Every cloud…..

Dear Readers
I am not normally one for trying to dispense travelling wisdom (I usually have very little). However, on this occasion I feel it’s necessary to warn you of the gigantic ball ache that comes from having one’s passport stolen. In a word, it’s a nightmare. Everything else you own is not that problematic to replace or cancel. A passport on the other hand is.

I stupidly put my bag on the floor (at my feet) in the bus station in San Pedro de Atacama where Jess and I had just spent a very nice few days. A horde of people then rucked past me to get their bus and when I next looked down….oh sh*t. EVERYTHING gone. Passport, credit card, iPad, kindle, camera, the list goes on.

We had to spend pretty much a week getting this nightmare sorted. We had to change our itinerary, cancel flights, call police stations, visit local magistrates, visit embassies, get an emergency passport, avoid certain countries that don’t allow emergency passports, again the list goes on. Had it not been for the patience and organisational skills of my lovely wife I might well have lost the plot.

I am pleased to say I am now the proud owner of an emergency passport (it’s also gold which is quite cool) and plan on visiting Her Majesty’s passport office in London to get a permanent replacement. And we now get to attend my niece Lettie’s 1st birthday party. Every cloud…..

We also got to spend a few days in Santiago, Chile, another silver lining as it turned out. We were originally due to pit stop here for only one evening and that would have been a crying shame. It’s a great city. Attractive, cosmopolitan, friendly, varied, a great place to spend a few days. We stayed in Bellavista in a great hotel with the most helpful staff you’ll find (gracias Carlos, Gonzalo and Melissa). We gazed over amazing vistas, swam in local pools, lay in lovely parks and met loads of nice people. Good for the soul and to restore your faith in humanity after being robbed!

So, remember one and all, keep your passport on you at all times when in transit to avoid gigantic ball ache.

For now.

R&J xx

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Phallic cacti & two pot-smoking lesbians

We were slightly relieved to arrive in San Pedro de Atacama. Despite being located in the ‘driest non-polar desert in the world’ (source: Wikipedia) it’s a bustling vibrant little town. We had booked a place to stay called Lodge Tatais, which was about 1km out of town, with comfortable beds and actual taps where we could wash our hands with real water….!

Lodge Tatais was pretty chilled. There was a ‘restaurant’ attached, which had particularly random opening hours; they essentially started serving whenever they felt like it. One evening we just let ourselves into the kitchen and cooked for ourselves as nobody seemed to be about!

After sitting in a 4×4 for several days on the salt flats tour, we wanted to do something active, so booked a hiking and biking day to Canyon de Guatin. It was led by Edgardo from the Lodge – who incidentally also flipped pizzas in the ‘restaurant’. He met us with his girlfriend, Paulette, and two other girls, who couldn’t keep their hands off each other.

I’m not sure we expected to walk through such an incredible landscape. We navigated our way by following the river through the Canyon, jumping across at various points and scrambling down rocks. We trekked past the biggest (and most phallic) cacti I’ve ever seen, and in some places it felt as if we were almost bouldering; clinging onto the edge of mini cliff faces. We all plunged into the water to cool off and found a small waterfall you could put your head through, arriving inside a watery cave. The scenery was spectacular.

As we hiked out of the Canyon, we stopped to check out some ruins and the two lesbians rolled a joint. We declined a smoke – I actually thought I might fall off my bike if I had a toke (!) but they puffed away, and needless to say it took them a long time to climb to the top of the hill…!

We got on the bikes and, fearing I was going to have accident number two (following my crash in September), I peddled somewhat sedately towards the sunset. The view was stunning, but I kept my eyes firmly on the menacing gravel….! With the slow pot-smoking pair and my wobbling wheels, we ended up cycling the last few miles into town in absolutely pitch darkness. I bizarrely became more confident on unfamiliar terrain once I couldn’t actually see where I was cycling and we arrived home tired, dusty but without mishap. An awesome day.

After our desert triathlon (!) we spent a chilled out next day on a bus tour to Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). Incredibly it does actually look like the surface of the moon in places. It has weird and wonderful stone and sand formations which have been carved by wind and water over many years, and the colours are beautiful. There are also dry lakes where the salt deposits have left a white covering layer. I’m told the valley is considered to be one of the driest places on earth, as some areas haven’t received a single drop of rain in hundreds of years. Our guide also told us NASA tested a prototype for a Mars rover there, because of the valley’s dry and forbidding terrains.

After a hot, dry and relaxing few days, we were all set for Argentina; the home of steak and red wine…but you never know what’s round the corner, do you?

Stayed tuned 😉

J & R xxx

Salty adventures

Uyuni does I’m pleased to say have one redeeming feature. It is the gateway town to the Salar de Uyuni, otherwise known as the Bolivian salt flats. In pretty much any guidebook you read, a trip across the Salt Flats from Bolivia into Chile is a must do – and so we did.

We booked our trip with a well reviewed company called Red Planet and once again crossed our fingers that we’d get a good group – especially important given you’re crammed into a 4×4 for 3 days and stay in shared accommodation with no showers. Once again, we got lucky. Ian and Jen (Ohio, US) along with Erik and Frederica (Denmark) were awesome company throughout (plus other bonuses like no snoring and sound personal hygiene in the absence of showers).

Day 1 of our trip involved a somewhat random but interesting visit to a train graveyard. Passenger train travel in Bolivia is pretty limited and the scale of their industrial operation has diminished a bit but tracks do still take minerals from the area into Bolivia and Argentina. The now defunct trains are old and rusting but have some amazing graffiti on them and look a real spectacle just stuck out in the middle of the desert.

Our second stop was the real deal – the salt flats themselves. The Salar is approx 10,000 square kms, making it the biggest salt flat in the world. It can even be seen from space. The salt crust is a few metres thick and beneath it is a layer of brine which contains 50-70% of the world’s lithium supplies (source: Wikipedia :-)). Aside from the amazing natural chemistry, this place is just ridiculously beautiful. The surrounding sky and mountains are reflected in the shallow pools of water on top of the salt and it makes for something that looks out of this world – and given it is currently the rainy season we got v lucky with the weather. Everyone spends a great deal of time trying to capture the perfect shot of themselves doing something acrobatic – our efforts are below for your amusement….

The next 2 days of the tour involved driving a few hundred kms from the salt flats to the Chilean border. On the way we were treated to lunar like landscapes (NASA do the training for their moon vehicles in this area), different coloured lagoons, a flamboyance of flamingoes (had to look that up), some steaming geysers (insert bottom joke here) and some incredible mountain peaks (we ate lunch one day at 4,900m above sea level).

On our last night we also got to sample a natural hot spring. Sitting in this pool at night, with the stars shining down was a real treat. Perhaps minus the other 30 people there, add a few beers and some pretzels and it really would have been the ultimate experience 🙂

We arrived at the Chilean border with our spines a little altered and started yet another crazy border crossing process. It was then a short journey into Chile to reach the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama.

Final verdict on the salt flats trip as follows: definitely worth it for the salt flats alone. A lot of driving, some very basic or non-existent facilities and perhaps a bit of landscape fatigue but amazing nonetheless.

7.5 out of 10 from us.

From Chile with love.

R&J xxxx

Monica the witch and Edwin the saviour…

It was always going to happen. You can’t expect to travel for several months without a bad journey. But after our chilled out stay in Copacabana, we were unprepared…!

On arrival in Copa, we’d diligently booked our onward bus to Uyuni via La Paz, two days ahead so we could reserve a seat. We’d researched the companies and chosen Todo Turismo because from the reviews they sounded as if they got to their destination without the wheels falling off. We’d even picked the most professional looking agent on the small high street. Her name was Monica, and when we turned up to board the bus, she waved and smiled like we were old friends. However, that was very soon not the case. “Full, full, full!” she shouted at us as we dumped our bags down. Apparently there were no seats on the Todo Turismo bus – despite her selling us the tickets two days previously. We would have to go on the poorly-reviewed Omar Bus.

After a few cross words, with useless Monica doing her level best to annoy us further, we boarded our first bus to La Paz. This turned out to be quite an unusual journey. After a couple of hours, we came to a wide river (on the edge of Lake Titikaka) with no bridge. We all got off and got into a smoky little speedboat. We then watched the coach (with all our bags) drive onto a raft, only marginally bigger than the bus itself and sail across! It was bizarre.

Arriving in La Paz late, the bus was then caught in horrendous traffic (we found out later it was something to do with a demonstration and a broken street light). With about 10 minutes to go before our connecting bus to Uyuni left, we were at a standstill with no idea where the second bus was going to depart from. Just when we’d resigned ourself to a night in La Paz, a guy called Edwin stopped the bus and shouted; “Robert and Jessica!” We ran off, not knowing who he was or how he knew who we were. It turns out he worked for the same agency as annoying Monica (but the more helpful branch) and he realised we were going to miss our connection and so he came and found us! We all sped back through the crazy traffic in a taxi, before he sorted out our tickets and put us on the bus. He wouldn’t even take a tip. Definitely one of the nicest people we’ve met.

We were pretty elated to have got the overnight bus to Uyuni. But our elation was short lived as we realised the bad reviews about Omar Bus had been right. It broke down several times in the night and there was a lot of revving, before we’d start moving again (I assume minus a wheel or some such vital piece of machinery). Then at 7.30am, the bus came to another halt. We were literally in the middle of nowhere with no food and hardly any water. Rob & I had only eaten some crackers and a snickers for dinner and we were now starving. The bus driver lay under the coach for a couple of hours, hitting different things with a hammer, which didn’t seem to make a great deal of difference. Just when we’d given up hope, it started! We eventually trundled into Uyuni 5 hours late.

As pleased as we were to finally get off the bus, Uyuni is definitely not the most inspiring place in the world and we won’t be going back! It’s on a huge plain in the middle of nowhere. The streets are permanently dusty and many of the people are rude and unhelpful. The one saving grace is La Tonito Hotel and its awesome pizza restaurant. The food is cooked by an American called Chris, who’s lived in Bolivia for 20 years. The pizzas were fantastic and the next morning he made us some delicious pancakes, so we felt a bit better 🙂

J & R xxx

At the Copa, Copacabana….

So, our time in Peru was sadly up. Jess and I loved it – amazing scenery, a rich and proud history and lovely people. But the time had come to move on and next on the list was Bolivia.

Our first stop was only 40km or so over the border. Crossing said border was an experience in itself. Bolivian customs officials take their jobs very seriously and the information we were asked to provide was ‘thorough’ to say the least. 3 pages of the most minute details about our lives, spending habits and political views that the officials could never possibly check, let alone have the time to read. Anyway, we made it across the border and descended into the beautiful coastal town of Copacabana.

Copa is a nice town with a quaint harbour, a fantastic fruit and veg market, a beautiful cathedral and a lively tourist scene. It is also the port from which you can access the Isla del Sol, another of Lake Titicaca’s amazing islands (about 40% of Lake Titicaca is in Bolivia, the other 60% in Peru).

We had found a ‘warmly recommended’ hotel in our guidebook called Las Olas which apparently had great lakeside views and individually styled suites. The description in the book in no way captures the brilliance of the place. It is perched on the hill overlooking Copa and is probably one of the most unique places we have ever stayed. Our suite was more like a little bungalow – including a small kitchen, two hammocks, a wood burner, a huge bed, two showers and lovely decorations throughout (there was wood and stone integrated into the walls). We immediately felt so at home and couldn’t wait to cook for ourselves for a few days.

After settling in we went down to the harbour to book our Isla del Sol trip for the following day and buy some provisions for our first ‘home’ cooked meal in weeks. Eating vege pasta with a beer in hand overlooking Copa was glorious and a welcome change from tourist filled restaurants.

The following morning we boarded our boat to Isla del Sol as the rain lashed it down. Jess and I looked pretty special clad head to toe in waterproofs. The Bolivian kids around the harbour eyed us with a mix of fear and laughter. The boat ride was bumpy and lumpy but made a great deal better by our fellow passengers. We met Vero and Nadja from Switzerland (more on these two brilliant people later) who in fact were staying at Las Olas. We also met a couple from Argentina who were lovely and gave us some useful tips for our onward journey. And finally we were sat opposite a v friendly Bolivian family (parents, kids and grandparents) who were full of smiles and hugs when they found out Jess and I were on honeymoon. The grandfather pointed out a small island en route called Isla de Amour. Not sure what he thought was going to happen there….. crafty old devil.

Isla del Sol was spectacular. Despite the torrential rain, the sun came out to play as soon as we arrived. We walked 45 mins up to some Inca ruins (Isla del Sol is said to be one of the birthplaces of the Inca civilisation) that provided amazing views of the island and back towards Peru. We then set off on the trail that heads to the southernmost point of the island – a 3 hour hike which peaks at 4,200m and is just incredible from start to finish. We passed local people, quaint villages, lush forests, cute pigs, loud donkeys, beautiful flowers and spectacular vistas – all in the bright sunshine. And to top it all off, the boat back to Copa was smooth and drenched in a Bolivian sunset. Magic.

That night we had organised to meet up with Vero and Nadja (our boat companions) for drinks. These two awesome people came over armed with booze, snacks and another awesome Swiss gentleman named Urs. We had such a nice night with these guys. We ended up all cooking together, enjoying some local brew, exchanging travelling stories and enjoying the amazing views from Las Olas. Again it was another nice change of pace for us and we very much hope to see Vero, Nadja and Urs one day in Switzerland. They also have an open invite to Bristol where we have promised them a city tour and a curry night.

The following day started with a team Switzerland/Bristol breakfast and saw Jess and I start our very long journey to our next destination – Uyuni. I’ll leave Jess to chronicle this particular journey. Let’s just say it was very long and we were very fortunate to actually reach our final destination (don’t worry families, we were never in danger :)) Until next time,
R&J xxx

‘Reed’ all about it!

Our bus journey from Chivay to Puno followed an electric storm for the entire 6 hours. As we drove over the high plateau (up to 5,000m in places) the journey was punctuated by forked lightening and claps of thunder. I clung to the wise words of someone from Devon, who once told me you’re safest inside a vehicle in a thunder storm.

Eventually we arrived in Puno, which is a bit of a bizarre place and not somewhere you want to spend too much time. Despite being on the edge of Lake Titicaca, it’s not at all pretty. It’s busy and doesn’t seem to have much to do. It’s no colonial city! We were hoping to meet up again with some friends from the UK who we’d seen in Cusco. Kath (who worked with Rob) is travelling with her husband Charlie and their daughter Chloe is living in Chile. We had a great couple of meals with them in Cusco, but our dates sadly didn’t work out in Puno.

The locals were celebrating a festival called La Candelaria which essentially involved everyone marching around the streets all night long accompanied by about 50 brass bands. Apparently people in Puno don’t need sleep.

Luckily we’d booked a tour of some of the islands on the lake and set off on a very slow boat the following morning. After chugging out of the harbour and through miles of reeds, we came to the floating islands of Uros. They’re absolutely incredible. About the size of two netball pitches, the Island we landed on was created using reed roots, then piling more and more cut reeds on top to make a kind of reed cushion. On top of the base, the locals had built houses – out of reeds of course! The whole effect was very impressive, although I don’t think I’d have fancied staying there in the rain!

We journeyed onto the Island of Amantani; not a floating Island but still very beautiful. We stayed with a lovely family in what’s described as a ‘home stay’. This is how many of the local people make a living. The mother of our family, Los Milla was very friendly and welcoming, although we barely understood each other! A brother and sister from Holland, called Iris and Dillion were also staying at Los Milla’s home and between the four of us, we attempted to hold somewhat stunted conversations. Both Rob and I wished we had done a Spanish course before we arrived in South America! Los Milla had three children, Jack, Julie and Rosillie. They were all very friendly and the youngest, Rosillie, was extremely cute. We wondered what they made of us…and when Los Milla (who was only 32) found out our ages, she couldn’t believe we didn’t have kids!

The whole group (from the chugging boat) trekked up a very steep hill to watch the sunset from two ancient monuments. Unfortunately I became ill and had to pretty much run back down to our ‘home’ before the sun was anywhere near setting. Rob assures me it was nowhere near as good as the sunsets we saw in Costa Rica!

The next day, feeling better, we all ate pancakes (luxury!) in Los Milla’s small kitchen before saying our goodbyes and boarding the boat once more, heading to the Island of Taquile. After a walk from one side to the other (it wasn’t very big!) we had a delicious lunch of trout caught in the lake.

The islands were stunning and very relaxing, and if they’d been in the Med, they would’ve been absolutely overrun with tourists. But instead, the people lead what appears to be very simple but happy lives. We were sad to leave, especially as we were heading back to Puno and yet more drumming….!

J & R xxx

Big Birds

After a great few days in Arequipa, we set off to explore the nearby Colca Canyon. We’d read about this place before we left the UK and were intrigued by the prospect of a 3,500m deep canyon (that’s deeper than the Grand Canyon!) and seeing the great Andean Condor – a bird revered in Peruvian/Inca culture with a wingspan of 10ft and weighing in at 15kg (that’s about what my backpack currently weighs).

We set off from Arequipa via the shanty towns that Jess mentioned in her last post. Pretty staggering that 750,000 people inhabit these shanty towns and it was pretty far removed from the affluent tourist district we stayed in. Our first stop of the trip was to be the highest we have been so far in South America – a lung busting 4,900m. The view from here was predictably spectacular. Arequipa is surrounded by a half a dozen volcanoes – all of which are dormant or extinct I’m pleased to say – and we got a view of the lot from this first stop. Incredible.

We then journeyed on to the small town of Chivay, the staging post for the Colca Canyon. I think it’s fair to say this town is a little odd. It serves one main purpose on the tourist trail and as a result is filled with hotels and restaurants with no real sense of community in the town itself. We went to the nearby hot springs for an afternoon and bathed in the 39 degree water that stank of rotten eggs. We were guaranteed by our guide that we’d look 10 years younger. We’ll leave you to judge the results from the photo.

The following day we set off early to find them condors. They conveniently tend to swoop around one place called the cruz del condor which apparently has good thermals for them to glide around on. They are so heavy that they rely on these thermals to hoist them up high enough to prey on dead cow/donkey carcasses! We arrived at 8am and despite it not really being the best time of the year (many of the condors have migrated to the coast to feed on the placentas of recently spawned baby sea lions!) we were greeted by 6 condors all strutting their stuff. They are magnificent. Huge, graceful and very obliging when it comes to posing for the cameras (photos to follow – the iPhone camera wasn’t quite up to the job).

Buzzing from the condor show we headed back to Chivay to get our bus to our next destination – Lake Titicaca! We have booked a tour on the lake which involves a homestay on one of the islands with a local family. Given that our hosts apparently only speak Quechua and Spanish this should be an interesting test of Jess and I’s dismal Spanish and our mime skills!

Hasta luego amigos,

R & J xxx

Arequipa: Recharging the batteries

All the guidebooks say the sun shines in Arequipa 360 days of the year and the people who live there barely see a raindrop. However, being the true Brits that we are, we brought the rain with us…! More on that later.

We took an overnight bus from Cusco to The White City (as Arequipa’s known). It took 10 hours, which is nothing compared to some South American journeys (Lima to Buenos Aires takes 2 and a half days!). But it certainly was an experience. We chose what we’d been told was the most reputable company, Cruz del Sur. Before we boarded, our bags were checked, our passports were scrutinised (several times) and we had to go through a metal detector. It was almost as thorough as our experience of US customs! We set off on our journey through the night and almost immediately regretted booking the seats at the front of the top deck. We could clearly see the driver’s cowboy attitude towards other motorists; overtaking on blind corners, driving just millimetres from the vehicle in front and swerving violently to avoid potholes. In the end we closed the curtains and tried to sleep. Imagine sleeping on a rollacoaster and that will give you a pretty good idea of the journey.

Arriving in Arequipa just after sunrise, we were treated to a spectacular view of Volcano Misti, which looks over the city. Worryingly it’s still classed as active and there are also between 7-9 earthquake tremors felt in the city everyday. However, we were used to being all shook up by the bus ride so we noticed nothing. We stayed in a great hotel near the Plaza del Armas and set about doing a bit of chillaxing.

We joined a walking tour around the city on our first morning. The guide took us to the market, where he showed us all the strange lotions and potions you can buy to supposedly cure pretty much anything. These included a dried llama foetus (think it might have been for good luck) and a soap that apparently makes men irresistible to women….! In the afternoon it absolutely tipped it down, and the rain continued into the evening. I’m pretty sure we were the only people prepared with our rain jackets. Told you – true Brits.

To be honest, if you’ve seen one colonial city, you’ve seen them all. Ok, not strictly true, but they all have a main square, a prominent cathedral and some nice architecture. But if you find yourself in Arequipa, you must visit Santa Catalina. It’s a convent which was closed off from the rest of the world for almost 400 years. Behind a high wall, it’s a mini city within a city. We were actually quite surprised by how well the nuns lived. They all had very nice living quarters, some of which were the size of a decent flat in Bristol! There are beautiful gardens, rooftop viewpoints of the city and lots of artwork. 25 nuns still live there in a new section, and when we found out where most of the city’s other residents live, we could see why they chose that solitary life.

The main square of Arequipa is very touristy, with people trying to persuade you into their restaurant (all of which look the same). But if you head out a couple of streets, there are loads of great places to eat. We went to a place called Zig Zag, where they served fish on hot volcanic rock! It was delicious. As we were leaving, we heard a sound similar to that of an ice-cream van, but playing a song by the Eagles (I think). It turned out to be the bin lorry! The tune called people out from homes and restaurants and it worked a treat. Bristol City Council – take note.

We really enjoyed our stay in Arequipa, which felt quite cool and cosmopolitan after the Inca relics. But inevitably we were staying in the ‘touristy’ part of town, and when we left we realised where the locals lived. On our bus journey to the Colca Canyon, we passed miles upon miles of shanty town. The guide on our bus told us a staggering 75% of the city’s residents (which amounts to 750,000 people) live in these half-built houses. Many have no running water. It certainly made us think.

J & R xxxx

The Inca Trek – ‘Black Llama’ style

The time had come to take on the Inca trail. I think it’s fair to say that Jess and I had done relatively little research into what the trek actually involved. We knew it ended at Machu Picchu and involved some walking and camping etc… Having just come back from our 7 day adventure I can now confirm it was 10 times harder than we thought and also 10 times more incredible!

We met up with our G Adventures group the night before the trek and sized up the people we were going to be spending the next 6 nights with. It was an eclectic mix both in terms of nationalities (Canadian, Australian, British, Danish etc…) and age. First impressions were good and everyone seemed keen to get stuck in.

We received a briefing from our G Adventures guide, a lovely Peruvian man named Elias. The briefing started to give us a glimpse of what was ahead. 42km of trekking, climbing and descending over 1km in just 1 day to a peak altitude of 4,200m above sea level (to a place called ‘dead woman’s pass’ and through various sections of track the locals call ‘gringo killers’. Awesome.) We also found out at this point that our main bags (which would be carried by super human porters) needed to weigh less than 6 kilos. Goodbye personal hygiene for 6 days!

We set off the following morning to the Sacred Valley with a quick stop to view the White Christ that stands guard over Cusco city. Our trip to the sacred valley involved taking in various Incan archaeological sites which sit above the Urubamba river that leads all the way to Machu Picchu. We also visited one of the projects that has been developed by the company we did our trek with, G Adventures. They are supporting a local community with funding for a weaving project. We saw the ladies weaving using traditional methods and Jess also tried out her weaving skills. Apparently women in the highlands of Peru prove themselves to their future in laws by mastering weaving and cooking – men by becoming porters, cooks or guides on the inca trek. Jess was really very good at the loom. Whether my chocolate ankles were going to stand up to 42km of hiking was yet to be seen! This day culminated in the town of Ollaytaytambo where we took in another site that has a fantastic sun temple at the top (3,200m above sea level) and was also where we were spending the night before starting on the Inca trail proper the following day.

Unfortunately my night in Ollaytaytambo didn’t go exactly according to plan. I must have picked up some sort of bug in Cusco and ended up with a fever and ‘doing the double’ as I believe it’s known in traveller circles. Thankfully Jess and our guide Elias were on hand, and stuffed full of antibiotics and some violently coloured electrolyte potion, I began my journey back towards a steady tummy!

The following day we drove to ‘kilometre 82’ which marks the official start point of the Inca trail over the mountains to Machu Picchu. This first day was not too hardcore (11km – 7 hours – 700m in elevation). We were treated to some more archaeological sites on route and eventually found ourselves in an amazing camp site with mountains on all sides. That night we sampled for the first time the sensational food that our travelling cooks rustled up for us. For guys who have a couple of gas rings to cook on they produced amazing food, with 3 courses every night! We also had a chance to get to know our porters a little better. They introduced themselves one by one in either Spanish or Quechua. They were genuine, humble, decent people who worked as farmers mostly but come to the Inca trek to earn some more money for their families. They ranged in age from 18 to 67 (!) and each carried 20 kilos. They ran ahead of us at every stage, putting up our tents and preparing food. They clapped us when we got to camp each night despite the fact they’d worked 10 times as hard. Amazing people.

Day 2 of the Inca trail was hard. Fact. We’d been forewarned that it was a tough day but I don’t think we quite realised just how much. We only walked about 12km but this included the ascent to dead woman’s pass at 4,200m (we climbed over 1km that day) and the descent to our camp site (we descended over 1km as well). Our lungs felt like the size of tea bags on the way up and our knees got an absolute pounding on the way down. Had it not been for a truly brilliant Canadian friend called Duane who lent Jess and I his hiking poles, I think knee surgery would have been a certainty. We camped that night at cloud level and started to get used to the long drop toilets, which was tough – squatting after 9 hours trekking is not easy!!

And so came day 3, the longest in terms of trekking distance, featuring lots of ‘Inca flat’ sections as our guide affectionately called them! This turned out to be arguably the best day on the trek. We must have been through 3 different ecosystems in one day and despite some persistent rain the views were once again spectacular. Our lunch stop was made extra special when our cooks produced a cake for Jess and I to wish us a happy honeymoon! How these guys managed to produce a cake at 3,400m with a gas ring is beyond me. Jess and I were really overwhelmed by the gesture and the delicious cake lasted about 30 secs among hungry Trekkers.

We got an amazing view of Machu Picchu mountain as we neared our final camp site and stopped via an area full of farming terraces and llamas! These marvellous creatures weren’t too bothered by us humans but did take a slightly aggressive shining to a dog which had followed a couple from California right from the start of the trek.

The final night of camping was again marked by an amazing meal and by a bottle of pisco sour which Duane had been carrying all along. Talk of hot showers and beds were starting to creep in but most of all we were buzzing at the prospect of seeing the great Machu Picchu.

We got going at 3am the following day so we could queue up at the checkpoint for Machu Picchu and make sure we arrived at the sun gate overlooking the site without 5000 fellow Trekkers. We all had so much adrenaline pumping round our systems that we nailed the final trek up to the sun gate in 45 mins less than was scheduled!

And of course it goes without saying that Machu Picchu is phenomenal. Any picture you’ve seen just doesn’t do it justice. Getting to that sun gate was an emotional experience for all and we were then taken on an hour and a half guided tour around the site to explain the intricacies of this amazing place. I think it’s fair to say that we all felt as if it wouldn’t have been as special if we hadn’t shed the blood, sweat and tears to get there. You feel quite virtuous (albeit you’re aching and smell awful) when you walk past the people that have taken the train up there!

Having taken in every ounce of Machu Picchu we then started the long journey back to Cusco via bus and train. The train down from Machu Picchu is amazing with large Perspex panels on the sides and on the roof giving you panoramic views of the mountains. Our return to Cusco was marked with a farewell dinner organised by our incredible tour guide Elias. Pretty much the only bad word I could say about this brilliant man is his choice of celebratory meal. Let’s just say Jess and I are unlikely to order a whole roasted guinea pig as an appetiser ever again. Watching Mr Duane Krikke rip open a guinea pig head will haunt me for the rest of my days. Apparently it is a Peruvian delicacy. I think we’ll leave that to the Peruvians 🙂

Jess and I would like to say the biggest thank you we can muster to the following people for making this trip so unbelievably special:

– Elias, our guide. A nicer, more generous, more knowledgable, more passionate guide you will never meet. Thank you brother
– Edwin aka Chino or Little Chinchilla, our second guide. Again a truly lovely man with an amazing spirit
– Bruce, Laura, Patsy, Danielle, Shannon, Duane, Sara, Charlie, Shaun, Claire, Kasper, Mark, Jennifer and Andrew – our fellow G Adventures Trekkers aka the ‘Black Llamas’. You guys are all brilliant and we enjoyed every minute of the trek with you. Thank you for your company and we really hope our paths cross again in the future. Any and all of you are welcome in Bristol any time.

Love to all
R&J xxxx