Cusco, Part 2

IMG_5463Cusco, Peru

February 14, 2014

Day 1

This morning there was a small group of us up early ready to head off for our horse riding! I had ridden a horse once when I was 14 and I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it. There was about 8-10 of us and we were packed up and driven up the mountain. Soon enough we were taken to our horses and there was the prettiest ginger horse with a latte coloured mane and I HAD to have her. Saddled up, we took off and my horse decided she was basically the best and HAD to be at the front.

IMG_5446No amount of direction would calm her. Then after ten minutes of trying not to panic (Jemma told me it makes it worse then, the whole they “can smell your fear” nonsence. Which, by the way, in no way could possibly make people fell less terrified. The tour guide came up and told me that this horse was known to be kind of a huge bitch and I promptly and not at all glamorously slid off the horse to safety. They found me a slower horse (in gait and in intelligence) for the  remainder of the morning. To be honest, horse riding is not that bad. It is slow, you’re in nature, horses are quite pretty (if you’re into that kind of thing) and it was nice to be out of the hustle bustle, continuous car honking city centre. We were out and a bit for a few hours with the horses, poor Karen had a biting horse, sneaky shit would get really close to other horses and then bite them on the arse. It caused some problems. Albeit, hilarious problems. Poor Karen copped the flack which in retrospect was poor form on the rest of us.IMG_5460IMG_5468

It was a few hours in when my horse all of a sudden developed this amazing sassy attitude, overtaking other horses, strutting around etc. When we were done and we jumped off the horses, mine kind of took off. I think forever. It just ran across the road and completely ran away. Sorry buddy – I am not sure what I did but I am completely to blame for that!

After our horse riding, we had bike riding! Almost the entire group was ready to go mountain biking down the mountain and through Cusco. I am not entirely sure why it took over an hour to get people ready to go, but it was annoying as hell (I know, tourist gripe #4546) and our American buddy was flying out that afternoon so he eventually had to bail and head off, we were losing family members at a rapid pace and it sucked. Our Peru family was amazing, it was small but it was amazing. The mountain biking eventually started and it was amazing, we had been told that it was completely down hill and some of us were still pretty sick and we were still at altitude and I was still breathing like some emphysema stuck-in-space Gravity extra.

These were stuffed peppers. Stuffed PEPPERS. Dear Lord.

We did have to go uphill at one point. I am not entirely sure what happened but the breathing difficulty and then the altitude and the going up hill on a bike somehow, I found myself freaking out. I couldn’t breathe. At all, as in could not get air into my lungs and I knew that if I calmed down it would get better but I couldn’t. Which escalated into a full on panic attack. The worse one I have ever had. It was absolutely terrifying. One minute I was walking up the hill laughing and smiling and then it changed. Jemma saw me from probably 20m away and she knew what was up (you’re the best Jem xx), she acted pretty quickly, rallied the troops. I dropped the bike and dropped to the ground. Jemma was in front of me telling me to breathe, Monica was behind me and Hannah, oh Hannah, my lifesaver!!

IMG_5472Hannah was a paramedic and she was QUICK! The breaths weren’t coming, I was crying, I felt like I was choking and I was in the middle of a panic attack. Hannah had me answering questions which were kind of working. Then she asked me my Mum’s name, which I responded to but then (and this was almost like slow motion), she asked me my Dad’s name, Jemma’s face dropped, she did the “no – not this q”) face – cue brand new anxiety attack and tears! After a simple 1-10 counting exercise, it was all well and good.

IMG_5474We finished our bike ride, we ended up finishing the ride in pouring, I mean POURING rain and it was the most fun any of us had had in over a week. It was amazing, we did accidentally forget Claire – that part was terrible. When we all made it to the end we were high-fiving and cheering and basically acting like an American football team which has won some college football thing (we road bikes in the rain, look-out!). We took our group photos (wish I had one!). As we started to pack up, poor drenched Claire appeared. Oh my god, the feeling of group-guilt was palpable – so we took more group photos, but it felt wrong, it felt dirty and cheap haha. Sorry Claire!!!

We got back, five of us decided that irish car-bombs were in order (where CAN’T you find an Irish pub I ask you? Not Cusco!) and then off for our last Cusco dinner!


Peruvian Pedicures

IMG_8974-1Peruvian Pedicures

13 February 2014

Now, something I have forgotten to write, because truth be told, I am not 100% sure when this happened but it WAS in Cusco and it was terrifying, Jemma and I had been on holiday for a few weeks now and we had been sporting pretty hard (Jemma and I share different views on this terminology – but you get that with fiercely athletically competitive kiwi’s. ‘Sporting’ as far as I am concerned is anything that requires me to wear sports pants, or a sports bra or anything that is not thongs. So for a few weeks we had been trekking around (again Jemma, I am sorry about my view on extreme sport hehehe) and our feet were, les than glamorous. They were….not good. So, when our amazing Guide, Monica advised that we, yes, Jemma and I, could indeed – get a PEDICURE in Cusco, well…..we almost cried with happiness. You should not be able to scratch one foot with the other!!

When our bus got in, Monica told us to grab our $ and head downstairs as her friend would take us to her nail salon for pedicures. I’ll say it, Jemma and I were smug as sh*t as we walked out past our other tour buddies….that’s right ladies, WE are getting pedicures! Cop that! This tiny lady met us and walked us up the streets (also, Cusco has super cute streets) and into an arcade type thing. We walked into a shop front, it was dark, but hey, we were VIP after all. It was when we had to step through a clothes rack and behind a door into the back of a shop that things started to get weird. Or maybe it was when we saw a small family (presumably the ladies family???) preparing their dinner. The lady opened another door and pointed up some very steep, wooden steps – maybe it was when we were staring up these steps into somebodies ATTICK that we should have put two and two together. Or maybe women will do anything for a mini makeover. Either way, we were complete idiots. Because we went up the stairs. It’s like we have actually learnt nothing. It was a man, we would have said no. So why did we think we were safe? I mean, we were, but we didn’t know that!

We trailed up the stairs and were sat down in what can only be described as part attic, part-somethingfrommynightmares. It became pretty apparent that this was NOT a nail salon. I had already mentally changed my mind on the third or fourth step up, so Jemma was the sacrificial nail-goat because Monica had referred us to this lady and we didn’t want to be rude. Jemma placed her feet in a tub and we waited about ten minutes. In silence, in this attic. The lady came back, boiled a kettle and poured some water in the tub for Jemma. Then she left. I kid you not it was over 20 minutes before she appeared again. When she came back she put some salts or something into the luke warm, still water with Jemma’s feet, told us the other lady was running late and said sorry a fair bit. After another half hour in silence, Jemma and I had planned our escape – we were going to bolt. It was dark, we had no idea where we were, we had been there for over an hour, we were cold and we did NOT know what the hell was happening.

Just as we threw our thongs on and headed back downstairs, the lady re-appeared with another woman. By then we were in a pretty awkward situation, did we continue to leave and give $50 soles and bail? Or did we stay? It was ridiculous but we stayed. Jemma had what can only be described as the worst pedicure in history (it’s hard to relax when you are in an attic and scared) and we were out. We went back to our apartment, showered and started drinking.

NB: Live a little, but be smart about it, we didn’t end up dead but it’s the type of story you read on and go ‘what a couple of stupid idiots’.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

12 February 2014
Day 1
IMG_5429This morning out wake up call was at 4am and breakfast was a piece of bread with some jam (can’t expect a kitchen to be in full force at the devils hour). It was drizzling rain as we walked to the bus stop but who cared?!? We were going to MACHU PICCHU!!!!! Once we got to the bus station we had about half an hour or so I dodging the droplets before we climbed on buses amongst the masses of people (thus the early rising). A half hour to forty minute bus ride, in the dark and in the rain up the mountain was actually quite nice. It made it way more mysterious as to what it was, because we couldn’t see the ruins as we went up.

IMG_0181Upon arriving, we got our tickets and made our way through the dog and mist and started climbing the stairs. The altitude is such a bitch!! When we made it to the first look out though and the mist and fog cleared, it actually took my breath away. It was astoundingly beautiful and as it was before 6am there were barely any people. Absolutely gorgeous. IMG_0195

We had an explanation by our local guide for around half an hour and took our group photo as well as saw our tour manager Monica tell at a couple of horrible Australian tourists who were just being complete yobbo wankers and disrespectful in such an amazing place. Have some respect, you’re embarrassing the rest of us!!

We then spent another couple of hours walking around the ruins and hearing explanations from our guide. Machu Picchu is beautiful. I can’t wait to go back. We went in February so there is no option to do the inca trek as it is closed for maintenance. Although I definitely felt the burn in my legs and bum just from walking up and down the steps at the ruins. IMG_0206

We were told all about the most important parts of the site such as the Temple of Three Windows, the ceremonial baths and the alter. We were told the Machu Picchu is believed to have been the country retreat for the wealthy Inca’s.

A group of us hit the eatery at the bottom and HARD. Our tiny breakfast and huge work out meant we were starving. Jemma had a beer which was well rewarded and even then it was only 9 or 9:30 and we felt like we had been up for five days. We made it back to town and had coffees and then soon enough it was time to get back on the train and head back to Olyamtambambo. Once we got back we started our journey back to Cusco.

IMG_0219IMG_0231Monica rallied the troops and we had dinner at an american diner type restaurant in Cusco. Huge burgers and fries and delicious drinks. On closer inspection though, all of the burgers were veal and I don’t eat veal. So I had the pumpkin party vego burger which was monstrous and absolutely amazing delicious.

No trip out for me because after our 4am wake up call and activity filled day in the morning, heading home and sleeping seemed like an amazing option! A few of us walked home in the freezing rain and a small kid with finger puppets followed me home, trying to make a sell. I was legitimately out of money and had not much use for finger puppets. He asked where I was from and I told him Australia and he listed the current Prime Minister, the last Prime Minister, most of our national animals etc. It was pretty amazing. But no finger puppets kid. It was nice to have someone walk me home though!

Settled into bed, still finding it hard to believe that we could possibly be done with Machu Picchu. Had it really gone by that fast???

The Sacred Valley & Ollantaytambo, Peru

Ollyantaytambo & Agues Calientes

11 February 2014

IMG_9992Day 1

This morning we piled onto our coach with 11 new people, plus two shamans but zero extra seats – time to make our way to the Sacred Valley of the ancient Incas! We had been given duffle bags to use for the next two nights as our suitcases were too large for where we were going and it basically encouraged you to only pack the basics. The Sacred Valley of Peru was the heart of the Inca;s agricultural setting and an important ceremonial region, with the sacred site of Cusco at one end and Machu Picchu at he other and many, many spiritual sites in between, including our first stop.

Our first stop was at Sacsayhuaman (Sexy Woman) where we went through a cleansing ritual where we were all given three coca leaves each and then had to shut our eyes and focus on our three wishes for the three leaves. The head shaman went around and blessed us one by one and his wife rang a tiny bell and also repeated a message. All in all it was pretty interesting. Although when it was done and after your leaves had been cleansed, you were meant to pass them back to the shaman and he would wrap them up in a blessed cloth and bury them for the pacha mamma (Mother Earth). When it was done I turned to Jemma and she had a rather startled look on her face.

IMG_0015Turns out she had dropped her leaf and it was under her shoe and it was too late to give it to the sharman and it was just super Jemma. It was hilarious. She pocketed it away in her purse so she could take it on a pilgrimage an maybe leave it at Machu Picchu. It started to pour rain and we piled back onto the bus. Olyamtambo was only an hour and a half from Cusco but we had quite a few stops to go.  It was also absolutely freezing. The bus was totally packed bar one seat and as I was the sick freak I was pretty much guaranteed my own seat.


At one point there was vicuna/llama feeding and education on how many types of potatoes there were in Peru. With corn and potatoes and quinoa – I am pretty sure Peru has all of the necessary foods.

IMG_9987Our next stop was Pisac ruins. Which were awesome and the view was spectacular but I had to sit down the bottom like a giant loser because the altitude and the sickness had me wheezing and coughing like some sick dog that needed to be put out of my misery (and everyone else’s).

I think the thing that is really sticking with me is that the Peruvian people and the Ketchwa people were so spiritual and so meticulous in the way that they prepared their dead and the way they protected their culture and passed their rituals down (from building to food preparation and sacrifices to the pacha mamma) that the Fact that the Spanish just rolled in an absolutely DESTROYED everything they could is just bewildering. I can say that comfortably without an racist undertones because it has happened in every country – Australia certainly is not without fault or shame.

IMG_0006Next we stopped in the town of Pisac for empanadas, these delicious pastry filled goodies. Spinach and cheese, chicken and veggies, just cheese etc. Really beautiful. We also visited a gorgeous silver shop and I had my eye on a few things but the budget said a very loud ‘no’. Grabbed an alpaca scarf and an alpaca pink jumper for my soon-to-be-born niece and a pretty green necklace for myself. Jemma and I found a place for beer and then we were back on the bus!

IMG_0023Our next stop was in a small town not far from our final destination and we tried “chicha     de jora” which is a local beer, or rather  a nightmarish “traditional” beverage made from fermented maze (hmmmm delicious). We all piled into a small shack which had a room out the back full of Guinean pigs all squeaking and running around having a great time. Until we remembered they are not pets and are a delicacy. There was also a huge range of corn for us to eat. The size of the corn kernals in Peru is amazing, in comparison to our tiny sweet corn back home. Some had been cooked, some had been puffed (those ones were DELICIOUS), some were spicy. A way better alternative to beer nuts! The first beer, tastes like vinegar but I’m sure we tried it in its first stage? There was also a strawberry version which was apparently ok for children to drink. IMG_0050

Finally we all piled back onto the bus and headed off to our final destination. As we were heading along we started to realise that we were in the Sacred Valley and it was absolutely beautiful, completely magical and gorgeous to look at. To Igo from the plains around Arequipa and Cusco to the Valley – perfect! Perfect and many, many quotes from Emporers New Groove. Which by the way is an amazing movie :). IMG_0034

As we drove into Ollantaytambo – the last fully functioning Inca town. and saw the town square and the cobbled roads and the VIEW from our hotel, it was amazing. Our hotel was right at the bottom of these ruins and we figured we would try climbing them. We were in the whole group but the local guide we had was a tad long winded, which is amazing in terms of detail but not so amazing when the sun is on it’s way down and you know you have like a five minute window to harness energy to even give it a crack. There was six or ace of us who just darted ahead. I knew that I would be lucky to get to one set of stairs but by some miracle I got to the top with the rest of them.IMG_0051

IMG_0085The view was pretty amazing. This tiny town set in between three gorgeous mountains. Not hard to imagine how instanely gorgeous it would have been back before modern construction and with the sun rising over the mountains.  We headed down to the hotel for showers and unpacking and of course the power points and wifi which is so much more freely available now when you travel! My first big trip overseas I didn’t even take my phone and even computers were hard to come by! You do have to try and be mindful not to be completely obsessive about it though. It is always good to let your loved ones know that you’ve made it to your next destination and I’ve been checking in with home because my sister has a baby on the way during my absence.

IMG_0055We had a pre ordered dinner at the cafe right across the road from our hotel. Quinoa soup and chicken casserole and Pisco sours. Delicious. We thought we would be having chocolate brownies but we were given apple muffins instead. Who can resist an apple muffin takeaway for late night snacking?? Jemma had a bottle of red wine and Monica had cards and we were ready to hang out at the hotel. A game or two of uno (first time player, first time winner thanks!) and then a suggestion for “heads up” which is apparently an application similar to celebrity heads.

IMG_0110We had to wait for the app to load so we went with the old school celebrity heads you play as a kid with the name on a piece of paper and the yes or no questions. This version sent some of the more “modern, i-Child” participants in to meltdown mode. A pen and paper and yes or no question? What the fuck was the world coming to without an iPhone app doing it for all of is?!?!? ;). Eventually the app loaded and I’ll admit the heads up game is a lot of fun but turns out I’m great at guessing but not great at clue giving. Also Jemma and I were not on the same team and we read each other like books so that was hilarious. Eventually the wine and the exhaustion set in and it was bed time.

IMG_0124Day 2

Woke up feeling dreadful, again. Being sick on a trip you’ve waited two years for is absolute balls but you don’t want to ruin things for anyone so you try your best to just get on with it. Jemma, I and about 8 other people in our group had signed up for river rafting. I hadn’t done it in Austria and normally water sports are against my own travel policy because I just don’t know what kind of urgent medical attention is at my disposal when overseas. And yes, I do expect to fuck myself up.  We had a two hour drive on a tiny bus up to the part of the river we started our rafting on. Some people on our bus had decided that while we were experiencing gorgeous scenery and a beautiful overseas holiday, that it would be a perfect time to discuss disgustingly raciat and uneducated comments about our home country. Honestly. If you want to be a dick about politics or religion, can you maybe fuck off and join a group or chat room or something and not expose everyone else to your ignorance? Thanks.

IMG_0133Once we geared up for rafting and saw how busy the river was, due to the crazy raining and flooding that poor old Peru had been experiencing, we were pumped. We donned our amazingly sexy wetsuits and helmets and piled onto our boats. Rafting was fun. We would have spent two hours or so on the boat, hit some 3 and 4 rapids and really got into it. Lots of fun!!! At one point our instructor leapt onto the other boat when we weren’t looking and left us to navigate. We managed it though. We did have one person on the boat who refused to paddle because she wanted to take pictures instead (this isnt a scenic river cruise love) and just completely stopped paddling as we had been told to forward hard. So that was fun! It was very pretty and a lot of fun. We got back to our hotel and had about an hour to shower and change for our train ride up to Agues Calientes (the town nearest to Machu Picchu).

IMG_9706The train ride was through the lush mountains to Aguas Calientes which is the town at the base of the ruins. The cute as rickety little train (which is most certainly NOT the same as the Posh looking Peru Rail) had four to a table area. I had an impressively surly old German woman sitting across from me who basically slid down in her seat and took up all of the leg room and even when I tried to accommodate her selfishness, she still glared at me and tried pushing me. Not sure where the fuck she expected to put my legs, up her arse perhaps?? Least I had Kate next to me! Of course some good music and the view helped :).

IMG_9707We got into Aguas Calientes at around 6 or 7 and I had a bad case I the Sads. My flu had mutated into something bastardly and thank god we had a pharmacist on our trip who had gone with Jem and Monica and gotten me non-pinicillin antibiotics. However, it was going to take a while to kick in and I was miserable and sick and struggling and ended up bawling my eyes out in reception. The flu / home sick / helplessness kicks in. I probably needed a good cry though. Monica hugged me and told me no more crying because tomorrow was Machu Picchu and there was no way a case of the Sads were going to ruin that for me (or the rest of the group). We went to dinner and we steamed / Gordon Blue’d and drank amazing red wine.  Bed time for a few hours sleep before our 4am wake up call for our trip to Machu Picchu.

Hooray, 4am!!!!!! 🙂 🙂

Cuzco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

10 February 2014

IMG_9957Day 1 Today our tour manager advised that we had a pretty long day on the bus as we were travelling from Puno to Cusco. Surprisingly we had slept as the festival and the marching band underneath our hotel windows only lasted a short while. Jem and I managed to make breakfast which is a feat all on its own because by the time we get up and both manage to pack and use the bathroom we are well and truly out of time for breakfast.  Some of the hotels in Peru have very basic breakfasts (fruit, eggs with chopped up sausage, hard bread rolls). Every now and then though you will hit the jackpot and there will be eggs and soft bread (my tube of Vegemite is getting a good work out!! – thanks to my wonderful boyfriend 🙂 ).

IMG_9959Coming down from altitude as we made our way from Puno down to Cusco was almost an immediate change in terms of the sinus and head pressure from the altitude. My ears started to unblock. We stopped not too far from Puno, maybe an hour or so out of town and we visited a small town and just about wiped out one shop of all it’s water and medicine. Some medicine purchases were legit, some medicine purchases involved 300 tablets of Valium equivalent. Good luck getting that back into your country mate :).

IMG_9942We hit the road again and we were on our way to Cusco. The town we stopped in was a village called Pukara, named after a pre-Inca civilisation. The village is renowned for artistic ceramic bulls which are symbols for protection and prosperity, they adorn the roofs of houses in the village. I was lucky enough to win a twin set of these bulls – which sadly did not make the journey home in my luggage. But for a good two days I felt pretty protected ;).

IMG_9966We had a stop at the sign for the third and highest point for our trip. It was called La Raya and it marks the border between the regions of Puno and Cusco, it is surrounded by the Andes and is absolutely stunning as you can see the Peruvian altiplano (the widest point of the Andes). We then visited some Incan ruins after our delicious lunch of bread rolls with avocado and cheese and play time with vicunas and llamas.

IMG_9969The town was called Sicuani and then headed onto Raqchi. Raqchi was an important ceremonial site for the Inca’s and it is famous for being the home to the only remaining two-storey Inca walls. It also possesses one of the larges single structures of the ancient incan empire, the Temple of Wiracocha.

We spent a couple of hours walking amongst these structures and then for the sinners among our group, we were ‘blessed’ and ‘cleansed’ with this pure water. Not enough water in the world, hey Jem? ;).IMG_9965

We checked into our super adorable hotel, with gorgeous views from our rooms out over Cusco, went and had delicious dinner – loaded this poor lady full of laundry etc and slept!

Day 2 This morning we had a walking city IMG_9972tour of Cusco. Not everyone made the tour due to their partying the night before ;). We started off with a museum which, although structurally interesting as it was the original inca buildings, I just could not concentrate.

IMG_9941Our guide was not someone who was entirely engaging and museums bother me when I have to go at a group pace. Especially with questions etc. I like to (when I go to museums) go in at my own pace and look at what I want to look at. I stuck around for the start where we went to San Blas, Calle Hatunrumiyoc and visited the Plaza de Armas. Adorable pedestrian streets with Inca walls where huge stones were precisely carved to fit together without any mud or concrete, it is actually amazing! The elite lived in this stone houses and there is barely a gap to be seen.

IMG_9949In an interesting twist, the Spanish that seemed so hell bent on completely wiping out this culture of people, actually kept some of these walls as the foundations for their buildings (post-conquest of course).

I started to crave a bit of alone time, I get really claustrophobic, so…being really anti-cultural, I ducked out. I needed a coffee and some quiet time. You know, drink coffee, people watch – write postcards. It’s a rare occasion that I forget to write or send postcards two weeks into a trip! After the museum we were taken to a little place to eat empanadas, which I skipped because I was full of coffee.

They looked a bit samosa-ish though. A few of us mentioned that it felt like beer o’clock. Our tour then took is through the San Pedro market and Monica, being worlds GREATEST tour guide took my poor one arm missing sunglasses and had them fixed and basically refused payment.IMG_9688

We would have been completely lost without Monica, I love her. The markets took a great turn through cheese and bread and then a very bad turn through the dead animal section. There was no warning and about four of us steamrolled our way through the rest of it. One minute you are wondering in the many varieties of “corms” (corn) and then – pow! animal heads and carcases for days! Hooray!! We had a couple of unsuspecting vegetarians and I tell you what, I happily eat meat and I almost passed out. Different strokes for different folks….

IMG_9689Next stop was a chocolate “factory” (shop) and we sampled chilli hot chocolates and cocoa plant infused tea. We were meant to head over to the llama factory (wool not meat thankfully) but it was all starting to feel a bit rushed and less holiday.

So four of us decided on staying on at the chocolate place. Ate brownies and then went on the hunt for postcards and stamps for said postcards. A search for a burger for one of us led to a wonderful five our girl chat overlooking the centre square. It was nice and relaxing and made it feel like vacation. Way to be awesome at sangria Cusco.IMG_5376

We had an included dinner which was in this Italian / Peruvian fusion place.

We had quinoa soup (officially obsessed with it now), vegetable quinoa risotto and tiramisu. Along with some pretty tasty Peruvian red wine. We picked up a bottle of red wine on the way home and Jem even held my hand on the walk home. Simply because I had a bit of the case of the home sick Sads.

IMG_5402I’m someone who is always hugging my mum and stepdad when I’m home and my dog and of course being so far away from them kind of made it worse. It was like a friendship recharge button though :). Early bed for next day! I love Cusco – I would go back in a heart beat.

Our group really had developed its own heartbeat, we had a really good energy and it was amazing to share all these amazing experiences with each other. Unfortunately our tour group would be split twice over the course of our 4 week trip and would lose some amazing personalities! All part of travelling though 🙂 and memories to last a lifetime.

Puno, Peru

20140803-160825-58105502.jpg Lake Titicaca, the Floating Islands & Taquile Island

7 February 2014

After a night of maybe two or three hours sleep, we were up at 6am to get ready for our day on Lake Titicaca. A place I have wanted to go since I was probably mid teens. I think I was watching a doco on the Galapagos Islands and Peru and Lake Titicaca and just knew I had to go!

20140803-160824-58104605.jpgThere was no sign of the sleet/ice storm and torrential rain from the night before and the weather was gorgeous. Cool but clear skies and big fluffy clouds in the sky. Our local guide told us that we would be making our way to the lake in limousines. I grossly misunderstood what this meant. This, in Puno, is a two person seat with a cute little roof and a guy riding the bike around. It took ten or fifteen minutes and was actually pretty fun. The manual labour of the guy riding the bike seemed to fair better than the motorized tricolo we had taken in Chivay two days earlier!

20140803-160724-58044959.jpgWe made it to the lake and bought toys for the children who live on Uros floating islands. Monica had told us that toys and small gifts were appreciated but to avoid giving lollies and chocolate because they aren’t very practical and not healthy. Jem and I bought two packets of coloring pencil, a recorder (the international most hated instrument for parents but loved by children) and some colorful balls. We jumped on our boat for our half our boat ride to the floating islands.

The floating islands are an maxing. There isn’t really anything earthing 20140803-160725-58045844.jpgthem and the are basically earth which is bound together and then up to 25 layers of reeds are piled on top. Also the houses they live in need to be set upon even more reeds because it is so damp, most of the families living there develop rheumatism. They also need to be careful in the dry season (winter) because if they are cooking and ash or a flame catches the island, the whole thing can burn right up. It took us all a few minutes to get our sea legs. I think it took a few of is girls 0.2seconds to spot one of the cutest children we had ever seen and were instantly mesmerized. Big brown eyes, shiny black hair in little pigtails and the pinkest cheeks you ever saw. She was divine.20140803-160436-57876563.jpg

We took our places on the reed bundles around our local guide and the Island President. We were welcomed to the island and we were given an explanation of how the houses float and how they are built and then we were given a welcome song by both the men and the women. It was our turn to sing and I’m ashamed to say the only thing we could come up with was “if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”. Also, I only remembered the first verse. Smooth moves group! Us girls were then dressed up in the local gear and hats (very fetching, let me tell you!) and took our group photos and yes, there were cuddles with that little girl. My heart was a big soppy mess she was so cute. As the families are sharing an island and there doesn’t appear to be a lot of privacy, we were curious about adult alone time. We were told that there is a reed boat which can be used by couples seeking some intimacy in private. The President told us that the saying is that two people leave on the boat and three people come back :). Cute baby story.

20140803-160528-57928201.jpgSoon enough it was time to say goodbye and make it to our next island, where we could get out passports stamped for 1 sole.

We passed out more of our gifts to the five children on that island and this one little girl looked like she was going to fall over carrying her new dolls house toys and coloring pencils and coloring books but there was this look of determination in her face, leave no gift behind! One of the ladies also had a baby strapped to her back and it was like maternal instinct took over for half of us and we just went baby stupid. DISCLOSURE: Jemma would be incredibly disappointed if I failed to mention that she was NOT one of us.

20140803-160525-57925793.jpgWe piled back onto our boat and started our two hour boat journey across Lake Titicaca to Taquile Island. Two hours is a long time on a slow boat but thanks to those two hours each way, I’ve managed to update these blog entires! Win! As we approached the island, our local guide pointed out the mountains of Bolivia across the lake, it was a clear day so they were easier to see. It puts things into perspective! Especially coming from a country as big as Australia!

20140803-160526-57926719.jpgWe pulled into the island and it was immediately breathtaking. Just simply gorgeous, mostly untouched by modern machine or polluted by modern society. Our local guide explained that we had a half hour walk UP to our stop. Now, for us who are not dealing with the altitude, that was a big ask. Most of the group powered ahead but there were a few of us huffing and puffing and moving slower than snails. The higher we got, the more beautiful it became. We were me half way by two adorable little girls who immediately started scoping out our tell-tale red plastic bags from the mainland shop (with toys and gifts!). They were also selling wrist bands and Jem and I bought each other adorable friendship bracelets (they should stay on longer than our Cleveland Rock n Roll Hall of Fame entry wrist bands). We continued up the hill and eventually made it to flat ground. Once we caught our breath and turned around, we lost it all over again by the view. It was just gorgeous. We took our seats and received a warm welcome demonstration song and dance and pipe playing. 20140803-160503-57903247.jpgWe had many curious faces scoping us out. Many, many friendly faces and smiling children and adults. Our local guide helped to translate the welcome message from our hosts. We learnt all about the different hats the men wear (married, single, girlfriend, still a child). We learnt all about how the men knit the hats and women weave and the men knit with FIVE knitting needles. It’s pretty impressive! We learnt all about the culture of finding a partner and the gorgeous way a shy man might let the girl he is interested in know how he feels. It involves some secret squirrel following of the lady until one day he has enough privacy to pick a small pebble up and throw it at her gently (yes we had to clarify this). If the girl throws the pebble back then you have yourself a date! If not, then you have been rejected and you don’t try again (a mans pride is universal). Also, the people of the island are entitled to be boyfriend/girlfriend or fiancé and see how it goes for a few years before they get married. Marriage is final. There is no divorce so you better be confident in your choice.

20140803-160505-57905158.jpgWe were then pulled up one by one for a festive dance and it was so much fun, even though I was the last girl on the log. Like the last girl at the dance. Ah well. The older lady who did come and rescue my abandoned, not-dancing self was lots of fun and we had a suburb time dancing away. Although at altitude I will say it went for far too long haha. The little children were so gorgeous as they shyly approached us and selected who they would like to dance with. It may have been the cutest thing I’ve ever been a part of.

Next thing! Lunch! Delicious bread and coca/mint tea and salsa with quinoa soup and fresh grilled fish and omelette. It was amazing. After our meal our guide brought the two ladies who had prepared for us and as they were speaking (in manchwa) they both got really shy and it was pretty cute. Very sweet.

20140803-160504-57904157.jpgWe spent the last forty minutes or so playing soccer (by we I mean not me), with Locals vs. Gringos as our local guide said. It was a pretty full on game. The three kiwis were playing for blood haha. It was a fair match though. Grown adults verse mostly small children. Lots of fun. Soon it was time to say goodbye and I just was not ready. It was such a happy, relaxed and beautiful place. Land as nature intended it to be. No concrete jungle. No traffic jams or honking. No pollution. We had group photos and I took my hat off for the photo and a few of the children all pointed to my hair (red probably isn’t seen much here!) and talking among themselves and one of the little girls ran over and held my hands and stood in front of me for the photo. The whole time staring up at me smiling or holding my hands on her cheat and just playing with my thumbs. It was very cute and it was followed by a very warm hug and a big smile. She was gorgeous. They all were.

20140803-160435-57875596.jpgWe had cuddles and some of the smaller ones collapsed into your arms and started showing you all their new toys. I think there were a few of us on either side who were ready to say goodbye! We said the traditional goodbye and thank you and then we headed off for our walk back along the coastline of the island. The other side of the island reminded me a lot of the Whitsundays, which is my favourite place on earth back home. A little bit of home sickness but more just an appreciation of what a truly amazingly wonderful day we had experienced. I will definitely say that since our arrival into Chivay in the Colca Canyon and away from the cities, I have really started to experience the cultural growth I was looking for. Partying and all the rest is one thing as is seeing all the tourist hot spots when you’re abroad but there is something so special about what we saw and did today and I have a very happy heart.

20140803-160437-57877471.jpgWe made our way back to Puno on another two and a half hour boat ride and headed back to the hotel. Our Puno stay was over in the morning as we were heading to Cusco. A few of us he a delicious dinner with Monica at one of her cute little locally known restaurants.

Early bed not with a crazed brass band going on until 5am. The festival was gorgeous though and the entire town lit up I think our hotel room was just in the thick of it haha.

It was going to be near impossible to beat this day in terms of rewarding and happy traveling. I loved it. Hands down, the best day traveling I have ever experienced. 🙂

Colca Canyon, Peru

20140803-120835-43715662.jpg Colca Canyon, Peru
Day 1
This morning we were up bright and early, I was still super sick and people avoiding me like the plague. Not that I blame them. Still Jem sooner rather than later! I perked up at breakfast though because there was toast and where there is toast – I can eat my beloved Vegemite. I think I had three pieces but I hadn’t eaten much the last two days and had missed the group dinners so was excited for food.

On the bus and saying goodbye to Arequipa, we headed off towards our next destination, the Colca Canyon! Our first stop was about forty minutes out-of-town to stock up on coca leaves/lollies/cookies and loads of water. Our guide Gladys had made it very clear that although we were likely to experience altitude sickness in some form or another, it would be much more apparent/worse if we failed to stay hydrated. I may have heard wrong but I think she said at least a litre of water for each 1000m? I drank so much more than that though. I was really concerned about how I was going to go in altitude with a cold.

We then stopped in the shanty towns further up the mountain and met a man who earned 5 soles a day to make these rocks from the mines. I’m unsure as to what mineral it was. It was heavily labour intensive and his only tool was a crow bar type thing. Apparently he was able to make up to 5-7 of these a day. 20140803-122016-44416936.jpgMy heart went out to him because I had a look around and all I could think about were the mines in central Queensland and how many machines are used and how much truck and machinery operators are paid. This guy used one tool and a seriously busted up wheelbarrow and he worked 14 hours a day, no food breaks (just chewing coca leaves for energy and to subside hunger and to help with altitude). He was happy to get photos with us and we tipped him and our tips added up to three or four days of work. I think it’s likely that these hard-core labour era probably work up until the day they die. No compo. No annual leave. No penalty rates and no $150k a year jobs for driving a truck back and forth.

20140803-122016-44416021.jpgNext we started our crawl higher up. We stopped for a bit as a truck had collided with another truck on this hair pin turn coming down the mountain. It looked pretty nasty. Most of us took the opportunity to have a bathroom break in the hills by I guess in our excitement to be off the bus we A) forgot about the altitude and B) forgot about cool temperature outside. From sweating in Lima and then facing milder temperatures in Arequipa to icy wind in the mountains was pretty cool.

Another hour or so and we had reached our lunch spot which was at just over 3000m. Monica had arranged packed lunches for us so like eager little school kids we stumbled towards the eating area, all feeling a tad drunk on altitude. Except Jemma who had possibly overdosed on coca. Coca lollies and coca leaves and coca cookies she was ready to go. We ate our delicious packed lunches and saved left overs for any kids we saw along the way. The kids here are on school holidays and so they work out on their properties with the llamas and alpacas. Sometimes they walk two hours there and back. All on foot and these kids would be 12 and under. Again, we take a lot for granted back home. How many kids chuck a wobbly because their mum asks them to take the rubbish bin out?

We then reached the highest point at over 4000m and you could FEEL it. It was so quiet and it felt compressed, if that makes any sense. Breathing was harder for most, I wasn’t too bad because I was already pretty sick. It was also really cold. A wake up call for me that we would be needing jackets and perhaps the things wouldn’t cut it anymore ;).

20140803-122017-44417843.jpgAs we drove towards Chivay, Gladys explained to us the different breeds of alpacas up in the highlands. We were lucky enough to stop a few times for some amazingly scenic photos with them. We also saw some llamas about an hour up the road and we stopped for photos and three little children were there looking after them. The eldest boy, no more than 10 or 11 picked up a baby llama who was the cutest thing you EVER saw and brought her over to us. We traded the left over lunch for photos and pats and we couldn’t have been happier.

20140803-120834-43714721.jpgNext stop, Chivay! I bought mittens and Jem bought leg warmers. You know if your friend from the South Island of NZ is cold, that it’s cold. We then tried Peruvian Donuts (yum) and some other fruit from the stalls and jumped on little tricolos for a race up the hill to our next stop. Our poor tricolo was suffering and we were second last and that was only due to a bus overtaking us and the last one. Some of our group went to the hot springs and about six of us went zip lining. Zip lining is something I always wanted to do but at the same time I would have probably enjoyed it a bit more if I wasn’t a walking tissue of sickness. It was really beautiful though and I am absolutely not good at it. The only thing you have to be good at is breaking and I completely sucked at it haha.

20140803-154223-56543198.jpgNext stop was to our Colca Canyon lodge which was quite rural, down a rocky, unsealed road. It was gorgeous though. Our rooms were comfortable if not really basic and I thought us Gen Y’s were going to go into meltdown over the no wifi but to be honest I was so ready for sleep. We had a delicious dinner and tried alpaca and then sat around the fire place for a bit. We were also held hostage in the hallway by the half alpaca, half llama which we had been warned off. It was hilarious actually. This whole trip I have wanted a llama-selfie and so far it’s not really worked in my favour. I think Cusco will be my chance!

Early bed because we were up at 5am to explore the Colca Canyon!

20140803-154224-56544098.jpgDay 2
This morning we woke up in our rustic lodge in Colca Canyon and had left the hotel by 6am. Our tour manager and tour guide had told us that it would be the longest day on the road for us. The sight at 5:30am was almost worth it as one of the volcanos in the distance which is still active was smoking and it was a perfectly clear day. No sign of the allegedly hostile Allama on sight.

20140803-154222-56542285.jpgWe jumped on the bus and made our way to the Colca Canyon, our first stop being a small hike out to a couple of look-ours before making our way to where the condors can be seen. By the time we had our first few stops and took some amazing photos it was still only 7:30am. It was also really cool to see the countryside and see where the Andean people live, it was starting to feel like a real holiday. Cities kind of feel the same everywhere so I was glad to be out in the canyon.

20140803-154225-56545657.jpgOur stop for the condors saw us one very relaxed looking condor just hanging out. The tourists were crazy. People perched out over rock ledges all to get the best photo. Had they realised they could walk 10m to the right they would have had a ether view like I did ;). Some idiot was whistling and trying to call the wild animal ad get it’s attention. There is always one or one group of tourists who just take the title of travelling dickhead. I mean, here we are in this absolutely beautiful area. It’s quiet, it’s beautiful and we are lucky enough to observe the worlds second largest bird and you have some absolute wanker ruining it for everybody. Apparently the lady he was with who had also been whistling at the bird ended up throwing rocks at the bird to see if it would fly. I didn’t see it but there was a lot of shouting. These are the same people who tap on the glass of pet shops where there is a big “DO NOT TAP GLASS“, for their own gratification. Yes you might get the photo you want but you’re ruining it for everyone and the condors will wise up and not come back. You’re an idiot.

20140803-154049-56449508.jpgBack on the bus for our drive back to Chivay, with a quick stop in Maca along the way. We had the opportunity to dress up in the traditional dress which almost all of the girls took advantage of. Some of the photos came out ok. Though all of us twirling in one direction at altitude for a photo was a bad choice! Also had the chance to try the Coca Sour which is made from the prickly pear fruit. Similar to a kiwi but more bitter. Really nice though.

20140803-154047-56447767.jpgWe made it to Chivay and had our buffet lunch, guinea pig (coy) included. It definitely wasn’t for me. I had every intention of trying it but all I could hear was mum saying “it’s a giant rat”. Took a bit to swallow it without gagging. That may have had something to do with the hair and teeth still on the guinea pig though!

20140803-153902-56342773.jpgOn the bus for our four or so hours to Puno. We reached altitude again and something amazing happened! There was snow and I have never seen it before. Jem being the most awesome friend anyone could ever have had organized for our bus to stop briefly to play in the snow. It was AMAZING. There wasn’t just snow but it was actually snowing so I experienced for five minutes the pleasure of snow. I absolutely loved it, could not wipe the smile off of my face. Thanks Jem :).

20140803-154048-56448677.jpgOur local guide Gladys who we had grown to love over the last three days left us at the top and we continued on to Puno. We still had quite a few hours to our destination so watched a Mexican/Spanish movie which was really good until it ended and then Monica, our guide had a bus full of altitude sick, blubbering idiots.

20140803-153903-56343625.jpgWe picked up our new local guide in the city just outside of Puno and he told us all about the black market and easy and cheap access to drugs thanks to Bolivia. He was smiling while he told us so I’m unsure as to whether he is really friendly or was hinting.

20140803-153904-56344448.jpgAs we drove into Puno we were hit with this crazy ice/hail storm. The streets looked like they were full of snow and the bus was caked in this slushy ice water. Our walk from the bus in the freezing rain and pouring cold and flooded streets was hilarious.

We had dinner locally and then spent the night not sleeping as there is some festival going on this weekend in town. All part of the experience I guess!!

I swear if I could get a hold of that music on a  cd I would haunt Jemma with it, in a similar fashion to that iPhone ringtone that haunts me from our first night in LA!!!

Arequipa, Peru

20140803-120136-43296307.jpgDay 1
This morning I woke up a big disgusting mess. Worse than the precious two days. Had the shakes yet was boiling, couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t breathe through my nose and was blowing my nose every minute. Poor Jem got no sleep either. Packing our suitcases was hard. I had my “I wish I was home” pants on. Which I think isn’t so much negative as it is normal when you are sick and you are overseas and trying to go to the pharmacy turns into a nightmare. Anyways. Made it downstairs to get on the bus and most people took one look at me and took a wide step back. I wasn’t the only one though. One of the girls on our trip who had been in Mexico for two weeks had eaten something the night before and had come down and hard. From the time we left the hotel, to when we arrived at Lima International Airport she had gone from bad to the evil stepmother of worse. We almost lost her during check in as she was so sick. Monica had to take her to see the GP before our flight to see if anything would help.

I felt like my head was going to explode on the plane thanks to my congested sick face. I went through a giant box of tissues on the plane. I was not happy. I wanted to scratch my own eyes out they were so inflamed. All I could think was great, my sickness is going to ruin another holiday.

The flight to Arequipa was just I’ve an hour. Jemma scored a guy in front of her who not only had the emergency row (and therefore more leg room), but had both seats next to him free (more everything room) but he put his seat right back only to sit forward in it and play a car racing game on full volume. These people on planes are the worst people. I think my favourite part of the flight was probably the giant box of tissues I went through in an hour and the compression of my sinuses. That was tops!!

Once we landed the girl who had been sick was met by our local guide Gladys and put straight into a taxi as there was a GP waiting for her at the hotel. I’ve got to credit our tour manager with how quickly she gets things done. It was amazing. We found out that she ended up wing admitted to hospital and actually had to spend the night due to food poisoning bacteria. The poor girl. Not that it’s even remotely the same but my cold was officially in full swing of being horrible and while we were doing our tour of Arequipa I couldn’t really focus on anything.20140803-120137-43297220.jpg

Our guide Gladys was hilarious definitely left me with a few comments which I loved:
*”Gift for boyfriend. Maybe girlfriend. Maybe just friend. Or friend you sometimes give kisses.”

*”The guinea pig we prepare is prepared whole and it is displayed spread out with head, like he is saying “eat me!”

*”We have a hot chili we call it monkey peeny”( Twenty seconds later we work out she was saying penis).

We were taken to an absolutely breathtaking lookout and tried coca leaves (no bueno). We then went to the nicest looking restaurant for lunch. I however couldn’t eat, could barely swallow water and exiled myself out onto the lawn like the infected dog I had turned into. Such a shame because the food looked AMAZING.

Straight to our hotel, Santa Rosa where I was dosed with NyQuil from our Philly tour buddy and I went straight to bed. So missed out on another night out but kept thinking if I pushed myself too far, I could end up sick for the next month.

Arequipa is very beautiful and is nestled between three volcanos and it is just visually stunning.

Tomorrow- off to Colca Canyon