New Zealand

New Zealand. Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated destination for Olleydays, started in difficult circumstances, almost bittersweet.

The kerfuffle started with leaving South America. There is one flight daily from Santiago de Chile to Auckland at about 9 o’clock in the evening. We arrived at the airport only to be told our flight had flown the previous day, despite all our paperwork suggesting we had arrived for the correct flight. We were advised we wouldn’t be able to get out of Santiago unless there were cancellations for the next flight and that was highly unlikely and required us to hang around at the airport all evening until check-in close. Further investigation, by the very helpful staff at the airport, highlighted some odd activity on our ticket showing multiple bookings for previous flights over the prior week. Some sort of monumental cock-up by the people who booked our tickets! The airport staff even recognised our name from several apparent no shows that we knew nothing about! We waited and sure enough, were unable to fly.

Fury didn’t even quite cut it. Not only had someone messed up our booking, but we had to venture back one hour into Santiago. We lugged our entire lives back with us into the city which was no mean feat and fortunately our hostal room was still free. Multiple emails and skypes were had to try and ascertain what had happened and to alert our camper van rental company that we would be late, how late we weren’t sure but that we still wanted the rental. We were feeling pretty annoyed that our hotly anticipated trip to NZ was going to be reduced by a day. We were advised to try again the following day and we reluctantly agreed having been told that the flight was fully booked already by airport staff.

We set off for the airport again with an air of resignation, expecting not to be able to fly, the promise of a complementary stay at a nearby hotel the only silver lining to us.

Same story, different day. Hours of hanging around to no avail. Instead of travelling back to our hostal to potentially be disappointed and traipse around Santiago at midnight looking for somewhere to stay, we checked into the nearby Hilton, courtesy of the company who managed to mess up our tickets. This time, we were told it was looking good availability wise for the next flight so we enjoyed a day at the pool and the luxury of a hotel room. We had made contact with our van rental company, Jucy, and  advised that we hoped to arrive the following day, hopeful that they would be lenient with no arrival fees.

After a quite restful day in the hotel, we spent another evening waiting around at the airport until the end of check in. This time, there were two spots available! However, there were three of us on the waiting list. Seeing as the guy ahead of us had been waiting a day longer, we decided to let him go, leaving only one seat and two of us. Surely this good karma would pay off eventually? Back to the Hilton, it could’ve been worse.

The following day started with more contact with our agents and this time they rang our hotel room to confirm we were leaving South America at last that evening! Although not to Auckland as planned, but Sydney with a tight changeover for Auckland. We contacted Jucy again to keep them up to date and confirmed we hoped to be there the following day, again. Now 3 days out of our 4 weeks of scheduled NZ time.

We’d left South America, finally! Our plane was a little delayed leaving but I felt sure we’d make it up, and some, and be able to catch the flight to Auckland.

We didn’t make it up. In fact it was even slower and we were alerted mid-flight that we wouldn’t make the transfer. In fairness, we were told we’d be put up in a hotel in preperation for the following flight the next day at 7am, but this doesn’t make up for the further day eaten away from our NZ trip. I wondered how much Jucy would expect us to pay of our missed rental as it was starting to get embarrassing. It started to feel like a higher being did not want us to visit New Zealand!

Jucy, our camper van hire company, could not have been any better. Prior to our delayed arrival, they were very aware of our strict budget and did everything they could to lower the overall cost of the hire and even threw in the use of a gps device and free second driver cover so that we could both take the wheel whilst in New Zealand. Despite our numerous delayed arrivals, they also didn’t charge us for missed days. Service like this just doesn’t happen in England.

The more we travel, the more we’ve begun to realise how miserable and unhelpful people are (generally) in England. Customer service and even a willingness to help strangers in need seems to be dying out. Everywhere we’ve been so far, people go out of their way to ensure that customers, or even strangers like us have a pleasant experience with their company or country. Regardless of if it’s looking for certain items in a supermarket, trying to arrange alternate travel for missed busses or errors with paperwork that leave us stranded, we have been dealt with in a very professional, respectful and hospitable manner. Thinking to times where these sorts of things have occurred to us in England, I’m sure some of you are familiar with the shrug of the shoulders and the ‘not my problem’ response. Frankly, it’s quite embarrassing and is something that we should  be ashamed of; one aspect of life at home that I’m not looking forward to returning to. Do some people not realise that this can result in further business and positive attitudes towards a company and even a whole nation of people? It really doesn’t cost anything and, contrary to some belief, IS a part of your job.
It was this ‘can do’ attitude that made Jucy appealing to us as we were recommended to them by some fellow travellers as being particularly helpful. As a result, we’ve recommended Jucy to numerous other people, some of whom have made bookings. I couldn’t recommend them any more highly. If you are ever in NZ or Aus, just book with them. You shan’t be disappointed. If you are, then I will shoulder some of the blame.
Rather than give you a written rundown of everything we
did, I’ll leave it to the pictures to do the talking for us.
Here’s the route:
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mid
south
Simply put: the most breath-takingly stunning place that I have ever seen, and possibly ever will get the opportunity to. Here’s the gallery and the photos in no particular order

 

Mendoza Reds (ARG) vs. Marlborough Whites (NZL)

Hey there sports fans! Welcome to another exciting, pulse-raising edition of the Olleydays blog. I know you’ve been waiting some time for this one but the wait is over, the anticipation has reached fever pitch and the stage is set to see several scorching wines go head-to-head in personified battle. Continue reading Mendoza Reds (ARG) vs. Marlborough Whites (NZL)

4 Days of Salt

Far from being as boring as it sounds, The Salt Flats in Bolivia were actually one of the most astoundingly beautiful places we’d been so far. The thought of a 4 day tour consisting entirely of salt might, for want of a better phrase, be slightly unsavoury for some, but the 4 day salt flat tour is somewhat misleading, but in a good way. The salt flat part of the tour only takes about half a day, but that is not until you visit the train cemetery.

An excuse to spin some money from some abandoned and rusted machinery. Or a way to fill some time. Either way, what was moderately interesting, was that the coal powered steam trains were purchased from England to move minerals across South America. The coal powered trains, it transpired, were consuming vast quantities of expensive coal. They then realized that coal was not a commodity they had in that region and the poor old steam trains were laid to rest in place of their more economically sound diesel relative. But they did make them into a playground; so it’s all swings and roundabouts.

Then on to the real reason we were doing the trip; the salt.
The salt flats of Uyuni, or Salar de Uyuni as they are known locally, are an incredible expanse of totally flat and arid land that stretch for a mind boggling distance. It seems that no one really knows how they came to pass but it is thought to have been the result of the fault lines and frequent plate movement that lifted a large sea above sea level. This eventually dried depositing metres and metres worth of salt and a perfectly flat landscape. The shift in height or the extent of the land undulation is said to be under a metre across an expanse of over 4000 square miles.
What is agreed however, is that they are a great source of salt and a worthy venue for tourists to visit and try to comprehend these sorts of distances. And to take some pictures.

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Salt collected in piles for ease of transportation.

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A short drive across the monotonous landscape and you arrive at the cactus island. It sticks out like a sore thumb, absolutely nothing for miles and all of a sudden, the most dense array of cactus, clustered into a relatively confined space. Some of the Cacti are said to be over 1000 years old. Bizarre.

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Later that day we headed across the reams of salt to experiment with some perspective shots and to enjoy the sunset. These are not as easy to make convincing as it might seem, so short of embarrassing myself with something that would be more at home in a poorly funded 1950’s film, here are some of us utilizing the dimming light conditions around sunset and showing off the unique patterns that salt often makes on the surface.

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After a cold night in the remotest of villages, we set off to discover what else the region had to offer. It didnt disappoint. Prepare your eyes for stunning vistas a plenty. Panoramic shots seem to be a relatively good way of demonstrating the colossal distances and mountains that we experienced that day. Definitely worth clicking these images to get a full screen appreciation.

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Panorama complete with our transport.

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One of the most incredibly coloured mountains, no idea what it’s called or where it is. Our driver’s English was absent. As was my Spanish.

Day three was my favourite day. Flamingos, a red lake and star gazing whilst basking in natural thermal pools after a steak dinner.

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The Burgundy character of Laguna Colorada (coloured Lake) is caused by, I think, algae that lives in the water. It is only red for a short period of the day when the algae are feeding from the sun.

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Look closely – Pink Flamingos!

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The extreme right of the image shows the changing rooms and thermal pools. This was sunset, just before our dinner. We didn’t enter the pools until it was about 9pm, pitch black and about 3 degrees!

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There are flamingos here too!

The fourth and final day consisted mainly of a visit to the windiest place I’ve ever been, apart from Brighton on James Toner’s stag do. Actually, this may have been worse. Laguna Verde, or Green Lake; the highlight. You’ll see why…

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Simply stunning. So remote.  An incredible part of our planet. Not just for landscapes, but wildlife too.

If you are going to South America, make sure this is part of your trip. It is just remarkable.

Next post: Wining and Biking around Mendoza, Argentina and the Marlborough region of New Zealand!

The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

The pinnacle of the South America leg of the Olleydays’ tour. Without a doubt. It was bound to be. The Inca trail is highly regarded as one of the most incredible treks on the globe and UNESCO deem it special enough to have amongst their armoury of spectacular and preservation worthy locations.

The anticipation had been great and the day had finally arrived. The journey of 42km, across 4 days of trekking, to reach our ultimate destination of Machu Picchu was upon us. The bulk of our Inca family, fortunately,  had been initiated prior to the start of the trail with the lion’s share of us already friends from the, still in progress, G Adventures tour. The family consisted of: Michelle, myself and Sophie, making up the English contingent; ‘Norway’, as they were affectionately and collectively referred to as, was made up of Henriette and Christian, from Norway; our resident events and activities guru Romanian Elena and Jill, our baby of the group from the US.

We decided, having missed the Temple of the Sun the previous day, before the main course of El Camino Inca, that we’d head out at dawn to cram in the temple as a starter. Aptly, the sun beat down on us as we climbed the steps to get a good view across the town of Ollantaytambo.

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It was certainly worth the effort, despite the impending and daunting prospect of chasing it up with the start of the Inca Trail.

The intense lack of oxygen in the air served as a sobering reminder of the journey we were about to embark on. If we were struggling for breath climbing a few stone steps, the altitude and distances we were due to cover over the next few days were going to perhaps come as a shock. Were we all going to manage this? I reminded myself that I went swimming at least 3 times before we embarked on this trip, so my stamina should be fine for such extremes. We put the lack of stamina and shortage of breath down to the fact we hadn’t eaten yet with each and every member of the Inca family knowing deep down that this was a way of suppressing the worry of whether or not we’d actually survive what was to come. Id be lying if I said I wasn’t a little apprehensive…

The Inca trail officially began amongst a blaze of optimism and enthusiasm and with two new additions, Rafa and Innes from Switzerland.

Caution to the metaphorical wind was taken to not traipse off at a such a pace that was not likely to be maintained over the coming days. Despite this being widely confirmed as the most gentle of days, there were moments, later in the day, where motivation would wane only momentarily. Our newly formed Inca family was on hand to provide some well directed banter, encouragement or coca leaves to refocus our energies.

The Inca family was not alone on this trek, in fact, we were the minority. Each day 250 permitted travellers take to the Inca trail under the strict guidance of at least 2 resident experts, the brains. Our experts were Enrique and Clissa. These guys were on hand to teach us about the ancient civilisation of the Inca’s and their various sites of interest that we would be visiting en route to Machu Picchu and to physically guide us across the Andes.

As this trail was to take 4 days, we were accompanied by 18 of the most incredible men I’ve ever met. The porters are the brawn behind the trail and transport tents, luggage, cooking equipment, gas, food and drink along the entire route making it possible for novices like us to enjoy the trail. These incredibly fit, forgiving, patient and humble men are the only reason that the trail is accessible to people like me. They start the journey after the trekkers and overtake on the way, carrying mounds of luggage on their backs, to ensure tents are erected and food is on the table for the trekkers when they arrive at camp. One of the porters within our family had recently completed the entire Inca trail, in a staggering 3 and a half hours! It was due to take us 4 days. That knowledge should have been enough of an embarrassment for us to sprint to our campsite for the remaining few km, but the distraction of the rain that had started and discussions of what we thought we might be eating for dinner that evening meant that we arrived where we would be camping for the first night sooner than we’d anticipated.

Dinner was incredible. Whether it was the intense exertion of energy and extreme hunger that made everything taste better, or the frequent ‘go-to’ reason for every event, ‘the altitude’, was unclear. What was clear was that our chefs excelled themselves each day, never repeating a meal. Each lunch and dinner consisted of a different soup, followed by main courses of various meats, fish, vegetables, rice, chips, quinoa (the ‘supergrain’ of the future) and even homemade pizzas and, incredibly, a cake on the final day! After our first meal, and over our digestion enhancing coca tea,  conversation turned to the trying times that we would face tomorrow. We all knew the tales of ‘the second day’ where people turn back because they can’t complete it or become incredibly ill as a result of the altitudes and intense periods of uphill trekking involved. At the day’s summit, the Dead Woman’s pass, we would then spend the rest of the day descending.

It felt like we’d never arrive. Whilst the warm weather and clear sky skies made everything incredibly beautiful, it meant that perspiration was rife and made things just a little more uncomfortable.  The air thinned further, along with our motivation, and as the legends informed, people were turning back, defeated. Rest stops became more frequent and our group got spread out along the trail to allow individuals to go at a pace that suited them.

Dead Woman’s pass got slowly nearer. Catching sight of Norway already at the summit and their cheers of encouragement gave us the final energy sapping boost to reach the top. Blistered and in some pain, we turned to survey from whence we came:

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Time for photos to prove we completed half of day two.

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After a 10 minute rest, it was time to set off down the other side, but not before a quick survey of the route below.

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Unlike my slow, cumbersome and particularly ungracious ascents, I found the downhill sections a lot easier than the flat and uphill sections at the start, preemptively locating safe locations for each foot and using momentum to skip down the Andes at a decent pace. Michelle found it particularly difficult however, on account of a ‘jippy knee’. As time wore on, the tiredness set in and I wasn’t making such good decisions and I frequently lost my footing and pace. The blisters worsened, the energy deteriorated and again, the motivation drained, to the extent that I questioned the decision to do the Inca Trail at all.

All this vanished at camp number 2. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.

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Just the sight of our tents ready and erect in the distance refueled our bodies and minds, but coupled with the calmness, grandeur and serenity of the Andean surroundings, was just once-in-a-lifetime stuff. The way they sat, in a channel, flanked and dwarfed by the monstrous mountains was a sight never to forget.

The porters brought round hot water to each tent to let us wash our tired feet. Removing my boots and socks and soaking in that water was an unrivalled experience, but one I felt I’d earnt. Soothing my feet and taking in the surroundings was definitely the reward for a hard day’s trekking. I challenge someone to show me a more impressive view from a tent…

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Day three started; a refreshed and rejuvenated family. The pancakes for breakfast may have had something to do with it. Optimism was oozing from the campsite, safe in the knowledge that the hardest day was over. Day three was to be the longest day, in both distance and duration, with a plethora of interesting Incan sites to visit along the through the cloud forest.

After a few minutes into the third day, true to the name, the clouds closed in. Visibility was poor and we were left to imagine the views that surrounded us as we trekked. The rain was the annoyingly fine and persistent mist that seems to instantly saturate everything within 7 seconds of exposure, despite the illusion that it appears to not be raining, at all. The lack of decent views meant that there was more time to discuss Incas with our guides.

It turns out that the Incan culture is only around 500 years old. The marvel is that they were only ‘discovered’ about 100 years ago by a Hawaiian scholar, Hiram Bingham. For some reason, I had absolutely no idea of this and had assumed, and was somewhat disappointed, that they existed thousands of years ago. The reason for the inverted commas discovered is that academia and western cultures discovered them via Bingham. The indigenous had known about them for some indeterminable amount of time before this, they were well aware. They’d had no contact with westerners and really had no reason to let them know about their sacred sites. All of the sites that we visited along the way had some unique function as to why they were situated where they were. They were either agricultural sites bearing the trademark terrace structure; religious sites where shrines and other evidence of offerings were found or outposts and checkpoints that the Incas would use to protect themselves.

It was also a chance for us to learn a bit of Quechua too. From what I remember about Quechua (we briefly touched upon it in my linguistics degree at Lancaster), its an agglutinating language, a language that joins together the grammatic and lexical content that we separate in english with spaces between words. So each ‘sentence’ in Quechua is really only one long word. What was interesting was understanding that there is no translation for ‘goodbye’. The Quechua speakers consider this to be too final and the closest translation is something like ‘see you in the other world’ Tupananchiskama.

The rain continued well into the afternoon and we wondered if the weather was set for a few days meaning our visit to Machu Picchu would be shrouded in mystery and pea soup (Incidently, Machu Picchu is Quechuan too, meaning ‘Old Mountain’, and is the mountain that the temple sits on). As we neared the final campsite, the clouds started to part, drawing the curtains on quite possibly the most incredible view I have ever witnessed. We spent alot of time here just taking in the majesty of the scenery, particularly as all we’d really seen all day was just grey. Intipata, or ‘sun place’ provided the perfect opportunity for the obligatory photos and Michelle spent ages trying to prepare me for the photo.

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We eventually managed to get a decentish shot of me, something of a rarity.

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The images taken really don’t do the scenery or the feeling of achieving that we all experienced in this wonderful few minutes.

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The view was so mesmerizing that we’d almost forgotten to look behind us back at Intipata. The view was afforded to us from a huge Incan Terrace.

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The view would probably have been slightly enhanced from a short ramble to the top, but the fact we could even see our campsite for the final sleep in the depths of the valley encouraged us to make our way there, plus the promise of our guide’s favourite Incan site. Enrique, or Kike as we were allowed to call him now, advised that we needed to be quick to see it before dusk.

We marched into camp to raucous applause and high fives from our porters. We dumped our gear and headed out of camp straight to Wiñaywayna, translated, ‘Forever Young’. Wiñaywayna sits nestled amongst a steep valley and drifts around the natural contours, looking out into the Andes. As the light started to fail, the place assumed a very calming and magic quality. As the other trekkers headed back to camp, we were left on our own to soak up Wiñaywayna, all to ourselves.

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An early night was needed as we needed to leave camp at about 3 30am to ensure we reached the world renowned Sungate, or Intipunku (my expert linguistic deduction skills working out that ‘Inti’ meant ‘Sun’ and ‘Punku’ meant ‘gate’, although the literal translation in ‘door’) at sunrise.

Excitement and anticipation of reaching Machu Picchu was tangible that morning and was probably the sole driving force behind us actually surfacing at that hour. We got our penultimate stamp in our passport and headed off up to Intipunku at  quite a pace. The final approach to the Sungate is incredibly steep and is the final testing time before you catch your first glimpse of the object of your last 3 days of hiking.

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We could almost sense the feeling of the people ahead of us as they scrambled over the mountain and set their eyes upon Machu Picchu. We’d arrived.

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The emotions and tiredness were overwhelming and we’d all made it. It was somewhat cloudy but as the sun came up, a beam of light shone directly onto the temple illuminating and signposting the way for the final descent into the temple itself.

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The tour was even more special as our guides stayed with us as we walked around the site giving us more useful and interesting info; stopping only to scoff at the scores of people daytripping and taking the bus up to visit. We had a sense of pride that we’d achieved and earnt the right to be there enjoying the sacred site, albeit with a bit of help!

The famous mountain that often accompanies shots of Machu Picchu (even though the mountain of Machu Picchu is rarely in the shots) is called ‘Wayna Picchu’, which again, my powerful linguistic deduction skills told me was ‘Young Mountain’. There was an option to climb this mountain, but only via prebooking.

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Time to enjoy the fruits of our labour.

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Michelle and I had some time to ourselves and found a nice quiet spot in front of the main attraction on part of the agricultural site, the terraces. The time was spent admiring the view and contemplating our journey of Andean Discovery.

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Concussion, Condors, Chivay, Cusco, Circles and Salt.

So, our time in Arequipa came and went. Mainly as a result of mild concussion acquired on a trip to the Santa Cantalina convent. It turns out that there was just one too many low doorways and the resulting coming together meant some time in the onsite restaurant with a custom made icepack applied to head. On the plus side, the surroundings were pleasant enough.

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With only minor side effects of a rather pronounced bang to the bonce, we headed in search of the mighty Condor; later learning that it is the symbol of the afterworld in the Incan version of the ‘Holy Trinity’.

The Snake is considered to represent the underworld, whilst the Puma was thought to signify the waking world and the present. The subject of our daytrip completing the trio by symbolizing the afterlife; soaring above and looking down on the people from afar.

Chivay (pronounced chee-vai) was the day’s destination and would provide us with a conveniently located base with which to make an early start in search of the Condors in the Canyon the following day. On the way, our privately hired mini bus stopped off at various Miradors (viewpoints) afforded with some of the most incredible vistas I’ve ever witnessed. I know I’ve already mentioned the beauty of Peru, but it seems to have a habit of surpassing itself at each and every stop.

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The towns and buildings became sparse and endless reems of dust and rocks took over as we started to delve deeper into the Andes. The beautiful monotony was occaisionally broken with a herd of roaming Llamas, Alpacas or the much sought after and elusive Vicuña. Knowing a little about knitwear from my precious job, I understood that Alpaca wool is highly renound and paid for all across the world. The Vicuña however, has a much more smooth and softer fur. Thus, making it incredibly desirable for high end clothing. The dwindling population of vicuñas is such that the animal is protected and the wool can only be used once the animal has died of natural causes. Hence, the hugely inflated prices of vicuña clothing, ontop of what is already a relatively expensive Alpaca wool garment. A garment of Vicuña can fetch upwards of 2000 peruvian Soles (pronounced soh-less) (think £400 and some). We did see a handful of these shy creatures on the way, but the lack of a telephoto lens attached to my phone made the images a little pointless to post here. However, here are some Llamas and Alpacas that were a little more accessable.

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We ascended further into the Andes, the ears began to ring and the noses began to bleed indicating we were close to our highest point of the tour. The scenery became more and more dramatic and we stopped, frequently, to take photos and enjoy the sights first hand, rather than through a bus window. At one of our rest stops, we were advised of a drink that would perhaps aid the symptoms of high altitude that some of us were experiencing. A concoction of the famous and abundant coca leaf, combined with Manzanilla (camomile) and Muño (a pepperminty type herb) helps aid digestion (which is almost non-existent at altitude) and relieve some of the other unwelcome symptoms. This ‘Mate Triple’ (ma-tay tree-play) or triple herb type drink when mixed with hot water has become a staple for Olleydays across The Andes so far.

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Venturing yet further along winding, steep and mountainous roads, we had time to enjoy more incredible scenes. It became obvious that scores of people before us had too appreciated the beauty and stopped to take in the majesty of the Andes. Scattered across the landscape were thousands of small stone ‘towers’ created by the passers by to show an appreciation to Pacha Mama (if you read my last post, you’ll already know, intelligently, that this is Quechuan for Mother Earth). I felt it necessary to show my own appreciation and install my own shrine to Peru and Pacha Mama.

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At 4910m, the highest point we’d reach on our South American tour of Peru and Bolivia, we stopped and took in our surroundings and stared in wonder at the volcanos soaring above in the distance.

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The descent towards Chivay produced a great many more sights and the shrinking hours of daylight helped give the scenes an even more aesthetically pleasing appeal. The calmness allowing us to rest for the following day’s excitements.

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Refreshed and raring to spot the mighty condor we set off early from Chivay to the Colca Canyon.

After a bit more Mirador action, we decided to ascend to the highest point at the site in anticipation of the avian giant. Hoards of tourists had been waiting patiently for a glimpse and, timing our hike to perfection, we reached the summit, glanced to the right and, swooping in the valley below, we caught sight of an adult Condor (juveniles are a dark brown in colour, the adult is jet black with flashes of white) drifting opulently beneath us. I tried to divide my time between experiencing the Condor between my camera lens and my own god given lenses. Although I have some great shots on my SLR, this was the best I could muster on my phone.

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Probably not even worth posting.

But it got even better when three other condors decided to visit. The 3 juveniles spent 30 minutes just swooping and soaring around above us, showing off and giving us spectacular fly bys. I’m really looking forward to checking the pictures out when we get back to the UK.

The way back from the Colca Canyon was just as enjoyable as actually being there and enjoying the splendors of the views and birds. Again, Miradors aplenty with yet more super views to take in. And as before, Peru just keeps surpassing itself. Each and every time we find a new spot! Perhaps it has domething to do with venturing deeper and deeper into the heart of the range?

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After another stop for a digestion aiding Mate Triple, we headed for the afternoon ‘activity’ of bathing in some natural hot springs.

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Hiding just behind the straw huts were several man made pools channelling the natural hot spring into various, relatively controlled and maintained temperature baths. We spent a good hour or two swapping between the various temperatures and dunking ourselves in the fresh river water. An incredible experience and a great way to wind down after a travel filled day.

Having arrived back in Chivay with an incredibly bad headache, I headed to bed early hoping to be fit and ready for more travel to Arequipa. It was suggested that the headache was a result of the sulpher present at the hot springs and after a shower, it seemed to have cleansed my headache almost instantly. The lesson here? Always shower after a visit to some hot springs!

The journey back to the concussion territory of Arequipa stuck with tradition and meant that we were travelling in postcard territory almost the entire journey.

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Any geographers out there would have been fascinated with some of the rock formations we witnessed. One particular interesting formation was the ‘tusk-like’ protrusions on this rock face. Particularly the single unicorn tusk to the right of the image. Perhaps a keen geologist can shed some light on this?! Feel free to comment below.

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We spent the afternoon wondering around Arequipa and preparing ourselves for another night bus, this time to Cusco. We were getting nearer and nearer to the Inka trail…

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It turns out, that Cusceños (people hailing from the town known as the ‘gateway’ to the Inca trail), like nothing more than a parade and an excuse to party. While we were there for the first time, the locals were celebrating the birth of the Virgin. Cusco is cosily tucked into a valley and the views from the Plaza de Armas show the mountains cradling the city.

One thing that triggered some memories of staring out of the windows whilst travelling around Peru for the last 14 days, that was at the time a dormant vision, was the prominence of the rainbow flag. I realised that I had seen the flag quite alot and had assumed that Peru was very comfortable with showing solidarity for the Gay community. However, I later learned that the colours actually represent the Incas and their movement to the Andean people. Recent research has however suggested that Incans probably didn’t even use flags, but you try telling that to the heritage proud South Americans.

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The celebrations lasted all day and right across the city in various pockets of festivity. Our Sunday finished with sampling the local beer, Cusqueña, from a balcony in an almost empty bar with incredible views of the square and, what felt like, our very own parade.

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Next up was our Sacred Valley day, beginning with ziplining across the valley, on one of the longest lines in the world. The very kind lady at the venue took photos on my slr so I have none to share with the blog at the moment. (I really need to sort out some sort of decent internet that is going to be capable of uploading 2000 odd 6mb a piece images…)

The ziplining was pretty amazing. The adrenaline rush, trying to avoid burning your fingers and remembering to enjoy the views and experience was difficult to manage all at once. With me being me, it resulted in forgetting to brake and ploughing into the ’emergency slack zone’, burning my fingers and being too scared to brake on the second zip, resulting in someone having to brake for me in the emergency slack zone a second time! Either way, it was absolutely awesome and I would highly recommend it to anyone and everyone!

The afternoon’s galavanting about the sacred valley was just as enjoyable, albeit a less adrenaline fuelled affair. First up were the Salt Pools.

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The sun was waning and threatening to hide behind the mountains and disappear for the day. The view across the valley was great, although there is obviously not a great deal to do, other than to confirm the existence of salt. It was.

For dessert, and my not so narrow favourite, was Moray. Moray is home to one of the most spectacular Incan terraces. The Incas were so advanced that they identified and utilized the small temperature differences from each terrace to allow them to cultivate crops that were introduced to the country from elsewhere. Each terrace had its own microclimate allowing exotic, newfangled foods to be introduced to the area. Alongside this history, it still looks outrageously incredible.

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Even the backdrop was breathtaking. The fact that we were a little slow getting to this place after the sun had disappeared behind the sacred valley for another day meant that the place was deserted. No tourists to ruin the views!

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Olleydays disclaimer:

I’m aware that this is quite a long blog and was quite a while ago in the grand scheme of the Olleydays grand tour. I’m trying to get my head around having so many amazing experiences that I need to filter and be selective of what I see and only record certain things.

Although Olleydays is currently in Argentina for the next 24 hours only, I still want to do another post and dedicate it to the Inca trail. It will be short, I promise! In the meantime, here is a photo of us in (prepare yourselves…) Ollantaytambo (oi-an-tai-tam-boh).

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As a final interesting fact, the Incans used to angle their building blocks at an angle of 30 degrees. They’d fathomed that this acute was an optimum degree of protection from frequent earthquakes. Notice how there is no mortar and how they had carved the stone to be so smooth. In the words of Neil Young: ‘They built with their bare hands what we still can’t build today’. Its awe-inspiring Neil, it really is.

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Perú – Lima to Nasca – Paracas, Pisco and Pachamanca

So, while teachers across the country and, no doubt, across the globe, are knee deep in summer holiday loom band projects that have already been confiscated, Olleydays has arrived in South America. Perú has not let us down. What a country to start the travelling (no disrespect to the States, it seems less travelly).

After a whistlestop couple of days in Lima, doing like the Limoños do, it was time to meet up with our new friends for our discovery of the Andes.

First stop was the beautifully proportioned coastal town of Paracas, south of Lima. Paracas is popular with tourists wishing to visit the nearby Ballestos islands.

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The copious amounts of seaside avian life are not just crowd pullers and ultimately revenue for the local hostels, restaurants and market stalls, but also serve as employment through their byproducts.

‘Guano’ is harvested frequently and shipped out to the US and Mexico on account of the high potassium,  phosphorus and nitrogen levels found within. This high quality fertiliser is much sought after. You may even be eating some as you read this, most probably indirectly, if at all.

The boat tour scoots out around these islands and the expert guides point out the various avian species, getting particularly excited when Red Eyed Cormorants come into view. Oh and there are Penguins too!

Next stop was the Hotel San Marcelo just outside of Nasca. Not before a visit to a Pisco distillery, Dune Buggie rides and Sandboarding on the sand dunes of the Huacachina desert; A relatively novel but welcome way of breaking up a long bus journey.

Pisco, in its most common form, is a spirit akin to a vodka, made from grapes. At the distillery there was a brief tour of the site and explanations on the traditional methods of producing a bottle of the 40% Peruvian classic. This was followed by the proverbial tasting session casting light on the various intoxicating guises that Pisco can assume. These range from a weak tasting ‘red wine’ style that can be drinkable from picking to palate in a mere few weeks to a stronger,  sweeter type that shares some notes of port. This versatile grape variety has also been transformed into a Bailey’sesque type tipple in colour but flavoured with fig and ‘Dulce de Leche’, a sweet evapourated milk sauce, similar to butterscotch.

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The Pisco Sour is very common throughout Peru and the 40% clear version of the spirit is combined with a generous gush of lime juice and layered with a light and airy egg white and garnished with a touch of cinnamon to produce a very refreshing and frankly quite dangerous beverage.

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Suitably oiled and with the anticipation of impending adrenaline combined with some Salsa music on the bus, we arrived at Huacachina enthused and excited.

Accessable only by a rugged off road buggie, we made our way to the tallest dunes, at the summit of which, we would be throwing ourselves down on a plank of waxed wood.

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Despite the vigour with which we were flung by our hefty driver, as the cart traversed the beige sea, it suddenly became apparent that the vast vistas that Peru has to offer are remarkably stunning. In between the bursts and bounces of the rollercoaster ride, moments of sheer beauty contradict the emotions. Getting out and taking in the scenery was totally awe-inspiring and sobering too, but in a good way.

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With the adrenaline still giving us a natural high, we piled back into the  buggies and made our way back to the town for Lunch. There was a glorious moment where we were treated to the view our backs had enjoyed when we departed an hour earlier. The view seemed to be Peru’s way of reminding us that, whilst you can have fun with me, I’m also pretty breathtaking too.

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It was time to make our way to the Hotel San Marcelo just outside Nasca. We arrived in the dark and couldn’t really get acquainted with the surroundings.

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Waking up the next morning and finding the whole site surrounded in a peace and tranquility from the enveloping Andes immediately dissipated any remnants of yesterday’s adrenaline and induced a sense of calm and serenity.

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This was to be the venue for our Pachamanka and frankly I can’t imagine a better venue. Deriving from  Quechuan, ‘Pacha’ means ‘earth’ and ‘manka’ means an ‘earthen pot’. The Pachamanka is essentially a feast and relates to the cooking method, which, as the name suggests, is in the ground, in pots.

Firstly, large stones are heated over a fire, these help to produce an even cook.

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The stones are moved aside and the embers in the pit are then plied with corn, sweet potatoes and parcels of Tomales.

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A layer of banana leaves, or in this case, palm leaves, are added.

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The hot stones are then added to produce a consistent cook.

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Another layer of leaves is added before a heat resistant cloth is placed over and the earth is returned from whence it came. This helps to keep the smoke in and flavour the vegetables. Meat is also cooked in an adjacent pit.

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The duration of the cooking time (around 2 hours) meant that there was plenty of time for a beer and a game or two of Sapo. ‘Sapo’ is spanish for ‘toad’ and is so called because of the little chap who adorns the summit of the playing fixture.

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The objective of Sapo is to score as many points as possible by deftly hurling small brass discs into the holes of differing difficulty. In a way, it is similar to bar billiards and darts. The holes at the back are said to be the easiest to attain and thus your points for this are lower than going for the holes nearer the front. In particular, there are three holes protected with brass windmills which will bag 1000 points at the edges and a cool 2000 points for plunging your brass through the double windmill at the front. Conveniently, the discs fall into the numbered compartments for ease of retrieval and for counting your score. Feeding the toad means your disc will fall into the 4000 points compartment and you can retrieve your brass to the adulation of your fellow Sapoers. This unfortunately didn’t happen.

After sapoing, there was still time to enjoy the ambiance at San Marcelo and catch up on some reading. Perhaps the most impressive surroundings I’ve had the pleasure of reading in.

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With the Pachamanka due to be served we returned to the pits for a short ceremony to thank Pachamama, or Mother Earth, for the food. The food was then uncovered to the delicious scent of sweet and smoky aromas and plated up in the kitchen by the staff.

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We then devoured the lot. It was certainly worth the wait!

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The small parcels of Tomales were my favourite. Inside the the banana leaf cooked a mix of ground corn,  tomato and a filling of chicken. These can however contain beef, pork or fish in other varieties.

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To wash it down? A deliciously refreshing sweet drink called ‘Chica Morada’ which means ‘purple corn’ and is the main ingrediant, alongside various spices, namely cinnamon. Its similar to a cold and non alcoholic mulled wine but complemented the deep, earthy and rich flavours of the meat and vegetables and was a strong purple in colour.

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After the Pachamanka, it was time to leave Hotel San Marcelo (rather too soon) and take a soul-sapping 10 hour overnight bus to Arequipa where 3 days would be spent at around 3200m alongside a visit to the Colca Canyon and the potential to spot the mighty condor awaited…

Two Olleys – Travelling the World

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