food. People should come to Bolivia just to eat at this restaurant!
Feeling rather full for a measly £4 (expensive in Bolivia) we strolled down the hill and inadvertently stumbled across a French creperie. We caught a glimpse of the Nutella pot and temptation overcame us – we had to have a crepe. As you can imagine, they tasted unbelievable. Just what we needed on a hot Bolivian day.

DSC02744We relaxed in our hostel In the afternoon and managed to build up the energy to go out for dinner. A rather tough day for us fancy backpackers.

DSC02737The following day was far more eventful. We lumbered out of the hostel at 12 o clock and booked quad biking for the afternoon!! I couldn’t have been more excited. I absolutely love quad biking. After going out for lunch (which cost £1.20) we were driven to the outskirts of the city and kitted up for our afternoon ride. Max and I went on one, dan and Joanna on the other. We drove for around 3 hours up and down the dusty hills of Sucre which was just brilliant. I was in heaven. We all loved it and it was definitely one of the best days we’ve had in South America so far. We returned (covered with dust) to Sucre and decided to go to my favourite restaurant before catching our bus to Cochabamba. A 10 hour bus on the  awful Bolivian roads is not something we are looking forward too.

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The Wonder of the Bolivian Salt Flats

DSC02633We were picked up from our hostel early in the morning and driven to the Chilean border. There was only one man in the border office and it took us 2 and a half hours to cross. Such a pain. We drove further into the desert to the Bolivian immigration office at 4400m and then onwards to ‘Laguna blanca’ and ‘Laguna Verde’, both of which were breathtaking. We also stopped at thermal springs and geysers which are formed by the near volcano. The scenery all around is just incredible. It is amazing to think places like this exist in this world.

DSC02495We drove up to a maximum of 4900m. At this height, the air is thin and it is difficult to breathe. We chewed our coca leaves and I’m not entirely sure if they had any effect but we chewed nonetheless. We arrived at our refuge (which really was in the middle of nowhere at 4200m) and were shown to our 6 bed dorm which was actually not too  bad. Satisfactory for one night only. We met a very nice Australian couple in the minivan and so all decided to go in the 4 wheel drive together which was great fun. We were also in the dorm with them. After a really good spaghetti bolognese at 4200m we went back to our dorm which was absolutely freezing. We all put on as many layers as possible and braced ourselves for a night of sub-zero temperatures.

DSC02496Last night was one of the worst nights sleep I’ve ever had. Sleeping at 4200m is no easy feat. Imagine trying to sleep while having a beating headache and struggling for breath. All of us suffered badly apart from the two Australians who slept so peacefully on their concrete bedding throughout the night. We were all very bitter the following morning.

DSC02559The incredible thing about the Bolivian desert is the contrasting temperatures during the day and night. In the day the sun beats down on the arid land heating it up to extremely high temperatures and in the night the temperature plummets below -25 degrees celsius. This area is not somewhere I would like to live. Kilometres upon kilometres of open desert without the slightest intimation of life. The only animal that roams this land is the llama (and occasionally there are sightings of the fox). Sustainable life here in depths of the Bolivian desert is hard to come by.

DSC02565We left the refuge as soon as possible and were all very keen to descend to a lower height. In England, our highest peak is below 1000m and few Brits would consider sleeping at that height let alone 4200m. We were definitely out of our comfort zone.
In the morning we visited three lagoons which were spectacular although they all looked identical. After our third lagoon, we were ready for a different sight. We had a very good lunch and then drove to a nearby volcano. Annoyingly when we arrived at the volcano, our partner jeep was nowhere to be seen. Their car had broken down. We waited in the dry, waterless desert hoping to reunite with our friends who eventually arrived. We ended our day at a refuge which was made entirely out of salt. Salt chairs, tables, beds, salt everything. It was very cool although extremely basic. The night was unbearably cold again but the altitude was not a problem. We were staying at 3700m and it’s amazing how much of a difference 500m can make.

DSC02596Today was our last and best day of the trip. We awoke at 4 30 so we could watch the sunrise on the salt flats. We drove for around one hour and parked our jeep right in front of the rising sun. It was beautiful, although all of us suffered from mild frostbite. For the rest of the morning we drove around the salt flats and took the standard tourist photos. The photos really do not do the salt flats justice. The environment and terrain is like nothing else in this world! The salt flats span across 12 000 sq kilometres and only change one metre in elevation. Truly mind-boggling.

DSC02646DSC02638We also visited a train cemetery which was quite bizarre but very cool at the same time.

DSC02705After 3 days in the jeep, we finally arrived in Uyuni – the gateway to the rest of Bolivia. We were expecting concrete roads and some sort of town however as soon as we had the town in our sights, we knew we were severely mistaken. Uyuni was horrible! The town is rubble – old, dusty bungalows line the scorching unsurfaced streets. There is absolutely nothing to do in this desert town. Our intention was to stay here for one night before heading further into Central Bolivia however we left as soon as we could. We got in a taxi and drove 3 hours to Potosi.
Bolivia is one of the most dangerous countries in South America and as soon as it gets dark, it is advisable to stay indoors. We arrived however, in Potosi at 7 30 and it was already pitch black. We needed to get to Sucre and unfortunately had to change taxis and leave the safety of our jeep. We were extremely reluctant to take a taxi as there are so many stories of kidnappings, theft or worse. The taxi terminal was in the darkest, most intimidating, ominous area in Bolivia and we did not feel at all safe. Whilst waiting for the taxi, we witnessed a mugging right in front of our eyes. At this moment, in this dangerous place, I have never felt so scared.
Our taxi arrived soon after and throughout the 2 and a half hours that we were in the drivers hands, we were on edge praying to be taken to our hostel in Sucre. After being stopped by the corrupt Bolivian police for speeding we eventually arrived. I have never been so happy to check-in to a hostel.