Journey to Iguazu Falls

The journey to Iguazu was extremely long, we had set off the night before from Bonito on a shared bus driving all the way through the night to get to Foz do Iguacu on the Brazilian side. We arrived at about 6am after 8hrs on the bus. It wasnt comfortable and I had a lass next to me that kept leaning on me through the night and waking me up. I suppose its all the experience and character building.

When we go to the hotel we were all pretty tired and grumpy, we had breakfast at the hotel and they allowed us to check in early. We headed upstairs to our rooms and crashed for a couple of hours. It was a good job we got to have a sleep as I had ben looking forward to seeing the falls since I booked onto the trip.

We headed off early afternoon to walk around the Brazilian side of the falls. We parked up had some very expensive lunch at the café entrance and headed off to the start of the walk. Our guide was really informative however all I wanted to do was walk off to look at the falls. The guide was discussing the fauna and flora that we could see in the area, the most famous being Coatis, which I hadn’t seen yet. Our first view of the falls were well off however it was beautiful. We were told to not take too many pictures at the start and just to make our way to the end of the track

Iguazu Falls are located on the Iguazu river on the border of Argentina and Brazil. It is the largest waterfall system in the world with around 275 waterfalls and around 62000 cubic feet per second of water cascade down the falls. In rainy season the larger falls can join up to make one large fall. Iguazu is also one of the seven natural wonders of the world and when you’re there its not hard to see why.

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We did spend a lot of time at the end of the walkway and I must have taken well over 200 photos between my phone and camera. We headed off out of the park and towards the very expensive hotel which is located within the national park we had a seat outside in the sun with a glass of wine with a lovely view of the falls in the distance. A few of us had decided to go for a helicopter ride over the falls and to meet up with one of the other group in the Bird Sanctuary across the road afterwards. I was a little nervous as I am petrified of flying at the best of times. One of the guys jumped in the front and me and my room mate went in the back and then a random guy jumped in with us which was a shame as my room mate was then forced to sit in the middle where your view is pretty rubbish. However we worked it out so she could get some good shots. The flight was only around 15 min and most of that time was flying to and from the falls.

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The views were well worth the expense and its something not everyone gets a chance to experience and I would recommend it.

After the high of the helicopter ride we headed over to the Bird Sanctuary, it wasn’t that expensive and it was brilliant. Most of the birds you get to see up close as you can go into their aviaries. I spent about 30 minutes in with the hummingbirds trying to get a perfect shot of one of the hovering. I managed to get quite a few good shots though so it was well worth it.

That night we headed out for a group meal to a restaurant near the hotel. Eating out in Brazil is a bit different as most places are normally buffet style – price per head or price per weight. It is very meat orientated as well so can be difficult very vegetarians to have a varied diet. The drink was pretty cheap in the hotel so my room mate and myself shared a bottle of wine. We all headed off to bed pretty early as it was going to be a long day on the Argentinian side of the waterfalls.

Our group merged with another G Adventures group that morning to get to Iguazu on the Argentinian side, just to make it easier for the border crossing. It was a very odd set up, we technically speaking never left Brazil so we had an entry stamp into Argentina but not out of Brazil.

It was a bit of a mad rush to get on the train in the national park to get down to Argentinas most famous waterfall “Devil’s Throat”. The train is very small and they cram you in the seats and it moves incredibly slowly, so be warned if you don’t like small spaces. Once we got there we sat around and waited until the rest of our group arrived and headed off down the pathway across the river.

There are around 14 waterfalls making up the Devils Throat which plunge around 350ft into the river below. In the video clip above you can see Great Dusky Swifts which fly very close to the waterfall. The spray is immense and rises high above the waterfall. It truly is spectacular and I don’t think words, pictures or videos can summarise just how amazing this place is.

After the Devils Throat we headed back up on the train and headed off around on one of the many walks that you can do around the national park. On the Argentinian side there are a lot more waterfalls and it is slightly better however if I had a choice to do both again I would as the Brazilian side gives you a better perspective. But if you do the Argentinian side first don’t expect too much from the Brazilian side. The walk went on for a couple of hours and we took our time and just enjoyed the scenery.

We did have a close encounter with a Coati which came down from one of the trees next to me which was brilliant. They are extremely cute.

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After this long walk we had a nice sit down in the sun having some lunch, in my case this was an ice cream chocolate milkshake. We hung around for the jet boat experience which we had paid for yesterday. This experience takes you on a boat up the river very close to the waterfalls and underneath a couple of them.

The trip to the jet boat dock was very good, we had a guide who spoke about deforestation and the animals that can be found in the area. We got on the jet boat at the back as apparently that was the best seat. It started out pretty slow however it soon picked up. We got to go under two waterfalls, one rather small one which was a tad disappointing and then a very big waterfall. We did not go under this waterfall however from the video below you can see we got soaked anyway, and it was incredibly fun.

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After this we walked up to the top of the path and headed off towards the van for our return trip to the hotel in Brazil. A couple of us booked onto a night time tour of Iguazu as it was a full moon event, so we had to get back to Brazil eat and come back again in a taxi on your own. We got a taxi from our hotel across the border into Argentina and he waited for us while the tour took place which is a few hours so be prepared to pay a little extra.

If the night time tour is an option you get then I would definitely suggest booking onto an early slot. We were told to get there for 8pm however our tour didn’t start until 9pm meaning we wouldn’t get back to the hotel until close to midnight and we had to be up very early the next day. It was very cold at night in the park and I wasn’t dressed for that, so I was freezing. We got on the train and had the slow ride back down to Devils Throat. By this point I was cold and tired and a bit annoyed at the organisation of it all, however as soon as we got to the falls I was amazed. The full moon lit up the water and it looked fantastic. I was also surprised at the heat coming off the water, making it actually quite warm by the water. I took a lot of photos but only a few came out which showed the light on the water, my camera got soaked in the process as the breeze was blowing the spray towards the tourist deck.

All in all, every single one of the experiences at Iguazu was amazing and should be a must do for anyone visiting Argentina and Brazil. Not many people get to see Iguazu at night so if there is a full moon when you are touring I highly suggest you book early and get on the trip, as we were lucky that our guide managed to sneak us on.

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Gruta do Lago Azul and Rio da Prata Snorkelling

While travelling through South America (La Paz to Rio de Janeiro) with G Adventures we met up with fellow travellers that had travelled from Brazil in the Salt Flats in Bolivia. We were chatting about best things to do in Brazil and they told us about Rio da Prata which was apparently not to be missed (they had missed out due to not knowing to pre-book). While I had wifi I contacted the hotel we were staying in Bonito and tried to get all of us on the tour as we didn’t want to miss out. We had almost 2 weeks to wait and see what was to come, but we were assured it was spectacular. Its the only activity in my years of travelling that I have booked that far in advance.

When we got to Bonito we were greeted by thunderstorms – all afternoon and night. It was very impressive. We had arranged to also go to Gruta do Lago Azul (Blue Lake Cave) in the morning then head off to snorkel in the afternoon however due to the storms and the amount of rain coming down both activities might be cancelled and it would be the only day we could do both as we were leaving the day after. We tried to get sleep through the storms and hope that the trip we had planned weeks ago would not be cancelled.

We got up at 6:50am for 7am departure to head out towards Gruta do Lago Azul, not knowing if it would be open for us to venture down to see. The weather had finally cleared up and the sun was shining and the ground had already started to dry up so we were all hoping that the water might have subsided. Thankfully when we got there they had the open sign out.

Gruta do Lago Azul means Blue Lake Cave. As the name suggests its a cave with stunning blue waters. Amazingly we had to wear hard hats to go down into the cave (so far in Brazil the health and safety had been lacking). There are ALOT of steps going down into the cave, these were very slippy from the torrential rain the night before.

As you descend into the cave you are surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites. The tour guide did speak a bit of English but our G Adventures guide decided to come along for the entire day so she helped with the translation.

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Between September and February the waters are an intense blue colour. There are prehistoric fossils which have been found in the cave which unfortunately you cant see, fossils include a giant sloth and a sabre-toothed tiger. You can spend hours staring into the beautiful blue water and trying to capture the perfect shot. The photos below have not been enhanced on photoshop – it really is that blue!

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From The Gruta do Lago Azul we headed towards Rio del Plata. We had a lovely afternoon chilling out in the hammocks and enjoyed a very delicious buffet lunch. We waited around for around an hour and a half before we were called to get kitted out in wetsuits. The area is protected so wetsuits are mandatory to protect the waters, they also ask you not to have freshly applied suncream as well as it can pollute the water.

The tour starts with a 4×4 drive to the start of the trail which leads through the forest of the Prata River and its tributary Olho D’Água River. The area is protected by a Private Reserve (RPPN). The trail leads to the main spring of Olho d’Água River where the snorkeling tour begins.

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As soon as you get in the water you are amazed about how crystal clear the waters are. We snorkelled around the entry area for a while, so you could adjust the snorkel mask and for the guide to make sure you would be safe and listen to his instructions. The tour was amazing, the waters were so clear, there were hundreds of fish all around you. I have uploaded some videos and photos from the tour, however it doesn’t capture the tranquillity of the area or just how beautiful and how well the Brazilians look after the Olho D’Água. They are very proud of the area and try hard to keep it pristine for future generations to enjoy.

 

The video below is further downstream so there are less fish but still the crystal clear waters and surroundings make it very enjoyable. You don’t really need to swim, just float and let the light current take you downstream. They do ask you not to move arms and legs much in the water as well so you don’t disturb the ecosystem.

You do have to get out at one point along the way and walk for a bit, this is so you don’t get taken down some white water. You get straight back in though and continue your journey towards Prata River. There is a large area where you can jump in and take some good photos. None of us wanted to do this but we did take a couple of underwater shots.

From this point you continue downstream and you can tell immediately then you hit the Prata River as the water temperature drops a few degrees. You do have the option to get out here if you are tired or cold, or you can continue snorkelling downstream to the get out point. The river is not as clear here but there are some really big fish you can see which are worth it.

Overall this trip is well worth the money, it might not be cheap but the memories last a lifetime!

Enjoy!

Journey to the Incas – Machu Picchu

I started in Huacachina which was a very small oasis town surrounded by amazing sand dunes. The journey ahead of us was around 745 miles which would take over 28hrs. There is a direct round from Huacachina to Cusco through the mountains from Nazca however this is not widely used due to the rise in hijackings. The bus was a great double-decker with wide reclining seats and extremely comfortable. Our first proper stop was the Nazca lines, they are believed to originate from the Nazca people between 500BC and 500 AD. The stop was by a tower which you climb up to look down on the lines, not all of them and not the best ones e.g. the monkey, however they are still Nazca lines and it still counts. It didn’t feel very safe going up or down and they do try to make sure people come down before they send the next group up but as always there will be a few tourists who ignore this rule.

I slept pretty well overnight on the bus, it did get pretty cold though so extra layers are recommended. We arrived in Arequipa very early in the morning to drop off most of the passengers and pick up some to take to Cuzco. From Huacachina to Arequipa we gained probably close to 2000m. From Arequipa to Cuzco the journey got harder as we started to gain a lot of altitude (4200m), I started to get symptoms of altitude sickness (severe headache and nausea). I took a few painkillers and tried to sleep through it. We arrived in Cuzco in the evening after over 28hrs on a bus. As the streets of Cuzco are quite small we had to get in taxis to get to our hotels. This took a long time as streets were closed off for a religious parade and there were a lot of cars crammed into a very small area.

Cuzco is a beautiful historic city with a population of around 420,000 people. It used to be the capital of the Incan Empire and is situated at 3400m asl and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architecture within the city centre is amazing, lots of old beautiful buildings and narrow cobbled streets. However it is rather modern with most of the shops catering for tourists including a KFC and McDonalds. Cuzco does offer more traditional foods such as Llama and Guinea Pig, the latter looks more like its been steam rolled and fried, not appetizing. The Llama however was lovely and can highly recommend.

 

There are plenty of outdoor shops here for last-minute items and you can usually get a good deal due to exchange rates. In the branded shops there is no haggling as they are authentic. The markets in the centre are amazing, lots to see and spend money on! Most of the stuff in the markets is not hand-made no matter what they claim, it falls apart pretty quickly and I wouldn’t wash them in a washing machine, but they serve a purpose to keep you warm.

The main reason most people go to Cuzco is because it’s the gate to the Incan empires, the most famous being Machu Picchu. This was the reason for my visit, Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list a long time.

The Inca Trail takes a total of 4 days of hiking at altitude up thousands of steps and then back down them again, the highest point is Dead Womans pass which sits at 4125m. As the trail is extremely popular I booked it well in advance with G Adventures so they could organise the walking visa and the porters and guides etc. The Inca Trail visas can sell out very quickly as they restrict the amount of people on the trail to keep erosion down. From experience now I would hesitate on booking with G Adventures again for this trip as they are expensive and compared to other companies they don’t offer the best service. The guides and porters however were fantastic they were locals and very enthusiastic about their history.

The first day on the trip was a meeting which took place about a mile from the hotel at G Adventures headquarters. We went through what to expect on the trek, if anyone had dietary requirements and checking everyone’s details were correct. My passport number was wrong so I had to stay behind call my parents and get my dad to take a picture of my old passport and send it via messenger (a G Adventures mistake). Thankfully after 90 minute of hassle of them telling me I would have to pay for a new one it was sorted.

The next day we set off to Pisac we spent around an hour walking around the ruins and admiring the stunning view, it was also a great opportunity for us to get to know each other before the hike. From Pisac we headed towards the G Adventures supported Womens weaving co-op, this provides a great opportunity to local communities to provide housing and education to young families. The weaving is all done by hand and is amazing to watch these women at work, they use natural dyes and wool from Llama and Alpaca. The product produced is all high quality and is available to buy, if I had known how much they were before heading out I would have taken more money and bought a jumper (£70), it is always worth haggling as they are expensive. I did buy a beautiful scarf for £25. We stopped for lunch at another G Adventure supported Parwa community restaurant in Huchuy Qosco. The food here was very rich but delicious. After food we sat outside and watched our guides (Daniel and Alex) play a version of swing ball. After lunch we set off for our lodge in Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo is a beautiful spot, its also where tours take the train to Machu Picchu. We settled into our lodge, got our bags for our trek which the porters would be carrying and I tried to pack some of the stuff I would need for the trek. It didn’t work, I seem to have too many clothes to fit in the bag and I was way over the weight limit. Daniel arranged for us to have a tour around the Incan site there.

Ollantaytambo is a town and also an Incan site situated at 2700m asl. It is said that Ollantaytambo was the estate of Pachacuti who ruled the region. It was a stronghold during the Spanish invasion to hold off Spanish forces from heading on to the sacred city of Machu Picchu. However after defeating the Spanish in a fight near Ollantaytambo the rule Manco Inca withdrew to Vilcabamba leaving Ollantaytambo deserted. The ruins here are some of the most impressive Incan ruins I saw in Peru, with large granite blocks used as base stones for temples and houses.

The sites here are very impressive, Daniel was very enthusiastic in telling us about the history of the place.

That night we went out to a local restaurant and had some food as a group, afterwards a few of us headed out to a little bar where we had a couple of drinks (hot chocolate), some stayed out into the early hours where as the rest of us headed back to get some sleep.

 

Day 1

First thing we had to do in the morning was sort out our tiny bags with everything we would need for the 4 day trek. We all knew of the strict restrictions for our little rucksacks so I was pretty tough on things that had to go in. First in was the sleep mat and sleeping bag so there went 4kg of my allocated 6kg, pyjamas, portable battery charger, spare trousers, underwear, deodorant, baby wipes, toothbrush and toothpaste, couple tshirts, socks, down jacket, and a spare jumper (waterproofs were in rucksack). Obviously this was over the limit, I ended up carrying my down jacket and chucking out a tshirt, trousers and a jumper. I didn’t have enough really to keep me warm and to change at camp if I got wet.

Our Inca Trail group consisted of 6 lasses (including myself) and 3 lads. 2 couples – Stijn and Alexandra and Alex and Shelley, then Sorcha, Kellie, Lindsey, Sean and myself. The couples had their own tent, Lindsey and Kellie shared, Sorcha and myself shared and Sean had a tent of his own.

We set off on our minibus to the start of the Inca Trail at a place called kilometre 82. Our porters had to sort through all of our bags and weigh each one and split the load of food and equipment between them. We were handed a little bag of goodies which we packed up, then I got harassed by women selling rubber bottoms for my walking poles. Apparently on the trek you must have the rubber bottoms on poles as they are worried about erosion on the footpath. I reluctantly had to buy them as I was warned if I was caught without them they would take the poles off me. We set off to the starting checkpoint and waited until our porters went through and then we set off after the mandatory starting team “sexy llama” photo.

It was an undulating start to the walk as we followed the river down the valley, we saw the tourist train taking people to Aguas Calientes where they can get the bus to Machu Picchu. The walking was moderately difficult but more to do with the altitude than the actual trail, there were a few very steep bits but Daniel made sure we had a few rest stops along the way, but he was adamant that we would all stick together on the first day. We came across our first Incan site of the trip called Llactapata, from the site itself you looked down onto farming terraces and across the Andean valley, the views are pretty spectacular.

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We had a snack stop where everyone ate the snack pack we got given, to be told that was to last us for the full 4 days. When we set off towards our camp for the night the group started to break up a bit, the majority at the front, me on my own in the middle and Alex and Shelley at the back with Alex. The trail was rather quiet so it was a nice peaceful walk for me.

The Wayllabamba campsite was already set out for us with our tents facing towards a lovely view through the trees or the Andes at a glacier just about visible through the clouds.  Daniel arranged for us to meet the porters and chefs that would be helping us over the coming days. They introduced themselves and Daniel translated Quechua to English for us and vice versa when we introduced ourselves to them. After this we headed into the mess tent to get ready for our food. There was a good choice of food available even for a fussy eater like myself and anything I didn’t want to eat did not go to waste. It was a great group and we all got along well straight away, Daniel ate with the porters while the other guide Alex sat and joined us, after food we played charades for a bit then headed out to get ready for bed. Unlike other companies we didn’t get a private toilet so we had to use the public ones which were disgusting, I won’t go in to detail but imagine the worse toilet you have seen and multiply by 10. A few of us sat outside for a bit star-gazing as the skies were clear and there was no light pollution, the milky way was clearly visible. After sorting our tent out me and my campmate settled in for the night.

 

 

Day 2

We were woken early in the morning by the kitchen porter who brought us a hot cocoa tea to wake us up and a fresh bowl of hot water to have a wash and brush our teeth. The morning was pretty cold and we wrapped up to go to the mess tent for breakfast. Today was going to be the hardest day as we were heading over Dead Womans Pass which would be the highest point of the Inca Trail at 4125m asl. Our guidance today was that it would be extremely challenging and we could walk at our own pace, however we were to stop at dedicated checkpoints and wait for the others. We all set off together and soon the faster walkers broke off to lead the way. I wasn’t walking on my own today as Kellie decided to stay back and walk at a slower pace. I can not tell you how many steps there were but it was in the several thousands.

It is probably one of the toughest hiking days I have ever experienced and that includes summit day on Kilimanjaro . There were a lot of people on the trail today both going towards Dead Womans Pass and coming back the opposite way. I think it the trail is massively underestimated by people. We hit the first checkpoint (Ayapta) in good time however we were the only ones there, the lead group had forgotten to stop. We waited for the last couple to arrive with Alex and we set off again at our own pace to the next checkpoint. This section was a lot harder as it was straight up more or less, constant stairs, there was a group of 4 of us (Stijn, Alexandra, Kellie and myself) that more or less stuck together. The views looking back down the valley were fantastic, the higher we got though the colder it became and I could see clouds coming in. At the second checkpoint (Llulluchapampa) the lead group had stopped, we sat down here for a while and had a chat shared some biscuits etc and relaxed before the next big stint which was reaching Dead Womans Pass which we could see towering above us.

We headed off up the path together, but after putting on layers below I started to burn up so had to take some off, then it started to rain so had to find my waterproof jacket, so I fell behind the group. By the time I had reached Dead Womans Pass I was knackered, cold and wet. Daniel wanted us to stay there to wait for Shelley and Alex but it was freezing and we were all getting extremely cold just standing around. We decided it would be best if we headed on down and waited somewhere more sheltered. Turns out this would be back in camp.

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The path down was horrendous, the steps had become death traps and the knees took a hammering even though I had my poles. Walking poles with rubber bottoms on didn’t really do much in the rain as they slipped as well. One or two of us took a tumble coming down, however to keep spirits up we played games. The rain was continuous and heavy, by the time we reached Paqaymayo Camp we were all knackered and wet through with most of us not having anything dry to change into (due to limit in luggage). As we reached our tents the porters were there to welcome us and applaud us. We chucked our things into the tents and headed for the mess tent to have a hot drink and to our surprise popcorn and lots of it! After a quick light lunch we chilled out in our tents trying to keep warm, I tried to write in my diary and had a chat with Sorcha, while snuggled in our sleeping bags. When we eventually clambered out of our tents the clouds were clearing and the sun was beaming down the valley, we had an amazing tent pitch for the views.

 

We headed over to the mess tent early to have hot drinks and a chat, followed by some dinner and then we chilled out for a bit afterwards and then headed out to our tents. The clouds had all cleared now and the stars were out and the view of them was spectacular. A few of us got our cameras out and were trying to take photos of them. It was a tad difficult without a tripod but I got a couple of blurry shots.

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Day 3

We woke up to the usual morning from the porter and a cup of coca tea, we were all in high spirits as today was an easier walk, the weather looked marginally better and it would be our last night camping. So we set off into two hours steep uphill to the Incan site of Runkuracay (3950m). The path up was packed with tourists, most of whom you had to carefully manoeuvre past as they were not in for giving you space . Runkuracay was used by runners as a resting point to get messages from different Incan Sites like Cuzco. The weather started to turn and we soon had our waterproofs on again.

After this first uphill stretch the walk was more undulating and a lot easier on the legs. There were still some steep up hill stretches and more steps downhill which were still challenging due to the rain. There would have been some amazing views had the clouds not been surrounding us, but it was probably best as there were some sheer drops off the footpaths and they were not fenced off. Most of the group stayed together today and we started to play a few riddle games like Around the world etc.

Our lunch stop was supposed to be one of the most beautiful views of the day however we couldn’t see 10ft in front of us so we missed out on that. The lunch today was incredible. It was a massive buffet lunch full of everything and anything you could wish for. The buffet included, pasta salad, chicken nuggets, mashed potato cakes, pizza, stew etc. but the best thing was the chefs had made us a personalised sexy llama sponge cake. We were all very full and in good spirits even though the weather was still damp and miserable.

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I have no idea what they put in the cake but we were all in very high spirits and giggling (maybe lots of coca leaves were used) we started having a bit of a sing song as we descended down some steep steps to take our mind off them. Our next Incan site some of us decided to skip as it was up steep steps and it was pouring down with rain so we carried on to the next site which was where the Incans used to do their sacrificing – sometimes human sacrifices were used but mostly animal.

We had a choice when we came to crossroads to either descend directly to camp down some steep steps but get there early or to go the long way round to view Intipata, we all chose to go to Intipata, and we were all glad we did. The sun started to come out and the clouds lifted on our way around to the site.

Intipata “sun terraces” and is mainly used for argiculture with a lot of farming terraces and a few storage buildings and houses at the highest points. It is thought that Intipata was probably used as a farming land for Machu Picchu. It was forgotten about after the Spanish invasion and was left to be claimed back by nature, however since the 1940s archaeologists have begun excavating the site and they are still slowly uncovering new terraces and buildings.

​We stayed around Intipata for quite sometime as the views across to the Andes and glaciers were spectacular, we could also see the back of Machu Picchu mountain.

We got to camp later than usual, we got settled into our tents, organised the porters tips as this would be the last time we would see them. After dinner Daniel(as our interpreter) and one of our group presented the tips to the porters. After the presentation and the thanks, Daniel discussed our options for tomorrow morning. We had 2 options, first was to get up very early, miss breakfast and get the to check point before other groups, or get up later miss the rush and get breakfast. We all decided that beating the crowds would be a great option even though we had to be up at 3am. Needless to say we had a very early night.

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Day 4

We were up at 3am, I went to bed more or less fully clothed so I didn’t have much to sort out in the morning. We set off to the checkpoint which I thought would be a few mile walk but turns out is 3 min down the hill from our tents. We were the third group there. It was freezing cold, we all huddled together and played charades to pass the time as we had to wait until around 5:30am for the sun to come up.

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The reason you can’t go through checkpoint earlier is for health and safety reasons, there are long drops at the side of the paths and they don’t want any accidents.

When 5:30 arrived and we went through after having our permits checked, Daniel shot off at some speed. It was hard work keeping up with him but most of us managed it, I was jogging for some of the time to try to keep up.  He set off at this pace so we would not be overtaken by other groups meaning that the Sun Gate would be quiet.

We were all layered up and as we were walking we got pretty hot so Daniel stopped after 20 min to let us take some layers off but he only gave us a 2min break before he was sprinting off again. We all started to separate, I was slowing down a bit but caught up with the group when they were having a breather so I decided to plod on knowing they would at some point catch up. The final challenge to get to the Sun Gate was climbing up “Gringo” stairs, so named as we climb up rather than walk up.  The steps were not as bad as I thought but they were still pretty tough.

We got to the Sun Gate around 6:30/7 and we were awarded amazing views of Machu Picchu, the weather was perfect, the sun was burning the clouds away. I was surprised to see so many people already in Machu Picchu with us being the third group to set off and us overtaking a fair few people on the way to Sun Gate. It turns out that those who get the train to Aguas Calientes are allowed to get the bus and into Machu Picchu at around 6am, which was a bit unfair as we couldn’t go through the check point until 5:30am meaning there was no way we could beat the tourists there. You would think those that have hiked 4 days to get to this point could be given 6:30-7:30 to enjoy the sites alone!

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We stayed at the Sun Gate while Alex and Shelley arrived  and had a few group pictures and then descended into Machu Picchu. We went to the famous photograph point overlooking Machu Picchu and had around 20 minutes here to take photos, which is good as by the time we got here it was packed with nice smelling, clean and tidy tourists. After this we left Machu Picchu to hand in our walking poles which are not allowed in the ruins themselves, we had a light snack at the restaurant on site – which was expensive, and we got to use nice clean toilets.

We re-entered Machu Picchu to have a guided tour by Daniel. We sat down on the grass near Llamas which were free roaming the site, and listened to the information Daniel was telling us. After the brief introduction we had a walking tour and then we were left to explore ourselves. By the time we were off exploring the place was packed with tourists, slow tourists at that, and having been walking for 4 days and not had washing facilities etc it was a tad annoying. Around 8000 people a day visit Machu Picchu mostly by train/bus.

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We saw quite a lot of the site but we were all pretty knackered so we found a place to admire the view and chill out in the sunshine.

After our free time we got the bus from Machu Picchu down to Aguas Calientes and had lunch there and then back to Ollantaytambo on the train. The train was fantastic, it had a partial glass roof and they gave out snacks and drinks. None of this mattered to most of us as we fell asleep.

From Ollantaytambo we had the very long journey back to Cuzco on the bus which seemed to take forever. The views were great though as always in Peru.

Back at the hotel we checked in, got washed up and headed downstairs for food and drink to celebrate our journey.

 

The overall experience of the Inca Trail is amazing, but what makes this trip extra special is the people you share it with. Being a single traveller can have its ups and downs but I thoroughly enjoyed spending the week with these guys and couldn’t have imagined better people to share this experience with.

It’s a tough trek and it is clearly underestimated by some, but keeping your head up and laughing through it is the best thing to do, otherwise the entire trip will be ruined. Some days it rains and you don’t get to see anything, and for the most part that’s what we got, bad weather and poor visibility so we didn’t get to see everything. However after 4 days hard work we got lucky on the last day, the day that what really mattered. From my travels I have met a lot of people doing this trek or just taking the train and bus up, and some of the photos you can’t see Machu Picchu at all, it’s the risk you take in the mountains. So go to enjoy the experience and to say you have done it!

Death Road bike ride / Yungas Road

Most people have heard about death road either via google, the news or top gear. The Worlds Most Dangerous Road, or to the locals Yungas road. It used to be the main road from La Paz to Coroico. It is said that during the time the road was opened till 2006 (when the new road opened) an estimated 200-300 people died on the road a year. After visiting Yungas Road I can see why. Sheer drops await you and the road is extremely narrow in some places yet this was a main road. The road starts at around 4700m and you finish at 1100m, there are few guard rails to stop you falling into the abyss below. The common rule which still applies on Yungas road is that on the narrower sections the downhill vehicle are required to give right of way and move to the outer edge of the road to slow the vehicles down while passing. During the 1990s Yungas road became a very popular tourist attraction for thrill seekers, this started up a growing tourist business in La Paz for downhill biking.

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I am not an avid biker or even remotely competent on a bike. At the most I can ride my road bike on flat tarmac so the idea of biking 62km downhill on death road did not appeal to me straight away. I wanted to see death road but from afar and possibly travelling in a van but definitely not bike it. However after some research and speaking to mates who had actually done it I decided I would give it a go with the option of if I didn’t like it or feel safe I could jump into the van at any time.

When I arrived in Lima and joined Peru Hop I asked people if they had done the bike ride, all said no, a few said they knew people that were doing it but hadn’t heard from them since. However when I joined the G Adventures Machu Picchu trek I met up with 2 Scottish lads who had both done and survived (just) the ride and said it was amazing. They had done the bike ride with Altitude which is a company I was pondering using.

I had emailed a few companies and Altitude and Gravity were the ones with the best reviews, and were the most expensive. I chose Altitude mainly because Gravity would not let me book on unless I went into the office 24 hours before the ride with my passport and insurance details which was not possible as I was arriving 10pm the night before. Altitude were great with me, they understood and went through everything via email.

The morning of the ride did not go smoothly as Altitude forgot to pick me up so I had to chase them to come back and collect me. The guys doing the ride were very good and spoke excellent English which is needed on this ride. The drive to the starting point is quite far, but they had some good tunes in the van – namely cheesy English pop. Once we got to our start point which is not Death Road but a long stretch of tarmac road for you to test the bikes out on, it started to snow quite heavily. It was freezing. We had a cup of tea and some bread rolls and kitted up. Best thing with Altitude for me was the full face helmets to protect your head and teeth. I had read many horror stories relating to other companies only providing normal biking helmets which to me were not sufficient enough on a dirt track down hill and there are stories of people falling off and losing teeth.

The kit included elbow pads, knee pads, jacket and trousers (not waterproof), gloves and full face helmet. Once we had our kit on we got our bikes. There were two bikes available Specialized Status II and Transition Bottlerocket main difference other than price was Specialized has 220mm suspension vs 160mm. I chose to have more suspension. The guys alter the bike to fit you then and there and if you aren’t happy they spend time ensuring it is comfortable for you and feels safe.

Once the ride started it was pretty much straightforward downhill, making sure you pressed both brakes together to avoid flying over the handlebars as they were very responsive. The bike was worth the money, even on the tarmac road there were a few potholes which although I felt it wasn’t as bad as I expected. All I remember from this bit of road was how cold it was. We stopped once to check everyone was doing well on the bikes and to get a group shot and my fingers were blue. Managed to warm them up and set off again but half way to next checkpoint I lost all feeling in them and it was becoming a bit dangerous for me as I couldn’t grab the brakes efficiently. I asked for my bike to be put on the truck and the driver warmed my hands up by putting them in a cloth soaked with boiling water. At the next checkpoint the bikes were put back on the truck and we all drove to the start of death road.

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The temperature here was a lot warmer as we had descended a fair amount from our starting point. We had a couple of group shots and individual shots at the start of the road which had now turned into a dirt track then we started off down death road.

The start of the track was quite wide but full of gravel which made for a bumpy ride, it was rather cloudy and still a bit drizzly so the view wasn’t great unfortunately. Plus side is the fact that you couldn’t see how far the drops were down to the bottom. Out of around 10 bikers there were 2 of us at the back taking our time going down, the others zoomed off. We shared the road with a few other tours one that stuck in my mind was Barracudas mainly because their lead biker came flying past me at a rate of knots without saying a word and skidding round the cliff edge, this is why there are deaths on the road each year as people in the tours try to keep up with idiotic fast leaders. Their safety gear was non-existent as well – normal bike helmet and their own clothes no pads etc. Luckily the tourists following him were more courteous and let me know they were coming up behind me on whichever side.

A few main points are that the road is gravely all the way down with some sections with larger rocks than others, the best spot to me was going under the waterfalls which although dangerous as it’s a narrow ledge lots of water and slippery ground it was the most fun. The famous death road pictures are taken just after a waterfall by most groups, it’s the largest waterfall I saw on the bike ride (this may change with the seasons). A quick walk after the waterfall and you sit as a group with legs hanging over the side of the cliff, looking down is not recommended for those with a fear of heights. I carried on at the back of the group taking my time my hands forever on the brake levers, hoping I didn’t catch a rock wrong and fall off. There were times where I lost the back end of the bike on a larger rock and my stomach went but I managed to keep upright somehow; however I wasn’t going that fast so the risk of me skidding and flying off the edge was minimal to non-existent.

Towards the end there were sections of the road where you had to peddle uphill after nearly 55km downhill, add to the fact we had descended nearly 3000m and the temperature had risen substantially this short section was really quite tough. After this little section there’s another meeting point which signalled the end of death road, the others greeted us with a round of applause, it is a great sense of achievement and I was thankful I was all in one piece. We took off our jackets and trousers that Altitude had lent us and had a few pictures taken. This was not the end of the bike ride though, we had another small section to get to the bottom to where we would be put in the vans and taken off for a shower and some food. This bit is an easy road section however I was even more cautious here as I knew how close we were to the end and I didn’t want to fall off. My hands ached at the end from holding on so tight and grabbing the brakes.

At the end we had a little presentation given our “survivor” tshirts which are really good (order size smaller as they were large) and a few pictures and headed off for an average lunch and a long drive back to La Paz.

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