A Travellerspoint blog

October 2011

Peru – Ica & Huacachina

Time for a weekend!!

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View Round The World on dbgomes's travel map.

Note author change: Tanya!

Travelling had been intense for the past few weeks (only one sleep-in in 3 weeks) so Huacachina was the place for us to come for a well earned break. I know we won´t get getting much sympathy from you if you are reading this while at work, but this travel business really takes it out of you! :p Huacachina is a really small oasis town on the edge of the desert. It has really big sand dunes surrounding the town and we picked it especially with relaxing in mind after the inca trail.

The overnight bus departed Cusco at 6pm. We went with Cruz del Sur, the premier bus company in Peru. We didn’t realise that we had booked onto the ‘suite’ section of the bus – this is the upstairs section. The chairs were like being in a lazy-boy recliner and there were only 3 seats across the width of the bus. It even had wifi! The roads in Peru are in great condition compared to Bolivia so we were in for a smooth ride. What Dan had not quite counted on was not being able to see the horizon while we spent the next 15 hours on what must have been the worlds most windiest roads through the desert, not just windy but we must have kept going up and down in altitude as my ears kept pooping. I saw the roads out the window in the morning – Top gear should do an episode on these roads!! But poor Dan felt like he was on a spinning ride in a theme park – and 4 sick bags later had the proof to show for it!!! Uuugh!

Huacachina is only 5km away from Ica, so we decided to spend our first night in Ica itself to get a few things sorted out before relaxing. We found our hotel in Ica the next day and the guy checking us in said ‘my wife is Australian too’ so it wasn’t long before we met Felicity and she was a great help. She recommended a great little restaurant near the hotel but it was closed (on a Saturday night) – she even came and had a look and found out it was because the following day was celebration of the virgin of something or rather day! So she got us a tuk-tuk into the main square ‘Plaza de Armas’ for 2 soles where we found some dinner (This was lesson 101 in taxi fare negotiation which was to come in very handy later as the divers would all be wanting to charge us more than 2 Soles), Ica’s town centre is soo busy, Cusco seems like a sleepy town in comparison. The taxi drivers are crazy, I kept looking for a seatbelt every time we got into a taxi or tuk-tuk. The drivers like their music too - the taxi we got back to the hotel even had colourful fairy lights which flashed in time with the music!

While we were in Ica we walked to a nearby shopping centre (a bit like K-mart). Then went to the Museo Regional de Ica which has the history of all the principalities of Ica (Ica, Pisco, Nazca). The history and artefacts were interesting and showed the development of the people up to Inca times. The Inca’s seemed a lot like the Romans were in Europe with their well planned infrastructure and administration. I felt a bit queasy in the second part of the museum which was dedicated to human remains! There were some very well preserved mummies but it was the deformed skulls that made me want to get out of there – apparently they did it for beauty!! Outside the museum – which I couldn’t wait to get out to – was a scale drawing of the Nazca lines. The Nazca Lines are large (up to 200m) lines drawn in the desert rock resembling things like monkeys, hummingbirds and many other things. The crazy thing is that they were done around 400AD and could not have been seen by the people drawing them (as im sure planes were not around then). It was a good way to see them, I don’t think we´re going to get to the real lines with the real thing and flights are very pricy and we hear you can´t see much from the lookout tower in the desert.


After the museum we got a taxi out to El Catador winery which Felicity had recommended as we could also have lunch out there and avoid the tour groups. There are 6 El Catador wineries – apparently the mother left the estate to 6 children and now they all compete against each other. We went to the one which Felicity had suggested (first one on the left and down the stairs). We walked in and it looked quite busy, but the owner soon found us and took us on a free tour followed by some free wine and pisco tasting. The wine and pisco made for locals and tourists is made in the local way (under foot) but the drinks for export are made using modern methods.

The press which is 150 years old and still in use


We stayed there for lunch and I ordered triple chicken – oops! I need to learn the Spanish word for satay – I have a peanut allergy so had to eat around the one of the 3 chickens with satay! Lunch was nice though. We were lucky that there was a taxi available outside so managed to get a ride to one of the bus companies. We were told to take a seat in this hotel lobby where the ‘bus office’ was located (they are dotted about all over the city) and didn’t quite realise we’d be waiting an hour for it to open! Siesta maybe? Anyway, we needed to get our next transport booked so it wasn’t a problem. The guy didn’t speak English so we had to book the tickets in our very limited Spanish. We had wanted to stop in Trujillo or somewhere else on the way to break up the journey (and Dan´s travel sickness) but the bus times wouldn’t work. So we will be heading pretty well straight up to Mancora in a few days with only a few hours stop in Lima on the way.

We got into the hotel in Huacachina at about 5pm but the room was still not ready. Luckily they have a pool so we got to chill out for the next few hours. It was absolute bliss just sat there relaxing in the warm afternoon sun.


We walked around the lagoon which Huacachina is set around and just took in the scenery. It was a Sunday and it looked like a lot of the locals had come to Huacachina for the day with their children as there were lots of people playing about on the sand dunes. When we got back to the hotel, Dan went for a walk up the big sand dune that was right behind the hotel to have a look over the town.

The view over the Oasis

The next morning we slept in!!! Although there were moments we woke up to some strange squawking bird. We spent the morning lazing by the pool and went for a wander and some lunch later in the day. We still had a few hours left to lounge by the pool again before our buggy was due to depart for the dunes for some sand boarding! This is why I quit my job :)

Some boarders on the dunes above the town

Sandboarding was great, we were not expecting such a thrill ride on the buggy, luckily we were strapped in tight - it was just like being on a roller coaster. What fun! When we stopped the driver just asked people ‘stand’ or ‘lay’ (his only 2 english words), Dan and I chose to stand and the others were not quite sure what to do so they went for the ‘lay’ option. The driver pointed Dan and I to one side and he got the others to lay on their boards one by one before pushing them down the hill. I was happy with the ‘stand’ option as we seemed to get less sand in our mouths!! Dan got the hang of it pretty quickly (our snowboarding experience helped). I took a few tumbles and it took a while to realise that I have trained myself to put my weight forward but you need to lean back on the sand (a bit like snow-boarding in powder which I have also yet to master). But after a few hills I got the hang of it and had a pretty good run – although my turns could use some work!

The views on the dune buggy ride


We watched the sunset from the top of the sand dunes before heading back to the hotel to shower off the sand before happy hour at the hotel, swapping travel stories with some brits we met over Pisco Sours.


The next morning we heard that bird squawking before 7am again – this time it squawked a very impatient ‘Hoooooollllllllaaaaaaa’ – obviously the resident parrot wanting us to share our breakfast!! We had a bit of travel planning to do and found out there was an office for an international bus company in Ica so we went there in the hope of booking our boarder crossing to Equador. It was a strange office, no nice glass front – just a bamboo roofed shed with a desk, a baṅo (toilet) for 1 sole, and a lovely virgin Mary shrine??? Anyway we asked about the border crossing and they couldn’t arrange anything other than Lima onwards which wasn’t going to suit our plans. Never mind – we got back to Huacachina and found more time to lounge by the pool, have some lunch and relax before grabbing a sand-board to take on the sand dune right behind our hotel. It was just after 3pm but still blistering hot. It was a hard climb up the dune, it felt like we were slipping back down with every step. After half an hour we made it to the top!!

The resident bird

We knew what we were doing this time so had a better run down although snow is much easier to glide on! We were exhausted after the climb so another dip in the pool was in order to get all the sand off of us!


While we were out during the day, housekeeping had made up our bed and made an rabbit with Dan´s sunglasses on it. We had another nice meal at the hotel restaurant for our final night in Huacachina. It was a 6am start in the morning to get to the bus pickup to head up to Mancora


Final thoughts:
Tanya – What a way to wind down. 3 nights was a decent break too with enough time to do everything we had planned to and plenty of relaxation in-between. Sandboarding is officially an inferior sport to snowboarding – the lack of lifts being the main reason :-) with the buggy though it was great fun! Huacachina was a really great spot and we liked Ica also but one night there was enough – it was great to go just 5k’s away and immediately feel life slow down a few gears in Huacachina.

Daniel – The bus ride from Cusco was one of the worst stretches of 16 hours in my life. Throwing up for the entire journey was not fun. I was so relieved to get off the bus! Ica was ok for a day there, but Huacachina was always the main reason for coming here and it didn’t disappoint. The hotel, pool, sunshine, dunes and good food was such a welcome way to spend the 3 days there. Sandboarding was awesome, it was just like riding powder on a snowboard. It is only fun when you have a buggy to take you up the dunes though – walking is hot, sweaty, sandy and so much effort for a quick ride down.

Posted by dbgomes 17:12 Archived in Peru Tagged peru round_the_world Comments (3)

Peru – Inca Trail (Part 2 - The Inca City)


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View Round The World on dbgomes's travel map.

When we woke up in the morning, we could see stars, which was promising for some good views in Machu Picchu. A little but of high cloud came over when we were lining up for the checkpoint but thankfully we were really lucky and the whole day was really clear. Being situated in the cloud forest, we could have had it much worse. After clearing the checkpoint we had a couple of hours walk to get to the sun gate and our first views of the sacred city. We passed a couple of rock slide areas where in past rainy seasons the hillsides had slid away. There was a publicised case last year of a tourist and guide being killed by a landslide. Saul also told us about a dream he had on a trek where he saw a landslide. He had this dream on day 1 of the trek, and on day 4 he was in this spot where the landslide happened. Luckily the groups were ok but I wanted to know if Saul had dreamt of any lotto numbers on this trip…

Early morning view of the valley
Crossing one of the areas of the rockslides

After one final steep climb we got to the Sun Gate. I was at the back of the group and when I came over the hill… WOW!!! Machu Picchu is really well known these days thanks to the publicity it has got, everyone has seen hundreds of pictures of it, but seeing it in person before you, it was amazing. The sun was shining through the clouds right onto the city, it couldn’t have been better!

Steep steps up to the Sun Gate

The first view of Machu Picchu


We slowly made our way down the path to the city. The views just kept getting changing and I couldn’t help stopping to take picture after picture on the way down. As we got closer the perspective was really good with the city not being dwarfed amongst the massive peaks around it.


As we got near to the ruins, Saul, made us all line up against the wall of the path, put one had on the wall, the other on the person in fronts shoulder and close our eyes. He then led us for about 40meters like this and then got us to open our eyes all together. It was like we were transported from the views we had seen before. Up this close, the ruins were impressive, and that image when we opened our eyes got burnt into our memory. I can see it when I close my eyes now!

Eyes closed

The view on opening our eyes



We walked partially thought the ruins, but had to go back out the main gate as there are no big backpacks or trekking poles allowed in the site. We had our packed lunch before all going back in for Saul to give us our tour of the ruins. We first went to a nice little building in the ruins where Saul played his traditional recorder pipe before getting told to stop by a staff member (he said he wasn’t allowed to, but does it anyway). He ran through some history of Hiram Bingham (the American who ‘rediscovered’ Machu Picchu and told the world about it) and how quite a bit of the history is not that accurate. We then went to a temple which had amazing stonework in the walls, the royal residence, the quarry and then down to the temple of the condor. The temple of the condor is Saul’s favourite place in Machu Picchu because its one place that you can see exactly how it was worshipped and seen. He is right, it was a really amazing part of the ruins

Look at the stonework built into the rock

Trapezoid windows and doors are everywhere due to their resistance to earthquakes

Leigh on the royal throne :-)

The Quarry

The condor on the floor with the big rocks behind it being its wings.

It was now 10.30 and us 4 plus Karen and Ramsey had paid the extra amount to climb Huayna Picchu which is the mountain that towers directly above the city. There are only 400 passes to climb this mountain per day, so we had booked before setting off on the trail. It is a 350m climb which at times is nearly vertical. It took us under an hour to get up to the peak, which was hard work. The near vertical sections had ropes and cables to hold onto, which were well and truly needed. The views up here back to Machu Picchu were also really good, the alternative angle gave us a different perspective of the site. The 6 of us hung around the top for a while (Including Karen with her fear of heights!!!) before heading back down the steep steps. We got back for the bus to take us down to Aguas Calientes which is the small town that sits on the river at the base of Machu Picchu.

The path up Huayna Picchu

The alternate view of Machu Picchu

The steep stairs

Back into Machu Picchu

The amazing stonework

My final view of Machu Picchu

We met with the whole group and Saul & Danny for our final lunch together. Karen & Ramsey, Alex & Agnes and Angela & Volodia were all leaving on the trains after lunch, so we all said our goodbyes. We had a good group of people to share the experience with. Tanya and I look forward to meeting up with Karen & Ramsey when we get to San Francisco in January and reminisce about the days on the trail.

Those of us who were spending the night in Aguas Calientes had showers and felt clean again. I wanted to try out the hot springs that give the town its name (translates to Hot Water). There were up the hill a little way. The girls were not fussed about them, and Leigh changed his mind about going in them when he saw the pictures. I still went in, and it was better than it looked on the pictures. I spent almost 2 hours just soaking the muscles and joints in the natural spring water pools before getting back into town to have some drinks with the remaining group. We said bye to Tim and Kristy as they were on a later train in the morning.

The following morning, Tanya, Leigh, Carley and I had the 8.53am train along with Alex and Danielle and then a bus from Ollantaytambo. Back in Cusco after sorting our bags ang getting food we walked to the square so that Tanya and I could get a taxi out to the bus station. We had an emotional farewell to our amazing travel buddies for the last month! We couldn’t have had two better people to travel with and share some amazing memories with. It wont quite be the same travelling without them. We will have so many things to laugh about when we are all back in Perth in the years to come!


Tanya and I left on the Cruz del Sur bus from Cusco heading to the coast and the town of Ica.

Daniel – The Inca Trail was everything I expected and more! Going through SAS and particularly having Saul as our guide was really good. His knowledge and passion with which he told us the stories, made them even more impressive. Machu Picchu was spectacular to say the least, and it was always going to be one of the highs of our trip when we booked it at the start of the year. Words and pictures still can’t illustrate how special the place is. Before I left I stood there for a couple of minutes just by myself looking at the city trying to soak in the image so that I can remember it when im back into normal life again. As I said in the post, our group was great and being able to do the trek with two great friends was the icing on the cake. Will miss the laughs with Leigh and Carley in the coming months!

Tanya – Machu Picchu was probably the main attraction to South America for me – I was so excited to be able to experience it! Sure the trek was tough – a lot of up hill and a lot of down hill but we were spoiled rotten. I never expected to be so well fed and woken up in the morning with cocoa tea!! Not to mention the popcorn in the evenings – that kept me going each day! Saul was a fantastic guide, he was so passionate about the history of the trek – his history. Danny was fab too, very funny and managed to get us all hooked on a local anti-altitude potion. I could not believe what the chaquis were capable of, they made the tour absolutely amazing. If anyone has spent time at Glastonbury like we have – you will be pleasantly surprised at how well you eat, how clean you manage to stay (relatively), even the hole in the ground toilets are much more welcoming than those seen at most music festivals! MISS YOU Leigh & Carley!!!!!!!

Carley – Our main purpose of travelling through South America was to trek to Machu Picchu, and our whole itinerary was crafted around this, as it was the first thing we all booked in together. It’s probably going to sound totally corny, but I have this overwhelming sense of pride and achievement, that I have now hiked to Machu Picchu, and did so with my future husband and some fantastic friends. I cannot deny that it was hard work, as we had expected it would be, but there was definite positive vibe about our group, led of course by the fabulous Saul, and we all got to know each other and supported each other along the way. I cannot speak more highly of the chasquis who carried our belongings, the tents, the cooking equipment, in giant sacks on their backs, and welcomed us to the camps each morning, noon and night, with incredible food, warm water for cleaning, and our tents set up ready to rest. The sites, information and stories along the way were an added bonus, and reaching Machu Picchu on such a bright sunny morning is something I will never forget. Of course not everyone is crazy enough to tackle Wainapicchu after 4 days of trekking, but the opportunity to climb another mountain and see the site from another perspective was pretty amazing. It was definitely upsetting to bid Tan and Dan farewell, sad to acknowledge that our travel time together was over and that we will not see them for another 5 months, as well as being insanely jealous about the 10 months of travel they still have ahead of them!

Leigh – The Inca Trail was the first activity planned on our South American escapade so we were all really excited to finally be at the beginning of the most anticipated part of the trip. We had opted for the “classic” 4 day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu over shorter versions and were well rewarded. While the trail was often very challenging, the scenery was stunning and well worth the effort (porter assisted). The excitement of Machu Picchu on the final day was heightened by the sense of achievement of having trekked almost 50km of the Inca Trail with a great group of people and some fantastic friends.

Posted by dbgomes 22:41 Archived in Peru Tagged peru round_the_world Comments (1)

Peru – Inca Trail (Part 1 - The Trek)


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View Round The World on dbgomes's travel map.

The alarm went off at 4.30 and it hadn’t felt that long since I got into bed. After a quick shower and packing up, we got outside for 5am as instructed by our guides the night before at the briefing. The sun hadn’t even risen and it was a bit chilly still being at altitude in Cusco. After 50 minutes of waiting on the street we were the last to be picked up. We had managed to see a nice sunrise however in the process of waiting all that time.


The bus full of our group headed out to ‘Kilometre 82’ which is the starting location for the 4 day Inca trek. Most people had a snooze and caught up on a few hours of lost sleep until we got to a café where we stopped for some breakfast and last opportunity for some provisions. After breakfast we chatted with an American couple sat next to us Ramsey and Karen. They seemed really nice and I thought that from what we could tell already, everyone seemed to be a good group of people. They were on a short vacation and live in San Francisco so we were keen to hear of suggestions for what to do when we get there early next year. Chatting with them passed the time nicely until we got to the start of the trail.


We hopped out of the bus and got all of our things together for the porters to start carrying up the trail. Us 4 had paid the extra amount to get the porters to carry all of our belongings. We were sure the trail would be hard enough without having to carry any extra weight. We got to the checkpoint where we needed to show our passports and tickets, but we ended up waiting there for a couple of hours as there is a new rule that means all of our porters have to have crossed the checkpoint before the tourists can enter. Our porters were held up at the weighing station so therefore we also had the holdup.

The stick trekkers

The porter checkpoint to make sure they are not carrying over 25kg

Waiting at the checkpoint to start

We finally set off as one of the 500 people that are allowed to enter the inca trail per day. That 500 passes also includes the porters and guides, so we were told there are about 200 tourists and 300 workers. We got some photos and laid our first steps on the trail. The first 2 days on the trail are not the original trail and our main guide Saul (Danny was the support guide) said he would tell us why in a few days time. The starting point of the trail is at 2680m altitude.

Taking the first steps

Poor Carley had not been well again this morning, and I was not envying her having to walk the 7 hours that the day had in store for us. The plan for the day was to cover around 12km distance which was all a general uphill climb to our first camp. The first section up to lunch was relatively easy with only a gradual climb. We spent this first section chatting with all the other people in our group in-between stopping for Saul to give us some information on the trail, the Inca empire or an archaeological complex. Before lunch we passed Patallaqta which we looked down on from the trail. It was a sacred town and one of the main ones along the sacred valley running up to Machu Picchu.

A break in the walk to regroup

Patallaqta ruins

At Patallaqta, Saul gave us a rundown of the Inca kings. He said that he would tell us about the 1st, the best and the last. The first Inca ruler Manco Capac is said to have originated from Lake Titicaca and went looking for a place to start his city. He landed on the fertile valley of Cusco and set up the Inca way of life there in the 13th century. The Inca people didn’t do too much except remain in Cusco from then until the 9th ruler who was the ‘best’ Pachacuti. He came into power in 1438 and had ambitions. He took the Inca empire on the expanding path by offering tribal leaders the option of joining the empire and the benefits of doing so. Most accepted but occasional force was required for persuading them of the benefits. His son continued the expansion once coming to power.

At its height in 1527 the Inca empire covered Peru, Bolivia, most of Equador, a large portion of Chile, and parts of Argentina and Columbia. Around 2 million sq km and around 20 million people. A civil war broke out between two brothers and Manco Inca was the final Inca ruler after the Spaniards landed in 1532. With the civil war and diseases taking its effect on the empire, the Spanish started to take over the empire. Manco Inca could see what was happening to the empire and retreated to the mountains and finally the jungle with many treasures. There was always speculation of a lost Inca city.

After this rundown of history and rulers, Saul told us that he preferred to call the porters ‘Chasqui’ which was the Incan name for the runners that would pass messages along the Inca trails during the empire. This was a less derogatory name for them and shows respect for their effort and help on the trail, so we all called them Chasqui from here on. Saul, said that the Chasqui would be waiting for us at our lunch stop.

When we got into lunch, all we could all say was WOW!!! The Chasqui really are amazing, the lunch camp was all set up with the food ready to be served in the lunch tent, coffee, tea, milo, the works. Before sitting down for lunch, one Chasqui laid out 14 bowls of warm water and soap so that we could wash our face and hands before eating. Who said this was roughing it…

The views with lunch

Lunch consisted of a pumpkin soup followed buy large plates of rice, meat and sauces to help ourselves to. None of us felt like moving after demolishing the food! After 30 minutes for siesta and letting the food digest we hit the road again for another 3 hours or so to get to our camp for the night. Saul said that the last hour or so would start to get steep but by putting in the extra hour to the higher camp, it would mean less uphill tomorrow morning to the high pass. We walked for a few hours as a group with more chatting and getting to know people along the way. We got to a little shop (there are a few along the way) where Leigh and I brought a beer to take up to camp with us to enjoy that night.

The sign above the window says ‘shopping centre. We accept Visa & Mastercard’

The last hour was a bit of a slog, it was starting to get late too and the group spread out a bit with everyone taking their own natural pace on the long uphill. Karen, Ramsey, Leigh and I were leading the group, maybe it had something to do with the fact that we were the 4 that had brought beers at the shop and we were desperate to open them :-) We also gradually split up and Leigh and I got into camp just after 6pm with the rest of the group coming in over the next 30 mins or so. We passed a few of the other campsites that other groups were staying at on the way, and while we really wanted to be stopping there too, the following day would reward us for todays efforts


Again the Chasqui had been busy packing up the lunch camp, passing us on the trail, and then setting up all of our tents as well as the dinner tent before we got in. We saw a Chasqui with a gas cylinder plus bag pass us during the day!! I struggle to carry the BBQ gas cylinder from my shed to the patio, and these guys carry it for 4 days over some pretty tough terrain… AMAZING!!

Camp was at 3300m altitude for this first night and after selecting our already erected tents, Leigh and I cracked our beers with Karen and Ramsey, savouring the taste, believing that we fully deserved it after the first day on the trail! Tea was served not long after getting bowls of warm water brought to our tents for us to wash in again. Tea was freaking AWESOME! Fresh coffee, hot water and tea, lots of FRESH HOT POPCORN and biscuits!!!! We were all pretty shocked at how well we were being fed as none of us had expected this!! We gorged ourselves on popcorn and biscuits so that we all cursed it by the time dinner was served in an hours time! Dinner was great, again serving us soup, vegetables, meats, sauces and pasta/rice so that we were completely stuffed by the time we got off to bed at 9pm.


Our group had 14 people doing the trek. There were us 4, Karen and Ramsey from America, Alex and Agnes were British and Canadian, Alex and Danielle were British, Kristy and Tim from Australia and finally Angela and Volodia who were Spanish and French. A good mix of nationalities, and as we said before, all being couples we had lots to talk about over dinner getting to know each other.

We were warned the night before that we would wake up at 4.45 (by being brought hot coca tea to our tents!!!) so that we could have breakfast at 5.30 and be on the trail again nice and early as we had our longest day ahead of us and 16km to walk mostly uphill. During the night it had started raining, and lying in our tent at 5am I was thinking that it was going to be a really terrible day. Luckily by the time we were congregating for breakfast, the rain stopped. The mattresses and sleeping bags that we had hired were good and kept us nice and warm through the night. We again had bowls of hot water in the morning to wash ourselves! Breakfast was pancakes, toast, and warm drinks.

Before leaving camp, Saul and Danny got us to stand in a circle with our Chasqui’s as we were a family doing this together. One by one we went around the circle saying our name and where (city for the chasqui and country for us tourists) we come from. After every person we clapped them and then shook everyone’s hand at the end of the introduction. It was a nice way to set out to conquer ‘Dead Woman Pass’. Whenever we passed each other on the trail we wither clapped or greeted each other as long lost friends.


Dead Woman’s Pass is so named because the rock formation looks like a woman lying down with her face and breast facing the sky, not because of any woman losing her life at the pass. However it could easily be for either reason as from our camp it was a 4 hour walk all uphill getting to 4215m (900m ascent). It was tough. We passed through forest areas on the mountain and slogged up the slope. It was really steep at points, but the biggest problem is that at this altitude, you just struggle with the lack of oxygen!

Dead Woman’s Pass – can you see her?

Saul giving another information break

More steps


With such hard going, the group spread out as this is definitely an area for people to go at their own pace. Walking too fast or too slow for your own pace just makes it harder! Leigh and I seem to have a similar pace as each other and we were up the front again. We happily took the last steps, hugged, high fived and took a seat next to our Chasquis while we caught our breath. One by one everyone got to the pass, looking both relieved to be there but knackered from the walk. Luckily Carley was feeling much better today, but on the flip side Ramsey was struck down by the dreaded stomach virus. Probably not the best condition to be in for making the biggest climb of the trip. He looked relieved to get there to say the least!! Once the whole group was together, we posed for some photo’s and had some snacks.

Nearing the top

The final step!

The trail of trekkers back to the valley of the 1st day

Good effort considering Ramsey was really suffering from his sickness


The downhill slope to lunch was definitely more perilous than going uphill. The rocks were slippery from the rain overnight and because this part of the trail was artificial and laid in modern times, the rocks were not the right type to use. Saul kept saying, the Incan’s wouldn’t have done a bad job like that!! After a few slips and about 90 mins we got to the camp site for lunch. Lunch was just as good as the day before, but a bit of rain came through while we were eating in the tent. This was ok as the sun came out nicely in time for starting off again. A lot of the other groups stay at this camp site for the night, but Saul said that he would tell us a story about that campsite at dinner.

Going out of the campsite was the start of another uphill climb to Runcuracay Pass at 3950m (350m ascent from lunch). Maybe it was having a full stomach or already being tired, but this hill didn’t seem any better than Dead Woman’s Pass. The only consolation was that it wasn’t as long as the morning walk. We stopped at the Runcuracay ruins that the pass is named after and Saul gave us some more history. He said that when Manco Inca was retreating from the Spanish, he knew that the Spanish were on his tail and had seen what had happened to all the other Incan cities. So he ordered for the first half of the Inca trail to Machu Picchu to be destroyed to hide their sacred city. This is the reason that we were not walking on authentic Inca trail up to this point. From here on, the original trail is still intact. We had great views as the clouds parted up here and the 6000m peaks and forest revealed themselves. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this, it was truly stunning!!

Looking back to dead woman’s pass and the lunch campsite

Inca steps

Runcuracay ruins

More stories from Saul to a captive audience

After the Pass, we headed downhill all the way to Sayacmarca ruins. This downhill was much better than after dead woman’s pass as we were on original Inca stones. Saul was right when he said that they knew what they were doing, it was much better!!! Half the group carried onto the camp while the other half of us looked around the ruins. They were really interesting and was the first decent sized Inca settlement that we looked around so it was interesting to walk around the houses, rooms and streets. Saul told us the following day that it was likely to be a checkpoint location or even an astronomy post as its position on the ridge of the mountain gave it unimpeded views of the sky (the Inca people were well aware of their astronomical surroundings)

A nice spot for a nap at the Pass

The steep access to Sayacmarca

The worship place of Sayacmarca


We got into the next campsite at Chakicocha around 4.30pm and at 3400m was higher than the previous camp and would be colder through the night. The problem with this campsite was that there are lots of mosquitoes here as it’s a bit swampy. They were really aggressive and a few of us including Saul got a few nasty bites. More popcorn, biscuits, and awesome dinner was served as well as some nice bedtime stories from Saul. He told us of a German bloke who had killed his wife at the campsite where we had lunch. It was only after a couple of chasquis saw him do it that he was convicted of the murder. He also told of us other people who had died of health complications on the trail including a girl only a couple of weeks ago. All great stories to head off to bed with :-)


Our start for day 3 was much nicer time than the day before as we only had 5 to 6 hours to walk to our final campsite. Saul said we would still leave as soon as we had breakfast though, to get away from the mosquitoes. Again it rained during the night and continued for much of the morning. This was probably one of the least enjoyable parts of the journey. The rain and cloud meant we were wet and there were no views to brighten up the walk. I was worried (as im sure other were thinking) that we might have the same weather tomorrow and our views of Machu Picchu would be shrouded in cloud. This section was ‘Inca flat’ which really means its undulating. We did go through one of the caves that was built into the trail on this part of the walk.


We stopped at more ruins in Phuyupatamarca and after this point we dropping into the forest. The rain stopped and it got warmer as soon as we got into the forest. Saul and Danny said we could take a detour before getting into camp to another site, which would be worth the detour. We all accepted and got to Intipata. The clouds were parting nicely and as promised by the guides, the views were again amazing!

Phuyupatamarca ruins

Descending onto forest

The ‘Condor’ pose that Saul passed on to us

We arrived at the camp around 1.30pm and had our lunch in some nice weather with the clouds parting. Saul asked us to meet back at 4pm to take us to Winaywayna which were his favorite ruins on the trail. That gave us a couple of hours for a siesta in our tents.


We headed over to Winaywayna with Saul, and I have to give it to him, he knows what he is talking about. Winaywayna was discovered after Machu Picchu, and is interesting as it only has a handful of houses, a few storehouses, a temple and lots of agricultural terraces. This may have been a site to test out different plants, or a refuge for the royalty on their way to Machu Picchu. Part of the charm of these places is not knowing what their purpose was. It lets your mind run wild when you look at the places and think of how long ago people were living in these places, and what it must have been like. We sat in the temple and Saul gave us some more history on the Inca symbols they used and the empire. He was a really good guide as he had so much enthusiasm whenever he told a story. You could tell that he is passionate about his roots and is connected with the philosophy that the Incan people lived their life by.


For dinner on our last night, the Chef made a cake for us. How you make a cake in a campsite is beyond me, but it was good, so there was no complaining!! We had an early night as we were getting up at 3.50am in the morning. We had to have an early breakfast for the Chasqui’s to pack up and got down to the valley for the train in time. Us tourists also needed to get to the checkpoint for Machu Picchu at 5.30am when it opens.



Posted by dbgomes 22:40 Archived in Peru Tagged peru round_the_world Comments (1)

Peru – Cusco

In memory of Emily – the Guinea Pig

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We hopped onto our bus in Puno in the morning and were surprised when a bloke got onto the microphone to say that he was going to be our guide for the day. We thought we were just on a standard bus ride but as it turned out, we got much more than we bargained for.

The journey took us along the alto-plano and we first stopped at a pre Inca settlement at Pucara. Here we were taken round a museum that had artefacts from the pre Inca town and were told details of the beliefs that the civilization had. We continued onto La Raya which was the mountain pass that we went through at 4,335m altitude. Once we started to descend down the other side from this pass, the scenery definitely started to change. The dry alto-plano gave way to a fertile valley that wound down the hill with an increasingly growing river. This is the start of the river that runs all the way to Cusco and to the sacred valley.

Farewell to the Alto-plano landscapes

Hello fertile lands

We stopped into a buffet place for our lunch which was also included in our bus ticket price. The food was good and Carley and I gave the local softdrink a try – Inca Kola


The next stop was at some Inca ruins at the city of Raqchi which were quite impressive. The main structure here as the Temple of Wiracocha which had the biggest single roof constructed by the Incas. The ruins of the temple were quite impressive and there was quite an extensive town with well preserved ruins. These were the first Incan ruins that we visited and they were quite something considering we weren’t expecting to be seeing much for the day!

Wiracocha temple


The final stop for the bus ride was at San Pedro church in Andahuaylillas. It was adorned with lots of gold leaf and wall paintings. The catholic church in South America seems to allow people to be both catholic as well as follow their traditional beliefs as well.


We got into Cusco in the afternoon right as a bit of rain came through. There was a bright rainbow over the city as we pulled into the bus station. Our hotel was situated up on a hill above the square in the old town. There was lots going on in the square with music and people all around. We got some nice shots down from the hotel.


After dropping the bags off at the hotel we went for a meal at one of the many restaurants that are located close to the Plaza de Armas. The place was quite nice and I got to try the local delicacy from this region of Peru… Cuy (Guinea Pig). It was actually really nice and our guides had told us that it has got no cholesterol, so it is a really health bit of meat. The only problem was that it doesn’t have that much meat on it, but what there is definitely tasted nice. It was kind of like duck and other game meat. It was served the traditional way with head and everything still on. I wasn’t quite prepared for the gizzards to still be in it though when I was hunting around for some meat! Carley was the only other one game enough to try a bit of the meat, the other two were particularly grossed out by it :-) We reminisced about Carley’s brothers guinea pig while drinking the pisco sours and vino.


The following day after a much needed sleep in, we went into the SAS office who were the company we would be doing the Inca trail with. We used up a few hours in there waiting and then getting things sorted for our trip. We had some lunch in another nice restaurant and ended up spending a few hours there as a big thunder storm came through just as we were about to leave. After the sky’s had cleared, we went to a local supermarket to stock up on supplies for the Inca Trail. Tanya had left her kindle on the bus the day before but luckily they had found it so we got a taxi out to pick that up before getting back to the square to arrange a bus to Ica for once the trek was over.

We went along to the briefing at the SAS office where we picked up our sleeping bags, mattresses and duffle bags for our gear. Our group for the trek looked quite good as everyone looked like they were couples and all around a similar age and fitness to us 4. It looked promising for the coming 4 days. After the briefing we went back to the place that we went for lunch and got some sharing food for dinner. We chatted with a couple from Ireland that I met in the morning at our hostel. We compared journeys and shared some tips with them as they were heading through Bolivia in the coming days. After intending to have an early night we didn’t leave the bar till 11 and after taking time to pack our duffle bags, it was well past midnight before we actually got off to sleep. The 4.30 am wakeup in the morning was going to be tough!!

Daniel – Given we weren’t expecting anything other than a bus journey, it worked out really nicely to stop at the places along the way. Cusco didn’t look that great when we first rolled into town, but in the old town area, it definitely had a lot of charm. We could have spent a few more days in the city itself to see some of the Incan museums and sites as Cusco was the capital of the Inca empire but we will have to do that on some future travels. Was happy to try the Cuy, added another local dish to the list of experiences!

Carley – Oh, poor Emily. The long deceased Emily came up in conversation earlier in the year in Iceland for some reason, my younger brother’s childhood pet. Trust Dan to order the local cuisine and make it personal. The 3mm sample that I had was more than enough, I think there was a bit of dutch courage going on there after some rather yummy pisco sours. The bus ride to Cusco and Cusco itself exceeded expectations, although climbing the steep steps up to our hostel (which had superb views over the city) I felt like my lungs were a quarter of the size they needed to be. How will I go on the Inca trek?! A few loads of laundry done and we’re packing for the trek – excited!

Tanya – The bus tour was a bonus! I really liked Cusco, it is huge, but the old town area inside the city walls is beautiful. We ate some great food there too – but I could hardly stomach my meal when Dan’s guinea pig was staring at me with its killer teeth – that was one thing and I might have tasted it until Dan pointed out the brains!! Uugh! Really excited about the upcoming trek at this stage!!

Leigh – After what we thought was a simple bus trip to Cusco turned into a golden oldies sightseeing tour, you could have perhaps excused my slightly sceptical view of how our day was going to pan out. Every cloud has a silver lining however and the tour turned out to be pretty decent. The thought of Dan’s guinea pig feast in Cusco still makes my stomach turn. Like Tan, I could barely finish my potentially excellent piece of steak while being stared down by this disgusting little roasted rodent.

Posted by dbgomes 06:09 Archived in Peru Tagged peru round_the_world Comments (1)

Bolivia – Expenses

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We spent 20 nights in Bolivia
The country as a whole is really cheap, beers were quite often not more than $1 and really good main meals were around $4. Doing the tours are basically a necessity to see the various things around the country and they don’t come as cheap. In most cases we selected one of the dearer companies for the various activities, but we had heard a few horror stories with the cheaper ones. All in all we were happy with every one of the companies that we used.

The accommodation that we booked outside of the tours were good, they all had Wifi and some like La Loge even had free laundry which comes in very handy! The accommodation that was part of our tours were also really good which was another positive of taking the ones that we did.

Transport included buses from La Paz -> Uyuni & Uyuni -> Sucre. Flights from Sucre to La Paz and return flights between La Paz and Rurrenabaque. There were some local taxi’s too mainly in La Paz between the airport and town

The ‘activities’ below included per person $175 for the Pampas trip, $360 for the Jungle trip, $425 for Uyuni, $245 for lake Titicaca tour, $115 for Death Road & Zip Line along with park fees and tips for the various tours. As stated, these were the upper end tours.

Values are in AUS $ which at present is on par with US $
Accommodation …………………. $ 540
Transport ……………………………. $ 565
Food …………………………………… $ 400
Activities …………………………….. $ 2887
Other…………………………………… $ 42
TOTAL ………………………………… $ 4427

Per day for 2 people …………… $221

Bolivia Accommodation:

La Paz
La Loge (La Comedie)
Web: http://www.lacomedie-lapaz.com/en/loge
Notes: Included free wifi in the room and free laundry. The restaurant downstairs was really nice and the best place in town on trip advisor. Apartment rooms were really big with double bed as well as lounge seat that was also a double bed. The rooms had computers with internet also. Breakfast was brought up to the rooms each morning consisting of fresh bread, jams, cereal and juice. Really nice place

La Paz (second time)
El Consulado Hotel Boutique
Web: cafeelconsulado.com/hotel-boutique/
Notes: Nice hotel right near the main street and middle of town. Free wifi in the rooms and a nice restaurant attached to the hotel. Breakfast was really good. The hotel is in the converted building that was once the panama consulate so the rooms are large and show the grandeur of the buildings past.

Piedra Blanca Backpackers
Web: http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Piedra-Blanca-Backpackers-Hostel/Uyuni/45341
Notes: Simple backpackers but had private rooms with private bathrooms or shared bathrooms. Nice hot showers were welcome after the salt flat tour. Really cheap accommodation

Hostal de su Merced
Web: http://www.desumerced.com/
Notes: Awesome place. Rooftop seating, old style building, big rooms, breakfast that included lemon moraine pie. Central location near the main square. Wifi available throughout the building.

La Isla los Tucanes
Web: http://www.islatucanes.com/index.php/es/
Notes: Pool, bungalows and bar. Set a bit out of town, but was a good splurge for a night between ecolodges. The hot showers are welcome after some days out in the jungle and pampas. Wifi was only around the bar. Pick up and drop off into town and airport were free.

Bolivia Activities:

Death Road Mountain Biking
Gravity Bolivia
Web: www.gravitybolivia.com
Notes: Well maintained bikes, quality gear and good guides that we had for our group. Lots of stops and safety information. Includes a shirt and CD with pictures and video of the day within the price. We also added the zip line option on the end.

Uyuni Salt Flat tour
Ruta Verde
Web: http://www.rutaverdebolivia.com/
Notes: Organised 2 days before the tour and company fit us in on a private tour. The driver/guide was very careful and looked after his 4wd. The hotels that were included on the tour were really amazing. The food at the hotels and during lunch were good too.

Pampas Tour
Web: http://www.mashaquipe.de/english/pampas_tour.html
Notes: Camp location right on the river is basic but still nice. As its an ecolodge, showers are cool, electricity only runs until 10pm but that was all part of the experience. Our guide was very knowledgeable and very friendly.

Jungle Tour
Chalalan Ecolodge
Web: http://www.chalalan.com/
Notes: The original ecoldoge in the madidi national park. Surroundings and the camp are amazing. For an ecolodge, they are a lot nicer than you would expect. The staff at the site are very friendly and work hard to make the experience great. The guides were also very knowledgeable and sensitive to the environment. The showers were cold, but the weather was warm and muggy so it didn’t make it too bad. The only electricity was in the main building.

Lake Titicaca
America Tours
Web: http://www.america-ecotours.com/index.php
Notes: Organised as a private tour for us 4, the hostel and ecolodge as part of the tour were both really good. Boats, lunches and transport were all sorted out by our guide Joel. He also put us in contact with someone in Puno for getting out to the Uros islands (which was not part of the tour).

Posted by dbgomes 20:15 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia round_the_world Comments (1)

Bolivia – Lake Titicaca

Is it an ocean, is it a sea… No it’s just a bloody big lake!!

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Why do dogs carry a bone in their mouth… because they don’t have any pockets in their coat!!!

Our guide, Joel loved a good dad joke and he cracked out plenty of the few days we spent with him. He met us out the front of our apartment in La Paz and took us in a taxi to meet the bus for our 2hr ride to Lake Titicaca.

Lake Titicaca sits on the border between Bolivia and Peru. It is a massive freshwater lake that is fed mainly from the many glaciers of the Alto-Plano. It sits at 3811m above sea level itself and is 190km long and 80km wide. It has a surface area of 8,372km square and at its deepest point it is 281m deep. All of those numbers seem big, and when you get to the lake, it does seem like you are on the edge of a sea rather than a lake.

To save time driving all the way around the lake, we made a crossing over the thin straight at Tiquina so that we could continue onto Copacabana on the Bolivian shores of the lake. We had to hop off the bus and take a little taxi boat over the river while the bus took a transport barge. The reason for this we were told by Joel, is because a few years back, the people would stay on the bus as it crossed, however an accident happened that sent a bus and its people into the lake. None of them survived, so we were happy to be taking the safer option. Our bus made it over unscathed, and we continued onto Copacabana.

Buses crossing at Tiquina

Copacabana is a nice little town, with the main drawcard being a nice little beach on the shore of the lake. When we first got into town we had some lunch (most of us selecting the trout option – as the lake has an abundance of trout) and then took a walk along the beach before going up to our hostel and relaxing for a few hours. The little beach was ok, although there was a bit of rubbish around and it wasn’t as nice as it looks from a distance. We were very happy with the hostel as it sat on a hill above the beach and was a great place to sit in the sun and watch over the bay.

Approaching Copacabana on the road

Foosball down at the beachside

Our prime location at the Hostel

Once the afternoon wore on, we took a walk up the little mountain that is right beside Copacabana. We timed it so that we could see the sun set from the top.

Isla del Sol – our destination in the morning

Sharing another sunset moment :-)

In the morning we took a boat from Copacabana to the lakes biggest island, Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) on the journey there Joel told us that over recent years the level of the lake has been dropping as the glaciers in the area are receding and the rate of evaporation is faster than the refill rate. Since 2000 it has dropped by 1.5meters. Joel said that current estimates say that the surrounding glaciers will be gone in 30 yrs and the lake will then completely dry 20 years later. That’s a scary thought for the people of the area who rely on the lake for their survival. This could be something that we are seeing that will no longer be around when our children are adults!!!

We first stopped into a bay on the south of the island where we paid our fee to visit the island and climbed up 200 odd steps to a sacred spring on the island. The island is believed to be the birthplace of the Sun god in the Incan beliefs and the spring at this point is supposed to give you eternal youth. We could also see Isla de la Luna (island of the moon) from here also

Isla De La Luna

We took the boat to the north of the island where we were starting our 5 hours trekking across the island. It was quite warm and the sun was beating down on us while we walked for an hour or so up to our first destination.

Working the dry land on the island

Taking the pigs to the beach for the day


We first stopped at a sacred rock from where the sun god was born in the old beliefs before going to some Incan ruins called Chicana which are a labyrinth that people had to find their way through in order to cleanse their souls. We all managed to find our way out of the labyrinth to have lunch within the ruins.

The sacred rock

Inside the labyrinth of Chicana

An Incan spot for lunch

After lunch we set off for the 3 hour walk to the south of the island where our eco-lodge was located. Shortly after setting off it was Carley’s turn to have a dose of sickness. Either from eating something at lunch or the altitude she wasn’t great and Joel decided that it would be best if he went back to the town with Leigh and Carley, while Tanya and I continue over land to pick up our belongings which were at a hotel on the way. We didn’t really like splitting up from the other guys, but we had no other way to get our stuff without Carley having to walk the entire route.

Tanya and I set off and the trail was challenging at times with the island having rolling hills going down the spine of the island. As well as some long steep inclines, the altitude also makes it hard to keep your breath. We did well and covered the track quickly getting to the hotel to pick up our gear and then arriving to the eco-lodge in just over 2 hours. Along the way we were worried about the others hoping that they were doing ok. We covered the ground quickly enough that we managed to get to the eco-lodge before the others. We were happy to see them arrive and thankfully Carley was much better than when we left her. We showered and relaxed before playing some cards and having dinner in the nice eco-lodge. The buildings were made from traditional mud bricks and roofing. They sat on the side of the island overlooking the lake and the snow capped mountains in the distance.

The path to the South

The destination for the others to get a boat to the south

The view back to Copacabana

The eco-lodge

Views from our room


We set the alarm for 6am to catch the sunrise in the morning. There was a bit of cloud around from a storm overnight, so after a couple of photos we went back to sleep before breakfast. We walked for another hour south to see an old Inca ruin before getting the boat back to Copacabana. At Copacabana we had some lunch and looked around the markets and church with Joel before getting on our bus to Puno in Peru. We crossed the border which was a strange exercise as we checked out of Bolivia then had to walk a couple of hundred meters to the Peruvian border building to clear the border before getting back on the bus.

Sunrise over the Andes

The crew back together

Another walk

Inca ruins

The meat market, a little different than back home

They let us through

On the bus ride we had front row seats on the upper deck, so we got to see lots of the countryside on the journey and stretch out nicely


Once we got to Puno which is on the Peruvian side of the lake, we took a boat ride out to the Uros islands, which are 42 artificial islands made from reeds. A few hundred people still live on the floating islands which are a few km away from Puno. We got to an island where we were welcomed by the people living there. The first thing we noticed when we hopped off the boat was how squishy the reed islands felt. We sat down to be shown the process of how the people make their islands, what they eat and how they live. We got shown into their houses and were offered homemade items that the women make as souvenirs. Tanya and I got a tapestry that depicts the life of the Uros people. We looked around the island a bit by ourselves before getting the boat back to Puno.

Shown how the islands are made

Off to cook the birds


In Puno there seemed to be a festival going on with groups of students performing dances in front of judges at the town church. We watched this for a while to pass time before getting some food and calling it a night. We had another early bus in the morning to set off to Cusco.

Daniel – I was a blown away by how massive the lake is! An eventful few days in the end, but all turned out ok in the end and we have had a few laughs since – Hey Carlz!! It really brings it home that some things like Lake Titicaca may well disappear within my own lifetime.

Tanya – Well the trout was delicious – even the 5th meal in a row :) I really liked the labyrinth ruins, even though I was the last one to find my way out of the maze to lunch. The hike was good practice for the up-coming Inca trail although my lungs were struggling with the altitude this time round. I was glad that we wouldn’t be going back down to sea level before we began the big trek. It was great to see some of the Uros islands although it was only a quick trip as we only had 2-3 hours of daylight left once we arrived in Puno and an early bus scheduled for the following day. I wonder if the islanders have holiday homes on the mainland they were good negotiators – they showed you their ‘casa’ then they started negotiating prices for their lovely goods before we could say ‘gracias’ – but they make some lovely artwork and we have a fab tapestry to take home (if I can throw something else out of my bag!).

Leigh – The shear size and beauty of Lake Titicaca is truly and impressive sight. Watching the sunset over the lake from the cliffs above Copacabana was a great way to take it all in on the first night; only to be eclipsed by the spectacular views from our hotel on Isla del Sol on the second night. Being able to squeeze a visit to Uros into our busy schedule was a great bonus, very interesting and well worth the trip.

Carley – Thank you for describing my ‘episode’ on the side of the mountain on Isla del Sol so discreetly Dan! Let’s just say it was not discreet, nor pretty, and while being unwell in the middle of nowhere and having to walk 2 hours back to a town was one of the lowest points of our trip I think, I recovered quickly and it has nonetheless entertained my lovely travel buddies for many weeks afterwards! Despite all of that, the trip was fantastic. We continue to be impressed with the quality of transport, tours, guides and accommodation in South America. Lake Titicaca was so dramatic, the sheer size of the lake complimented by the stunning views from Isla del Sol. Tan and I savoured a few hours of shopping without the boys at the local market stalls in Copacabana and came up with a few striking pieces of jewellery for bargain basement prices! I am so glad we were able to squeeze in a trip to the floating islands in Puno, a short trip, but during sunset with the most perfect light for some incredible photography.

Posted by dbgomes 16:02 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia round_the_world Comments (3)

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