The End of the Gringo Trail

Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
Trip End Aug 24, 2012

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Monday, July 2, 2012

We got off the bus in Cusco about 6a.m, with Aimee, the Australian girl we had met on Isla del sol, and the three of us got a taxi to the Loki hostel, with no reservation as we hadn't been able to find wifi on the island to book a room! The driver dropped us at the bottom of a huge steep hill, like a cobbled Crellins Hill, and we stumbled to the top in the dark,although Aimee was some sort of fitness guru so she practically sprinted it, leaving me panting behind. At reception we were told that check in wasn't until 1pm, same situation as the la Paz Loki, so we were to wait till then. Thankfully this Loki had a tv room, so we watched some tv, chilled out on the Internet, got breakfast, and basically whiled away the hours until 1 finally rolled around. However when we went to speak to reception, a different guy, he told us there were actually no dorms available only more expensive triple and twin rooms. I was a bit annoyed and asked the man why we were told to wait and we could have a dorm at one, when they would've known that none were free for that day, but he was Scottish and a bit angry so I didn't push it! Rather than go out looking for another hostel, which we could've been doing while waiting for the non existent dorm, we checked into a three bed room with Aimee, which we were told was a flat rate for the room and ended up working out cheaper than the dorm (however when we came to check out it turned out it was actually pay per bed, so Loki ended up screwing us over yet again!).
For the rest of the day we watched the football in the lively bar, then later that night we smuggled in some boxed red wine from the shop across the road, which Snellers had unsuccessfully tried to barter down using the line "in chile it was this much cheaper" and lots of hilarious facial expressions when she refused to budge. We had some drinks in the room using an iPad app card game to compensate for our lack of real cards, then went down to the bar where it was "superhero night", for which we had made the utmost effort in tying on Manx flags as capes. We needn't have bothered, as minimal people were dressed up! We started up a game of pool and in no time three or four people had gathered wanting to challenge Snellers, while I was the official Beer Passer for the next few hours! Later on, a few people went on to another bar in the city, but we were tired from the bus journey so just went to bed.
The Sunday was a Peruvian festival called Inti Raymi, the festival of the sun celebrated in cusco just after the winter solstice we saw in Copacabana, where the whole city parades in honour of the inca sun god. Apparently it's the second biggest south American festival after Brazil's Carnaval which is pretty cool. Because we woke up quite late, and England were playing at 1 ish, by the time we got down to the main plaza, Plaza del Armas, it was practically time to head back up the hill of doom back to the hostel for the national anthems! We got some cash out to pay for our machu picchu the next day, caught a quick glimpse of some sort of parade of people in the square all dressed up in bright colours and flying the multi coloured Quechua flag, and planned to come back down after the match to see what was going on. After the game, which we won't talk about for Snellers sake, we got back into the centre to find that a lot of the festivities had finished, although there were still hundreds of people milling around. The flags were everywhere, and a big statue of the sun god guy was in the middle of the square with some red carpet steps leading up to him. We wandered around admiring the incredible old colonial buildings, stopping at an indoor marketplace on the way back up to barter for yet more alpaca jumpers, although these were of much better quality than the Bolivian ones we had picked up, which made us regret being so impatient and not waiting till Peru to stock up. Snellers had had a horrible experience in which he gave his favourite jumper to a lady on Isla del sol to fix a hole, and when we went back to get it she had closed her shop and we had to go and get the boat! So we picked up a replacement in Cusco and all was right with the world.
Back at the hostel, Aimee was getting ready for some rave on a hill, but not tempted, me and Snellgrove went to book our machu picchu trip for the following day. Originally having planned to do the 3 day jungle trek, it was pretty annoying when it transpired we hadn't been able to withdraw enough soles to pay for it (as it was over our daily limit), so rather than waste another day in Cusco to get more out, we booked the two day bus and walking tour instead, to leave at 7 on the Monday morning. that night we ate in the hostel before getting an early night for the next day.

Next morning we woke up bright and early and were at the travel office at 7.15 as told, but the guide didn't turn up till around quarter to eight, so we were worried we has missed him at first! Then we had to hang round and wait for the bus to pick us up till about half 8, so technically we could've had an extra hour in bed! We got the front seats in the bus which we thought was a sweet deal at first but after hours of winding around mountain passes and over dirt tracks I was feeling really ill! We made lots of little unnecessary stops, even stopping for a free (disgusting) lunch which was weird as we hadn't paid for food on the tour. In the end we arrived at Hydroelectric, the spot we were to walk to the little overnight village from, at 4ish, and typically after being too hot to breathe in the car all day, it had started to pour with rain. We started off the walk, told to keep following the train tracks and we would eventually see the town. However, a random Peruvian had to direct the group to the pass, which was up a big grass and mud hill, some of the people had their whole rucksacks with them, thankfully we had stored ours at Loki. At the top the rail lines started, and we all began the walk, unguided, in the rain. It started to rain so heavily the raindrops were huge, and we had stupidly not bought a rain poncho off the lady when we got off the minibus (not even for ourselves, but to cover our small rucksack which had the iPad and iPod and our clothes in, and which was getting soaked through). We walked for a while with a lovely Venezuelan girl but eventually needed to speed up to get there quicker, and so started to power walk over the slippery tracks. Snellers was saying to me "in five minutes we'll be past these guys" and "they're only around 200m ahead now" like we were in the Parish walk or something, but we kept pushing on and eventually the only couple ahead of us were clearly determined to be the first to the town, as they kept looking over their shoulders and, seeing us approaching, started jogging to get further ahead! Very strange. Our competitiveness got too much though and we were walking so fast to try and beat them at their own game, drawing the line at running though! At one point the train came past and we all had to get right into the sides to avoid it. After about two hours it was getting dark really fast and I desperately wanted to get there before it was totally dark. But before we knew it we were digging out the head torch unable to see any more. Going through a couple of tunnels was particularly creepy, pitch black and no idea where we were stepping. Coming out of the second tunnel Snellers was busy shining the light for the guys ahead of us without a torch after we all decided to walk together, and ended up slipping down a gap in the tracks. Luckily it wasn't a big drop below like some of the parts we walked over, but it really scared me and I was so angry we hadn't been given a guide or any sort of preparation for this part of the tour. Everyone was pretty annoyed in fact. It just didn't seem safe at all, typical south America! Finally after around 2.5hrs we saw lights, and around the corner was Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of machu picchu where we had a hostel booked for the night. We were more convinced than ever we were on the wrong tour when all the guys from our coach went to one hostel and we had been booked a separate one. We didn't really see them again until back on the bus the next day which was a shame. Our hostel was adequate, we got our own room and were finally able to take off our layers of soggy clothes and hang them up to kind of dry overnight before putting them back on the next morning (no change of clothes in our rucksack as we hadn't expected the 2 hour walk in a monsoon). Thankfully our electronics were still dry. We met our guide for machu picchu in the hostel, who told us that we didn't need to get up at 4.30 and walk to machu picchu for the sunrise, and that the 6.30 bus with him would be fine. Grateful of the hour extra asleep we agreed to meet him for the bus the next morning. That night we went a few doors down to a place that claimed to serve Mexican food, and ended up eating the strangest burritos, with Snellers tacos just being several mini versions of what I had! Still hadn't tried alpaca, determined to try some before we leave Peru! The meal along with everything else in Aguas Calientes, was overpriced and the restaurant was cold, so it was a relief to get into a relatively warm bed that night and get a good nights sleep before machu picchu.
In the morning we met our guide in reception and walked with another few people he was taking down to the bus station to get our bus tickets up to the mountains. We had originally planned on walking this, but after half an hour going up for what seemed like forever, we were glad we had chose not to (or I was anyway)! The sun seemed to already be rising fast and I was worried we would miss it but we needn't have bothered as it was far too cloudy up there to see the sun anyway! At the entrance, despite it only being 7am there was already a queue of people getting in. Once we were finally through, we could see Machu picchu and it was amazing, but we weren't allowed to go closer and explore until the guide Fernando had chatted for ages about the history etc of the place. Some of our group were even taking notes! The hills around it were still surrounded in misty cloud as it was so early in the morning, which kind of added to the effect of the random city in the mountains. Fernando was actually really informative and had amazing English, although calling Snellers Brian the whole time haha. He took us up around all the places of interest in the ruined city such as the sun temple where the chief was buried, the villagers houses (thought to house pilgrims) and showed us how they got their water which was impressive. On winter solstice, which we had just missed by a few days, the sun rises exactly in the middle of this V shape in the mountains, casting the sunlight onto the sun temple and lighting up one of its walls. The incas clearly loved their sun. After two hours we were finally able to go and explore on our own. A lot of people chose to go up to the end point of the famous inca trail to the sun gate, but this was a two hour round trip walk and we had to be back down in the town by 11 to start the long walk back over the train tracks. So we climbed up a lot of steps to get to the "lookout house" at the top of a hill, which gives an incredible view of the whole of the city. The sun had come out properly and it was pretty hot, but the climb was worth it, as the view from up there was just amazing. As Snellers said, it was cool but not overly breath taking from the ground, but once you can appreciate it from above it is so impressive what the incas managed to do, chipping stone to make blocks and rolling them on cylinders to transport them. We got some fantastic pictures from up here, we even brought our Manx flag along for the ride. Nevertheless, the place was absolutely crawling with tourists, only 2500 are allowed in per day but it seemed like there were so many more. Obviously they were only doing the same as us, but trying to get an picture without a stranger hanging around in the background was difficult and frustrating! Can't say we didn't expect it to be busy though. Sadly soon after this is was time for us to head back down in the bus to Aguas Calientes, so we left all those lucky people getting the thirty pound train back to hydroelectric hours later, and got back on the bus. The walk back to the minibus was nowhere near as traumatic as the previous night, as it was actually daylight and a really nice sunny day. We also were able to take our time, stop and take pictures of the landscape etc, so it was nowhere near as strenuous. Still when we got back in the bus our feet were pretty sore and Snellers had a huge blister! (good luck doing the parish next year!). Our car buddies all arrived fresh faced after getting the train back from the town! The drive back to cusco was LONG, seemed so much longer than the way back, bumpy, winding, basically horrendous. Some of the roads were so dodgy, tiny one lane tracks at the side of mountains, with two hundred metre drops at the side. Our driver told us to look over the edge and there was a lorry down the bottom of the crevice on its roof! He informed us in broken English that he had died a few months earlier! Scary. Thankfully our driver was really safe, obviously having a vested interest in staying on the road but we were grateful. We finally arrived back at Loki at around 9pm, and having booked another room before we left, were able to check straight in, get some dinner and go to bed, shattered. Our machu picchu experience had been good, although the tour we found a bit substandard. It was definitely a shame we didn't have more time or money to do more of an exciting way of getting there, but at the end of the day all we wanted was to see machu picchu, and that was what we got!
For our last day in cusco, we watched some football (obviously) and chilled around the hostel, which I know seems a waste of a day in such a pretty city, but we just couldn't be bothered to do anything! To be fair though there didn't seem that much to see in cusco after seeing the main squares, aside from stuff outside the city you need to take taxis to, so we didn't feel we were missing out on too much. We booked a bus to Ica for 8 that night.
The bus, destined for Lima but stopping off in Ica, claimed to be one of the best, with wifi and everything which made it a lot easier to persuade Snellers to get on the thing. However the seats weren't the most comfortable, and the wifi didn't work, which on a 17hr bus isn't a good start. The movies played were in Spanish, and dinner was a dry chicken sandwich, which all made for a very unhappy Snellgrove. Neither of us slept great, we chatted a bit to the Venezuelan girl who ended up sitting behind us, and listened to music, berating the attendant about the broken wifi until she got pretty annoyed with us all and told us she was just there for drinks and snacks nothing else! Very poor. We arrived in Ica the next day at 1 pm, got in a taxi straight to Huacachina, our final destination, and eventually were able to check into the hostel and lay down on a proper bed! On the plus side though this was our last long haul bus journey in south America (just don't mention the fact we are bussing across the states!) as Lima is only 4 hours away from Huacachina thank god.
I liked the place we were staying immediately, it had a pool, bar and big chill out area full of hammocks, what more can you ask for?! Our room was basically a wooden shed with four bunks in, but the beds were surprisingly comfortable and roomy. The rest of the day we didn't do much (a bit of a recurrent theme in this place), other than watch that days Euro match at the bar, but we booked our Sandboarding for the next day when hopefully we would have a bit more energy. That evening we went out to look for somewhere cheap to eat (everywhere was
pretty expensive by peruvian standards though as it was such a touristy place). We ended up getting accosted by a peruvian man who guaranteed his restaurant had the best chef in peru! After reading the menu, i made the excuse we needed an ATM first, but we weren't expecting the guy to escort us to the cash point and hang around waiting for us! In the end Snellers basically told him to get lost, and after promising we would go back to his restaurant after getting cash, we quickly walked the opposite way and found a cheaper backpacker place! Awkward. In the morning we went for a wander around the town, as our trip wasn't until 4pm for the sunset tour. The town was situated right in the middle of huge sand dunes, with a big lagoon right in the middle, with the hostels, restaurants etc all around it. It was quite European I thought, but one thing kind of spoiled it and that was the locals all pestering you everywhere you went to buy this, test this, eat here, tour there. To be expected in somewhere so popular for backpackers, but still annoying! After buying a few essentials including a bottle of the local drink, Pisco sours, we went back to the hostel and played some cards with two guys from LA we had met at the bar the previous day. Sadly they were leaving that day, and even sadder they took the cards with them, I think we were the only backpackers without playing cards! At 4pm it was time for our Sandboarding. We were packed into a big 8 seater dune buggy along with a guy from our dorm, and headed off towards the dunes. The town was absolutely heaving with buggies and boarders, it was pretty cool actually. On the sand, the little old Peruvian driver drove a bit like a maniac over big hills and down steep drops, until we arrived at our first boarding stop. Looking around, the sand seemed to go on forever, I've never seen anything like it! It was amazing. We were given our boards and a haggard piece of candle to wax the bottom with for speed, then left at the top of the dune to go down how we wished. A few stood up straight away, I think they were snowboarders or something. Most of us lay on our fronts on the boards and tipped over the edge! It was quite fast, but over far too soon, a relatively small tame hill. We were planning on having a go standing up, but after Peter our roommate did and his foot came out the binding and the board whacked him in the back of the head leaving a big bloody gash, we decided against it for today! The next hills were more of the same, but I appreciated these tame hills so much more when I saw what the final hill had to offer. It was around 400m long and started off almost vertical, people at the bottom looked like tiny ants it was so big! The hardcore few went off standing up, leaving us to tackle it lying down (although I think lying was probably a lot faster as the standing up ones kept stopping and falling over so never actually got up as much speed!). Snellers went first, then me. After about three seconds I realised how fast the hill was, and no amount of digging in my feet would slow me down much to my terror. Also I was wearing short sleeves, and sand hitting your arms at top speed isn't the nicest feeling. However, at least it was smooth. That was until I hit the bottom part of the hill where it started to flatten out, and all the people walking in the sand had caused it to ripple. Hitting this at speed was horrific, Snellers was shouting me to hold on, but it was difficult. Coming off at this point would have been very sore! Thankfully I stayed on the board, but it was very sore for the whole front of the body being bashed up and down like that at speed! I was grateful this was the last hill, and we got back in the buggy, made one more stop on top of a sand dune to get some photos of the sunset, then headed back to the town. It was a very fun two hours, especially seeing everyone's reaction as they hit the bottom of that horrible hill!
Back at the hostel we sat and had a drink with Peter, then all headed out for some food together at a restaurant on the lake. We then played a few more rounds of cards by the bar before heading to bed.
The next day we planned on mastering the standing up Sandboarding at our own pace, on some of the small hills! After a late wake up and another hour or so of cards (this place is ridiculously chilled out, all people seem to do is board,then lie reading in hammocks, you can see why we stayed an extra day than planned! ) we headed out after lunch with some very dodgy looking boards from the hostel. We went to the small hill at the base of the dunes where local kids were practising. I found it hard to even stand up with the board strapped to my feet, terrible core strength! The hill was not steep at all, but we both found it a challenge to get to the bottom without falling, I think we may have managed it once! Unfortunately our fun was cut short when Snellers the brute ripped the strap off our board, so we sneaked it back to the hostel and spent the rest of the afternoon, surprise surprise, chilling in hammocks.
That night we went out to get some spag Bol at a restaurant on the lake, only to be told they had ran out (!) so we left and went to a little place round the corner from the hostel that the LA guys had recommended to us. It was pretty much just someone's back garden with a few tables and chairs, really cute. It was only when we sat down and ordered that we realised it was a vegetarian place, and I thought Snellers would want to leave immediately, but we stayed, having falafels with hummus and a Thai red veg curry, and it was one of the best meals we had had in ages! Who would've thought?!
On our last day in Huacachina we tried to go for falafels, found the place closed, went for a terrible spag Bol instead with the ATM stalker from the first night, watched the euro final, then went back to Ica to catch our bus to Lima. The better buses took 4 hours, but there wasn't a free bus until 8pm, four hours away. So we ended up on a rickety old 5 hour bus but at least it left near enough straight away. After stopping in almost every town we passed and having our tickets checked by the same man each time for some strange reason, we arrived in the capital at 10pm and caught a taxi to our hostel. We had booked it because it was the cheapest place, and had 95% positive reviews, but it wasn't in the popular area of town, Miraflores. The driver got lost a good few times, but eventually we got here, and it is easy to see why this place got such good feedback. The owner was waiting for us at the gate when we pulled up outside, a lovely little lady called Ana who was just like a mother, fussing over us, even ordering us a dominos pizza when we said we were hungry. The hostel is tiny, I think only around 6-8 beds, a big cosy lounge area and nice kitchen, it's just like someone's house! And as we are only here one day before we fly out, it's just what we wanted, somewhere to sort out bags and last bits for USA out. Peter from Huacachina was staying here on our advice, although flew home the morning after we arrived.
We gave ourselves one full day in Lima, as we hadn't heard great things! And we spent the day in Miraflores, picking up a few final s.america souvenirs from the many marketplaces there, getting some toiletries that are probably cheaper than in USA, watching a film cooking dinner then going to bed! Exciting stuff! 4a.m taxi to the airport tomorrow morning.. Will hopefully be in Miami around 2p.m.

I really can't describe how incredible south america has been for us. After having to convince Snellers to come here, we have both fallen in love with the place and would definitely recommend anyone going travelling to make a stop here. There was something amazing waiting for us in every country, the people are brilliant, it's cheap- always a bonus, it has some of the most beautiful scenes we have seen the whole trip. One drawback, and it's unfortunately a pretty big part of travelling s.america, is the buses, but unavoidable if you are to travel here on a budget. Taking them overnight to save a days travel is a good idea, but we have always ended up doing very little the following day anyway due to exhaustion from not being able to sleep on the buses! Can't win! Will also be good to actually be able to flush toilet roll rather than stuffing it in a smelly overflowing bin!! Still can't believe it's been two months since we landed in Santiago with no real route planned and no idea of the incredible things that were in store. Highlights included standing at the top of iguazu falls, obviously the fantastically unusual salt flats tour, the general energy of Rio and of course not forgetting our time at Karumbe, which we still miss and still wish we had been there longer! Not to mention the meat, the wine, dulce de leche, Pisco sours, empanadas, tostadas...

For now though, the next adventure is about to commence, easing ourselves in gently with Independence Day in Miami, followed by our mini holiday in Orlando, for which we are like kids at Christmas already!

Wilson and Snellers xxxx
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Snellers Senior on

best one yet Wils, everything sounded fantastic, I must admit young Snellers wasn't keen on South America but has been convinced. Good luck in the land of the "big yellow M" and give our love to Uncle Dave when you arrive in Windsor, you will have a great time but don't expect to sit down for too long. Make sure you visit the Motown Museum in Detroit, love and keep safe, Paul and Deb


Another ace blog guys. The sand boarding sounds awesome and Brian looks like he has actually mastered it in the photo (assuming he is actually moving) You must be fit as a fiddle now Carlz with all the walking and all the steps. Spose you will soon put paid to that with all the fast food in America lol. X

carlyandbryn1 on

Brian ha ha ! Yep fast food central ha x

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