Continuing our journey across Lake Titicaca the boat was rather overloaded as the boat officially carried 32 people, but we were travelling across with 35 people plus all of our packs. So on the odd occasion, when a rogue wave hit, we did wonder if we would have to start bailing out some excess water.
Fortunately eight and a half hours later our little boat sailed into the small port of Puno, Peru. We disembarked and met up with the truck drivers who had managed to get through the Peru/Bolivia border without too much trouble. However, they had found out that due to the Peruvian Government selling a mine to a US company, this news had met with outrage with the Peruvian people and roadblocks were due to be erected in Puno at midnight.
So this meant we couldn’t stay in Puno as once the roadblocks were erected, nothing would be able to get in or out of the city. We had arrived early evening and crowds were already starting to grow in the central square. The trucks were quickly loaded up with our packs and drove ahead to the outskirts of the city whilst our guides arranged for us to be transported, to meet up with the trucks. It also meant that as we couldn’t stay in Puno, Ant and Zoe would be driving us for another eight hours overnight to the city of Cusco, so we wouldn’t miss the start of our trek on the Inca Trail.
We made it out of Puno and successfully met back up with our trucks at a petrol station, hopped on board and made plans to head north and stop at the next big town, Juliano for some dinner. We arrived a couple of hours later and parked in the main square and were given enough time to grab some food and go to an ATM to get some Peruvian money as we hadn’t had a chance before, in our rush to get out of Puno.
With a few minutes to reboarding, a crowd started to march onto the square and the trucks took off quickly so as to avoid being hemmed in, should the crowd start causing trouble. We had already been advised where to meet, should the trucks have to take off quickly. Fortunately the demonstration was peaceful and the trucks could return, pick us up and move on. The drivers had heard that there might be demonstrations further up Peru and the further north we could get, the better. Also there were elections in less than two weeks, so emotions amongst the Peruvian people were running high.
At around 4am in the morning, after travelling over 16 hours, we arrived in Cusco and the hotel allowed the two trucks to offload its contents of weary bodies and packs into the reception and lounge areas of the hotel, to rest for the remainder of the night. No-one could check into a hotel room as we weren’t supposed to have arrived until later that day, having spent that night in Puno.
Due to exhaustion, both me and Clare climbed into our sleeping bags and immediately fell asleep. At 8am we were woken by one of our guides who gave us a key to a room which had been prepared and we gathered our luggage and collapsed again, in our hotel room, being careful not to wake our slumbering colleagues who had not been allocated a room yet.
We awoke at lunchtime and headed out into Cusco which although being 3,500 metres above sea level, was warm and bright in sunshine. The centre of the city was really attractive and was made even more so by a colourful procession of dancers and bands that were celebrating food. A bit like a harvest festival in the UK. We watched for a short while until our grumbling bellies reminded us that we needed some brunch. We had been advised of a great place called Jacks that did cooked English breakfasts. Having not sampled one of these delights for some months, we eagerly headed to the restaurant. We found it quite easily as there were a number of tourists who had heard the same thing. Fortunately we found a table and both ordered the full cooked breakfast. It was delicious, along with fruit juice and great coffee. We felt a hundred times better and had a little wander around the main squares taking in some churches and the bustling daily life in Cusco, before returning to our hotel for a siesta. Later that evening we joined some of our friends in the local Irish pub originally called Paddy’s where one of the guys bought Jaeger bombs which consists of shots of jaeger being balanced on glasses of red bull before being knocked over domino effect into the red bull. He managed to get 18 shots to fall over in a row which was quite an impressive feat.
The next day we were preparing for our Inca trail trek and spent the day hunting for walking poles. That evening we celebrated Karen’s birthday with a meal at a local Peruvian restaurant and a band played happy birthday for her in Peruvian. On the menu was the local speciality dish of guinea pig which a couple of people tried and when served came complete with front teeth!
The following day we departed Cucso and on the way to the Inca Trail stopped off at some Inca ruins including the Sacsayhuaman and Pisac ruins. We stopped over night in a hotel before heading down to meet our guides and porters at the start of the Inca Trail. There was 21 of us in our group with 4 guides and 32 porters, each carrying 20kgs of camping equipment and supplies. We set off from Piscacucho which was at 2,600 meters having had our tickets stamped and passports verified. The first day consisted of a gentle climb which took about 5 hours covering 12 kilometres. We stopped part of the way for lunch which the porters prepared and consisted of three courses. They also ran on ahead of us and set up camp for the night before we arrived. They served us afternoon tea as well as a very nice three course dinner.
The 2nd day proved to be extremely tough as we climbed steeply for over 5 kilometres rising in total 1,200 meters to Dead Woman’s Pass. It was incredibly slow going due to the lack of oxygen at that altitude as well the steepness of the climb. Every step was an effort and had to be taken slowly. The views from the top though were stunning and made it all worthwhile. We then descended into the Pacaymayo river valley to our 2nd campsite having walked a total of 11 kilometres in 7 hours. We collapsed into our tents for a well earned rest and to relax our aching muscles before once again feasting on the good food prepared by the porters.
The next day we ventured back onto the trail and continued walking for up for another three hour climb although this weren’t as steep as the day before. However, the day was long as we had to walk 16 kilometres to the next campsite and down over 3,000 steps which pounded the knee joints, especially as some of the steps down were quite steep and narrow. We arrived in the late afternoon and wearily collapsed into our tents before getting a shower. The next morning we had to be up at 4am so that we could get to the Sun Gate before sunrise. Our group was first in line and those not suffering from aching joints hared off to get there first. Me and Clare decided to take things a little more slowly and after a very steep set of stairs we made it to the Sun Gate to see the sun rise over Machu Picchu. We also learnt that one of our guides, Jonathan had twisted his ankle so we gave him an ankle support bandage to help him to continue on to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu itself was stunning and had made the four days of trekking worthwhile. We had a two hour guided tour around the site and it was interesting to learn that it was one of the few Inca sites the conquering Spanish did not find. During our tour we took a breather out of the strong sunshine and watched as a llama gave birth, although one of the wardens on the site had to assist the mother by grabbing the baby’s protruding hind legs and pulling the baby out. After a few minutes the rather dazed baby llama was sitting up and didn’t look the worse for wear for its accelerated birth.
After the tour of Machu Picchu we headed into Piscacucho for some lunch before meeting up with the group and caught a train and then a minibus back to Cusco. The next day was thankfully a rest day and allowed time for our aching legs to recover from our trek.
The following day it was time to bid Cusco farewell as we had a couple of hours drive to our next destination which was the small village of Raachi where the group was divided up into group of four people and we would each be staying at a family home in the village. It is fair to say that neither myself or Clare were particularly looking forward to this overnight stay as a lot of the houses were made out of mud bricks and our host family couldn’t speak any English. However, when we were shown our accommodation we were pleasantly surprised to find a rather nice bedroom and a working toilet opposite which was good.
We were given lunch by our hosts and then taken to another part of the village where we were shown pottery making and given the opportunity to buy some handcrafted items that the women of the village had made. We also were shown around some Inca ruins and given a brief history about the village as it was used by the Inca’s as a supply post between the coast and the city of Cusco.
After an evening meal which again was supplied by our hosts it was time to be dressed in local Peruvian costumes and attend a local welcoming ceremony and some dancing by a fire. It got quite cold during the evening and so we were glad to be huddled by the fire to warm up a little. Once we had gone through the welcoming ceremony which consisted of taking some cocoa leaves, kneeling on a sheep skin rug and blowing on the leaves, giving thanks to mother earth, all the villagers came around and greeted us all.
It was then time for some dancing and Paul was soon whisked away by a woman who looked about 80 years old and was only about four feet tall. Clare did not escape and she also had to dance. After a couple of dances it was time to head back to our respective homestays for the night.
The next morning, after breakfast we all gathered back in the main square of the village and said goodbye to our hosts. We were each given a pendant before climbing aboard the trucks to continue our journey north to the town of Chivay.
We drove for an hour before we had to stop because the exhaust manifold had given way and was making a loud noise. As there was no parts on board the guides made a temporary repair using a soda can as a replacement piece of pipe. After an hour we were back on the road. The road soon deteriorated to a dirt road and the going was slow.
We eventually climbed out of a valley and started to go up a side of a small mountain. We were almost at the top when we met a truck coming the other way and he advised us that the road was blocked on the other side. This meant we had to backtrack down a very bumpy dirt road for two hours before turning down an unmarked road which looked more like a riverbed than a road. By this time it was early evening and the light was beginning to fade. Again we climbed out of the valley and this time made it over the top and down the other side. We joined another bumpy dirt road which in the darkness it seemed to go on and on. Morale on the truck was low as having been jolted around for over six or seven hours and travelling for over twelve hours, everyone was very tired.
However by 10pm we saw lights which meant a town where the drivers could get their bearings and we could find out how long it was to the town of Chivay. When we got to the town we suddenly hit tarmac, which was a mighty relief and we found out we were only 20 kilometres from Chivay. We finally arrived in Chivay just after 11pm and after a quick shower and a sandwich we collapsed into bed.
We had to leave by 5am the next morning, which was very hard after the previous day’s exhausting journey, as we were making a short trip to Colca Canyon to see the world famous condors. It was another gorgeous day and we arrived in good time to see these amazing birds lifting up through the canyon riding on the thermals. After a couple of hours it was time to leave the condors and head to the city of Arequipa. We were due to be in the city at the same time as the national elections and were advised to stock up on some beer and wine beforehand, as the police close all bars over the election weekend.
We arrived in Arequipa in the early evening and checked into the very nice hostel where we would be for the next three nights. Unfortunately this also proved to be the time that Paul started to feel very unwell and went to bed early. The night proved to be a nightmare as Paul became very acquainted with the toilet as he came down with a nasty stomach bug. What made it worse was that the next day was also Paul’s birthday. Fortunately our trusted vet on board, Andrew, gave Paul some pills to help alleviate the symptoms of an unstable stomach and bottom and the following day he was back on his feet.
It had also been decided by the group that we would all go out and celebrate Paul’s birthday that night. It was a good evening and Paul enjoyed his birthday celebration, even if it was 24 hours late!
The following day was a long drive day to the coast where we spent the night on the beach at Inka Point, camping on the beach and having a barbeque. The next day we headed to Nazca via the Chauchilla Cemetery which is where various mummified remains have been discovered, some of the remains are centuries old and pre-date the Incas.
At Nazca some of the group elected to take flights over the Nazca Lines, but we instead opted to view the Hands and the Tree from a raised platform which was a little safer as the safety records of some of these planes were not particularly good.
Next we headed to Huachachina where we rode in sand buggies over some magnificent sand dunes and had great fun sand boarding some of the very steep dunes. There was a competitive edge between everyone as to who could slide the farthest. We finished off watching the sun set behind the dunes and Paul and Craig were doing some posing which produced some great shots and would make a great album cover. We then drove to our campsite in the desert where our guides cooked us all a very nice barbeque served with a few pisco sours. We then retired to our tents as it was too cold to sleep under the stars.
The next day we went to the coast, to visit the Ballestinos Islands where we boarded a boat to see colonies of penguins, blue footed boobies, cormorants, sealions and other seabirds.
We then arrived in Lima where some of the group were finishing their overland trip. We went out for a nice dinner and said our sad goodbyes the next morning. We then spent the day wandering around Lima and looking at the pretty squares, churches and the Presidential Palace.
The next part of our trip took us to Huanchaco where we visited the Chan Chan ruins and the Pyramid of the Sun & Moon. All of the ruins were very well preserved and we had a very good guide who explained all about the different communities that had lived there and the type of lifestyles they led.
Following this, we headed to Mancora and a very nice hotel on the beach where we relaxed for a few days, doing very little but swimming, sunbathing and enjoying the odd beer. It was also Tara’s birthday whilst we were there and we went out for a celebratory meal. Next we went to Punta Sal, another place on the beach where we camped for a night and gave us the opportunity to have a leisurely walk on the beach.
The next day we crossed the border into Ecuador (our 20th and final country of this epic trip) which was a very simple process and headed to the colonial town of Cuenca. It is a very pretty town and had lots of interesting churches. We spent a morning visiting the Panama Hat factory and it was very interesting to learn how they are made and the history behind them. Despite their name, the Panama Hat originates from Ecuador and it got its name because it was exported via the Panama Canal and this was where it was assumed they came from. We then had the opportunity to buy a Panama hat and so we tried a few on for fun and some of our group did purchase one. They ranged in price from US$22 to over US$2,000, depending on the fineness of the weave.
The next day we drove to the Andean mountains and the Quilotoa Loop where the scenery was amazing. We stopped for the night in Riobamba and went to a pizza restaurant where they were showing music videos from the eighties and we spent an enjoyable evening guessing who the artists were.
The following day we continued round the loop to Lake Quilotoa where Paul went on a 4 hour hike with some of the others whilst Clare continued to our hotel in Chugchilan called the Black Sheep Inn which was run by an American couple as an eco lodge. It had lovely views of the valley with nice walks that ran into the surrounding mountains. We stayed there for a couple of days and one afternoon we were treated to local ethnic dancing by some of the schoolgirls in the neighbouring village. We also made friends with the owners dog, called ‘Rummie’ who was especially friendly when there was food around!
We spent the next day chilling out before heading to Rio Verde and a campsite for three nights. Unfortunately it rained for all three of the days that we were there, (it was the rainy season) but we did manage to do some white water rafting which was great fun, although Clare’s guide did push her in for fun and tipped the raft over a few times. Paul’s guide also had fun pushing each of his crew in when they weren’t looking. The river was fast flowing so it made the trip that much more exciting as we crashed through the rapids!
Next we headed to Tena for a three night stay at a jungle lodge on the edge of the Amazon. The lodge was in a beautiful setting overlooking the jungle, but this did mean that there were lots of bugs around including giant tarantula spiders! Fortunately they only came out at night so we didn’t see them that often although we had to check our boots each day to make sure none had crept in during the night. During our stay here we visited an animal sanctuary which had rescued animals from all over Ecuador that have been mistreated, bought as exotic pets or had been abandoned. We also went for a cruise on a motorised canoe through the jungle which was fun.
The following day was our last on the truck as we headed towards Quito, the capital of Ecuador and would signal the end of our overlanding adventure. That night we said our fond farewells to all of our newly made friends with promises to try and visit no matter where in the world they were. This of course could be tricky as some of the destinations include Australia, USA and Canada. Still, who knows?
We moved out of the hotel we were staying in and into a rather nice apartment which gave us enough time to get ourselves prepared for our last leg of the trip, to the Galapagos Islands.