A 4 Day Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu

The time had finally arrived for us to visit Machu Picchu – the main reason we decided to travel around South America. We decided to do a four day trek of the jungle as our way to enter Machu Picchu, as the cost of this was pretty much the same as just getting the train/bus there for the day. The Jungle Trek involved downhill mountain biking, rafting, hot springs, ziplining and not too much walking (despite the name), so this was a great option for us.

We booked our tour whilst in Cusco. There are an overwhelming number of agencies in Cusco all offering the exact same itinerary for the 4 day Jungle Trek. We knew there were a few really reputable agencies but couldn’t afford their prices so we looked around in search of a slightly cheaper tour operator but hopefully just as reputable. After visiting a few we didn’t get a good vibe, particularly with the hard salesman type people who asked us how much we were willing to pay. Finally we found an agency that we got a good feeling about and was cheaper, but not too cheap like some of the others. We were swayed by them showing us a video and the guy in before us actually booking the tour.

Day 1
We were told to wait at a plaza at 8.20 and someone would pick us up, we were a bit skeptical about this as most agencies would pick you up from your hostel. 8.20 came and a guy did turn up, not in a mini bus as we were told, but we got a lift from his friend to take us to the agency. Got there and again no mini buses but were told to get in another car and they would take us to the starting point of the biking. We were feeling very skeptical about the whole thing until a guide who spoke English got in the car and said the mini bus was full and that’s why we had to get a lift in car. We drew a sigh of relief and relaxed until an hour into the drive we started to go up a mountain on some very steep, tight roads and the car didn’t sound like it would make it (pretty sure it was older than me). A couple of hours later we arrived at the starting point of the downhill mountain biking. There were loads of other big groups there about to start too and we thought we might meet our group up there but were told we’d cycle alone with our guide and would meet our group later. A little bit of a shame as it’s always nice to do things in a group on tours like this.

I was pretty nervous about the cycling as we were very high up a mountain with some very steep drops. I took it very steady around the corners whilst Kyle and our guide flew down the hill. I started to get more confident and tried to keep up. We cycled 50km and both loved it. The views were incredible when we actually could look! A great start to the four days.

We then drove a little further to the next town, Santa Maria and finally met the group for lunch. We would stay here for the night. The hostel was actually okay (we were told to expect very basic accommodation on the first two nights). It just lacked hot water. We were told we would be picked up in 10 minutes to go river rafting, but literally a minute later the guy was here to take us. Getting used to getting rushed for things! The rafting was great, we wasn’t expecting too much after doing the Hydrospeed in Chile but the river flowed pretty fast and we hit some big rapids. Kyle and the other guy at the front took the brunt of them but we still felt them in the back. The tour guides were great splashing each raft and making us spin around. No photos, but should have a decent Go Pro video when I can upload them finally.

We got a pretty good meal and a good nights sleep before an early start for lots of walking the next day.

Day 2
The alarm went off at 6 for breakfast at 6.30. We were treated to pancakes and fruit for breakfast which made a nice change from stale bread at hostels. We needed a good breakfast with 8 hours walking ahead of us. I’m not a hiker by any means (it was pretty obvious when everyone else had proper hiking boots and I had my converse on) but as we liked the sound of the tour I manned up.

The mornings walking was fine and we had a few stops. The first was a ‘monkey house’. The monkey was tied up which wasn’t very nice to see, unsurprisingly the monkey went after anyone close enough and would take anything it could. After a quick sit down we carried on until we reached the second monkey house, which was lacking a monkey! It did however have hammocks, which was a nice treat after 4 hours walking. Lunch couldn’t come quick enough after eating so early. From 11 onwards all the walking seemed to be uphill and after we reached the highest point we had another hour before heading to the village for lunch.

Lunch was good food again, soup as always followed by Spaghetti Bolognese – a nice change! After I had a little siesta in a hammock, so really didn’t want to set off again! The afternoon was a big of a struggle (just for me) but 3 more hours later we got to our next destination – the hot springs! They were so relaxing and in such a nice setting within the mountains. Shame it was filled by some many other tourists doing the same tour. It was time to get out when there were Mosquitos everywhere.

 

Forgot to take a photo myself so this is courtesy of Google

Forgot to take a photo myself so this is courtesy of Google

It was onto our next hostel in Santa Teresa, which again was pretty nice. We got another double room this time with an en suite. The tour worked out well for us as we have just been getting the cheapest dorm rooms we can. After dinner (more soup and rice/meat) we had a few drinks and headed to a club. Everyone in our group had got drunk very quickly on what seemed to be very little alcohol, so me and Kyle were far too sober in the club but did enjoy watching the group and our guide hit on every girl! Definitely getting old now!

Day 3

We were enjoying our breakfast of chocolate pancakes then our very rough guide told us the women outside was waiting for us to take us ziplining and we had to leave now. Didn’t even have time to drink my tea (I drink tea now Mum!). All very rushed and split up from the group again. The ziplining was good, though not as good/fast as the one I’d done in Whistler. Kyle managed to get told off for going too fast and not breaking enough causing him to almost knock over the guide at the other side and do a backflip. I almost did the same when one of the jokey guides didn’t tell me to slow down until the last minute so I came in really fast and flipped up much to his amusement! We did 5 zip lines then walked along a suspension bridge which I did not enjoy. Even though you’re attached to the bridge it didn’t feel very safe. Thanks for shaking it Kyle! As per, GoPro videos to come!

We then had a 3 hour drive to get to Hydro Electric and an hour wait there. We had to wait until the rest of our group arrived until we could eat lunch so we had to watch all the order groups enjoy theirs!

After lunch it was a 3 hour walk along train track to get to Aguas Calientes where we spent the night. The walk was pretty long for me as due to all the mosquito bites I’d gotten in the last few days my ankles on both feet had swollen up and made it pretty painful to walk (they were to get much worse and still not gone down 3 days later). We made it and got to our hostel, the nicest one yet with hot water and wifi! Though, the water decided not to be hot when I had mine but everyone else told me how nice it was! Dinner time came around and this time we got a menu to choose what we wanted…what a treat – not meant to sound sarcastic, it really was!

After dinner we had an early night for our 4am start! By this point I was really struggling to walk and decided that I’d have to get the bus up to Machu Picchu.

Day 4
When the alarm went off at 4am I was feeling determined and even though I could still barely walk I knew I’d be disappointed with myself for getting the bus. I’d said to myself even if It took me 3 hours to walk up and I missed the guided tour at 6.30am, it would be better than arriving by bus. It was the best and worst thing I could have done but I definitely made the right choice.

We set off a bit earlier than the rest of the group and when they all passed us they couldn’t believe I was walking ‘oh my god Laura you’re walking’ – yes, I’m a hero! We actually made good time and we got to the top in just under an hour, just as the main gates were opening. There was a huge queue at that point from the walkers and people who’d got the bus.

About 10 minutes later we were entering and to be honest didn’t feel particularly wow’d (that would come about an hour later). Our tour guide waited for us at the top and started the tour just in time for the sun rising over Machu Picchu.

 

The tour was interesting but we were very impatient to go explore ourselves. As we had decided to get the bus back instead of the train (it saved quite a lot of money) we only had a few hours in Machu Picchu and a 3 hour walk to get the bus but with hobbling we needed to give ourselves more time. A big shame as we felt a little rushed. We really wanted to walk up the the Sun Gate to get views from high up. After walking quite high up the views were incredible and we felt we didn’t need to go any higher. We sat looking down on Machu Picchu and had a snack (we are rebels as you’re not meant to eat in MP). That moment made it all worthwhile.

We had paid to climb the Machu Picchu mountain but our tour operator forgot to order the tickets and they sold out! It actually worked out well as I couldn’t have walked any further and we were rushed for time but they did give us our money back.

By the time we’d got back down to near the entrance it had got really busy with tourists to the point you had to wait to get a photo. No wonder people doing the Inca Trail get annoyed that everyone else beats them there after spending days walking!

After a long walk back to our bus in hydro electric we finally made it and got back to the hostel at 8pm.

The Jungle Trek was a great alternative to the Inca Trek or some of the others. An amazing experience that we won’t forget!

Peruvian Adventures – An Anniversary on a Floating Island, Police Escorts, a World Wonder, a Desert Oasis & Beach Time

Our first stop in Peru was Puno which is the town a few hours from Bolivia and Lake Titicaca. We had visited the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca with our visit to Isla Del Sol. Puno is the nearest town to the floating islands of Oros, which was the main reason of our visit and something we had been looking forward to since the start of planning our travels. Oros is home to 2,000 inhabitants with 500 families.

We booked a half day tour through our hostel but hadn’t realised the tour was leaving at 9 o’clock so had just 5 minutes from booking to leaving! We were taken to the port to board our boat. On arrival to the floating island – Oros we were greeted by some locals who were waiting for us. Our guide then gave us an insight into the history of the island and showed us how it was built and is maintained. The floor is made up of a metre of bamboo shoots. It felt very spongey but at the same time very secure. They have to keep topping it as it obviously wears away easily. We found it fascinating learning about how it started and were given a demonstration on how it was built. We were then shown around one of the houses. They were pretty cosy and had solar panel outside for light. Some of them even have electricity and tvs.

The only bit I didn’t like was been made to feel guilty not buying anything from them. The stuff they were selling was good but we literally didn’t have money on us and no room in our bags for anything anyway. But that’s how they now make their living so you can understand why they are pushy for tourists to buy things. We were then sung some songs from the local women in 4 different languages – Quechua, Spanish, English and the local language on the floating islands which I forgot what it was called! The English song was a version of ‘row row your boat’.

We did pay for a separate gondola ride which the money went directly to the families. The gondola or Mercedes Benz as the locals call them took us further down the island. It was a good experience sitting on top of the boat.

That day was mine and Kyles 9 years anniversary! Who’d have thought that long ago we’d be celebrating it on a floating island in Peru?!

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Beautiful Bolivia

Everything about La Paz gave me a headache – the sound of cars beeping, the colourfulness of the markets, the crazy traffic, the protesting, the drums & bells from all of the parades and of course the altitude… But I loved it! La Paz is one of the most interesting cities we’ve visited yet. There is so much culture, history and a unpredictableness that makes it such a diverse city.

After the change of arrival destination from bus station to middle of a street that we had no idea where we were, we arrived at our hostel in La Paz much later than planned. We walked around for a while in search for a restaurant/cafe/fast food place with no luck. The only place with food was a lonely elderly women cooking something at the side of the street. We asked for two of whatever she was making, without really knowing what it was, sat on a bench with her and ate our food with our fingers. It was amazing – beef with potatoes and some hot sauce. A bargain for less than £1. Street-food was the way forward.

We took another free walking tour to see the city which was starting just down the road from out hostel. I was still suffering from the altitude so we opted for the afternoon tour so I could have a rare lie in. Turns out our hostel is on the same road as the San Pedro Prison which is self ran by the inmates and only has a few guards outside (who every time we’ve seen them they’ve been on their phones or reading a paper!). The book Marching Powder is based on the prison and up until recently you could do a tour around the prison. Now there is just a guy who walks around the prison trying to con tourists into paying for him to take him round – he will either just run and take you round the prison and leave you in there! He actually came up to us to ‘chat’ – a nice guy!

The walking tour gave us a good insight into the culture here particularly around the Chaulita women who work at the markets and the people who still believe in witch craft.

We spent a lot of time walking around the markets, which have pretty much everything you’d need to buy and at the food stalls. Food at restaurants is cheap (£4-6 a meal generally) but you can spend £1 on just as good quality food from a street seller. We’ve just had to guess a little with what we’ve ordered and hope for the best but it’s working out well!

No matter what time of day it is, there is always something going on in La Paz. When we arrived it was a university dance parade that blocked the roads then for the other days there were very colourful parades in preparation for Bolivian Independence Day. We were woken at 8am by the sound of a parade going right past our hostel.

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Chilly in Chile

Our first stop in Chile was a quick pop over the border from Bariloche to Puerto Varas via Puerto Montt. We’ve now become accustomed to getting local buses (and not really knowing what’s going on) so we jumped on one of the local mini buses, handed over a few thousand Chilean pesos and headed to Puerto Varas. The buses were the most South American-like buses we’d been on and a sign of what’s to come in Bolivia and Peru. Every time they stopped a guy selling things would jump on and jump off again whilst it was moving in the middle if the street. Not something you’d see on the 640 in Bradford!

We arrived at our hostel, Margyouru 2 (one of the nicest homely ones so far), checked in and took a little hike up one of the recommended hills. Not the best view we’d seen so far but a nice warm up for our hike up the volcano the next day. The Volcano Osorno was the reason of our visit to Puerto Varas.

The weather wasn’t looking great but with just one full day here, we didn’t want to extend our visit to wait for better weather. How bad could it be right?! We set off (on a bus we had no idea where it was going or where to get off) and the weather looked okay. Started the hike and it still was okay… About 10 minutes in it started to rain and it didn’t stop for a full day after! We persevered thinking it may stop and we could maybe still get a good view of the volcano if we hiked high enough… Wrong! 4 hours of walking and we couldn’t see a bloody thing. Meeting a volcano would have to wait until our next stop, Pucon.

We hadn’t even heard of Pucon until a guy in our hostel in Buenos Aires mentioned it. We liked the sound of it so included it in our plans. These recommendations are working out well for us! We had two options to go to Volcano Villarrica – hike it or ski/board down it – It was an easy choice…

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Don’t Cry For Me Argentina

After our visit to Iguazu Falls, to both the Brazilian and Argentinian side. We popped over the border from where we were staying in Brazil to Paraguay, before later heading back across to Argentina that day to start our travels there.

Paraguay was a crazy experience. The city Ciduad del Este is the nearest one from the Brazilian border and is where Brazillians and probably Argentinians go to stock up on cheap goods.

We drew out half a million Paraguian currency which was about £10. We had a few things we wanted to try find and thought it would be quite fun trying to spend our little bit of currency in the markets…It wasn’t! As soon as we stepped off the bus we were harassed by about 10 guys shouting random places at us to buy a bus ticket to. Even when we went into the bus terminal to try get a cheaper bus ticket to Argentina the people behind the counters from each bus company were shouting to get us to buy from them – very uncomfortable! Safe to say we didn’t bother in the end and just stuck with our original plan of getting the bus straight from Brazil.

The harassment in the bus station was only the start and it got worse! Obviously I stand out as a foreigner anywhere in South America (Kyle just blends in anywhere!) so Paraguay was no different. They smelt money and every stall we walked past people would shout things at us (obviously we didn’t understand) and then they’d follow us down the street!

I made the mistake of taking interest in what a guy was selling and ended up buying a memory card for my GoPro thinking it was an absolute bargain… It was for a fake memory card! No wonder the guy and all his mates ran down the street trying to sell me all sorts of other stuff! Socks seemed to be the most popular thing people were selling. Never seen so many socks (apart from on the floor in Primark maybe)

We didn’t have any passport / police checks when we crossed the border, as they don’t want to turn people away who will be spending money. On the way back out, however, the police came onto the bus and checked how much people had bought. This guy got away though…

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An interesting few hours that we will definitely remember! After that it was back to the calm in Brazil and then to Argentina to start our travels there.

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A Month in Brazil

In the month we spent in Brazil, we stayed in the Amazon rainforest, visited 5 Brazilian cities, saw one of the 7 wonders of the world, arguably one of the ‘new’ natural wonders, watched all the Brazil games with the locals and yes (I’m not avoiding it) watched England get knocked out of the World Cup in the group stages… Our worst performance since the 1950s. Despite the disappointment, which had to be expected as an England fan, it didn’t put a downer on our trip, infact it allowed us to do some things we weren’t able to do had England progressed – silver lining there!

Manaus

After our stay in the Amazon rainforest, the following day was game day. Thank god it was a 6pm kick-off as midday humid temperatures would have been hard to bear for 90 minutes. The square in Manaus was filled with England fans, it felt like a home game.

This game was my first England game in a competition, we couldn’t get tickets for England games in South Africa so was very excited. We all know how the game ended (2-1 loss to the Italians), but the performance was one of the best in a long time. Hope still remained for the Uruguay game…

São Paulo

We flew into São Paulo from Manaus (a luxury for us as we had no choice than to fly due to lack of roads). We stayed there for 6 nights, which in hindsight we probably didn’t need that much time there, but with 3-4 football games a day we had plenty to keep us occupied!

Game day arrived and there were a lot more nerves this time, as we knew we need to get at least a point out of the game or we’d be pretty much out of the tournament. I’ve never seen England dominate so much and actually have a go against a good team like Uruguay. Though we never looked like winning and who would have guessed it would be Suarez to score the winner for Uruguay… if only he’d taken to cannabilism a match before!

We met up with a Brazilian friend who lives in São Paulo that we met in Whistler, who showed us a different side of São Paulo. Thanks Leo!

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Welcome to the Jungle!

Whilst in Manaus, Brazil we couldn’t miss the chance to visit the Amazon Rainforest. We have just got back from a 3 day and 2 night tour and it was absolutely incredible. What I write and the pictures I will show will not do it justice, you have to visit yourself to really appreciate it.

We had received an itinerary before we left and were very excited by it. Though the schedule didn’t run to plan (don’t expect anything to in Brazil), everything we did was a completely new and amazing experience.

Day 1
After a bus, boat, bus and another boat we arrived at our little village in the Amazon rainforest with lunch ready waiting for us. After a buffet lunch of rice, beans, fish, chicken, salad and lots of fruit (one of many to come!) we were given our rooms. Basic accommodation but surprisingly insect free and the mosquito net kept the damn mossies out.

The afternoons activity was Piranha fishing and pink river dolphin spotting. We unfortunately didn’t see any river dolphins so carried on to do some fishing! Within 5 minutes of setting off a thunderstorm started and I have literally never seen rain like it, let alone sit through it. We thought it might be time to head back but we carried on and I’m so glad we did. It never actually stopped raining for the few hours we were on the boat. After a while a guy in our boat caught a Piranha and then not too much longer I caught one too! Mine was just a little one so we let it back in. The competitive side in Kyle obviously came out then and he caught one too. A much bigger one that we would later eat for tea! Up close GoPro videos to come, once I’ve figured how to upload them!

Despite being p*ss wet through and very cold it was such a good experience. Catching Piranha in the Amazon river – tick!

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