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PERU | Saturday, 30 December 2017 | Views [242]

We arrived in Arequipa about 5.30am and got a taxi to our hostel (an awesome hostel with pool room, table tennis, PlayStation etc etc) and they allowed us to use all facilities (even shower and breakfast, winning!!). We then met at an awesome (albeit touristy and westernized) organic chocolate shop and craft beer place for a city walking tour. Which as usual was super informative but tiring! But nice to learn that the historic centre of Arequipa is a UNESCO site due to the influence of the native people in the buildings etc. such a beautiful city, we both really liked the vibe and cleanliness etc..We we went to the supermarket and alas ran in to Jana (from workaway)! Such a small world..we organized to meet her back at the same cafe later which was nice and we were also joined by an American guy we'd befriended as well as two aussies (one of which knew toms mates as he went to Wollongong uni..).

The next day we decided to try take it easy. Ie, we decided against doing the colds canyon and seeing the condors and we also decided against paying to get in to the monastery (overpriced at about ~$20). So we booked a bus to ica for that night (although gab accidentally booked the next night, so we went to find an office to fix said mistake). They weren't overly helpful but moving on we found a super cute place where gab got a manicure (I didn't bother 😝). The owner was so sweet and gave me cream for my itchy bites and we struggled through a conversation. So nice. We strolled along and then went to the local market for lunch  and had delicious fresh ceviche and stuffed capsicum (which was soooo spicy!). We then had a really nice coffee with our friends and then spent the afternoon/evening playing ping pong and pool and listening to the music. Then gab and I got our night bus to ica, it was such a fancy bus!! Brand new with screens on the back of the seats and pillows and blankets etc, lush!

Albeit it the fanciest bus I wouldn't say it was the most comfortable, didn't get much sleep..arrived to ica and sorted out the bus ticket situation (phew) then caught a taxi to the oasis town of huacachina. It was awesome! The tiniest town shadowed by huge sand dunes. We checked in to our hostel (bananas) which again was so lush! Living the high life 😝 a room to ourselves and the nicest common area/pool/bar..even though we were exhausted we decided to do the wine tour and follow it with the sand dunes later on. Which was a funny old decision! With 4 others we did a couple of pisco distilleries and wineries and did tastings..we weren't the biggest fan as they were either very sweet or very strong..the start was pretty chilled but then they took us to the final place and things got wild! It was an odd place, a museum of sorts (even had a mummified head that definitely looked real 😳) and drums of alcohol that they got out with bamboo. Long story short everyone got quite drunk and tthen when we got back to the hostel we had to go straight to our sand dunes tour! It was insane..good fun though because we were tipsy. The buggy out to the dunes was nuts, it went so fast and we bounced all over the place! Then we took the boards down the dunes on our bellies, the hills got bigger as we went..was sooooo fun!! Albeit a tad scary. The dunes were absolutely beautiful also, I'd never seen anything like it. We went to get some dinner with a kiwi girl we'd befriended then hit the sack early (we'd planned to stay up and watch the Peru v New Zealand football game but fell asleep!).

Next morning we enjoyed our delicious breakfast by the poolside then got a cab back to ica then a bus to Lima!! I watched a movie whilst gab slept..was pretty beautiful scenery along the coastline along the way. Once in Lima we got a cab to the hotel that was listed in the intrepid trip itinerary notes. Alas, there was no intrepid group there! The lady said it happened all the time so sent us to another one but the group wasn't there either. Eventually we checked our notes and found a different hotel address, which ended up being the right one..so frustrating! Anyways it was cool to be at a nice ish hotel! One that is never usually pay for but as part of the tour it was ok. We caught a cab in to town to meet the group as we'd missed the briefing. There were about 6 others there, all Aussie. We had a tour around Lima which was great. We checked out some catacombs which was crazy, the monks had excavated bodies and lined up skulls and hip bones etc in a kind of art work, quite weird! A beautiful church though and town square. We caught the bus back to the hotel and some of us went to get dinner but gab wasn't feeling well so headed back. The next morning we got up super early to get the plane to cusco. Super frustrating as gabs bag got lost! Eventually we discovered that it had gone to Arequipa for some stupid reason. Feeling stressed we had lunch by ourselves then had a tour with the rest of the crew followed by chocolate tasting at a chocolate museum, delicious! Really cool city..we had to be back for an inca trail briefing at 7pm. We felt really sorry for one lady who thought she'd booked the inca but had actually booked the quarry trail, she was devastated :(

Next day gabs bag finally arrived and we drove through the sacred valley and stopped at a local village. Although I hate being a massive tourist and having 'fake' experiences, this village was supported by intrepid and happy with the extra income the tourism brought. We were welcomed with colour fully dressed ladies dancing and putting Leighs around our neck. We went with them to their farming area and learnt about who they were and how they farmed. It was very touristy but still nice to get a glimpse of traditional mountain life. We had lunch and then were shown how they prepared the fiber for textiles (very interesting, they only used natural dyes like berries, bugs, leaves, lines etc). Of course that was followed by them selling us things..but I was glad to see a lot of the people on the tour buying things. We continued on to an incredible little town called ollantaytambo, the gateway to Machu Picchu. We purchased some last minute things like ponchos, snacks etc then all had dinner together. Such a lush hotel, slept like a log!

So, today we began our inca trail hike!! We joined 5 others (3 Aussies and 2 Canadians) - we were lucky to have a great group of people. Mostly young with one older, overweight retired policeman (not sure he knew what he was in for!). We met up with our porters (16 plus two chefs) and 2 guides - what a massive workforce for 11 people! I later realized that there were a lot of luxuries like a toilet tent, stools to sit on etc etc so hence the need for all the porters..again as much as I hate being a spoiled tourist at least they had jobs. It was crazy, they're so lightweight and short and they carry up to 30kilos and hike much faster than us (have to get to camp before us to cook/set up etc), crazy. Anyways! We began our hike! The first half of the day wasn't too bad, a bit of up and down..some beautiful inca ruins along the way. We reached lunch and I was surprised by the 2 courses, and the quality! A brief rest and we continued on..it rained a bit which made life tricky, we arrived at the campsite wet and buggered. And I realized I had holes in the heels of my hiking boots! So frustrating..muddy wet feet everyday. Alas our tents were already set up and we were giving a bowl of warm water to wash (again, such luxury!!). Such beautiful views from our campsite. Snack time and dinner, got to know our group a little better and played some cards..then bed!

Early the next day we were introduced to all the porters, which was nice. However as we didn't speak Quechuan (their native language), it was hard to communicate with them throughout the hike and I didn't like how separated we were from them i.e. how we ate separately etc, they felt like servants :( they also had to wait for us to finish dinner because they could relax because they slept in our food tent! Didn't feel right :( even though I knew it was still a great opportunity for them etc etc...the second day was exhausting as we climbed 1100metres 😳 I found it very challenging and had to go very slow - gab would go ahead and then wait. Which she said was a good thing as it made her go slow and appreciate! The views, vegetation, mountains, clouds, archeological ruins etc etc were all so breathtaking. More beautiful than I ever imagined, even if I was exhausted! We reached the summit, called dead woman's pass due to the shape of the mountains. Such a relief! It was beautiful, albeit cold..we were literally in the clouds! As usual we had to wait some time for bill, the older man, to catch up. Then we headed down with shaky and tired legs..but for me it was easier than up! It was tough on gabs knee but she was overall happy with how it was coping. 

Third day was the longest and in a lot of ways the toughest. We hiked about 18kms, up and down, up and down..and just before lunch it poured ! We were at the top of the biggest mountain in the clouds and boy did it bucket down. But lucky we had the tent to hide in and somehow we had a four course meal! They'd somehow (I have no idea how) baked a cake - one because it was josh's birthday and two because Peru, the night before, had qualified for the World Cup for the first time in over 30 years! So everyone was in good spirits despite the weather. We continued on in the misty rain (at least it's settled), hiking through caves, past ancient ruins, down steep and slippery steps. One castle we could unfortunately barely see because of the fog but for me it made it soooo magical. All the time, the whole trek, I felt I was in a fairy tail land or perhaps the city of Atlantis or something..it was just so unreal and beautiful. As we trekked down the landscape changed to jungle. We stopped at the last site and the clouds miraculously cleared to reveal the most spectacular view of ruins and the valley. We spent some time enjoying it and trying to befriend the resident llamas. Then, with exhausted legs, we continued down down down to our final campsite..next day Machu Picchu!!

We had to wake up at 3.30am socthat the porters could pack up to meet the next group (you'd think there'd be a day in between mainly for their sake but also for ours!). We had to sit in the dark and cold for over an hour until the gates to the final section opened. But finally at 5.30am they did and off we went! We were all joking very fast with renewed energy. And the most incredible thing was how the weather was perfectly clear today! Couldn't have been any luckier. We scaled up the monkey steps and then at 7am reached the sun gate!! For our first views of Machu Picchu. Such a magical experience. We descended down, learnt a bit of history (essentially little is still known but apparently the Quechuan people fled the sacred place because the spaniards were coming. But alas they never made it! So they left for no reason..and I can't understand why no one ever returned?). Exhausted but elated we entered the sacred site. We had to exit and re enter in order to get our passports stamped. And boy was the sun fierce now! Our tour guide showed us around and it was just mind blowing. The perfect way they'd carved the rocks and built the buildings and figured out which way was north, east, south, west etc etc..we think we're so afnavced now but what they'd achieved over 4000 years ago, and the fact that it's still in spectacular condition, is just insane. We got the bus down to the nearest town aguas caliente and shared a well deserved drink and pizza together. Talk about a big day! We then got on the train to get back to ollantaytambo, was a fancy train (1st class) and as cool as it was again I felt uncomfortable as our guides had to take 3rd class..we then boarded a bus to get back to cusco and then had the best shower ever! Beyond exhausted we'd planned to all meet for dinner and drinks. Our original intrepid crew did but unfortunately the extras didn't show up..which I was a bit disappointed about. But not to matter, it was nice to have a celebratory drink and then after the longest day ever go to bed (in a double bed, mind you!). One of the best experiences of my life, and so grateful to have shared it with gab. 

Next day we mainly relaxed, met some of the group for coffee, did some washing etc..wash an epic hail storm half way through the day, honestly looked like it'd snowed! we spent that night in the same hotel which was a luxury not to have to move straight away! Gab and I tried some soup at a vegan restaurant which was delicious..enjoyed walking around the quaint little streets of cusco! 

Next morning we rejoined two girls from our original intrepid group (they'd done the quarry trail instead) and off to the amazon we went! No rest for the wicked :P we got a flight to a town called puerto maldonado, close to the borders of Brazil and Bolivia. I was worried about it being a very touristy trip but was pleasantly surprised! The local tour guide Victor picked us up and we had fried rice wrapped up in banana leaf for lunch. Then we drove another 40mins and got a boat down river (about an hour) to our lodge, we were the only guests there!! It was an awesome boat trip, we even saw the giant rodents capybara. Once at the lodge we relaxed for a bit (beautiful little rooms, double beds yet again!) then went for a night time walk through the jungle. Saw lots of insects (including a scorpion eating a grasshopper 😳) as well as several massive tarantulas !! One was in a den with loads of babies..it made our skin crawl but was pretty awesome :P 

Next day we were woken up just after 4am by the lost ominous sound..turned out a group of howler monkeys had spent the night nearby! Pretty awesome. Breakfast at 5 then we hit the river again then hiked to an inland lake. It was great picking victors brain about the different trees and insects and things. And once again I think bar one couple we were the only people for miles!! So good. We got another boat and cruised the lake. We saw otters swimming from far away (if only I had a good camera), several different monkeys frolicking, prehistoric birds, macaws..we came across one spider monkey that had a cord on his leg so we assumed a lodge was keeping him as a pet :( victor said he'd mention it to the ranger..then we went fishing!! For piranhas 😝 I caught two straight away (felt a bit bad as I have my issues with fishing..but they seemed to be tough little things)..their teeth were amazing and these were just the small ones 😳 pretty awesome..

Later in the afternoon we chilled in the hammocks and then went for a trek through the jungle to a canopy tower. Awesome views..though sweaty to get up!!  Here again, no one for miles..We then we had a little lesson about the difference between cayman, crocs, gharials and alligators - for me it was nice to have a refresher! Then to the river again to spotlight for cayman..we only saw little ones up to 1meter but it was still an awesome experience. Particularly when victor turned off the spotlight and it was pitch black and we were literally just floating under the stars surrounded by god knows what..there was even an electric bug in the boat! Then we headed back to the lodge just by the light of the stars, one of the most magical experiences of my trip so far :) 

The next day was a massive travel day..I got up early to go for a walk on my own (both before and after breakfast - I did spot a group of wild capuchins which was awesome). I was disappointed not to see a snake or other creatures like jaguar, puma, ant eater, sloth etc however Victor said I'd need to stay there 6 months to see everything..so nevermind! What I did see was awesome. We caught the boat back, then the bus (through farmland and very poor areas..there were super skinny dogs and sharks built from plastic where people lived), then were dropped at the airport super early..so we passed some time playing cards. Eventually we got on the plane, which had to stop in cusco. Exhausted, we arrived in Lima. There was some confusion about our bags but eventually we were met by our intrepid guide, put on a massive bus (just the 4 of us) then spent the next hour in horrid peak hour traffic. I hate Peru traffic/the way they constantly beep! Drives me mad. Nonetheless we went out for some dinner as it was the girls last night (and potentially gab and I's last night together). Our hotel was in the very fancy suburb of Miraflores so it didn't feel very 'authentic' but was nice nonetheless.

The next day the girls had a late flight (including gab, who was heading back to Quito) and I'd decided to grab a bus towards Ecuador (to a mid way town called Trujillo). So we spent the morning relaxing then walked for hours looking at suburbs and this awesome art gallery. Had a coffee in a very westernized cafe then headed back..all three girls left, I had a good chat on the phone to rach then I too left to get my bus..I got an uber, got so mad about being stuck in horrid traffic once again that I opted to get out and walk the final 10minutes or so to the bus station. And off on my own again I went! Felt weird..as much as I hate overpriced tours etc it was kind of nice to have my hand held for almost two weeks!! Alas, no better way to jump back in to it again than with a night bus 😝

I arrived in trujilo in the morning with the plan to find a cafe with wifi however it wasn't that kind of place (pretty basic). So I walked along and found a local bus that was going to huanchaco. Bumped along for about half an hour then wandered the streets lost for another half an hour (although plenty of people tried to point me in the direction of my hostel, if only I spoke better Spanish 🙄). Finally found my hostel which was awesome although sadly really quiet (I felt sorry for the owners!). It was a sleepy little beach side town..but dirty and a lot of road works going on which affected the feel of the town and therefore the tourism (apparently people were leaving a lot earlier than usual). Anyways walked along the beach, had some seafood for lunch, had an afternoon nap then went for another walk and had some ice cream and watched the sun set.

Next day I went with two people from the hostel to check out the nearby 'Chan Chan' ruins. They were pretty cool!! Largest pre inca city. Made out of mud and stone (no timber), with lots of tributes to the sea (pelican carvings etc). Super hot so we didn't stay long..back in town had a cheap two course lunch then I packed my things. I got the local bus back to Trujillo which was a bit stressful as it got so packed and I had my big bag I had to literally squeeze my way out! But I did..albeit where I got dropped was nowhere near the bus station, obviously 🙄 so I had to walk for about half an hour..but all good I made it! I was headed to another coastal town further north. Unfortunately it was a stressful old night bus as the cleaner accidentally spilt the blue toilet stuff all over me and my bag. I was so mad as trying to clean it just spread it and it was everywhere 😫 though eventually I just laughed or else I'd cry.. once at mancora in the morning I spoke to something and organized for my things to be washed. So I got a tuktuk to my hostel, was dropped at the wrong hostel but finally after trudging sling the beach with my bags I found the right hostel. Literally right on the beach!! An awesome place. They even gave me breakfast 👍 feeling pretty tired I walked around the sweet touristy town and had a smoothie on the beach whilst overhearing a surf comprising on. Walking back to the hostel I noticed not one but two washed up (dead) massive sea lions! No one could tell me why..maybe bycatch (either purposefully or accidentally killed), kitesurfing injuries, old age etc.. either way I couldn't believe they were left there to rot and be eaten by the vultures, in front of all the tourists!! There was also dead fish and s very old dead turtle..

Anyways back at the hostel I ran in to Jana!! So crazy. We spent the afternoon catching up and relaxing and also befriending some others st the hostel. Had a great vibe! We enjoyed the sunset then had some beers, joined another big group at another hostel for some drinking games..unfortunately by the time we waned to go out it was late and we couldn't get in to Loki (the party hostel) but nonetheless had some more drinks at a bar on the beach with some locals. Then walked home along the beach! Fun night

Feeling a little worse for wear I mainly just relaxed today. I noticed I either lost or had my little purse stolen so that was a bit stressful. However I luckily only had my license in it and a small amount of cash..got a police report regardless so I could claim it. Also picked up my washed bag etc from the bus office..hung out with some new friends I'd made and had a super early night!

Next day I mainly just relaxed..had some fresh ceviche for lunch with two Dutch friends I made which was nice. Then later that night jana and I got the night bus to cuenca, Ecuador! New country! I knew nothing about Cuenca but just decided to tag along. It was a shitty old night bus with a crazy driver and I got hardly any sleep but at least the border crossing was ok !

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