In every way, 2011 was an amazing year. Jamie Talbot and I travelled the world, visited 15 countries, and met countless inspiring people. We spent time with our families and friends in Australia and England, and made new friends everywhere else. Eight months on the road was revitalising yet tiring, but we’ll never forget the opportunity we had to take the such a huge chunk of time off work, pack up our lives and travel, free of worry, debt and responsibility. The trip brought us even closer together, too – so we got married at the end of it! And now, we start 2012 with a new home in San Francisco – overjoyed at what 2011 brought us and excited to see what’s ahead in 2012. Here are my favourite memories from the year on the road.
We’re almost finished in South America, for this trip anyway. We’ve had a chilled 9 days in Brazil, an exciting and fast visit in Chile and Easter Island, four days in Bolivia to recover and almost 3 weeks in Peru. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the continent but all has been excellent.
I haven’t done much writing in the past few weeks, so I though I would make up for it now. Right now I’m on a bus driving from Arequipa to Nazca. It’s not the typical 12 hour drive though – we’re in fully reclining leather chairs, with on-board entertainment, power sockets and Wi-Fi. Oh, and lunch is included. Sounds pretty luxurious, doesn’t it? Although it’s not as comfortable as a king size pillow top bed, or a cushioned sun bed with swimming pool and cocktails, it’s pretty darn good. And it’s giving me a day to catch up on photos and updates from the trip so far. So, let’s recap!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Nine days, most of that spent eating delicious red meat, drinking caiprihianas, and avoiding muggings. We saw all the main spots, met great people, had lots of fun, but we didn’t get to see much of the city. We also missed out on the rest of Brazil, so we’ll just have to go back sometime. Maybe with a better understanding of Portuguese, and in 2014 for the world cup!
Santiago – The city was gorgeous, the people warm, the food delicious. I’m not usually a fan of soups but I now love cazuelas. I’m not usually a fan of sweet drinks but the terramoto’s have got my vote. And we were told hot dogs were the ‘national dish’ – it may not be an official statement, but they are inexpensive, everywhere and truly delicious.
Easter Island – One place that I can be almost certain I will never see again. That feels like a very sad thing to say, but most people will never get to see it even once. It was a breathtaking island, in the middle of nowhere, with fresh air, beautiful landscapes, tasty food and warm people. It’s not easy to get to, but so so worth it.
La Paz – I’m sure I’ve said it already, but La Paz will take your breath away. We stayed very still here for 3 days, to avoid altitude sickness. But with excellent japanese food, blue skies, a comfy bed and a few diamox to keep the altitude sickness at bay, we were content to chill out after action packed Chile. Unfortunately we missed all Bolivia has to offer, so we will be back to visit the salt flats, death road and the Witches Markets.
Puno, Lake Titicaca, Cusco and Arequipa – All excellent, with the perfect weather while we were there. Cool nights, warm days and blue skies – bliss! The food has been excellent, the sights amazing, the people lovely. I should have learned Spanish, though – it would have been helpful! Will definitely return to Peru, to see some more of these cities and the north, as well.
Machu Picchu – Wow, wow, wow. We did a one day Inca Trail, from 104km, about an hours train ride from Ollantaytambo. It was tough but amazing, with such stunning views the whole way. And that was before we even reached the Sun Gate! We did it in perfect timing, as well – hiking from 8am, we reached the Sungate a little after lunch, when all the 4 day hikers had already cleared out and Machu Picchu looked empty (at least from a far). Although I know what to expect from it now (pure awesomeness) I’d potentially return, maybe next time with a helicopter!
In Peru, we’ve spent most of our time under the care and guidance of Adios Adventure Travels – http://www.adiosadventuretravel.com/. They picked us up from Copacabana and took us over the border into Peru, and from there we’ve been expertly guided from Puno, through Cusco, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, Arequipa and Colca Canyon, and now Nazca and Lima. After reading about them on a forum, where we had been researching the pros/cons of using Gap or Intrepid, we saw a few excellent reviews of Adios, a local company. And I hope to now add to those reviews – they have been simply stunning. Adios is owned and run by Vidal, based in Cusco. We met Vidal on day 3 and he is lovely, a gentleman, and an absolute star. He is not only well known in Cusco, he is loved by all, and we can see why. And it was such a pleasant surprise to meet the owner, which I am sure would never, ever happen with a bigger, international group. Jacquie, his trusty side kick based in the US, was a godsend. She arranged everything for us, from pick up to drop off, on the dates we chose, the times we chose, all to our specifications. And they were cheaper and 100% more flexible that some of the big names. Take that, industry! And imagine our surprise when we discovered that we were travelling on our own, with no big-group-hassles, and that our accommodation was absolutely luxury. Wow wow wow. I would recommend them 200%, and absolutely, definitely travel with them again. Outstanding!
Enough gushing from me though – we’ve got just another 3 days in Peru to enjoy before the final country on the trip – USA! And just to make sure I’m well rested after all the fun in Peru, we’ve got some comfort lined up… a cushioned sun bed with swimming pool and cocktails for five days! Heya Miami!
– Cheers, Em
Colca Canyon is the deepest canyon in the world – more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, apparently – and is about 150km outside of Arequipa in Peru. We made a two day trip there, taking in a few sights, walks, local performances and buffet lunches along the way. Although the bus was cramped and bumpy, the view was pretty good – the canyon is up to 4000m deep at some points!
I knew nothing of Machu Picchu until about 5 years ago, when a friend of a friend mentioned a holiday there. I remained completely ignorant of this mysterious Incan empire amongst the mountains until planning this trip, but quickly realised this may be paradise for a photographer. When the sun shines you can see for miles, with the sun hitting the terraced edges and creating dark mysterious shadows. Or get up early and see the mountains in mist, with early morning sunshine trying desperately to pierce the thick cloud. Sigh. Sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it? It was. Absolutely gorgeous, and so worth the long walk and early starts. Oh, and a hint to anyone intending to visit – ask your guide to have you at the Sun Gate by the afternoon, and Machu Picchu itself for the following morning – it was a real treat to avoid the crowds!
And so it begins! We were up at 5am for a train out of Ollantaytambo, and at Kilometre 104 we jumped off to begin our trek to Machu Picchu. The skies were clear, the air was cold, and we were in for a good 14km hike, from 2000m above sea level to 2700m – and most of that ascension was in the first 5km. It was a tiring walk but absolutely worth it, with amazing sights and landscapes the whole way along. And then, at about 1pm, we arrived at the Sun Gate, for our first glimpse of Machu Picchu!
When you mention the Sacred Valley in Peru, the mind goes straight to Machu Picchu, of course. But along the way, there are gorgeous small towns, spectacular views and many more Incan remains worth ogling. I truly hope anyone that visits Machu Picchu gets to see all the different sights, like we did, especially the sights in Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Here is a collection of the views before we even got to the big one!
Cusco was once the home of the Incan Empire. A long, deep valley, filled with red-roofed houses and uneven, narrow, two-way streets. It’s here in Cusco that the Sacred Valley begins, at the end of which lies one of the new seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu. But before we started our trek into the Andes, we had a couple of days here to eat some local cuisine (guinea pig) check out some Incan sights (Sacsayhuaman) enjoy a festival or two in Plaza San Blas and get sorted pre-trek (thank you to my massage therapist at Encantada Boutique Hotel, I feel much better!). All in all, Cusco was a really delightful place with lovely people, fabulous weather and lots to see – and we will surely visit again.
I couldn’t believe we were in Puno already. We had been arranging our tour of Peru for almost a year, through Adios Adventure Travel. For the record, they have been amazing – creating a tailor made holiday for us that includes all the big sites, dates and locations that we requested, and lovely, knowledgeable guides. I can’t recommend them highly enough. And it’s only been 4 days so far! Our first stop was in Puno, approximately 4 hours from Copacabana in Bolivia. Here we got a quick tour of the city before a delicious dinner, and an early night to prepare us for the next day – a full day out on Lake Titicaca. In the morning we visited the reed islands of Uros, and were ‘welcomed aboard’ the floating home to 10 local families. The sun was warm but there was ice on the seats – I can only imagine how cold it must get out here during the night! By lunch, we were on Taquile, taking a short trek around the island before a delicious local lunch. It was a full, awesome day, and a great start to our time in Peru.