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Peru

Peru to Ecuador - Journey from Chachapoyas to Vilcabamba

22 °C

The most popular crossing from Peru to Ecuador is along the coast via Mancora..as we were in Chachapoyas, we tackled the furthest inland border crossing, renowned for being a scenic rural crossing with bad roads and many vehicle changes!

We headed north to Bagua Grande in an 'auto' which works like a shared taxi, picking people up and dropping them off along the way and despite an hour pit stop when our driver decided to have lunch, it was a smooth and very scenic drive along a river winding through green mountains. The first change wasn't a change at all, our smiling driver continued on our chosen route to Jaen, chewing some tasty sugar cane along the way, from some children selling it through the car window. The climate changed dramatically to became much more humid. After a quick tuk tuk to another taxi terminal in Jaen we were swiftly rounded into another 'auto' to San Ignasio where we spent the night in the pretty fancy Gran Hotel. All up about 9 hours and the scenery was magic.

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The next morning we choaked on dust for 2 hours along the 47k strech to La Balsa at the Ecuador border..yeah the road was pretty bad but they are doing a lot of work to improve it, which meant it had cut down our travel time from the expected 3hrs. Immigration in 5 mins and at 10:30am, we were in Ecuador!

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Just when everything was going smoothly it turned out we couldn't leave La Balsa until 6pm that night as there was a festival procession of thousands of people from Zumba walking down the only road out of town! Hmmm 7 hours twiddling our thumbs stuck at the border..luckily there were loads of people coming into town for the festival which gave it a buzz and plenty of music and street food on offer. Instead of heading all the way to Vilcabamba, we stayed the night in Zumba (1.5 hours away) with 3 other travellers who also got held up. They are travelling through the continent on motorbikes..two of them heading overland all the way to Vancouver!

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On our third day, we caught a 6 hours bus which cut its way over cliff edges, and into Vilcabamba ~ The Valley of Longevity. All in all a great trip and if it weren't for the once a year procession, easy to do.

For those contemplating the trip, all the info you need from the tourist office in Chachapoyas, is on here: www.thenomadway.com/chachapoyas-vilcabamba.php

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Peru - Chachapoyas (an unmissable corner of Peru!)

19 °C

Back on our first overnight bus in a couple of months and we swung into Chachapoyas in the middle of a festival! Locals were lining the road of the main square with a carpet of dyed sawdust creating elaborate pictures...all to be stamped over a few hours later by a large procession for the Virgin Mary. We managed to find a great bakery with coffee (Cafe San Jose) to wake ourselves up before we spent the day exploring the cute colonial style village. Not only were there celebrations for the Virgin Mary but also a carnival, so we couldn't resist taking a ride on the ferris wheel as the sun went down and digging our teeth into some 'toffee grapes'...the Peruvian version of a toffee apple..tasty! We stayed at the nice Hostal Rumi Wasi, just off the plaza which was recommended by some friends.

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The next three days were full of some of the most fantastic things we've seen during our time in Peru. We started off with the Kuelap ruins, built between 400A.D. and 1400A.D. modified by each indigenous settlement inhabiting them. A giant outer wall surrounds the ruins which are perched on a hilltop protrusion, surrounded by spectacular lush green hills, not far off Machu Picchu but minus the hoardes of tourists! As Kuelap was more recently discovered and not as well known, there has been little reconstrucion and remains a very rustic site, with a lot of the ruins sitting amoungst trees and undergrowth. We then took a 3hr walk down 1000m to a small village where we got to take in some of the spectacular scenery and met the bus on it's way back to Chachapoyas.

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The next day we headed to Huancas only 20mins away from Chachapoyas and were absolutely amazed to find a giant canyon just on the edge of the town! Canyon del Sonche wasn't mentioned in any guidebooks, or even in the info brochures we were given, the tourist information guy just happened to mention it as we were on our way out of the door. If this was anywhere else in the world it'd be a giant tourist attraction! We took in the stunning view from the lookout tower and paths around the top, where you can see all the way down (about 1000m) to a river running through the base of the canyon.

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Discovered by the outside world in 2006 where it was rated as the worlds third tallest waterfall, Gocta couldn't be missed while we were in this magical corner of Peru. Dropped of by the bus on the side of the road, we soon realised we were stranded no where near the start of the 5 hour walk! We madly waved at the only vehicle we'd seen coming up the dirt track, which turned out to be a private van belonging to a big family, who we ended up hanging out with for the day. Gocta Waterfall was breath taking and the walk into the base was beautiful, winding through farm settlements then down into lush undergrowth. It's hard to describe the magnitude of the 771m of water falling down a cliff face, and the stunning jagged green hills surrounding. Dropped back at our door by our adopted family, the day was complete after dinner at Polleria Mayrita for a massive plate of tasty chicken, chips and salad...a welcome change to rice!

Hardly touched by tourists, Chachapoyas is a must see if you head to Peru!

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Check out the small red blur in the image on the right, it's Paul!

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Peru - Huanchaco & Trujillo (Our home for 6 weeks!)

22 °C

An overnight bus and taxi sent us to Huanchaco in Northern Peru, a small surfing and fishing town which is 15 minutes from Trujillo, Peru`s third largest city. Well known as a gringo trap, we fell straight into it, and after only planning a 3 night stop, we have ended up staying for 6 weeks!

During our first few days we sampled more ceviche, which is a dish made with raw fish, lime juice and chilli, delicious, but we always cross our fingers and hope it´s not going to make us sick!! Watched many spectacular sunsets, as the sun turns into a big orange fireball on the hazy horizon. Checked out Trujillo city centre, which is full of colourful buildings and a plaza, of couse! We also took a few surfing lessons, choosing the very good Muchik surf school from the bounty of surf schools available in town, although somehow we´re not really any better than when we started! It didn´t help that one lesson was cut short by Paul turning geen and bolting in to the toilet to struggle with the full body wetsuit..!

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There´s a great swell, but the beach is not quite up to the Australian standard we´re used to. Once you dodge the many rocks, sea urchins and jellyfish it does the job. We have been pretty shocked by the amount of litter strewn across it, and even locals strolling up, unzipping and using it as a toilet! But all this aside it is a gorgeous beach, we´re just a little bit spoilt back home! Plus it´s lined with traditional reed fishing boats, Caballitos de totora, used by the locals to get a fresh catch fish early in the mornings.

So once we got our act together, and decided we needed to do more with our time than visit the bakery for their lemon merangue pie, we signed up to do some voluneering with an organisation based in Hunchaco called Otra Cosa. Paul´s joined the office to help out with the marketing side of things, and I´m helping out at a wawa wasi, which means daycare centre in Quechan, one of the traditional indian languages of Peru. There are 8 childen aged betwen 1-4yrs cared for by one madre (mother) from 8am to 5pm in a room in her house. Pretty big job, so they are always thankful for volunteers. The wawa wasi is in a shanty town and the children are selected as being those most in need of help, and the meals they get in the wawa wasi may be the only meals they have for the day. It´s certainly been an eye opener and has tested my spanish, but the children are just gorgeous and my madre is a pleasure to work with.

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We have also moved into a house in town, which was such a find, we have a massive room and bathroom and access to kitchen etc it´s so nice to have our own space after 6 months in hostels. We also have some great housemates, lots of Aussies, one is a yoga teacher across the road (Lucy´s happy) and there´s a dog. So this is our new family for the next few weeks as we settle into life in Peru.

If anyone is thinking of doing volunteering in Peru, get in touch with Otra Cosa: www.otracosa.org

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Peru - Huaraz

19 °C

Even though we´d spent alot of time at high altitue in Bolivia and Peru, the week or so back at sea level in Lima had quickly made us forget how it feels to struggle to walk up a flight of stairs. So when we arrived in Huaraz, which sits at 3,000m altitude nestled underneath the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, we took it easy for the first few days. We spent some time dinking the amazing coffee at Cafe Andino, and visited the natural volcanic thermal saunas in nearby Chancos, which were set in caves and heated to various temperatures. We takled one at 47 degrees celcius and they went to 54...HOT!

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Gluttons for punishment we climbed again, this time in the second highest mountain range in the world! Cordillera Blanca...with 22 peaks over 6,000m in altitude. It also has the mountain that Paramount Pictures use for their logo. A day trip to Laguna 69 was magic, as we walked from 4,000m to 4,600m to a bright blue lake surrounded by 6,000m+ snow capped peaks with their glaciers crackling all around. For me it was second only to the incredible sight of Mount Fitzroy in Patagonia. A motion sickness tablet that morning made Lucy super drowsy and she struggled with the altitude, so sat half of it out with numb hands and headache ridden! I didn´t do that much better, near the top I was walking as slow as a ninety year old, but recorded my heart rate at 184!

The next day was a rush of mountain biking, from a high point in Cordillera Negro (a mountain range directly opposite Cordillera Blanca)...I threw the mountain bike on top of a mini bus, jammed with locals and got dropped at 4,260m. You can ride back down the road or take one of the many single trails back. They are basically trails that link local properties and all end up in Huaraz. 3 hours of smooth downhill fun, some say the best mountain biking in the world. I have to agree!

It was great to see some more local dress in this area, which is common in the highlands, and the women were sporting some pretty amazing giant hats! We styed at Hostel Ezama which had a super handy owner who was keen to help with anything, and even let us check in at 6am when we arrived fresh off an overnight bus, so stay there if you head to Huaraz!

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Peru - Lima & Barranco

22 °C

Lima, the capital of Peru and the country's biggest city. A lot of travellers seem to pass right through due to bad reports, but we loved it. They city centre was full of bright yellow buildings, beautiful big plazas, good shopping and friendly people.

We stayed in the centre for a few nights in Hostel 1900, a very cool converted mansion. We explored the sights including climbing the bell tower at Santa Domingo Convent for good city views, visited the catacombes in San Francisco Convent which was a sightly claustrophobic experience, and saw a modern photography exhibition. The Inquisition Museum was also interesting, with info on how the Spanish tortured the locals when they arrived (good but all in Spanish!). We lost Paul a few times and sampled some Ceviche...a local dish made with raw fish, fresh lime, chilli and onions, yum!

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We then had a few quiet days in Barranco, a really nice suburb of Lima just next to the popular suburb of Miraflores. It felt more like a little beachy town than part of Peru´s capital city. Nice restaurants and cake shops on every corner and our hostel was on a street overlooking the water. Deb treated herself for her last 2 nights in South America staying at a guesthouse called 'Second Home', had an entire floor to herself with huge ocean views. Our hostel called The Point had a great mix of people and we joined in on a game of 'flip cup' followed by a good night out.

The winter weather in this part of the world is a little strange. The temperature sits in the low 20s but it´s constantly misty or hazy and the sun rarely shines! So if feels like its about to rain at any minute, although it never does (apparently they only get 3mm per year)...No tans for us yet. Next up, a night bus north to Huaraz...hopefully a little smoother than the last!

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Peru - Pucusana

21 °C

We were edging closer to the coast and about to see the ocean for the first time in a few months and we decided to step away from the tourist trail and check out the small fishing village of Pucusana. We arrived at night and after realising budget accommodation options were dives, we treated ourselves and stayed in a hotel. The town had a nice enough setting, a cool blowhole, a cliff shaped like Jesus (according to the locals) and fresh fish served right by the water... but the murky beach, strange smells, ordinary food and odd people meant we were off to Lima the next afternoon...

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Peru - Huacachina & Ica

22 °C

Huacachina, a fading 1970s resort town set around a natural lagoon in the desert amongst towering sand dunes....the accommodation optins are pretty ordinary but we were lucky to find a brand new, cheap and clean hotel called Hostal Sol De Ica. The town right near Ica is described as a gringo playgroung by the Lonely Planet and it was just that. Our 48hrs here (you don't need any longer) consisted of a pisco tour, which started out sampling some of the pisco distilled nearby, and ended in a roudy discotheque where we met a group of locals and danced the night away. Followed the next day by sand boarding on the giant dunes surrounding the town, and if we hadn't been feeling so seedy we may have opted for a dune buggy tour too! Instead we checked out sunset from the top of the dunes overlooking the vast desert, wow.

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Peru - Nazca Lines

23 °C

The three of us caught an overnight bus to the Nazca lines...possibly one of the scariest points of the trip so far. We were on a narrow road weaving along the ocean when our bus stopped at 2am...turns out there had been a massive landslide 3 vehicles in front of us which had blocked the narrow road and would´ve crushed anything in it´s way... A few hours later we were on our way again, thanks to a rescue crew and some gutsy truck drivers who cleared the rubble. Arriving in Nazca alive, minus a few windows, smashed by the rocks that had been crumbling down around us! All part of the fun, This is Travel!

We sorted out a 35 minute scenic flight at the local airport. In a small 4 seat plane with 2 pilots we flew over the mysterious symbols and lines. The plane cut out a figure of 8 around each shape, and despite the masses of turbulence and a girl in front making use of the sick bag, we kept our breakfast down. Lucy, being not quite so brave after the nights events, opted for the more conservative option of the 'viewing platform'.

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Thought to have been made by the Nazca culture over 1,000 years ago, the mystery is how did the symbols and lines get there, as they can only be seen from above. They consist of shallow markings made by clearing away the darker rocks on the surface to reveal the lighter sand below. Some are long lines stretching out for kms, others are some interesting looking images of monkeys, birds and other animals.

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Peru - Arequipa & The Colca Canyon

23 °C

Arequipa is a grogeous city with many cast iron windows and gates, and buildings made from while sparkly volcanic rock from the surrounding snow capped volcanoes! There are a few sights in town that have managed to survive the many earthquakes that have rocked the city. The Monasterio Santa Catalina built in the 15th century by the Spanish, is massive and took over a whole block in the city centre. The architecture and brightly coloured walls nearly tricked us into thinking we were in Spain. The central plaza was a great spot for a menu of the day for lunch or dinner overlooking the square, competing with prices for a supermarket dinner!

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We took on the nearby Colca Canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!),which is a spectacularly deep valley in dusty cactus surrounds! We hiked down into the canyon and back up the 1,100m incline over 2 days, with about 12hrs of hiking we stayed overnight in the small village of Cosnirhua. Despite Deb fainting from the sun and our last hour of climbing being in darkness, we made it to the town of Cabanaconde in one peice! Our refuge (Hostel Dadoo) was a welcome sight, the first guesthouse we stumbled across which happened to be brand new and the best find in town. After some pizza and pisco sours at Pachamama (mother earth), we reminisced on the breathtaking condor lookout. This is where we saw the GIANT condor birds soar past for an hour or so early in the morning. (yes we are now bird watchers!)

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Peru - The Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

17 °C

It was a great 4 days and luckily the only rain we got was on the first day, just enough for Lucy to christen her giant poncho and for Paul to use his beloved eVent jacket (too cool for Goretex!). After that we had gorgeous views especially when we reached the highest point on our second day, Dead Womans Pass at an altitude of 4,200m. Luckily there were no dead women to be seen despite the massive climb and icy wind...! The name refers to the outline of the pass looks like a lady lying down.

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The 38km trek over 4 days doesn't seem like a lot but doing it at altitude with the inclines and declines certainly took its toll, so we were thankful to our tour company, Peru Treks, who made the trip very comfortable. We had a crew of 20 plus porters to look after our group of 14 people.. tents set up for us everynight, woken up each morning with hot tea, and even for lunch stops we had amazing hot food served literally on mountain sides!! It blew us away... These guys work so hard.

We saw some ruins along the trail and some spectacular scenery but the best was definately saved until last, Machu Picchu on the final day...even with a 3:00am start! After a brisk uphill scramble for an hour or so we made it to the sun gate to see the sun rising over Machu Picchu ruins. It really was magnificent...and the surrounding scenery. It´s perched on top of a mountain, surrounded by even taller lush mountains on every side. It´s hard to imagine how the Incan people managed to build it there 600 years ago. After a tour through the massive site later that morning, we spent the afternoon exploring the site and the nearby inca bridge.

If you ever get the chance, get to Machu Picchu!

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We stayed in Aguas Callientes that night after the trail and struggled to pry ourselves away from the hot shower in time for dinner with our group. A quaint and car'less little tourist town with a train track running right through the middle. We passed through Ollantaytambo on our way back to Cusco and checked out some impressive ruins along with a nice lunch.

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Peru - Cusco

19 °C

Our first two days in Cusco were consumed getting ourselves organised for the Inca Trail.. Which involved dodging the many ' painting' and 'massage' offers on every corner and spending a whole afternoon trying every bank in town to withdraw US dollars! We were also very spoilt and stayed at the absolutely gorgeous Tierra Viva Hotel, just off the main plaza (an early bday present from Deb to Paul). It took a while for us to get used to the fact we had towels and toilet paper supplied...and that we didn't need to wear thongs in the shower! But we settled into the crisp white sheets and buffet breakfast without a problem.

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Celebrations for Semana Santa (religious week) filled the main plaza as the town congregated to watch processions carrying giant floats which must've weighed an absolute tonne. We had to take a few swift side steps on a couple of occasions to avoid getting trampled, when the poor men carrying them lurched from one side of the street to the other! Escaping unscathed around the corner we found more festivities in the form of hundreds of beer tents providing the local cuisine 'cuy' (guinepig) whole, glazed with teeth gripping a garnish we couldn't bring ourselves to sample the delicacy!

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The centre of town has gorgeous cobble stone streets, multiple European style plazas lined with eateries, and a lookout which was worth the climb to get up close to the giant statue of christ, illuminated over the town at night.

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Peru - Puno & Lake Titicaca

20 °C

We crossed into Peru and our first stop was the dusty and shabby town of Puno...some nice buildings and from the lookout, a great view over the lake...it also offers trips out to the famous and extremely touristy floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca. After we recovered from the pushy and loud local salesmen flooding us in the bus terminal (a big change from the quiet Bolivians we had grown to love) we soon found ourselves on a boat trip out to the islands. It was well worth the trip, as we jumped over the squishy islands which felt like you may plunge through into the lake at any minute, met traditional inhabitants of the islands and got to enjoy some local (and slightly painful!) high pitch singing as we were farewelled on our floating reed boat!

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After 5 months away we were both looking forward to some new company, so we welcomed Paul´s sister Debbie and friend Shelley with open arms as they joined us for the next few weeks of travel!

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