Friday, September 11, 2009

The Grand Finale - Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

All the excitement of reaching Cusco left us very tired and in need of more cake. We spent a couple of days eating carrot cake with Mum-(2) and David to help them acclimatize before the trek.

Cusco was very nice for killing time shopping and eating. No time for photos though, there`s loads for the trek.
An early morning (6am), we joined the rest of our group on the bus to the start. In the picture we have from left to right: -

Gem, Ian, Melia, Anirbar, Erwin, Haneka, Yola, Stuart, Carrie, Santiago, Leonardo, Mum-(2) and David.

We had a nervous start following some passport trouble but off we went. We shouldn`t need to say it, the first part of the trek was uphill. We headed into a valley where the trail became more steep and the views behind became even more magnificent.

All smiles at the start of the trail

Cheeks start puffing when the trail gets steeper

Mum-(2) and David half way through day-1

We passed a couple of Inca ruins along the way. Our guide Bryan insisted they wern`t ruins, they were in fact archeaological remains. Silly us.

Archeaological remains- impressive

We arrived at camp that afternoon with only a few minutes of daylight to spare. Our legs were not used to walking such distances and we wondered if leaving the bikes back i nCusco was a good idea. Mum-(2) and David were holding up well but suffering a little from the altitude. Fortunately the porters had a sack full of coca leaves for such occassions and at bed time the chewing from inside the tents sounded like a herd of cows in a field.

Camp site - end of day-1

At dinner our guide gave us the bad news. Although we seemed a fast group and we were all doing very well so far, Day-2 is commonly known to be the most difficult day of the trek.

Starting at 2,800m the trail heads straight into another valley and rises up to 4,200m in just 3 miles. Eeek!!!!

Half way up the immense pass on day-2

We stopped many times on the way up to catch our breath and realise how much of a good idea the train would have been. The 3 miles to the top of the huge pass took us nearly 6 hours!

The porters made it look so easy - they often ran

Highest point on the trail - 4,200m

Once at the top of the pass we had great views to the other side. Unfortunately there was a line snaking through this valley which clearly showed our path for the following day. Another pass and lots of stairs! Going up such a big hill was knackering but it`s going down that hurts the most. Knees were strained close to snapping and the thighs were burning up by the time we got the bottom. An early night didn`t help so much, we had another early start.

Trying to come down the stairs slowly was difficult

The 3rd day was much of the same. Lots of uphill and lots of downhill. It was incredibly steep in places and it was clear that the entire group was beginning to tire. Our guide Bryan had no trouble with telling us the bad news... the final day was a 3:45am start. QUE!?

The final day was also Gemma`s 30th birthday so there was much to celebrate. Thanks to everyone that sent cards with mum-(2), it was great to read all the messages. Even at 30 years old and at 3:45am, Gemma looked this good...


There weren`t so many big smiles amongst the other 500 people on the trail that morning. Everyone was knackered and filthy. But still, just an hour or so away was Machu Picchu, the reason we had made ourselves suffer 4 brutal days of mental hiking. A wonder of the world and the most well known attraction on the continent. Very excited we all set off in the dark to get there when it got light.

At the Sun Gate - start of day-4 - we could see Machu Picchu now

It`s right behind us

The group with Machu Picchu behind

Even Eric and Fatrat made it

Our guides - Roger with Limpi and Bryan with Eric and Fatrat

The classic view of Machu Picchu

We spent a few hours staggering around Machu Picchu, our legs and shoulders were aching terribly. Machu Picchu itself was absolutely stunning and despite the pain we were really pleased to have got there via the Inca Trail. Seeing the other nearby ruins (sorry - archaeolgical remains) along the way helped build the anticipation for Machu Picchu and certainly did not fail to impress any of us. It`s hard to imagine what the place must have looked like in it`s heyday and what efforts must have been put into building such an immense place in such an isolated location. The thing that made us wonder the most though, was would the Inca`s that built this place have been as impressed about the journey that we took to get there?

With that final side-trip over, our journey through South America has ended. We are now in Lima and have just 2 more days until our flight home. It will probably take us more than those 2 days to think of something to write about what we have just achieved. There are many things to reflect on and despite the excitement of coming home, we are obviously nervous too.

We can`t wait to see our families and friends and to you all - we`ll see you in just a couple of days!

Loads of love x

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Crossing the finish line !!!

From Juliaca we had a few days ride towards Cusco. Keeping with the style of the trip so far, we didn`t head straight there.
Our first stop was a small town called Pucara. This place is locally famous for it`s ceramic work. The whole town is littered with clay bulls. Small, big and gi-hyoooooj!
We left as soon as Ian started attracting the local crazies.

Gi-hyoooooj bull with tongue stuck up it`s nose.

Our next stop was another pokey hole named Santa Rosa. Here we found the locals didn`t sleep. They are in fact nocturnal and like to congregrate in the street just outside where our hotel was.

From there, the road went uphill to a pass which took us into Cusco province. We saw our first road sign for Cusco city and became very excited about being so close.

Top of Abra del Raya - our last major mountain pass!

First sign for Cusco - 100kms to go!!!

Raqchi - an ancient Inca temple built with mud.

Down the other side the road heads straight into Cusco city but we couldn`t finish just yet. Instead, we took an alternative route which followed the Urubamba river into the Sacred Valley of the Inca`s. The road took us through spectacular scenery and eventually into the town of Pisac. Here we spent nearly a week relaxing and eating. The carrot cake was especially good.

The bikes in Pisac

It`s difficult haggling at the market - especially when you`re laughing.

Ollantaytambo - a massive fortress with giant steps.

After visiting loads of Inca ruins and markets we got back on the bikes. Our final day of cycling was a short one (just over 20 miles) but involved an 800m climb. We saw our first views of Cusco and could make out the plaza and the finish line below.

Gem at the top of the last hill with Cusco behind.

Battling through traffic and tiny streets for the final minutes wasn`t much of a problem. We were delighted to pedal up to the plaza and be greeted by Lynn and David who sprinted over to us with banners and waving arms.

Plaza de Armas in Cusco - We`ve finished!!!

After 10 months we had cycled 7,250kms (mostly uphill) and eaten at least 300 cakes each.
Not content with what we had already achieved, we only have a couple of days rest before starting the grand finale. A four day hike (mostly uphill) to Machu Picchu to see another wonder of the world.

We will make our final blog entry once we return, and no doubt there will be more pictures than words.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Arequipa - Nasca - Ica - Pisco

As we said previously Arequipa is a beautiful city. The sunny plaza has a wonderful backdrop of the volcanoes and the city centre seems to built entirely out of white volcanic rock.
We dropped by the Santa Catalina monastry which is unbelievably photogenic and very peaceful. We managed to survive a couple of hours without setting on fire. No point boring you with the history, it´s all nun stuff.

Courtyard in cathedral

Gemma still not on fire

Not even guinea pigs are safe in God´s house

Plaza in Arequipa

First excursion was a trip to Colca Canyon, the second deepest in the world. The deepest is a few more hours drive north. It´s a strangely beautiful area but it seems the masses of tourists have ruined the local villages by turning them into circuses.

A tasty treat for an alpaca

And a nice cup of tea

In the canyon there are a couple of condors. People come from all over the world to watch them fly here. If they flew further south they could see millions.

Condor in flight

Boys are safe, condors only eat dead stuff

The shallow end of the canyon

We packed up our bikes and bags, hid them in a cupboard at the hotel in Arequipa and then left for Nasca. Very excited of course. Here are a couple of random photos we like.

Yummy Inca Kola smells like dandelion and burt`ock and tastes like Irn Bru.

Cup of tea Katie?

After big breakfasts we were very glad for the two hour wait at the airport. The tiny Cessna planes only seated 6 and the ride was very bumpy. It was a struggle keeping the stomachs in, especially when the pilot was intent on making us see the figures from every possible angle.
He would shout, "LOOK RIGHT SIDE... YOU CAN SEE RIGHT SIDE!!!" and then bank the plane round as quickly as possible before, "NOW LEFT SIDE... SPIDER LEFT SIDE!!!".
Smiling before take-off

Pilot waving his hands around - reassuring!




Twenty minutes and 50 banked corners later we were back on the ground. Getting off the plane was the most difficult. It was like learning to walk all over again. To people watching it must have looked like we´d been dropped off after an 18 hour bender.
After we´d settled down and found our feet we headed for the other sights in Nasca. Aquaducts which are 2,000 years old and are still in perfect condition. The vents look like portals to an underworld.

Obviously they couldn´t be, the ancient Nasca people didn´t build a Necropolis underground. They just left their dead to sit facing the sunset so they could enjoy that for ever. Not far from the cemetry a local family have a shed. For a small silver coin you can go in the shed and come face to face with their ancestors. Lovely.

The hair is still attached and is 3m long!

Ian´s farts can wake the dead and make them laugh

Back in the cemetry...

Look for the parrot in there too

Next we went to Pisco. We had forgotten something very important. This nice little seaside town was destroyed by a massive earthquake exactly two years previously. It was a wreck. Buildings were crumbled into the streets, some were missing altogether. A local man told us how the earthquake started at 7pm and he got his wife and two children to hide under the table (of course!) where they sat for 4 hours until it stopped. Fortunately they survived without injury. Nearby, 300 people took shelter in the cathedral (expecting God to protect them) and the entire building collapsed on top of them. Very cheerful.
We soon left on a boat to the nearby Ballestas Islands which are known locally as the "poor mans Galapagos". Home to millions of cormorants, Peruvian boobies, Inca terns, pelicans, Humbolt penguins, sealions and many more.
Obviously being sat in a boat meant we were target practice for the millions of birds.
So many birds produce a lot of guano. Every few years locals go to collect the droppings and export it for fertilizer. From the boats the smell was bad enough. Up close it must burn.

Pelicans queuing outside the restaurant back door

The dark patches on the hill are millions of birds

Finally on to Ica and Huacachina. Ica sits on the edge of a desert. A short taxi ride takes you to a small oasis called Huacachina. It´s a beautiful place surrounded by huge dunes. These dunes are now a playground for sandboarders and buggy riders.

With that little trip over, we are now back in Arequipa getting the bikes back to being roadworthy. Tomorrow we set off towards Cusco and the finish line. Woohoo!
We will update once we have more stories,
until then,