A Travellerspoint blog

Machu Picchu

The greatest Old Peak

sunny

Aguas Calientes is the village any backpacker would dread, one of these purpose-built for tourists, where everything's expensive, there's no character and people who live there are so used to ripping off gringoes you wish you never went there. But, it's the nearest point to Machu Picchu, and we preferred staying one night in Aguas Calientes rather than sharing Machu Picchu with other 1000 travellers, some of them going on their own, others going on guided tours. No, what we wanted is the perfect post card picture of Machu Picchu, without any human activity going on at the time, just silence and the remains of an empire.

We took the train from Cusco to Machu Picchu, and on the way to Aguas Calientes we saw some spectacular scenery. There were also parts of the Inca trail that you could see, and trekkers walking with their bags on their backs towards the same destination as us. It was a pity we didn't book the Inca trail, it would have been an incredible experience, but it was wet season and we didn't have that much time to spend in the area. Once we got to Aguas Calientes, some girls from the Pirwa Hostel picked us up and guided us to the hostel. We checked in and rested the whole afternoon, until it was time to get some dinner accompanied by pisco sours (unfortunately, these weren't made with love, unlike the ones we had in Cusco). We were forced to call it an early night as we were waking up at 04:30 am, just to be one of the first to see Machu Picchu. Jesus! It had to be worth it.

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We had breakfast and left the hostel by 05:00 am. The first buses were departing at 05:30 am, and December is considered low season, but still, there was a long queue. People were not giving up on their post card picture either. We got on the third bus and started our way up to the sanctuary...we had considered walking the 8km to save up the money, but thank God we were smart enough to leave that option for the return; going up walking would have made us too tired for what was coming next. By 06:00 we were all lined up again like sheep in front of the entrance. When they opened the gates, we walked through, and just after 100 metres, we took the first glimpse at the famous ruins. And may we say WOW! The whole scenery, with the mountains behind, the green colour, the llamas walking around and the whole construction. We were very surprised to find out that it had only been built in the 15th century, and that most of the ruins had been rebuilt during the last century, since they were discovered. But still, it was impressive. We started our photoshooting, despite the morning mist, but soon it got impossible to take any because a huge cloud came over and decided to just sit on Machu Picchu; great, we had woken up at an absurd hour for this? Well, we sat and waited, staring at how some of people were smoking, eating and using walking sticks when the three are forbidden inside the park. No wonder if they ever close the access.

A while later, the massive cloud continued its way and we started our exploration through Machu Picchu; from the baths, to the main square, the Temple of the Three Windows, to the Sacred Rock, we explored every corner until it was 10:00 am. We had signed up to climb Wayna Picchu, the mountain behind Machu Picchu. We had heard it takes only one hour to reach the top, but it was one of the most aching hours Sonia will remember, as every step felt like three and the air was still thin. We didn't have any coca leaves to chew so many breaks were necessary on the way, but we made it, and when we reached the top, Machu Picchu seemed insignificant compared to the mountains surrounding it. We were so proud to have walked all the way, and we were thankful that the way back was downhill, no need to lose our breath again!

We spent six hours in total in Machu Picchu, you never know if you'll ever be going back. We took a moment to look at the ruins and memorise its beauty. Seriously, how lucky are we? (more pics available in the gallery)

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Posted by sonianick 15:04 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Cusco

Inca World

semi-overcast 10 °C

Flight Auckland - Santiago de Chile: 11 hours
Flight Santiago de Chile - Lima: 4 hours
Flight Lima - Cusco: 1 hour

We travelled, in total, over 30 hours to get from one continent to another. It was mad, and we were wrecked, so wrecked that the high altitude sickness that can ruin your vacation in Cusco, didn't even bother us, we were too tired to care. We had a jet lag of 18 hours, so we didn't know when we were supposed to eat or sleep to try to adapt as quickly as possible. We arrived at our hostel in the morning and spent part of the day in bed, trying to recover some of that lost sleep we didn't manage to get during our travel.

Cusco is a splendid city, and flying to South America does in some way remind us that we are nearer to home. There are main squares similar to those we have in Europe, churches on every corner, cafés and balconies, old paved roads, stone houses, markets everywhere...but Cusco is a special city, not only because it was the capital of the Inca empire, it's just different...relaxed. At over 3000m of altitude, you cannot rush things up, running around is not something you often see people doing, it gets too hectic for your lungs. So people are not allowed to stress out and everything is done slower, even with care. And what can be done very easily, is sitting in a cafe at Plaza de Armas, staring outside the window at the fabulous Cathedral, whilst sipping coca tea. People either chew coca leaves or make tea out of it to beat the fatigue and avoid the high altitude sickness, and that's exactly what we did. We were also told that we had to keep our diet light the first days, and we had heard that Peruvian food is delicious, so in the end we had a soup and some trout at a random local restaurant, it was amazing.

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Our hostel was located in the area of San Blas, just 10 minutes from Plaza de Armas, but going back got tyring as it was uphill. We spent three days exploring all the corners of the city, always starting from the main square. We visited the most important Inca ruins in the city, Qoriqancha, just inside the convent of Santo Domingo, which they say used to be covered in gold, but nothing is left thanks to the Conquistadores. We also went to visit the white Christ that overlooks the city from a hill, and on our way there, we met a Peruvian guy who started to talk us into the 2012 prophecy of big change. He gave us the creeps with all his speech about a huge unstoppable disaster coming up, and told us to get some positive energy from an Inca wall on the way up. Just in case, we hugged it. Once we reached the Christ, we took some shots and another guy approached us offering to take a picture. We soon started to chat and this man was from Cusco, and he gave us some "muña", a herb that you inhale and can mix with the coca leaves in your tea. When you smell muña your lungs open up, and the man was so kind with us we went for a walk together and we invited him to drink some Cusqueña beer with us. After a nice long talk, we paid and of course he asked for some money...and we thought for once he just wanted to have some company? Well, let's say we still have hope in finding good uninterested people. Our favourite thing to do in Cusco was to wonder around the streets without any defined direction, get lost in the markets, drink coca tea and enjoy the atmosphere...and you could do it easily for weeks without getting bored.

One night we went to have dinner at a restaurant called Pacha Papa, in the area of San Blas. That night, we had the best Pisco Sour ever and ate a fabulous alpaca brochette. An alpaca is similar to a llama, and is very tasty as a dish. Despite being quiet, Cusco has a lot of nightlife and people tend to have lots of fun there, so we went on to Mama Afrika for more Pisco Sours until we were ready to hit the sack.

We booked train tickets to go to Aguas Calientes, the stop for the unmissable Machu Picchu. It was time to see with our eyes one of the wonders of the world.

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Posted by sonianick 15:10 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Glow worms

The end of the Antipodes

sunny

From the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to the Waitomo Caves. Our last stop in New Zealand involved an amusing experience; visiting the popular caves full of glowing worms. We arrived there once we finished our neverending walk around Tongariro and checked in at the Rap, Raft 'n' Rock Backpackers. Nothing surrounded us except countryside with cows and sheep making some noise, but other than that, absolute peace was our only companion. The hostel was more like a private home, with only 3 rooms, which made it cosy for a quiet night next to the chimney.

One nice sleep and we woke up ready for our glow worm experience. We drove to the tour office and gathered with the rest of the people that were coming with us. After a few minutes we were all dressed up as rappel freaks: helmet, thick wetsuit, booties and ropes. Our tour wasn't exactly a boat ride inside, we had to work a little to get inside the cave, first by rappeling. So once we were outside the caves, we practiced a little on how to rappel without damaging ourselves, and soon Nick was the first to go 40m underground. As the entrance into the cave is very narrow, there's hardly any light so after about 10m you couldn't see a thing! We had already done rappelling in Mexico, so we were fine, and soon the rest of the team would follow us in the dark. Whilst the rest was coming down, we waited with our lights off and could already spot some of these fascinating glow worms; it felt like we were staring at stars, but really, these little worms are not really "worms". They're some sort of larvae that during a certain period glow, and of course calling them glow worms is much more appealling to tourists than glow larvae :-)

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Once we were underground, we started walking through corridors until one of the guides stopped and told us we had to jump to another end of the cave we couldn't see. So this guy attached Sonia first to a hanging rope and a few seconds later she was doing the flying fox in the dark without having a clue when she would stop or where she was! It was a short but cool ride in the dark, with more glow worms surrounding us. At that point, we were noticing that the temperature was much lower and started to feel a bit chilly. The two guides served us some hot chocolate and a snack to keep up the energy levels in our bodies...because we needed them for what was following, we had to get in the water. And you can imagine the water didn't have the same temperature as the Mediterranean, it was hardly reaching 8 °C (and that's why you need such a thick wet suit!). We had a rubber ring with which we had to jump from a little platform around 6 metre above the water. Once we were floating, we had to grab a rope that was hanging from one of the side walls and use it to reach the end of the cave. From that point the guides told us to switch off our helmet lights and line up, holding the feet from the person behind us and relax. Wow, there were so many glow worms, it was crazy, again we felt we were staring at the milky way, awesome! In the meantime our funny guides dedicated us some kiwi songs to make us forget we were freezing our asses.

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The last part of our tour involved walking more with water coming up to our hips and climbing...we never thought we would actually have to climb a waterfall, but there we were, the water was coming down intensely and we had to climb up the slippery walls and reach the hole at the top. Thank God the tour guides do this everyday and they tell you exactly where you need to place your feet so that you don't fall and break any bones...that would have been ugly! After a couple waterfalls we found the way out...and we were aching! It felt like we had walked km, but in reality it had only been 150 metres.

From Waitomo we drove to Auckland, where we spent our last night in New Zealand. Our 2 and a half months in the Antipodes were over, and had been everything but boring; we loved the landscapes, the people and its laid-back atmosphere. In all that time, we never heard the word "crisis" or anyone moaning about politicians, money or jobs, when in Europe that's all we can seem to talk about. People here definitely know how to relax, and live life day by day. Definitely not a backpacker destination, we would have saved a lot spending more time in Asia or South America, but still, so unforgettable for everything we have experienced, hopefully some day we'll be able to go back.

But hey, the trip is still on, and South America is next; back to the cheap, dodgy bus rides, bargaining, and real adventure. We couldn't wait :-)

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Posted by sonianick 13:32 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Glaciers and Volcanoes

What a beautiful country

all seasons in one day

From Queenstown it was time to drive back north, we didn't have time to explore the Fiordland National Park (that will be done some other time :-)). It was time to see the Glaciers, so we stopped at Franz Joseph for the night. On our way to Franz Joseph we passed by Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka, two amazing lakes surrounded by mountains, so we stopped to take some shots. We booked a half-day walking tour on the glacier, which was more than enough to experience the feeling of walking on ice. The Franz Joseph Glacier is quite special as its surrounded by rainforest, waterfalls and is very near to the sea...but even during the summertime it stays the same, incredible huh? It was the first time we had to wear crampons to walk on ice, it was funky as you could walk down the slopes without going sideways and falling on your butt! The ice formations we saw there were spectacular, from peaks to little caves, we never thought we would see one so closely! The only problem? Our camera died during the whole tour...

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After our glacier experience, we had to go back to the North island again, the Tongariro National Park was still in our minds and we wouldn't leave without doing the famous alpine crossing. From one day to another we eventually made it to National Park, just by Tongariro. We stayed at Howard's Lodge, and there was no one there except for us, our two roomies, an American girl called Liz, and a German girl whose name we don't recall (this is how much we bonded) and some 3 or 4 others. This little village called National Park doesn't have anything, not even a supermarket, so there was not that much we could do to entertain ourselves except watching TV or reading a book. We had booked a ride to the Alpine Crossing starting point for the next morning, but the weather went crap again and the hostel manager recommended us to postpone our trek 1 day, which would mean that after our trek we would drive for 2 hours to Waitomo, after walking 20km. But then again, we wanted to have the perfect weather conditions for our walk, so we decided to wait with the rest of trekkers.

The morning we were going to the park for real, the weather was disgusting again...this was getting pretty desperate. But as soon as we got nearer the starting point, the sky went from grey to bright blue...it was just extremely foggy down at the hostel! But the mountains were free of clouds, and the visibility was ideal. So we started walking with the rest of people (we were loads), but soon the faster trekkers would disappear. We took it easily, we wanted to enjoy the landscape where The Lord of the Rings was filmed! We walked with Liz and Stephanie, a Canadian girl we met there. Soon we saw Mt. Ngauruhoe, better known as Mt. Doom, the famous volcanoe that Frodo and his friends walk towards to in the famous trilogy. You also see Mt. Tongariro, the Red Crater, Mt. Ruapehu, but we guess the best part is the Emerald Lakes. These are a group of sulphur lakes with an incredible emerald colour that contrast with the volcanic landscape that surrounds them, making the whole view very impressive. At that point the hardest park of the trek was done...Thank God. The most random part of the Alpine Crossing was the end, because we ended up in a rainforest, which was quite unexpected! Definitely, this trek can be considered the best 1 day walk in NZ, we enjoyed it a lot, and it just took us 8 hours to do!!! Unforgettable! Check out the rest of the pics in the Gallery!

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Posted by sonianick 05:09 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Queenstown

100% Adrenaline!

sunny

The unfortunate thing about New Zealand is its weather as it can ruin your plans. Most of the stuff there is to do in the country is in the open and the heavy rains may not allow you to take all the trips you want to. That's what happened to us after Rotorua; the weather turned miserable...we wanted to go to Tongariro National Park, but when we called the information centre, we were told it was too dangerous to do the famous trek. We then decided to drive South, and that's how from one day to another, we went from Rotorua to Queenstown; it sounds crazy, there are more than 1000km between both ports, but we did it. We drove down to Wellington, and stayed there for one night, managed to get on the first ferry in the morning, get to Picton, and drove down the West coast from Nelson to Queenstown. And during that whole time, the rain never ceased...not even for a while. Thank God driving in New Zealand at night is not a problem, there are no weird animals waiting to be run over on the roads, so that was not a worry! But it turned out, that after having some dinner at the Fox Glacier, we drove again, and we needed some gas. We passed by Haas and the petrol station was closed; the self-service counter was out of service. So we continued for another 80km, and stopped at Makarora, and the station was also closed. There were two guys in another car looking for petrol desperately, so we decided to call the "assistance number", but were told the owner was sleeping and he wasn't picking up the phone. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere, only 150 km away from Queenstown, but there was nothing we could do, we had to sleep. So that night we froze our asses sleeping on the car seats, and around 8 am, when the station opened, we got some gas and food, and left for the famous town of the Southern island.

We found accommodation at the Black Sheep hostel, just by the Wakatipu Lake, where we practically crashed for the whole day...we were wasted from the driving and couldn't move 1cm...

Queenstown is an amazing cute little town that offers you everything there is to offer on extreme sports; world's highest bungy jumping, canyon swing, shotover jets, skydiving, paragliding, parasailing...and the list goes on forever! So we knew it was time to do something, wake up our adrenaline...but how? The answer would be Skydiving! We booked a 15000 ft jump with the company nZone...it was done and we would be jumping off a plane in 2 days! The nerves were already starting...Nick also wanted to do the canyon swing, but it wasn't available, so instead he signed up for the Nevis Arc Swing, the world's highest arc...woohoo!!! We were set!

The next morning Nick went on the swing whilst I went to do some trekking on my own by the lake Wakatipu. The scenery around Queenstown is incredible, the snowy mountains, crystal clear water, silence....it's great. But Nick's swing was definitely better; they drove to a canyon where there were people doing both the bungy and the swing. So Nick had to cross this bridge on his own until he reached this standing platform at 134 m of altitude..and then that was it; once he was all nicely tied up and he was suspended in the air, he got asked "do you want a surprise or do you want to go on the count of 3?". Of course, Nick wanted to be surprised and immediately after he was flying in the air at 300km/h!! The experience was soon over, but worth living for sure!

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We spent the afternoon together cruising the town and got on the gondola to reach the famous lookout of Queenstown. We could see the whole town from the top, the lake, the mountains, everything! It's definitely the best spot to chill out, you can just lie on the grass and stare at the water the whole time...or read a book, it was perfect! We actually did a short hike, relaxed a while and then went back home. That night we got invited to a bar called THE WORLD BAR where they were giving out some prizes to random people, and in that place we tried the teapots. These people actually make cocktails and serve them in teapots, so you then pour the drink onto the shotglasses and after a couple of these you get completely drunk!

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Our last morning in Queenstown we got up early for the skydiving, we already had butterflies in our stomaches!! We had to go to the NZone office in the city centre at 08:30 am. We had a briefing about some security procedures and then hopped on a minivan and got taken to the airplane, it was real, we were doing this! We met our skydive instructors, who gave us all the gear we needed and started talking us through the whole jump. Of course they were cool about it, they jump more than once a day, everyday for God knows how long!! The good thing was the weather, it was perfect...not one cloud was in the sky, so we would get some really good shots from our cameraman. This guy has a camera on his head and he jumps at the same time as you so that he can film you and take pictures with his mouth! We didn't notice and we were already in the plane, getting ready for the big thing. We were nine people inside; three jumpers, three instructors, and three cameramen...and the plane was so tiny we were all lying on top of each other, not one other person would have fitted in there even if we had tried. As soon as the airplane had taken off, and we were watching the scenery, we were calm and ready to do it...there was no turning back on this one!

So the first girl jumped, and it was weird, because at one point she was sitting outside the airplane, and the very next she was gone and we couldn't spot her! Then Nick jumped, and he was gone too...and then I jumped!! The feeling of freefalling at such a high speed, and seeing the mountains below you, the lake so far away...it was so weird and cool at the same time! You could scream and say the worst swear words ever without caring as no one could hear you...it was great! 60 seconds of freefall and then the parachute opened! At that point you can actually feel a little bit dizzy but still it is definitely worthwhile, you then fall slowly until you reach the ground...it's very hard to describe what this experience made us feel, as we had the adrenaline going bananas for an entire day. What we can assure you that it's not as scary as you think, and we would definitely do it again!

With the adrenaline kicking, we fooled around Queenstown and ended up at Fergburger, the best burger place we've been to in a long time. The burgers are humongous and super tasty, exquisite...that's why the whole town queues up for these puppies...they're sweet as...!! And with a massive meal we closed our chapter in Queenstown, not to miss if you ever end up in this part of the world!!!

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Posted by sonianick 08:11 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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