Saturday, May 31, 2008

Costa Rica Trip: Volcan Arenal, Poas, Catarata La Paz

Costa Rica doesn't have the sheer diversity of Guatemala but it certainly makes up for it in its beauty and wildlife. This country is simply stunning! Europe is a barren, yellow desert compared to this peaceful, lush country.

It has a fascinating political stance in that for many years now it has been the only nation in the World without any Armed Forces of any description. This is even more astonishing considering its location amongst its trigger-happy neighbors, the fact it appears to work and that it was conceived of an idea by H.G. Wells!!

13% of Costa Rica's land area is set aside as National Park, with another 14% considered officially protected. Obviously, the 36 National Parks are not so easy to visit by Public Transport. Hiring a jeep is a wise move in order to see the heart of the country in all its glory. However, it is not compulsory, besides the high rental charges are somewhat off-putting.


1. San Jose- I'm afraid this just seemed like yet another dull Central American city, with its fair share of crime and monotony!!

2. Volcan Arenal- Undoubtedly this is one of the highlights of all my travels worldwide. I will remember this active volcano with its lava careering down the mountainside forever. A combination of exhilaration, frustration and fear comes in waves throughout your stay here. Exhilaration when you see your first lava flow, or indeed any lava flow. Nighttime is the time to see this phenomenon. The adrenaline rush of watching the bright orange stream of molten rock audibly crunching its way downwards through the undergrowth is quite simply awesome! However, the top of the volcano is often shrouded in cloud, hindering your view. It's possible to climb up the lava trail and sit near the cone watching the steaming rocks thundering their way past - yes past!! You sit there watching this all happening around you, ready to sprint for your lives just in case a renegade rock should decide to tumble your way.

There's a restaurant at the bottom of the volcano at the point where lava is currently heading; dine there for a truly amazing experience; They offer quite a cabaret! Also, the local waterfall is well worth visiting.

3. Volcan Poás- Stunning, multi-coloured, fuming volcanic crater. This one can be climbed and peered into from above unlike Arenal. If you get caught out by the clouds, be patient and keep your cameras at the ready. The lake is a pleasant walk through forest but the crater is certainly the highlight. Remember to enjoy the scenery on the way up and down and marvel at just how green Costa Rica is!

4. Catarata La Paz- A short drive fron Poás, you will come upon a beautiful waterfall, arguably Cost Rica's most famous, cascading down the flanks of Poás and blasting into a small pool by the side of the road. Well worth a stop to breathe in this envigorating power. You can walk around the back of the fall and stand fully behind it. Wonderful for photos and remember to get the excellent shot about a mile down the road looking back through the green forest.

5. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve- Monteverde offers you primary rainforest and everything that goes with it. It is definitely worthwhile paying for a guided tour if you want to stand a chance of spotting anything more than a plant that looks like the one at home and a few butterflies. Here you will find an enormous assortment of plantlife (and yes, they often are just larger versions of those that we have at home but these plants are massive) and its associated wildlife, including snakes and tarantulas! Every birdwatchers dream is to spot The Resplendent Quetzal, a colourful bird ressembling a punk. Keep your fingers-crossed and hope your guide is on form and you might just be lucky like we were! Hummingbirds are everywhere and photo opportunities abound. You can stay either in Monteverde or nearby Santa Elena.

6. Montezuma- This a lovely beach resort on the Pacific Ocean where you can relax and catch some well-deserved rays after storming your way around the beautiful National Parks of Costa Rica. The beach is beautiful and seemingly endless. It's a true backpacker community with lovely little cafes and events laid on. One drawback of the place is the size of the rollers that continue to crash onto the beach. Surfers would love it here and the waves provide fantastoc photo opportunities but swimming is hazardous! However, a week here passes with ease. You can fly to Montezuma in a little fourteen-seater plane from San Jose if you don't want to spend a whole day getting there.

7. East Coast- We only had enough time to visit one coastal area so we opted for Montezuma, however we've heard the villages on the east coast such as Cahuita are lovely and offer the visitor a laid-back, relatively tourist-free, culturally diverse experience with pleasant beaches and National Parks.

8. Sarchí- Costa Rica has some wonderful handicrafts, especially woodwork. If you haven't found any on your travels and you want to stock up before you leave, Sarchí is the place to come. It is jam-packed full of craft shops offering you a massive selection. It is about an hour or so north-west of San Jose. While you're here, go and have a look at the wonderfully-clourful church in the Square.

Honduras Trip: San Pedro Sula, Roatan/The Bay Islands, Lago de Atitlan

Honduras is the original "Banana Republic", a country created from the enterprise of another, the USA. Honduras has always been Central America's poorest country with an unfortunate reputation of being the laziest! It, therefore, has had to endure being the butt of most regional rib-jabbing.

Like the rest of Central America, though, it appears to be dragging itself out of this sorry state. The people are lighter-skinned and less traditional, due to the lack of indigenous cultures, than their Guatemalan neighbors. Despite the sights not being World-class, Honduras has some beautiful parts which are well worth a detour, and the border-crossing between Guatemala and Honduras by dug-out canoe was certainly one of the highlights of our trip.


1. San Pedro Sula- More of a lowlight. Crime-ridden and typically dull Central American city. the second-largest city in Honduras serves its purpose as the major industrial, commercial and financial centre of the country. We stayed for one night and couldn't wait to get out to the beautiful north coast. The one saving grace being Cafeteria & Pizzeria Italia which serviced us with excellent pizza and cheap, cold beer.

2. Roatán/The Bay Islands- The main problem with Roatan is getting there. You can either spend a sickly 3 hours on a boat for $4.50 from La Ceiba or take the easy, more expensive option and fly for about $25. We were in a hurry and opted to fly from San Pedro Sula. It ended up taking us ten hours and got us into a massive row with a huge group of locals, but that's another story! We stayed in West End which was as good as anywhere if you're looking for a busy, value-for-money spot. I've been lucky enough to visit a few beautiful diving locations in my time and Roatán at first glance certainly doesn't appear to fall into their category. It's an average place above water with fair restaurants and bars offering a pleasant escape from the fulfilling yet sometimes taxing trek around Central America, but lacking in picture-postcard beauty unless paid for in the western part of the island. However, your eyes are well and truly opened when you venture out to sea, Portuguese Men-of-War permitting. The Bay Islands are located slap-bang atop the second largest coral reef in the world. The coral here, just 100 metres off the shore, is simply stunning. The variety of wildlife is just amazing. Snorkeling and diving here is sheer paradise. For those of you nervous of deep-sea swimming/diving, there's even ample possibilities for walking out to coral and kneeling by it or swimming over it in a metre of water. Or drier still, there's a glass-bottomed boat on the island which offers a view of the coral and its beautiful wildlife. Oh, would I love to be there now!!

As well as Roatán, The Bay Islands consist of Guanaja and Utila. Utila is known as the cheapest place in the world to take your dive-course, although Malawi I'm sure could give it a good run for its money. But I'm not sure the added bonus of malaria in Malawi is worth those few bucks. We chose Roatán for its variety and nightlife as we fancied a bit of fun and home comforts (there's even a Cybercafe on the island) but Utila and Guanaja are meant to be lovely and quiet, again with excellent underwater activities on offer.

Portuguese Man-of-War

This should certainly not put you off from visiting The Bay Islands but you should definitely be aware of some of the concerns of living in these idyllic places. If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction (it doesn't even need to be Hurricane Mitch), it will bring in the huge jellyfish with poisonous tentacles known as Portuguese Man-of-War. This happened while we were there; fortunately we'd arrived at the shore late after a few too many Pina Coladas the night before and had been warned of the danger, so we had to be content with sunbathing and drowning our sorrows that day. However, some had been caught out that morning. In fact, we'd met this American girl on the flight out to the islands and she'd got badly stung a few hours before. She had huge deep-red wealds all over her upper body. To add insult to injury, a local man offered to piss all over her. Something to do with ammonia healing the wounds!

3. Copán- Lovely, roasting Copan. Maybe, not as impressive as Tikal but I enjoyed every minute of it once I got off the bus that is! We'd spent a full 12 hours traveling across Honduras to get to Copan. In Europe, this would have been a bit of a chore, in Honduras this is an ordeal. Clenching your stomach while everyone else is losing theirs all around, hanging around waiting for buses in 40C+ heat, grabbing the rail of the seat infront in a mad attempt to stay on your plastic seat while the bus pitches from side to side swinging around the mountain-bends - la Italian Job are just some of the pleasures of Honduran travel. I'm not criticising (too much), it's just that even at 29 you find you can't muster the humour so easily to laugh it all off. Indeed, when we finally reached our destination, I put my rucksack on and I felt my legs faulter! It wasn't too hard to choose a hotel, our choice was dictated by how far I could stagger. It took two hours for me to even consider risking the head-spin of clambering out of bed. What a Larry!

Copán Ruinas is a lovely cobble-stoned mountain village, a mile from the famous ruins. Its steep streets contain lovely restaurants and shops to escape the overbearing heat. One word of warning - watch for the bloody roosters in the mornings; if you don't want to get up at 5am, choose a hotel room with a thick door and walls. Also, the dentist in town is well worth a visit if you like that sort of thing!

As I said above, Copan does not compare to Tikal in terms of gob-smacking beauty but there's something quite mystical about this World Heritage Site. We visited at the end of the dry season and the shades of yellow and brown were lovely, however, we saw photos of it in the wet season and the wonderful lushness of the greenery enveloping the ruins must be something to behold. Bring lots of water, you'll end up throwing it over yourself on top of the white-stoned temples. I don't think I've ever been so hot!!

From Copan, we headed across the border back to Guatemala, and after a trip upto Lago de Atitlán we flew onto Costa Rica. We expected Costa Rica to be pleasant, I think it turned out to be the highlight of our trip!

4. Tela- The one problem with visiting a region is that you generally suffer from not having enough time to visit everywhere you would wish. It was a toss-up between Roatan or Tela and the latter lost out. It's reported to be a lovely place to hang out and enjoy wonderful seafood and white sandy beaches.

Guatemala Trip: Antigua, Lago de Atitlan, Coban, Tikal

When a country has such a gem as Tikal, one of the World's finest temple complexes, it seems hardly fair that it also boasts breath-taking scenery, fascinating culture and an intriguing history. How can it be that Guatemala only tore itself out of its bloody 36-year Civil War, which saw 200000 perish, in the last twenty months?

Moreover, how could the gentle indigenous people, the Maya, come from a race which could calculate the estimated duration of an Earth year to be 365.2420 days well over a thousand years ago? The exact calculation of today measures it as 365.2422 days!


1. Guatemala City- Population 2 million. Guatemala's capital and usually your first port of call. Most people advise travellers to get out as fast as possible but surely it's always worthwhile spending a little time in a nation's capital, for here is where change is usually most apparent. The centre is based around The Plaza Mayor which holds most interest. It's flanked by the Catedral Metropolitana, the Palacio Nacional and the claustrophobic Mercado Central. There's the odd bit of interesting architecture, such as the bright orange Post Office and Posada Belen was a fair hotel to stay on the first night if recovering from jet-lag! Apart from this, Guatemala did not make a massive impression and I'd rather talk about Antigua!

2. Antigua- Population 30000. Antigua is the old capital of Guatemala, favoured by the Spanish due to its cooler climate. It's a lovely colonial city, surrounded by vast volcanoes, which conceals idyllic little courtyards behind its intricate facades. If you can get here for Holy Week (Semana Santa), the week leading upto Easter Sunday, you're in for a treat!! This festival is celebrated in style with processions around the town depicting the death of Christ. Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday are the main days where beautiful alfombras (sawdust and flower petal creations) are trampled underfoot by these sombre shuffling masses, to rise once again the following day for yet more carnage. Book ahead but still try your luck there if it's a last-minute thing. A trip up the local volcanoes, dominating the scenery, is well worth it for spectacular views but take a guide for security.

3. Lago de Atitlan- This beautiful lake is once again surrounded by skyscraping volcanoes. Being such a lovely lake, this is an obvious spot for visitors to hone in upon. Unfortunately, in the holidays, the whole of Guatemala does likewise. We left Antigua on Easter Sunday and found the lake to be absolute chaos! We hit terrible traffic on the steep descent into Panajachel (the hub) and were lucky to get a room for the night! Not ideal for a soothing, relaxing time. However, there are many places to choose from when looking for somewhere to stay, all offer something different. You can stay in Panajachel which is lively and full of interest, cross the lake to San Pedro La Laguna which is very popular and cheap, but dirty and hectic or, as we did, go to San Marcos La Laguna which was absolutely wonderful. This is a lovely spot with a few secluded little havens with their own little cabins. It's extremely relaxing, maybe a little too quiet but a perfect place to escape the madding crowd. Las Piramides meditation centre is also based here.

4. Coban- Many feel Coban is the most beautiful part of Guatemala. Unfortunately, we never got there but it is highly recommended especially for Semuc-Champey famed for its 1000-foot long limestone bridge and its pools of various colours!

5. Tikal- Tikal is without doubt one of the most amazing man-made sites to be found anywhere in the World. Its jungle setting makes this old Mayan city a truly striking, yet sometimes eerie, place to discover.There are two quite distinct reasons to come to Tikal - its astonishing history plus the ubiquitous wildlife present in its vegetation. If you hold an interest in either, you can't be disappointed; if you enjoy both, you'll feel you are truly honoured in your visit.

Tikal's temples reaching 40 metres into the sky are certainly a sight to be enjoyed on a cool, misty morning. If you climb Temple IV, you can get a wonderful view of the whole complex; a view of the other pyramids jutting out from the forest's canopy all before you. You can sit atop Temple II and try to imagine the ceremonies and daily goings-on around the Great Plaza. The visitor needs at least two days to enjoy the constructions themselves and then another day to gently view the abundant wildlife - toucans, howler monkeys, woodpeckers, parrots and the odd jaguar! We would also recommend you spend at least one night actually at Tikal, in either the pricey Jungle Lodge ($70 per double) or at the immensely (obviously) cheaper campsite. This allows you to get up early and climb Temple IV to watch the sunrise over the complex. There's also fine accommodation around Lago de Pet�n Itz� in Flores and El Remate.

Who's afraid of the big, bad jaguar?

I have a morbid fear of big hairy bird-eating spiders!! Cristina has a morbid fear of big hairy man-eating (or for that matter WOman-eating) cats!! With our two fears finely-tuned, we strode hand-in-hand into the jungle of Tikal one fine and very crisp morning. Our aim was to be first up Temple IV for the afore-mentioned sunrise that morning. We felt pretty cocksure as we increased the pace at the head of a large group of fellow early-risers. Urged on by our goal, we hadn't noticed the rest of the group peel off down an adjacent path. Only on reaching what must have been the epicentre of El Pet�n did we glance back to see we were alone. The disbelief of losing the whole group was soon, and rather abruptly, superceded by the nauseous reality (or unreality) of being alone and unilaterally disarmed amidst the WILDlife of the region in the gloom preceding daybreak. We heard a rustle in the dense undergrowth beside us, our stomachs plummeted and we panicked, we turned a full 180 degree and rushed back in the direction we'd come. We stopped abruptly, looked at each other and realised going back would just keep us away from civilisation even longer; the temples couldn't be too far away! So, we spun again and kept heading into Tikal. We put our heads down and just kept going, our hearts attempting to break free from the confines of our ribcages to be any place but here.

Then, we heard it, a definite low, full-bodied growl. Was it ahead of us, beside us or behind us? I couldn't tell but Cristina kept ploughing on ahead, her hearing (like everything else) had always been far cuter than mine. We must have been pretty much running by now, focussed on getting to the temples. For some reason, reality started to kick back in and just at the point where we could have panicked and lost it, a tranquillity came over us both, we reached a fork in the road and couldn't choose between left or right. We calmly took out the map, assessed our situation and turned right. Two hundred metres later, we were standing in The Great Plaza with fellow tourists. We were safe!!

I don't know if we ever were in any danger but the emotions of those ten minutes will stay with us for ever. At times of panic, nearly all rationality evades you - after all, the chances of it being a large cat without food desperate enough to take on two strange upright animals in a notoriously busy part of the Reserve are tiny. However, if we hadn't got it together like we did we really could have been stuffed because had we turned left we would have found ourselves down a notorious cul-de-sac where tourists are often mugged and raped!!

6. Livingston:- This little enclave is well worth a visit. It's a little part of Belize with black Guatemalans speaking Gar�funa, English & Spanish. Casa Rosada ($16/night) is well worth staying in with its lovely clean accommodation, excellent food, trusting atmosphere and enjoyable trips. Las Siete Altares is a lovely spot 1.5 hours' walk along the beach north of town with seven pools connected by waterfalls. Enjoy the lazy, laid-back atmosphere here before continuing with the chaos of another bus-trip tomorrow (or next week). Beware Elvis on the beach - buy a coconut and he might leave you alone!

7. Border crossing to Honduras:- In many ways, this was the highlight of our trip. I'm certainly in two minds about recommending this route into Honduras as most backpackers seem to still take the speedboat from Livingston straight to Omoa (Tuesdays & Fridays) and to divert them inland would take away the charm of this route. This route's attraction is its route which involves two canoe trips and a few short hops by bus and pick-up truck which pitch you straight into regions rarely visited by outsiders.

You need a whole day to get safely across the border, so leave Livingston early. Make sure you get your exit stamp before leaving Guatemala. On our exit, the bus stopped for us to get this stamp near the border. If you don't trust this, get it in Puerto Barrios. Take the 45-minute boat to Puerto Barrios and then catch a bus through the huge banana plantations to just before Finca La Inca. Get off the bus and walk to the R�o Motagua, sit in the shelter and wait for the next boat to come along. A little motorised dug-out canoe ($3) will come along sooner or later and whisk you off down the muddy river and up a creek to the border settlement of El L�mite. Bring a towel to cover yourself or you'll be a beautiful beetroot colour by nightfall. Here's where you switch boats. Again, relax and wait for the next leg of your journey. There's a little shop here and you may be joined by a group of local farmers as we were. A couple of boys take you further and further up the creeks until they are wading waist-high dragging their little canoe ($1.50) through the overhanging branches and weeds. This is where the romance kicks in, you are hit with a real feeling of being smuggled across the border.

At the end of this leg at Cuyamelito, you are met by a pick-up truck (if you're lucky!) which takes you the few kilometres to the nearest main road where you hang around again to catch a bus into Puerto Cort�s. Remember, once again to get your stamp in your passport. I would recommend you stay here and make your way along the coast. Instead, we headed off to San Pedro Sula and spent a miserable night in a grotty hotel with dodgy plumbing.

Frankfurt: Predictable And Nice

Frankfurt. What to say. To me this is a city with few surprises. A city that is close to the culture I grew up with. A city were everything works and life is quite predictable. Nevertheless there are elements in the city that make it enjoyable to live or stay there.

Frankfurt: Predictable And NiceFrankfurt is a major business center in Germany. Just to mention a few facts. Frankfurt is the largest civil airport in Germany with close to 1000 flights a day. The Frankfurt Rhein-Main airport, as it is called, is huge. Here is also the largest US military airport outside the USA. Most middle east military missions are started here and after the Gulf War many wounded US soldiers were flown here and into Heidelberg. Frankfurt is also the main hub for German and international banking. The German stock exchange has its seat here and one cannot spend a day in Frankfurt without noticing that banks run and rule the city. I would go as far as to say that without banks Frankfurt would still be a village. All high-rise buildings in downtown are banks. The key players are Deutsche Bank, DG Bank and Kommerz Bank whose memorizable architectural structures of glass and steel form and shape the skyline and looks of this city. The Kommerz Bank is currently adding another 280 yard tall skyscraper in the center of the city right across the Frankfurter Hof, which is a classic hotel dating back a hundred years.

The city itself has 650,000 inhabitants and close to 600,000 jobs. Literally hundreds of thousands of people commute each day into Frankfurt. That causes major traffic jams but the Germans are orderly and they have things pretty much under control. A public subway, train, trolley, and bus system make it possible to get anywhere. The train station is the busiest passenger train station in Europe with a quarter of a million passengers each day. Nevertheless, many people simply can't leave their BMW or Mercedes at home. So, the whole city is hooked up to an on-line real-time parking monitoring system. On all major roads, signs display how many parking spaces are available anywhere in the city. One can read "Opera district 743 spots available, Zoo district 125 spots available, etc." from these LCD displays. When it comes to utilizing roads and sidewalks for parking Germans are less orderly than I thought. They are like the rest of the world. If the car fits on the sidewalk people will park it there. I rented a car for convenience. Lucky as I am, I got a Beemer, a 316i. Unfortunately not all freeways are free of speed limit. I could never test the limits of the car, but on the short 5 mile stretch on the way to the airport I could briefly push the odometer needle past the 115 m.p.h. mark. Most pieces of city highway have a 60 m.p.h. speed limit. All cars on the road are in good shape. Junk cars and rolling piles of scrap metal that can be found on US highways do not exist here due to the very strict regulations. Cars that do not meet all stringent safety requirements are simply pulled of the road. This makes it hard to own a car that is older than ten years. It also makes owning a car an expensive habit, the cheapest cars that one can buy are in the thousands of dollars range. Besides the top brands as Mercedes, BMW, and Volkswagen, tiny fuel efficient city cars are very popular. They are usually referred to as the "2 people and 2 cases of beer" cars as they can fit only two people and two 20 bottle cases of beer.

Frankfurt is not a big city. There is a small downtown that can be crossed on foot in about 30 minutes. It has a few shopping streets such as the Zeil which is also an area with some outdoor action on weekend evenings. Food and beverage stands stand wall to wall on a busy Friday night. Drinks are primary a wide variety of beers, but also wine and champagne. Food covers typical German dishes such as "Wurst" but includes also pizza, Thai, and seafood. Outside downtown, cozy little residential areas start. Actually, some are not that cozy, especially those that were created in the building boom at the end of World War II. In the next circle villages surround the city. Most of these villages grew and melted with other villages. However, unlike in many other places the villages here kept their original look and feel and did not lose their individuality as they "collided" with the neighboring villages. Beyond these villages is a belt of green, especially to the north were the Taunus, a hill range, nears the city. This region is reachable by car or train in half an hour. Here more villages can be found. These villages are separated from each other but all have easy access to the city via freeway or public transportation. Many expensive suburbs can be found out here from where people commute to work.

Besides banks one can also find historical buildings and cobble stone roads in down town. Frankfurt was founded about 1250 years ago and its original name was Franconofurt. It was a trading post on the Main river. The German Kaiser's were crowned in the church just steps from the old city hall and in those days Frankfurt was the heart of Germany. All Holzfachbauten, houses built with a wooden frame in a certain architecture style, in downtown were destroyed during WWII. So were the churches and city hall. Even though today everything looks old and original, most structures have been rebuilt in the late 50s. Strolling around the area called Roemer puts one back hundreds of years in history, especially in the evening.

One of the things that give you that warm fuzzy feeling inside are the alleys of old large Linden trees. This was a very stimulating and comforting feeling to me. It is hard to explain, but a powerful back-to-nature, getting-away-from-the-city, airing-your-lungs feeling. I enjoyed it immensely.

On Saturday, after spending the morning working in the office, Vincenzo, a coworker, his girlfriend Melisa, and I went to an open-house celebration of the Binding brewery. Binding was celebrating its 125th anniversary. The tour of the brewery was boring because it wasn't educational and hardly any explanation on the equipment was available. The other activities, however, compensated for the boring tour. Two big beer tents kept the crowd entertained. The museum handed out free goodies such as coasters, balloons, etc. The best part, needless to say, was the selection of cheap beer. We had dark wheat beer which is a rather unusual combination since most wheat beer is light in color. The "Dunkle Weizen" was delicious as were most of the other beers I had during my stay. Later we zipped in the Beemer to Schlossbon were a friend of ours had invited us for an afternoon hike in the woods. The weather turned out to be perfect. After several days of rain before, we now had sunshine. The forest was beautiful. It was a mix of needle, primarily fir, and leave forest giving it a dark touch. That and speaking German with my friends caused many memories to bubble up within myself. I even had to think about "Haensel und Gretel" one of the most famous German fairy tales. It was a true get-away. I haven't felt so far away from work and job pressure in a long time. Having the two young kids of Richard, our friend, around us certainly contributed to that pleasure of forgetting work for a few hours. We played with pine cones, enjoyed the fresh air, and chatted about the traits and character of the typical German. We were out in the woods for a couple of hours and saw farms without electricity and small villages. Even wildlife, deer and a snake, crossed our trail. The fresh air increased our appetite. Anke, Richard's wife, spoiled us with a three course dinner. Cheese and sausage sandwiches, champagne, beer, ice cream with Rumtopf (fruits soaked in spiced rum for a year), and Schnaps as a night cap. A delight. (I am gaining weight here, primarily because of all the chocolate and beer.)

On Sunday, we split the day again. We spent have the time in the office and the rest in near by Wiesbaden. Wiesbaden is just forty minutes west of Frankfurt. It is a smaller town but has a large shopping area. We strolled through the pedestrian areas of down town and did some window shopping. Remember, it is Sunday and all stores are closed. So, window shopping is the only kind of shopping one can do. Later we stopped by a McDonald's. It looks US-like but unlike the US they serve beer here. Another difference is the price. A burger with coke and fries is US$7. And to make it convenient, one can even pay in US dollars here. No Marks needed.

Live in Germany flows at a slower pace. A 36 hour work week and 5 weeks of vacation are common here. As far as I know, five weeks of vacation are enforced by law. The minimum wage is above US$10. A country of milk and honey? Not quite. High taxes, lots of bureaucracy, high cost of living, etc. form the downside. But to make a good judgement of the system one would have to live there for at least half a year.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Trekking The Inca Trail: Lima, Cusco, Pisaq, Saqsaywaman, Aguas Calientes (Part V)

Trek Day 5

Now that it was morning we could see what the campsite looked like, Q'ente was at a height of 2,500m (8,125ft). Very nice, with toilets, a shower block and washbasins with running water. In fact it was a bit too civilised!

Having said that I did have a wash that morning so as to not be a really smelly mountain man. After we packed up our stuff all our main packs went in a pile, not for the muels, the bags would go from here by train to Aguas Calientes. This is the nearest town to Machu Picchu and where we would be sleeping tonight, or not as it turned out. The plan for us was to catch the train from Km 88 to Chachabamba (Km 104), from there we would trek to the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu.

After breakfast we hung around a) for a briefing and b) for the train. As you will have noticed briefings are very regular occurrences on this trip, not a bad thing. We had at least two a day, sometimes three. Some people would not be walking with us today as they were still sick, they would not get off the train at Km 104 but would travel with Libby to Aguas Calientes and meet us at Intipunku or The Sun Gate.

The journey to Km 104 was not very long, about 16 Km really! As the cooks were no longer with us we were all provided with a pack lunch, these were handed out on the train. It was more of a journey of anticipation, this was our final day of trekking and Machu Picchu was our destination, so this train ride was just a necessity rather then an experience to be treasured. Before long it was over and we arrived at Km 104. We all got off the train and made our way to the hut where our passports were checked against the records that the guards had. Unlike the previous day we were on our way after just a short interval, enough time for a pee and to apply lots of sun cream. We were now on the final stretch of our trek to Machu Picchu.

The environment we started trekking through today was similar to some parts of previous days. A steadily uphill trail along the side of a mountain with some vegetation and a river down below. It was quite narrow so the fact that there were over seventy of us plus the guides, meant that quite often we were either moving slowly or we actually came to a halt. Today's theme would be steps, you will probably have never experienced steps like you do on the final part of the Inca trail. Today was hot and the trail was getting steeper, within the first hour there was a nice thatched shelter where we stopped for a rest and some food. Before long the surroundings changed and we were walking through a jungle with deep, rich green leaves everywhere.

The contrasts which we experienced during our trek really were amazing. We now walking through what can best be described as rain forest. Technically it is known as cloud forest. When the weather closes in you can find yourself walking through clouds but not today, as for the rest of our trip the weather was warm and dry. This was certainly very uncomfortable at times but it was better than walking through the pouring rain. We had been told that today's weather could change in a instant as we got nearer Machu Picchu but we were lucky as it didn't.

Our first target today were the Inca ruins at Wiñaywayna at a height of 2,650m (8,613ft). In the Andean language of Quechua it means 'forever young' and is named after a pink orchid which grows here. It is thought that it was a religous centre for the Incas and their worship of water. In the photograph it looks a long way away but before long we were there, well at the bottom of it anyway! As you may be able to make out from the photo the Incas, as is their trademark, made large terraces so as to utilise the steep slopes of the mountains for growing crops. Our problem was that we entered the ruins at the bottom of the terracing, we then had walk (read climb and struggle!) up the steps which went up the middle of the ruins. These weren't steps as you have in your house these were big steps each one being twelve to twenty four inches high, at the time I can assure you they felt a lot higher.

These steps are a killer but if you take your time and don't try to rush it, climbing them is achievable, you haven't actually got an option! Once you have completed this last day of the trek, steps back home will never seem daunting again. Once we had got to the top we had a chance to look around the ruins and get our breath back. Before long we were off again, within half an hour we got to our lunch stop, a beautiful shaded area complete with natural air conditioning, a large waterfall. Sitting in the shade with the spray from the waterfall hitting your face was so nice! I actually took my shirt off and went and stood at the base of the waterfall soaking my head and hat in the process. I got some water in my boots but I didn't care, after about an half an hour's break we started climbing again.

It wasn't long before we stopped, this time at the Wiñaywayna visitors centre. Here we found a large building with a shop, toilets and tables and chairs so we could sit inside out of the sun. The drink of the moment was Inca Cola, which tasted just like Irn Bru (the unofficial national drink of Scotland). It was straight from the fridge and very refreshing. We sat around here for a while, most people chose to sit outside. Then we started the last leg to Machu Picchu. The start of the walk from the visitors centre was very gentle and flat. We passed some tents so this must also be a trekker's campsite too. From here to Machu Picchu is six kilometres as shown in the sign in the photograph (look at the large version in the Image Gallery).

Although the start was gentle we were soon going up more than we were walking on level ground. In between Wiñaywayna and the Sun Gate there are a lot of very steep and big steps. The last half fifteen minute's climb was near vertical then all of a sudden we were at the Sun Gate or Intipunku. The sense of relief was amazing and to actually see Machu Picchu was fantastic. Again this was an emotional moment, there tears in a lot of people's eyes. We had heard a rumour that it was possible to get a signal on mobile 'phones at the Sun Gate so I turned my 'phone on to see. It was true, I had a good signal, I 'phoned my wife and other members of my family to let them know I was OK and that I had reached my target. Between Cusco and here I had not had a mobile signal, not that I was bothered, I had my 'phonme turned off anyway. This is also where we met up with Libby and those people who had stayed on the train at Km 104.

On arrival at Intipunku I was a bit disappointed with the view of Machu Picchu. The weather was clear but what I saw was not like the photos I had seen before. After we had rested and taken everything in at Intipunku we made our way down the mountain towards the bus stop where would catch the bus down the narrow, winding road to Aguas Calientes. Jez, the cameraman, had gone on ahead to film us we walked past. This film would be used in the closing credits of the official Scope video. A bit further on we came to a smaller Inca terraced area which gave us the more conventional postcard view of Machu Picchu. This is the view of Machu Picchu I recognised and now that I had seen it, the realisation that I was nearing the end of my journey became apparent.

Once everyone had taken lots of photos we started our decent to the bus station. The buses stop very near to the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, a very expensive hotel which shouldn't be there. It is the nearest hotel to these sacred ruins and when you see this having just seen the splendour of Machu Picchu you realise how stupid capitalism can be. The buses leave regularly during the day and make their way slowly down the windy road to Aguas Calientes.

So that was it, all the hard work was done and in a couple of days we would be home again. Tonight we would be sleeping in real beds in a real hotel in Aguas Calientes, The Machu Picchu Inn. There was also a gala dinner arranged for the whole group to celebrate our achievement and afterwards we were going to a 'disco' nearby as that was the nearest thing they had to a night club.

On first impressions Aguas Calientes seemed a nice town, part flat and part built on a steep hill, with an obvious Spanish influence. It was late afternoon by the time we got there so tomorrow would be a good day to explore and also if you wanted you could go back up to Machu Picchu and have a proper look around the ruins. So after Alex and I had found our room in the hotel, had a shower and I had written some notes for a speech which Lucy from Scope had asked me to make after tonight's dinner, we made our way to the bar across the road where everyone had arranged to meet.

The dinner was good, yes you guessed it, a buffet! It was good, although I didn't each much. After four night's camping and the excellent meals we had on the way I knew it was possible to survive on less food than I was used too at home. Lucy made a speech, I think it was her final one, there had been so many.... (Only joking Lucy! :-) I made my speech after her about my son and how cerebral palsy affects him. Another member of the group whose daughter has cerebral palsy had her speech read out by her good friend. After the formal stuff some people did funny sketches, one of a weird talent competition, Owen did a brilliant impersonation of our Doctor who was one of the stars of our trip and Tamzin did a hilarious impersonation of Libby. Once all this was out of the way it was disco time, we made our way to the bar/disco and it seemed pleasant enough. It had a big dance floor, music and a bar selling drinks. What more did we need? We drank, we danced and we had good fun.

So anyway, the bar staff asked us to leave at a half past four the next morning as they wanted to go to bed! A group of us made our way back to the hotel as a girl called Amy had a room by herself and we could all go back there and carry on drinking. I fell asleep pretty soon, it must have been around five o'clock when I did so.

Trekking The Inca Trail: Lima, Cusco, Pisaq, Saqsaywaman, Aguas Calientes (Part IV)

Trek Day 4

Surreal, unbelievable, amazing and the phrase "money couldn't buy this" where some of things said about day four of our trek. It all began quite innocently, we got up and had breakfast as normal. The campsite was being packed away again when we left camp in a westerly direction following the Urubamba river along a fairly flat, dusty and hot trail to our lunch stop. We passed through a varied environment again, there was forest, narrow paths alongside the edge of the mountains and sun parched fields.

We had lunch near to the train station known as Kilometer 82 (82 Kilometres from Cusco). The Inca trail to Machu Picchu has a few of these kilometre markers, in essence they are railway stations marking the route used by rich tourists from Cusco who can't be bothered to walk to Machu Picchu. Some of the stations do have towns attached so of course they also fulfil the needs of the local townsfolk and transporting goods to Aguas Calientes which is the nearest town to Machu Picchu. Our lunch was at a purpose built campsite near to Km 82, the nice thing about it was that we could eat lunch in a nice cool hall out of the blazing sunshine.

After lunch and a sit down we walked the short distance to the bridge over the Urubamba river at Km 82. The bridge was typical of the area, wobbly! The plan was that we were going to cross the bridge, sort out our paperwork as we were now entering the Machu Picchu National Park, walk a short distance along the railway line then join a trail to our last night's camping at Km 88. Well, that was the plan anyway. It started OK, we walked to the bridge crossed it and then waited by the railway line for Libby to sort out all the paperwork. After a while Libby came up and said there was a problem but it should be sorted out soon.

The Inca trail was on the other side of the bridge, the side where we'd had lunch. The staff at the crossing couldn't understand why we wanted come the other way over the bridge and walk into the National Park along the railway line. All our paperwork was in order and the crossing had prior notification of our intention to cross on this day. Libby had taken groups on this planned route many times before and this was the first time she'd had a problem. Apparently the rules affecting entry to the Machu Picchu National Park had changed within the last few days, so therefore our paperwork was out of date. Libby was great at trying to resolve it, desperate 'phone calls to her boss in Lima didn't help though, we needed a contingency plan.

Between them, Libby and Explorandes came up with a plan that involved one group of us getting on a train and going straight from Km 82 to Km 88, the site of night four's camp. The rest of us, which included me, would walk for two miles back along the river to the town of Chillca. Explorandes were only able to reserve so many seats in the train going to Km 88, that is why some us had to walk the other way. Once at Chillca we would wait until evening and catch the train from there to Km 88. Again we had reserved seats on that later train. All this took three hours to sort out but going by train towards Machu Picchu or walking the other way were the only ways we would get out. It was roughly half and half were travelling by each method. The walkers waited for the train the others were catching just to make sure that a) it arrived and b) they got on it. There was spontaneous cheering and applause when it did arrive as after such a long delay we were moving again!

Once the train had gone we, the group that was left, began walking to Chillca. Most of the walk was up a long hill, not to steep but steeper than we would like at this point of time. Being part of this group did seem the best option because at least we would get a bit of walking in this afternoon. The route we were following was a road so we didn't have worries about narrow mountain passes or anything like that. At one point we passed a cemetery, in contrast to how cemeteries normally look this one was very colourful. The gravestones were decorated with bright flower arrangements. It was interesting to see how other people deal with death.

After about an hour of quite tough walking we arrived in the town of Chilca. There were two small shops in the town, for some reason, the local exchange rate I think, we went for the one on the left and I went straight in and bought six bottles of beer.

After about half an hour of lazing around outside drinking beer and chatting to people I made my way inside the shop. Quite a few people were already in there, sitting on whatever they could find. The man who owned the shop, I suppose realising he was on to a winner, was working frantically with his wife to get as many chairs and stools made available as possible. To the side of the shop there was a small courtyard, no roof but tables and chairs and what was turning into a beautiful night sky. There must have been thirty to forty people crammed into this shop which was no bigger than most people's sitting room. We'd drunk all his small bottles of beer so we were now onto the familiar one litre bottles.

After an hour of drinking, chatting and generally having a bloody good laugh Libby decided that rather than waiting for the train here in Chillca and hoping it stopped, it would be easier for us to get a bus a bit further down the railway line so that we could catch the train at the major station of Ollantaytambo (78 Km from Cusco).

We waited for the bus and drank a bit more, after about another hour it arrived and we all piled onto it. What a journey, all the seats were full and the rest were in the aisle. In the good old British tradition we had a sing song all the way. Most of us had brought beer with us from the shop so people sang (shouted), drank and just continued having one hell of a party. Libby did tell us that when we left the shop in Chillca the owner came after us asking for his bottles back. He'd just had the best two hours of his shop's trading history and he was worried about a few céntimos for the empties. I'm sure that it was just a natural reaction and with hindsight he would have realised what had just happened to his bank balance!

The driver of the bus to Ollantaytambo must have wondered what on earth was going on and when he started driving along the railway tracks so did we! Either he knew there would be no trains coming either way or he was just risking it to add more excitement to our lives. After about twenty minutes we were in Ollantaytambo, although it was now dark the town looked very nice. We got to the train station got off the bus and walked through big crowds of passengers and traders. In between the car park and the train there were lots of stalls selling everything. Most of the people seemed like travellers who were just milling around, we had reserved seats on a train though, so we just walked through the middle of them. We were directed to our carriage which turned out to be the Scope carriage with no one else on it. We made ourselves comfortable and then another Scope trekker, Simon and I went to the nearest stall selling beer and bought two crates for our fellow passengers, I think there were twenty four of the small bottles to each case so plenty for us and a few spare. This afternoon we'd had a beer shop, a beer bus and now a beer train!

As well as a beer train, like the bus it turned into a sing song with someone who shall remain anonymous doing a brilliant rendition of Shirley Bassey's song "Big spender". We had seats reserved on the train but we didn't actually have any tickets and one of the funniest moments was when the ticket inspector(s) came round. There was a group of us at the end of the carriage nearest the door who had set up an impromptu bar and smoking area. When the inspectors came round, they couldn't get through so they had a beer instead, we just "held them hostage" at that end of the carriage! I think the main inspector was suitably rewarded at the end of our journey.

It is 10 Kilometres from Ollantaytambo to Km 88 but it seemed like that train ride took us ages. It must have been at least forty five minutes. Then we were there, we were camping at a place called Q'uente at a height of 2,500m (8,125ft) which was right next to Km 88. There was no station, we just got off the train stood beside the railway line and waited to see what the next weird thing to happen would be. Suprisingly, nothing. The campsite and the facilities are owned by a German called Reiner, he doesn't speak a word of English but we had been promised a camp with showers and a barbecue. So although we were camping tonight we had relative luxury.

Anyway, Reiner had come down to the railway line to meet us and he led the way. It was pitch black and a narrow sometimes steep path to the camp. Those of us who had torches used them to light the way for everybody else as there was no lighting on the path. Even though I had a torch it didn't stop me walking straight into a metal pillar in the middle of the far end of a bridge that we had to cross. It didn't hurt me too much but the woman following me, Karen, got a hell of a shock when she walked into my trekking poles which were sticking out of my day pack. After a bit of swearing she said she was OK though.

We made our way up to the campsite. It was quite a substantial site, there were a series of buildings, the main one being our eating area which were all keen to visit. Alex and I dropped our stuff of at the entrance to the three sided room where we would be eating, as did everyone else in our group. After telling people about the afternoon we'd had we learnt that most of the advance party had been on the beer since they arrived. I'm sure we'd had more fun though but they'd had showers and a wash! We'd been promised a really nice barbecue, our cooks had been here a while after they bolted past the guards at Km 82. In the end was what turned out to be what I thought was the worst meal of the entire trip.

We had some nice soup followed by some very tough highly salted steak. I don't know wether the steak was from Reiner's stock or if our cooks had carried it with them all the way from the start of the trek. I suspect it was Reiner's but whichever it really was vile, some people liked it but most people I spoke to did not. Some of the vegetables were OK though, I'm sure it wasn't helped by the fact we were so late in arriving. All this was washed down with some nasty mulled wine. Needless to say, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared! Or, bottle keeper, normal service was resumed as we stocked up on beer for the evening.

After supper we had a briefing from Libby about what had happened that day and what the plan was for tomorrow. As soon as Libby had finished telling us what would happen tomorrow, Brod, being very quick witted asked her "What is the chance of any of that happening then?". In context it was a very funny thing to say considering what had happened to Libby's plans so far that day. I'm sure any of my fellow trekkers reading this will get the joke and smile to themselves!

After supper Alex and I went around the corner to the field where the tents were, but this time it was quite hard to find an unoccupied tent but we found one at the back of the site. Alex went to sleep almost as soon as we got inside the tent and slept until morning. I sorted out my sleeping bag and went back to the main building to see what was going on. Not much, as it turned out, a few people were playing cards, I hung around for a bit and then went to bed. Tomorrow was the day we had all been waiting for, Machu Picchu, the goal of the trip!

Trekking The Inca Trail: Lima, Cusco, Pisaq, Saqsaywaman, Aguas Calientes (Part III)

Trek Day 2

We were woken early by the porters bringing us a bowl of hot water to wash in and cups of coca tea. I actually became fond of waking up to coca tea, it was a nice way to start the day.

The porters get up at half past three in the morning to prepare breakfast, feed the mules and start packing things away. By the time we had got up at six, the mess tent had been taken down so there were just the tables and seats left. The tables were already laid up for breakfast. The weather was good for all five days of the trek, so this was the case every morning.

I had a quick wash and brushed my teeth, packed away my sleeping bag and made sure I had all my stuff out of the tent. Everyone had a main rucksack or holdall, which they would put in a pile every morning for loading onto the muels and a smaller day pack which they carried with them on the trek. Once all this was done we sat down to breakfast.

Urubamba river
Imagine the scene, more than seventy people sitting on small fold up seats in the cold open air wearing coats and most of us wearing wooly hats, eating porridge! We also had tea, coffee bread, jam, oh and powdered milk! It did the job, when you think that everything we'd need for three nights had to be carried by porters or muels you can see why they didn't want to carry cartons of milk aswell. After breakfast and quick briefing about the day ahead we started walking.

We left our camp at Chilepauwa in a north easterly direction, we started climbing almost immediately. We were at 3,800 metres (12,350 ft) and before we could have lunch we had to climb to 4,750 metres (15,437 ft). This walking lark is harder than you think! I trained for this trek on the South West Coastal Path (see links), which runs from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset on the South Coast of England. The stretch of the path near me has some big hills and testing terrain but nothing I did there prepared me for the five hours of constant uphill that we endured on day two of the trek.

The terrain was fairly barren with short greeny/brown grass in places. Most of the trail we were walking on was dusty with a few rocks. Either side of the trail was what I call scrub land. Wide open spaces with some gorse type bushes.

The hardest part of that morning's climb was not the flora and fauna but the altitude. I started to find it hard after about an hour. The throbbing pulse in my ears was back and the air was noticeably thinner. I had started the day with the lead group which included Alex, Joe and Brod but during the morning I fell further and further back through the trekkers.

I tried to walk at a pace which meant that I didn't have to stop before our guides stopped for a planned break but it was hard. One minute I'd feel like walking faster and then the next I'd regret it. After what seemed like an eternity of head throbbing and chest pains I made it to a rest stop. I'd been wearing a T-shirt so far this morning but once I stopped for this long rest I started to feel the cold from what I realised was quite a strong wind, the air was cold and fresh aswell.

For the last few hours I'd been wrestling with my conscience. It was telling me to "admit defeat and get on a muel, it would be so much easier" but no, I had trained hard for this and I wasn't going to let lethargy get in my way. There was quite a group of people at the rest stop, which was just a plateau in the hillside. From here we could actually see the top of the pass and it was only a few minutes away. After a rest, a group of us made the last push for the top. What were we rewarded with when we there? It started snowing! Not snowing very heavily but the fact that it was made the morning's efforts seem worthwhile.

It was a relief to be at the top and the sense of achievement was magnificient. It really was quite cold now that there wasn't a mountain in the way to block the wind. We could see that the path down the other side was narrower and it seemed steeper. Some people were ahead of us and we could see them winding away below us like a human train.

I rested a while at the top, took some photos and then started down the other side. There was more than one smaller path making up the trail downwards. Once I was passed a group of people who had started the joutney downward before me I found myself running down. At a number of points I was actually passing muels and their handlers. This was a great feeling as during the morning they had been overtaking me!

After about 10 minutes of running down hill the area opened up into a mass of short brown grass, less steep but still with rocks to catch you out if not careful. It was now a steep downhill walk for about another half an hour to lunch. Lunch was the bottom of the hill next to the river, we were now at 3,800 metres (12,350 ft). Most people were there already when I got there. By this stage I really was knackered, my lunch was much needed. I had a lie down and a good rest, also plenty to eat and drink.

It must have been about an hour before I started what turned out to be a relatively short but entertaining walk to camp. We started out by walking along the bank of the river which was nice and flat, then we started climbing again and the path got much narrower and much rougher. At one point we were walking along a narrow path in the middle of a very steep scree slop with the river and rocks below. I don't suffer from vertigo but this part of the walk did make me consider it!

It didn't seem like it took us long to walk to camp at a place called Anka Skocha and we arrived at about the same time as the day before. After the exersion of the morning it didn't seem like much effot but we must have walked four and we ascended 400 metres, the camp was at 4,200 metres (13,650 ft). It was cooler than camp on day one and it seeemd to get dark within two hours. When it was dark, the temperature plummeted so it was on with my fleece, wooly hat and gloves. To try and keep warm a lot of us sat in the mess tent from about five o'clock and played cards until supper. Afterwards we played cards again and at around nine o'clock I went to bed.

I had emptied my drinking bottle of water earlier and filled it with hot water provided by the kitchen staff. This was my hot water bottle and I put it into my sleeping bag which I had unrolled in my tent. I'd put it there before supper so when I went to bed my bag was nice and warm. Having spoken to some peole during the day about what to wear when sleeping I decided to cut down on the layers tonight. I didn't wear my fleece, troyusers or socks. I did seem to stay a lot warmer even though it turnerd out to be a very cold night.

Trek Day 3

We had a slight lie in this morning. I was used to the early starts now so I woke up quite early. I wasn't alone and when I poked my head out of the tent I saw that there were quite quite a few people who had partial insomnia.

We wandered around the camp site and met up on the far corner. We had a bit of a chat, much to the annoyance of people who were trying to sleep, then we decided to explore the area a bit. We didn't go far, back down the river bank for a few hundred yards and then back to the campsite. One thing that did suprise us was the amount of litter that had been left south of the campsite where we had been walking. The night had been very cold, when I asked one of the guides how cold he thought it was he replied in his best Peruvian that it had been "flipping cold" (not really "flipping" but you can guess what he did say), he reckoned about -6°C!

With hindsight, day three was the easiest of the trek. After what seemed like a very leisurely breakfast we walked north out the camp. We were walking to the east of Mount Wayanay (5,308m) and to the west of the town of Silque. The morning was gentle undulating walk through the Silque Valley. We saw humming birds and went through orchid draped creeks. Apparently we even saw a condor hovering around the top of the mountains but I wasn't certain that the small black dot above was a condor. Before the trek started we were told that "every day will be different" and each day really was.

Having endured a freezing night we were now walking in blazing sunshine. Also this morning we were attacked by mosquitoes as we were now low enough for them to be a problem. I had stopped during the morning to apply some insect repellant to my face, arms and hands. When we arrived at our lunch stop I took my hat off but this was a mistake, the sweat run from forehead down my face and it brought the insect repellant with it. The consequence of this was that it ran in to my eyes and I was in agony. Some people realised I was in difficulty and took me to one of the containers of fresh water with which we washed our hands before every meal. I gave my eyes a good rinse and this solved the problem.

Lunch was at a lovely spot next to the river. A few people went in for a dip which must have been very refreshing. Brod, who had a thermometer built into his watch, told us that it was 40°C in the sun so we had probably had a 30° temperature change in the last twelve hours. Now that is what I call variety!

After a long lunch we just had few hours walk to camp. We meandered down the valley following the river to the village of Kamikancha (3,400m), as normal our campsite was in a natural basin made by the mountains on all sides. It was also quite rocky with a few large boulders in between the tents.

Kamikancha was the scene of a great England victory. We had an England versus Peru football match. A ten minute walk down river from the village was the local school and here they had a pitch but not as we know them. Goalposts yes but rock hard ground, no green grass and very uneven. We'd known this match was going to happen as we were told the night before.

I'd come to the conclusion that I would just spectate but when it came down it and the adrenaline was flowing I couldn't resist taking part. I came on as a substitute for Joe after about 10 minutes. Within a short space of time I realised how hard this was going be. I could cope with walking at altitude but running was a different thing altogether. We were playing the porters plus two of our group to make up the numbers. Peru's most competitive player was Julio Cesar or Julius Caesar as he liked to be known, I kid you not. The end result? England 2 Peru 1, thankfully there was no need for a penalty shootout.

Because the Urubamba river was ahead of us, at the end of the day cold winds were drawn down the Silque valley through our campsite towards the river. They were also very strong as the photo of the bending trees shows.

After the football we walked back to our tents, about 15 minutes, and then after a while the children from Kamikancha came up to our campsite. Some of our group had brought pens and crayons over from the UK which mean the world to a Peruvian child. Just having a red crayon can be such an experience for these kids.

When the children left it was into the mess tent for supper. After supper all the guides and porters were engrossed in an official football match, Peru were playing Uruguay in a World Cup 2006 qualifier. As you can imagine this was a bit of a South American grudge match and all the staff were very excited. In the end Peru triumphed 3 - 1, so at least they had won something that day!

Now we were at a lower altitude it was safer to drink and drink we did. A guy from one of the nearby villages came up to camp with a crate litre bottles of beer. I think he charged us 10 Sol a time. Quite a few of us bought bottles and either hung around outside the mess tent or sat inside drinking them, telling stupid stories and singing silly songs. We had a great time and I eventually went to bed avoiding the rocks on the way to my tent.

Trekking The Inca Trail: Lima, Cusco, Pisaq, Saqsaywaman, Aguas Calientes (Part II)


After breakfast and a briefing we got in the coaches for the 60 minute drive to the market at Pisaq which is 32km north east from Cusco. It was a windy uphill road and the whole journey took us about an hour.We stopped on the way to get our first site of Mount Verónica or Nevado Wakaywilka. This is a glacier which stands at 5,361 metres (17,423 ft) and would be visible to us for much of the time over next few days.

We continued the drive to Pisaq, it was a Saturday which wasn't a main market day but there was still a number of traders filling the town's central square. I spent some time wandering all the stalls. Basically there were woolen goods, Llama and Alpaca wool, hats, pullovers, rugs etc. and jewellery. The hats especially came in a variety of shapes and designs but by far the most popular items were the brightly coloured woolen hats with flaps that came down to cover the wearer's ears. I bought some bracelets for my daughter, a necklace for my wife and a small Peruvian rattle, similar to a castanet for Joshua. For myself I bought a woolen hat to keep me warm during the coming days in the mountains. This would prove to be a wise purchase.

As with all of this trip the weather was perfect. The first restaurant I walked into already had a few trek participants in but not for long. Their was only one member of staff and because of this they wouldn't be doing any hot food only sandwiches, so they wouldn't be getting our custom. A few us left and wandered to a bright yellow building which we had seen earlier. This place was great. It was called Ulrike's Café and it turned out to be run by a German woman who had been to Peru on holiday three times in the past, the third time she decided to stay.

There were quite a few of our group here and I had a wonderful three course meal for 10 Sol (apprx. £2); a thick vegetable soup, chicken pasta and a chocolate brownie. There wasn't a bad word said by any of us about the food although Chris asking for a Shandy (lemonade and beer) did cause our waitress some confusion. That is when we met Ulrike and she sorted the problem out.

After our excellent lunch we wondered around the market a bit more before making our way back to the coaches for the drive to Saqsaywaman, which is just north of Cusco.


This archaeological park covers an area of 3400 acres just north of Cusco at a height of 3,555 metres (11,553 ft), it was our first experience of significant Inca ruins. We only saw a fraction of what is there, the park contains 200 archaeological sites, what we did see was impressive. Saqsaywaman was known to the Incas as the House of the Sun, opinion about it's purpose is divided. Some consider it was used as a temple but the majority of people think that it was a fortress, it probably fulfilled both roles. It's geographical position above Cusco suggests that it was a fortress. What is amazing and what strikes you is the size of the stones used to build the main structures. Each of the large stones apparently weigh 50 tonnes.

I spent about an hour exploring the ruins and then started to walk down the hill into Cusco with a couple of other people from the group. We walked along a steep track out of the park, then along a dusty road to the top of Cusco. As well as filling the basin formed by the mountains all around, the town extends north from Plaza de Armas and covers the hill to the East of Saqsaywaman,see photo.

The road down the hill towards the plaza is very steep and the pavements down either side are made up of long shallow steps most the way down. During heavy rainfall these streets must look like a white water rafting course! Most of the buildings seemed to be single storey and closely packed. The use they were being put to was not just domestic, we passed a small art gallery, shops selling hand printed fabrics, jewelery shops with items hand made on the premises. I do remember walking past a bar, not a common occurrence on this trip I know but it looked quite a grimy local bottle shop, not really a bar at all.

Even though the main plaza is nice the smaller squares off it are equally charming. One of the people I was with needed to visit a camping shop to try and buy some rubber covers for their trekking poles. One of the many rules about trekking in the Machu Picchu National Park is that you cannot use trekking poles if they are not covered. This is to reduce the damage to the trail and the site itself caused by so many visitors. We found a camping shop but their pole rubbers were too expensive ($5 each). Cusco has a number of churches and we passed one on the way which caught my eye, see photo.

At last we had our first proper walk since arriving in Peru, OK it wasn't very far but it was good to get my legs working. We gradually made our way back to the hotel and once we had all recovered we went out to dinner, buffet again in a different restaurant with better entertainment. Lots of colourful dancing with an array of strange masks and a dance routine where two male dancers appeared to whipping each other with pieces of wood on the end of a length of rope. I'm still not certain but I don't think they were making contact!

After dinner I went back to the hotel, tomorrow was the first day of our trek and everyone was really eager to get going, after all the trek was what we had really come for and after 3 days we were feeling more like tourists than adventurers

Trek Day 1

We began with an early morning drive out of Cusco to to the town of Huarocondo, here there were some public toilets (the last we were to see for a few days) and a daily market. Some of us bought last minute provisions such as water and bananas, also brightly coloured and decorated bottles of a Peruvian spirit called Anis, which is very potent. It is similar to Pernod, made with aniseed but without the smoothness.

From here we drove a few miles north along the river (Rio Huarocondo) to the start of our trek at a height of 3,400 metres. There was a big area for our coaches to park and that is where we saw the scale of the operation that would be supporting us. To carry all the equipment we would be using; tents, food, pot and pans, tables, everything but the kitchen sink really! In total there were approximately 50 people who working very hard to ensure that all we had to do was walk. As well as the people there were muels to carry a lot of the equipment and also some spare muels to carry people that got too tired or sick from the altitude.

Everyone was given three self sealing plastic bags, one big and two small. One small bag was filled with nuts and fruit for us to snack on, we were also given a few sweets. The second small plastic bag was for rubbish. Explorandes, the tour company in Peru, are very proud of their ISO1401 accreditation and their environmental policy plays a big part in the award of it. One of the things drilled into us was not to leave any rubbish on the trails, there would be rubbish bags provided in the camp sites but whilst walking we were responsible for our own rubbish.

After about an hour we were on our way! We walked down the road for a hundred metres and made our way over a small bridge to cross the river. As with every day, it was hot, almost everyone, including me, was wearing a sun hat. The moutain sunshine is very strong, even if you don't think it is that hot the rays will still get you!

The terrain we started in was dusty, rocky and quite steep. There were numerous breaks when we cam across a suitably large area where we could all sit down. We were told it would be about three hours to lunch and as we were walking up the valley towards the mountains our lunch spot was pointed out to us. High up on the ridge ahead near to an ancient wall would be where we stopped, it looked miles away but in less than three hours we were there. Lunch on day 1 was at 3,800 metres.

In actual fact we had walked about 4 miles but the altitude made it hard work for me. I was fine when we started but then after a while I could hear my pulse in my head. This apparently is quite common when at altitude, the secret is just to take it all very slowly. If you find you are walking and then stopping to get your breath back, you are going too fast. Slow and steady is best, the trek wasn't a race and I only had to be as fast as the slowest person.

Some people hiked a bit further up to the next peak to see some ruins, I started to but the pulse in my head came back so I went back to lunch. After a simple but filling lunch of soup, cooked chicken and vegetables. Everyone refilled their water bottles and started walking down the other side of the pass towards our first night's camp. After the exertion of trekking to a height of 3,800 metres walking down hill was a welcome experience.

We walked for about an hour and a half along similar terrain to the morning's walk but this time it was downhill, not all the way but the majority of it. At the top of a ridge we caught sight of our camp site for day 1. While we had been walking the mules, their drivers (mueleteers), the porters and all the equipment had overtaken us and gone on ahead to set up the camp.

The camp was at a place called Chilepauwa, the altitude here was 3,800 metres (12,350 ft). When trekking you don't camp at the highest point you walk to in a day. You go up and then come down to camp so that your body can acclimatise more efficiently. For example, we started the day in Cusco at 3,360m, we trekked up to 4,100m for lunch and were now walking down to 3,800m to camp. It was about 4 o'clock in the afternoon by the time we got there and I was quite tired. This would be around the time we arrived at camp on all the days of the trek, except day 4, more about that later though.

The work that had been done prior to our arrival was amazing. We were a party of 74, two to a tent. Plus the Scope staff, so that would have meant at least 40 tents had to be put up just for people to sleep in. In addition to this there was a tent for the kitchen, one for all the porters and mueleteers and last but very importantly a mess tent for us to all to eat in. This was a long narrow tent with folding tables along its length and about 40 folding seats down either side.

Supper was at six thirty so I had a couple of hours of rest and relaxation which which was filled by chatting to people about how the day went and what lay ahead. Although it was warm at the camp site when we arrived, because the site was in a basin surrounded by mountains, as soon as the sun went behind a mountain and cast the site into shadow it got dark and very cold, very quickly. From now on it was fleece and wooly hat time.

We had a briefing before supper Libby and Lucy told us how well we had done on the first day. Libby said that tomorrow would be a long and hard day and to take it easy. Then we sat down for our food which was simple but filling. As well as the main course we had bread, butter, Marmite, tea and coffee. In fact we were very well provided for. By the time I had eating I was knackered. I was in my sleeping bag, fully clothed and with my wooly hat on by seven thirty.

Trekking The Inca Trail: Lima, Cusco, Pisaq, Saqsaywaman, Aguas Calientes (Part I)


We flew into Lima's Jorge Chávez airport at around six o'clock on the evening of the 27th May, all quite exhausted. Once we had claimed all of out luggage and regrouped we made our way to the coaches which were going to take us to our hotel.

It was now just after seven o'clock and we started our drive across Lima to our hotel, the Jose Antonio, which was in the Miraflores region of the city.

Upon arrival we all made our way to the bar for our first briefing about what lay ahead. This is where we first met our expedition leader, Libby, of the Ultimate Travel Company and the official cameraman for the trip, Jez.

The other introduction we had was to our unofficial drink of the trip, Pisco Sour. Pisco is the spirit of Peru, it is fermented from grapes and the weak version is 30% proof! I found Pisco Sour to be a bit like Marmite, you either love it or you hate it. I love Marmite but I hated Pisco Sour, there were plenty of people on the trip who loved it though.

It was in the lobby of hotel after the briefing that I first met my room/tent mate Alex Buck. I'd been trying to find out who he was all day but we couldn't seem to meet up on any of our journeys. He seemed like a really nice bloke and after we'd got our stuff and found our room we retired to the hotel bar to soak up some atmosphere and chat to our fellow trekkers.

One thing sticks in my mind about that bar, apart from the cheap beer, and that was the great piano player in the corner. Either he was tone deaf or he knew that his piano was out of tune and he was just having a laugh. Whichever, rather predictably we nicknamed him Sam. For the first night in Peru it was good fun, the beer flowed, the conversation was funny and plentiful but we knew we had to call it a day quite soon as we had an early morning flight to Cusco.

In the morning we packed out bags and put them in reception before having a pleasant breakfast in the hotel. We were going to Cusco, which at 3,360 metres (10,920 ft) above sea level would be mine and most people's first experience of being at altitude. We were told we would have about two thirds of the oxygen normally available at sea level.

After I had bought some water (Agua) for the journey it was back on the coaches for our trip back to the airport, which took about half an hour. As we were to find out later in the trip Libby and Explorandes are very organised. We were ppre bookedon our flight from Lima to Cusco so Libby checked us and all our luggage in while we were still sitting on the coaches. Once that was done we all decamped to the internal departures area and waited for about an hour for our flight to Cusco.

About Lima

Lima was the capital of Spanish Peru and home to the viceroy of Spanish South America. In 1821 Lima was liberated from the Spanish by San Martin.

The city lies on the Pacific coast of Peru and is almost always engulfed in a thick grey sea fog (garúa), aalthoughwe saw just a fraction of the city what we saw did not strike me as attractive. It now has a population of over 8,000,000 although in 1920 this was just 120,000. Most of the population live in shanty towns (pueblos jóvenes) on the outskirts of the city.


The flight from Lima was an hour. On the way we marvelled at our first proper glimpse of the Andes below and some snow peaks in the distance. It seems a stupid thing to say but one of the first things I felt once we were over the mountains was how big it all was.

The flight was uneventful and I left the plane in Cusco with trepidation thinking that now we were at 3,360 metres (10,920 ft) my heart would jumping out of my chest trying to find some air but it wasn't. I can't say I was disappointed but taking into account what I had read I was quite suprised. I didn't feel any different, yet.

Outside the airport it was a completely different scene from Lima, firstly it wasn't dark! Blue skies, early morning sunshine and a colourful market all in an area which was surrounded by mountains.

We were surrounded by people trying to sell us packets of coca leaves. Chewing these helps alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness. They definitely take some getting used to but they do help. Coca leaves are very important to the Peruvians and they have many ties to the deep Andean religion. When the Spanish invaded Peru they considered banning the growing and use of coca leaves but realising how much money they would lose they only enforced the ban in Lima.

We learnt that the best way to chew them was to put a few leaves into your mouth, chew them until they were mushy and then rest what was left at the bottom of your mouth next to your gums. Every so often you just sucked on the coca leaves to get a bit of the juice. They were definitely a help, especially on day 2 of the trek.

Once we had loaded our bags onto the coaches which were waiting for us we drove the short distance to our hotel in Cusco, again called the Jose Antonio.

When we had checked in and freshened up we made our way downstairs to sunny courtyard just off the main hotel reception. Here we found complimentary coffee and what became a favourite, coca tea. The tea was definitely a more subtle way of getting the benefits of coca leaves.

Everyone assembled for our main trek briefing given by Libby and another of the senior guides, Ian from Explorandes. All the guides for our trek worked for Explorandes, a local company with ISO 14001 accreditation. They are the first tour operator in the region, and apparently in the world that has been certified at this level.

We were told what to expect and what to not take with us on the trek. Just the bare essentials, no hairdryers, electric razors or electrical equipment etc. We were just to take the clothes we would need for the trek. I was lucky because I had packed very light in the first place but I still managed to strip some weight out of my main pack. The hotel would look after the stuff we were leaving behind until we returned in about six days time.

The next day was to be our acclimatisation day, so we could get used to being at altitude before starting the trek proper the following day. For the acclimatisation day we were going to a Peruvian market in a town called Pisaq and then on the way back we would be dropped off at some Inca ruins to the north of Cusco, these were called Saqsaywaman. We would then be free to explore the ruins and then walk back into Cusco.

Another tip we were given about coping with the altitude was not to over eat and to drink plenty of water. The body uses oxygen to power the digestive system, so the more food you have eaten the less oxygen there is for the rest of your body. So chew coca leaves or drink coca tea, drink plenty of water, don't overeat and don't drink alcohol and you should be fine!

After a light lunch in the hotel we all walked to the Plaza de Armas (main square) which Cusco revolves around. This was a very vibrant place and our first impressions of Cusco were very good. The city was the capital of the Inca empire and it must have been a magnificent sight in the days of Inca, the god-king.

As soon as we got there we were pestered by kids trying to sell us colourful finger puppets or postcards. This afternoon was the afternoon when everyone learnt to say "No Gracias"! In fact, wherever we went in Peru there were always kids trying to sell us homemade finger puppets!

We entered the Plaza de Armas by the south corner. The first thing you when entering the square from this direction is the cathedral (built 1556 - 1669) and to the right of that is a church, El Triunfo (built 1536), the site of Cusco's first church. In the centre of the plaza is a fountain, if you are standing at the fountain facing the cathedral and look right you will see La Compañía or Jesus's Church (built 1578 - 1668).

We spent some time looking around the plaza and all the little shops, we stopped to watch some street entertainers and then decided to find a bar and have a beer. We found a place right on the plaza called the Cross Keys. This is actually as near to an English pub as you will find in Cusco. It is owned by the British Honary Consul in Cusco, Barry Walker MBE. He is a keen Manchester United fan and his pub is a shrine to the team and the sport. We were told that the consulate office is actually a back room in the pub!

This turned out to be a popular place with the Scope trekkers as quite a few of us met in here. After a few beers it was late afternoon so one group of us made our way back to the hotel while two girls from London who were on the trek, Sarah and Fiona, went to find some photographic equipment in one of the many shops dotted around the Plaza.

I was in a group which included Alex, my room mate and Adam yet another nice guy, this time from Scotland. We wandered back down Avenida El Sol to the hotel, between the Plaza and the hotel the two girls caught up with us. We all just hung around the hotel chatting and drinking coca tea or popping across the road to the indoor market or perhaps buying water in one of the local shops.

At around seven o'clock, before we all went out for dinner the group had a briefing in the hotel bar. After the briefing, we all left the hotel in coaches back up the Avenida El Sol to Plaza de Armas for out first experience of eating out Peruvian style, the buffet. The buffets we had in Peru were all very good and the nice was that as it was a buffet you could have as much or as little as you wanted. They were typically made up of; bread, rice, pasta, salad, chicken, beef, pork and sometimes guinea pig, yes guinea pig! Guinea pigs in Peru are not the small cuddly rodents we have as pets in the UK. Guinea pigs are bred domestically for consumption and a well fattened up one can feed up to six people. As well as Peru they are also eaten in parts of Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador. See the Links section for information about dining on guinea pig.

Our meal was in a restaurant called the Inka Wall, on the north East corner of the Plaza de Armas. As an introduction to Peruvian buffets it really was good. We had live stereotypical Peruvian pan pipe music with some dancers which was entertaining but monotonous. It had a definite feel of being laid on for the tourists. All the food and one Pisco Sour was pre-paid for any other drinks we had we had to pay for. Although we were driven to the restaurant we were up to our own devices to make our way back to the hotel. People started making their way back after about an hour, either walking;king or by taxi. The taxis in Cusco are good and should charge a flat rate of s/.2 (2 Solos or Sol) which is about 40 pence. This should be a flat rate for anywhere in Cusco but not to the airport. I say should be but the taxi driver will realise that you are a foreigner and try and charge what he thinks he can get away with.

By around a quarter to nine everyone except for me, Chris and one of the senior guides with Explorandes, Ian had left. It was now that the place livened up, almost all the tourists had left and the restaurant filled up with locals. The band changed aswell, it was now a lot more lively group of musicians and dancers. We had music and dancing as the Peruvians like to see it not as they like us to see it. Peruvian culture has a lot of caribbean influences and this was evident from the dancing. There was a dance which reminded Chris, who used to be in the Navy, of an event on board called "the dance of the flaming assholes" which involved naked men and rolled up newspapers. There was nothing that extreme in the restaurant but what we saw had similarities!

It was just after 10 o'clock now and we had a busy day ahead so the three of us left the Inka Wall, Ian got a taxi to where he was staying while Chris and myself made our way back to the hotel. Along the way we inevitably discussed the day's events and enjoyed Cusco's night time sights and sounds. At no time while we were walking down the Avenida el Sol did we feel at all threatened or intimidated. Cusco really is a lovely place, I'm sure it has a bad side but from what I saw it is a beautiful town. When we got back to the hotel we found Libby and Lucy in the reception still working hard arranging the next day of the trip. We told them to try and get some sleep and then we went to our rooms.

Trekking The Inca Trail: Lima, Cusco, Pisaq, Saqsaywaman, Aguas Calientes (Part VI)

Aguas Calientes

I woke up after about an hour, some people had gone to get ready to go back up to the ruins and there was just me and Amy left. We decided to go and wake up Alex, we did this by climbing into bed with him, Amy on one side and me on the other. He got the fright of his life but it woke him up! Alex went off to visit the ruins while Amy and me went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Afterwards we joined up with Stevie to explore the town.

Aguas Calientes or Pueblo Machu Picchu as it is also known is the end of track as far as the train from Cusco goes. Although it is obvious that it wouldn't amount to much without all the visitors to the ruins it still has some charm. Definitely very Spanish in feel it lies across the Urubamba river, about half an hour's drive from the bus station near Machu Picchu.

Once you get away from the area around the river and the railway line you have to walk steeply uphill to get anywhere. There seemed to be one main street leading up from the river, half way up was our hotel and some bars, then you get to a market selling all manner of everything. This is where I chose to buy some Inca Kola T-Shirts, this is actually where a lot of our group chose to buy T-Shirts and at approximately a pound each who can blame us.

As you walk further up this street it gets more run down just before what appeared to be a building site you come across the reason for the town's name. In Spanish Aguas Calientes means hot water, and here you'll find some hot springs, not as picturesque as it sounds though. Here you'll find some rickety old corrugated iron changing cubicles and a big swimming pool full of green water. Yes it was warm and it did seem to be natural water but it wasn't clear where it came from. Stevie and me sampled the natural water while Amy made her back to the hotel. For all the cheap tackiness of the 'hot springs' it was very relaxing and whiled away at least half an hour in the water. We then made our back to the town and the bar across from our hotel.

We were all meeting up for lunch at a restaurant called Toto's House for lunch before we caught a train back towards Cusco. The train was due at a half past two and we could get into Toto's any time after one o'clock. A few of us bumped into each other and made our way down for Lunch at around one. The food was really good, it was already paid for as part of our trip, if we wanted beer it was extra.

After lunch we seemed to be waiting a long time for our train, probably a couple of hours. It wasn't a tedious wait because I just lay in the sun chatting to my fellow trekkers and watching the goings on around the station. Eventually the train arrived and we all piled on we would be travelling back to Ollantaytambo where we had been a few days earlier. From there we were catching a bus back to Cusco and the Jose Antonio hotel. You can go by train all the way from Aguas Calientes to Cusco but it is quicker to go by train and bus.

The train journey was quite quiet really. Essentially we were on our way home now so most people were in a reflective mood. The train track is on the other side of the Urubamba river from where we walked on days four and five and we could see a lot of the trail which we had covered. From this side of the river it was quite a feeling of achievement to see the distance that we had covered. The sun was setting as we made our way to Ollantaytambo and the Andes looked especially beautiful in the late evening sunshine.

By the time we got to Ollantaytambo it was dark, from the train we made our way through the crowds to the buses which were waiting for us. As we now had all our luggage this had to be loaded on to the tops of the buses. Once Libby was sure that everyone in the party was on a bus we started the relatively short but sometimes hair raising journey to Cusco. These bus drivers do this every day but for the unitiated the windy mountain roads coming down into Cusco were quite an experience! We all arrived in one piece and so we were back at the Jose Antonio for one night before our twenty four hours of travelling back to the UK.

Cusco 2

Once we had freshened up after our journey from Aguas Calientes we were out the door of the hotel quite quickly. There was one more buffet meal to go to and this time it was in a restaurant next door to the Cross Keys pub on Plaza de Armas (see Cusco page). This was by and away the best meal of the whole trip. The range of food from many different countries was magnificent. There was live music and some of us, not me, were dragged up to dance with members of the group.

After the meal most of us went across the corridor to the Cross Keys. It all started pretty tamely but I do remember a Pisco drinking competition or two. A good while later a group of us hit some of Cusco's clubs which were small, hot and sweaty but that didn't stop me staying in them until just before five o'clock in the morning. Myself and one person that I was with got a taxi back to the hotel and I fell onto my bed for about one hour's sleep.

Up at six, pack, breakfast and wait in the hotel lobby for our buses to the airport. We flying back to Lima, where we would spend the day before flying back to the UK via Madrid in the evening. We weren't pre-checked in to the flight from Cusco so we all had to check in individually. Once that was out of the way it was quite a wait in Cusco airport, which does not have many/any facilities to kill time with. Then we were on the plane for our short flight to Lima. The flight, about an hour, was uneventful.

Lima 2

As usual it was overcast in Lima. To fill the day we had two options, go to a seafood restaurant next to the ocean for some Peruvian seafood or go to a shopping centre with cafes and a chance to buy some last souvenirs. I chose the seafood option as I love seafood and it is a speciality of the Pacific coast of Peru. It was only a short drive from the airport to the restaurant, La Rosa Nautica (see links), which was at the end of a walkway with the ocean on all sides.

We had drinks in the bar while we waited for the staff to prepare our food. Plates of everything seafood is how I can best describe it. After a leisurely lunch we sat outside in the sunshine drinking wine and relaxing. The buses with the shoppers came back and we got on for the short journey to the airport.

At the airport we checked in and made our way through to departures. We had a couple of hour's wait here so after looking around the duty free shops I made our my to the bar. It was nice to see that I was the first of our group to have this idea. A few beers later it was time to get on our flight to Madrid, this was an eleven hour flight and I slept for the first ten of those. In the last hour Libby, who was travelling back to the UK with us, very kindly drew on a map where we had been trekking. The area we covered was not shown on everyday maps of Peru but Libby had managed to find a supply of maps which did shopw the right places. Once my map was complete I lent it to a few others to copy onto their maps. On schedule, we arrived in Madrid.

Transferring from arrivals, once we had got through passport control, to our next plane was about a five minute walk. I had a small penknife confiscated at the security checks, it was in my hand luggage. The suprising thing was that I'd travelled from Cusco with it in the same place and nobody noticed it. After two hours wait at Madrid we boarded our flight to London Heathrow, the final leg of our journey home.

We arrived at Heathrow just after five o'clock in the afternoon. To avoid emotional scenes and the fact that I'm not very comfortable with goodbyes I collected my luggage and mad my exit straight away. I was keen to get to the airport's coach station to try and get on an earlier coach to the one that I had booked. Luckily I got an earlier coach so it was just a matter of waiting for that. Just after nine o'clock in the evening of Sunday 6th June 2004 I arrived back in Exeter. I was met by my wife and children who all very glad to see me. So that was it, back to reality.