Getting Beachy..

It had been about three and a half months since I’d left Australia and only twice had I been to the beach. After spending some much time in cities and in high altitude all this little black duck wanted to do was have some quality beach time. After we returned to Huaraz, L and I booked a night bus pronto to sea level and hung out at the hostel watching movies until it was 10pm and time for our bus.

We were heading north to Trujillo, where close by there was a small beach town called Huanchaco which sounded perfect for us to recover after our five days hiking. We reached Trujillo in the early hours of the morning and shared a taxi with a French couple to Huanchaco. The taxi ride took all of 20 minutes and before I knew it, I was breathing in the salty air that I haven’t breathed in so long. It was about 6:30am by the time we got to Huanchaco and of course we hadn’t booked a hostel, so we spent some time on a park bench eating biscuits until the hostels receptions starting opening.

Crossing town with our backpacks, we finally found a hostel that would take us. Naylamp Hostel & Camping was on the outer of the main street but was a peaceful little area, perfect for us to recuperate. We checked in to a six-bed dorm but had managed to score the room to ourselves. Spreading out our bags from one end to the other, we made ourselves at home and had a little nap to catch up on the missed sleep from the overnight bus.

Around 9am we headed out to explore the little town and find breakfast. Huanchaco was a sleepy little fishing village that just looked like someone had starting building a resort town and kind of gave up half way. Stray dogs roamed the streets and surfy looking dudes called out offering surf lessons. The streets were cracked and uneven and the buildings were unfinished and bare. It was like Huaraz except at the beach. However there was a certain charm to this little town and I had a feeling I would be spending more than a couple of days here.

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Sunsets in Huanchaco

 

In one of the back streets we found the Mercado and ordered breakfast from a little lady in one of the cafes at the back. Paying about $4AUD for two egg, avocado and cheese sandwiches sided with fresh juice and a coffee, we were pleased with the cheap prices here. The rest of the day was a bit of a write-off as we lazed about the hostel, found a delicious bakery and watched the sunset on the beach.

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The following couple of days went similarly to the previous one. We slept in, ate lots and sunbaked on the beach. The laidback vibe of Huanchacho hit us hard and the motivation to do things was hard to muster. One morning we did visit the ancient ruins of Chan Chan – the largest pre-Colombian in South America. It was once the capital of the historical Chimor Empire from AD 900-1470 until they were defeated and incorporated into the Inca Empire.

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The ancient ruins of Chan Chan
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The rooftops were built to protect the ruins from rain and wind

After a few days L left me to head further north, whereas I was content with staying for a couple more days. After she left I switched to a different hostel right on the beach front. The Meri Surf Hostel was like a big old house made for backpackers. There was a rooftop terrace, outdoor kitchen and huge sitting areas. They had heaps of surfboards for rent and the TV was always playing clips of surfing videos. Even those I had no intention of trying out surfing here (after years of Dad trying to teach me I find it more satisfying to watch) it felt like home.

It was like a family at Meri, everyone knew everybody and we spent hours lounging in hammocks just talking about anything and everything. We gorged ourselves on chocolate croissants at the nearby bakery and got brown by the Peruvian sun. I was so chilled out that it was struggle to move further north.

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Afternoons in Huanchaco

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Sunset from the balcony of Meri Surf Hostel

After four days I took a nightbus with three other girls to Mancora to spend some more time at the beach. Mancora was a little more touristy than Huanchaco, with its main street lined with stalls selling everything beach related and many restaurants with persistent waiters encouraging you in. The beach was definitely nicer than it was in Huanchaco and the weather much hotter, so we spent most of our time either at the beach or by the pool.

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Overlooking Mancora from my room at Loki del Mar

I was staying at the infamous Loki del Mar Hostel, which was popular amongst backpackers for its crazy parties and resort-style set up. The girls and I split ways after a couple of days, with them heading to Ecuador while I stayed in Mancora waiting for a friend to arrive. After the girls left I have to admit I didn’t do a whole lot. The ‘Loki spell’ trapped me and I was definitely spellbound. Between the awesome people that I met, the crazy nights and the familiar sound of the happy hour song, my days here blurred into one long, happy stay at Loki.

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View from my room – bliss!
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Best breakfast at Monkey Coffee!

Early Thursday morning my friend J finally arrived and I had to say my goodbyes to this fun place and head north to Colombia. We had this insane plan to travel all the way to Cartagena by bus to meet friends of his and to get some real, Caribbean beach time. It wasn’t the most conventional way to travel South America but the both of us had zig-zagged across the continent already so we figured going a bit more out of the way wouldn’t hurt. Unfortunately my phone and thongs had decided to grow legs and disappear the night before so I was now phone-less and thong-less, which didn’t make for a great start for our journey. J was also feeling under the weather having spent the week travelling on buses but we booked our bus tickets to the first stop in Guayaquil, Ecuador, dubbed ourselves Team Dumb and Dumber and left Mancora with our fingers crossed that we would survive our massive journey.

Stay tuned for how our journey ended up!

J. x

 

 

Trekking the Santa Cruz Trail

After a solid but not long enough sleep, L and I woke at 5:30am to be picked up for our Santa Cruz trek. Still tired from the day before I stayed awake long enough to put my bags in the van and find a window seat before falling asleep again. When I woke a short time later, the van had filled up with seven more people all joining us on the trip. The bus ride went for about two hours and I spent that time drifting in and out of sleep. It was a bumpy old ride, which didn’t make for ideal sleeping conditions but the rest of the passengers in the bus and myself seemed to make it manage.

We were woken abruptly to stop for breakfast at the same place we stopped at yesterday. Having already packed breakfast because we were organised, I ordered a coffee and stocked up on the delicious chocolate bars I discovered there. We were ushered back into the van and driven for another two hours, high into the Cordillera Blanca. The scenery was absolutely gobsmacking; we switch-backed up a high mountain range and reached up to 4,800 metres above sea level. Stopping near to the top, we had a quick photo stop and were in awe of the view below up. The Cordillera Blanca stood majestically before us and the windy road we had just climbed up zig-zigged below. There were so many snowy peaks that I just couldn’t even deal – and this was only day one!

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Amazing colours on the drive to the National Park
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Just part of the view from our drive up to 4,800m
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L and I looking rather perky after a 5:30am start!

We drove on for a bit longer until we reached the starting point of the trek. We stopped in a small village called La Vaquería and gave our bigger bags to the Sherpa’s and got acquainted with the rest of the group. There were five 18 year British boys that were on their gap year who were hilarious and just adorable and a German couple, who were doctors on a short hiking holiday. For the next couple of hours we went up an down grassy slopes passing small villages, where the local Peruvians were going about their everyday lives. It definitely would be a peaceful existence out here in the Andes, with all the fresh air and no worries of the modern world. After about four hours of hiking we reached the campsite in the Paria Valley.

Our camp was right near a rushing creek and surrounding us were huge mountains, some covered in snow. A large waterfall cascaded down a mountain and despite the thin air, I felt well and truly alive. While this was supposed to be the easy day of the trek, the sudden incline into higher altitude knocked us around a bit and we were so glad to finally be here! One of the perks of doing a trek with a tour group is that they set up camp for you and cook you all your meals. Call me a princess but after a day of hiking, I was in no mood to set up a tent! We settled into our tents and then had tea and biscuits while waiting for dinner. As the sun dropped behind the mountains it started to get very chilly and we huddled in the meal tent until dinner was served a little awhile later. It was amazing what our cooks could make out here in the mountains; we had delicious soup and meat with rice and vegetables – very Peruvian and very delicious. After dinner we chatted for a while before slowly all sneaking into our tents to sleep. It was only early but we were on all energy-conserving mode for the following day, which was supposed to be the hardest hike.

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Day one of the hike, so many gorgeous valleys!
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One of the pack horses for the trek

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Our campsite for the night

We were woken early the next morning by our guide Ricardo and wiped the sleep from our eyes while we had breakfast. Toast and eggs with coca tea and we were good to go. During todays hike we would climb over 1000 metres and walk about 12 kilometres. L and I had psyched ourselves up for this day and took it slowly as we climbed the rocky tracks higher and higher. Stopping every couple of metres, I stopped to admire the view and to suck in whatever air I could. The ten of us were the only ones on the trail and it felt like we were lost somewhere on the set of the Lord of the Rings. Lush green mountains surrounded us and grey clouds sat low, covering the snowy peaks. We climbed higher, passing small lagoons and rocky peaks. I was glad my Kathmandu hiking boots had good ankle support, this track was definitely ankle breaking inducing!

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Where’s Frodo?
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The grey clouds made for great reflections!
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Up, up, up

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Hiking on for a couple more hours, we slowly made the climb up to the pass, Punta Union. The last stretch of the climb was the hardest as the thin air made it nearly impossible to climb up the uneven, rocky path. Once I reached the top however all my previous pain disappeared. 4,800 metres have never been more worth it! The view was absolutely stunning! 360 degrees of mountainous beauty. A turquoise coloured laguna sat below a snowy peak and a massive valley encompassed by more huge mountains stood to the left. The wind was howling this high up so I found a little perch that blocked the wind and allowed my to eat my lunch in front of this amazing view.We stayed at the top of the pass for about forty-five minutes – even though it only felt like five – before starting the descent down to our next campsite. Now that we’d tackled the hard part of the trek (which actually wasn’t as hard as the trek to Laguna 69 to be honest) we had a downhill run for the rest of the trip.

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Made it! And made a furry friend! I’m getting good at adopting animals on hikes

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Our group at the top of Punta Union

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My new furry little mate
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Please ignore my dopey face – so happy!
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Stoked as! L and I hamming it up for the cameras

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Slowly making our way downhill, I had to keep stopping to enjoy the landscapes around me. I’d taken to walking alone with my headphones on and pretending I was in a music video. It made the downhill trek easier and took my mind of my aching knees. It also meant I could stop whenever I like to do a little happy dance because I was so damn pleased with myself! On this fine Thursday afternoon, here I was somewhere in the Andes mountains when my friends back home were at work – how could I complain with that!

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L and I with the British boys who were absolutely adorable!
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These views though!
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Taking a well deserved break (ha!)
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The road to our camp

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It took about an hour to trek down to the campsite, which was in the heart of the lush valley. I kept turning around to catch one last glimpse of the beautiful snowy mountains, but needn’t have worried because our camp was set up with a 360 degree view of the Cordillera Blanca. Our meal tent looked directly out to the infamous peak Artesonraju, or more commonly known as Paramount Mountain. Yes, that very mountain from the Paramount Pictures logo was standing right before me as I threw back coca tea. Dinner was an early affair and we huddled in the meal tent out of the frigid cold. It wasn’t as chilly as the night before despite being higher in altitude but it was still bitterly cold. Just before I went to bed, the sky cleared and Paramount Mountain glowed in the full moon’s light – it was a perfect way to finish the day!

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One of the boys enjoying the scenery
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Ah the serenity!

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Sweet little mountain ponies

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Paramount Mountain in the fading daylight

The following morning we had another early start because we planned to reach the end of the trail.While we were on the four day trek, it was possible to finish in three and meant we could enjoy the hot springs in the small town we finished in, winning! We started our hike by heading up to the view point to see the Paramount Mountain properly. Despite the clear skies though, it didn’t quite look like the logo – but that didn’t mean it wasn’t any less cooler! I guess I’m just a nerd when it comes to things like this, the smallest things excite me!

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Paramount Mountain – not quite like the famous logo
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Views of the valler
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The token alpaca

The hike down was beautiful as we crossed an empty river, fully of ankle breaking stones and headed into the valley that we had seen from Punta Union the day before. We were flying through the trail and had made it halfway before 10am. We stopped for a food break and continued on where to trail starting to descent rather abruptly. I have to say, hiking downhill has to be worse than going uphill. The pressure on my hips and knees is going to bite me in the butt when I’m older I just know it! By early afternoon we were reaching the end of the trail and the hot sun starting pounding down on us. By now we had been walking for about five hours and the novelty was starting to wear off. I was tired and my toes hurt from squishing into my hiking boots from every step down, but just as I was ready to break we reached the small town of Cashapampa where our camp was set up ready for us!

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More animal friends

Celebrating with a hard earning Cocoa-Cola and chic-chip bikkies, we were stoked to have made it. It was still only early and our guide Ricardo was impressed with our efforts, he said we absolutely smashed it (well the British boys said it, but you know) We spent the afternoon chilling out at our little campsite before devouring a feast for dinner and talking late into the night. We didn’t even go to the hot springs that have enticed us the day before, it was a 35 minute walk away and we were so done with walking!

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Our little tour group

The following morning we had an easy start as the bus wasn’t coming to pick us up until 10am so we ate breakfast and lazed about until the van arrived and took us back to Huaraz. My first overnight hike was definitely a success and I’d happily do another one in a second! However I was ready to get back down to sea level and get some beach time in! It’s been a long time coming and I couldn’t wait to hit warmer weather!

J. x

Lost My Breath at Laguna 69

Laguna 69 is a place that I’ve never heard of before I stepped onto South American soil. It was in Lima the first time when I heard about this incredible place. A couple I had met had just come from Huaraz and told me it was an absolute must-do in Peru. After seeing their photos I had to agree, Laguna 69 was officially on the bucket list. Three months after I learnt about the Laguna, I was finally on my way to see this magical place.

My new French friend L and I caught the night bus from Lima to Huaraz and after a bumpy ride we made it into Huaraz early in the morning. It was a little chilly here which was a big change from hot Lima so we rugged up in whatever gear we had on hand and walked into the town to find a hostel. Akilpo Hostel seemed like a good option, mainly because it was the first one we came across! We checked in and luckily got to go to the room straight away, where we passed out for an hour or two. The thing about catching a night bus is that it is good in theory to use it as not only a way of transportation but as a bed for the night. However usually you don’t get much sleep anyway and spend the next day tired as hell.

We stirred around 9:30am and headed out in search of breakfast. Huaraz had a similar feel to Bolivia with its crazy, hectic streets, unfinished buildings and women in traditional clothing. It was definitely a big contrast to modern Lima but I liked it as it made me feel like I was back in the ‘real South America’. We found a little sandwich shop and ordered breakfast sandwiches, coffee and fresh juice for the bargain price of $1.50AUD – I liked this place already! After breakfast we went out in search of a travel agency to book our trips. Not only did I want to do Laguna 69 but also the Santa Cruz trek which is a four day hike through the Andes mountains. We managed to negotiate a good price for both tours and all of a sudden, our next five days were booked up!

We were doing the Laguna 69 trek first as an ‘acclimatisation’ to the altitude even though I’d heard it was the harder of the two treks, but after spending the last month or so in high altitude in Bolivia I was sure I’d be able to handle it. We checked out Huaraz for the rest of the day and got organised for the two trips before heading to bed early ready for a big day.

The following morning at 5am we were picked up and driven a couple of hours to the starting point of the Laguna 69 hike in the Cordillera Blanca. A quick stop for breakfast and toilets and to pay the National Park fee and then we were on our way. The first part of the hike was nice and cruisy as we walked through lush fields surrounded by snowy mountains. Despite the lack of oxygen at 3,900m above sea level, I felt like I could really breathe here. After being in stuffy Lima for a couple of days, it was nice to get back to nature and suck in all the fresh air that I could!

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The drive through Cordillera Blanca to the starting point of Laguna 69
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SO MUCH SNOW!
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Views from the start of the hike

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We slowly inclined up rocky path, jumping over flowing creeks and admiring nearby waterfalls. Yet again, I was overly excited about the snow on the mountains and couldn’t believe I was spending the next four days surrounded by them. For years I have thought that I was a beach girl however after travelling through South America I was torn between the beach and the mountains – and at this point, the mountains were winning!

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Can’t breathe, still smiling!

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We hiked on and up, slowly inclining to a higher altitude and lack of breath. We reached the top of the first incline and the trail flattened out into a valley, where we caught our breath and shed some clothes. The sun was starting to bear down and despite the chill in the air, I was getting clammy! We hiked on, our group dispersed all over the trail. L and I were one of the first few and I didm’t want to lose my spot, I wanted to be one of the first to see the Laguna! The second incline was a lot tougher than the first and it took a lot of stopping and promising myself with chocolate bars to keep going!

Finally, finally after many stops and wondering why I decided to like hiking we made it to the top. Racing down the stony path I knew what I would be seeing in a matter of steps. Within a hundred metres I could see that infamous turquoise water shining in the morning sun. Overwhelmed with adrenaline and excitement I raced closed and squealed with delight – the Laguna looked even better in real life! 4,600 metres above sea level and no oxygen but all the views! Clambering onto a big rock away from everyone I sat down to catch my breath and to take in the view. There were no words to describe the view – actually there are hundreds but words don’t do it justice. Photos don’t either but here are a couple for you to get a little idea of the magic I was witnessing.

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Made it!

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So, so blue!

I got closer to the Laguna and we ate our packed lunch by the clear waters. A lone cow was roaming around looking for food so I bribed her with cookies to get a selfie! We stayed for about an hour and just took in the amazing beauty that Mother Nature had shown us. Peru truly has every kind of environment possible. It was hard to believe two days ago I was at the beach and now I’m deep in the mountains. It’s one of the reasons why its my favourite country.

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Making pals everywhere :p

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The healthy part of my lunch. The rest was chocolate bars and biscuits!

Reluctantly after an hour or so we had to head back so we slowly made our way down the mountainous trail. The views were still spectacular this way and the vision of Laguna 69 was still deeply imprinted into my retinas. If this was an indication of the next few days to come, I was going to be constantly in awe of nature. It took us considerably less time to hike back down and by the time we reached the bus I was tired but happy. Stuffing my last chocolate bar down, L and I gushed over the magnificent scenery before passing out on the bus journey home. We reached the hostel around 7pm and had to organise our bags for our next trip.

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On the way back down

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Last stop before the bus back to Huaraz

If you make it to Peru, add Laguna 69 to your list ASAP. It’s not that hard of a trek if you’re relatively fit as long as you give yourself a bit of time to acclimatise to the altitude. You won’t regret it!

J. x

 

 

Back in Lima (and getting sentimental)

Even though staying so long in Chile wasn’t originally on the cards, I was so glad I got to see some of this amazing country. That’s one of the best things about travelling; your plans can change in an instant! I made it to Santiago Airport after a disaster of a morning when nothing went my way. It was funny because as I sat in the airport complaining to my Mum over Whatsapp about my crazy morning where the taxi was an hour late and my bag broke, I just had to laugh because I once I gave myself a reality check and realized I’d been travelling South America for three months I had no need to complain about such petty issues.

The flight to Lima was quick and before I knew it I was back in familiar territory. I was heading back to Dragonfly Hostel where I had volunteered two months early and the sense of home that I felt as the taxi sped past the pebbled beaches made me forgot all about my horror of a morning. Arriving back to Dragonfly I was welcomed not only by my friends but a banner with my face on it advertising the hostel! It was hilarious! I caught up with my friends and filled them in on my travels over a couple of beers before conking out for the night.

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What a welcome back! Pretty much A list celebrity now!

In all honesty, the next few days were laidback and relaxed. As I had done a lot of sightseeing in Lima the last time I was here, I had no reason to rush around playing tourist. I met new friends, ate some of the best ceviche, went to some cool nightclubs and generally just had a fantastic time. We went into central Lima and I actually played tour guide, it was crazy to think I knew my way well enough around this massive city! We also went to a festival one night, which had some of Peru’s best music and got sunburnt by the harsh sun at the beach.

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Chowing down on ceviche at Mercado Uno – so delicious!
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Ceviche = love
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Selvamonos Festival – crazy night!

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Coming back to Lima was just what I needed after leaving my previous group of friends. I had no time to be sad because I left one travel family and stepped right back into another. It made me realize that my previous fear of solo travel was unnecessary and that you will never be alone for long. I wasted a lot of time waiting for friends back to decide to travel with me because I was too scared to travel by myself, when really new friends were just waiting to be made. I was also a little proud of myself, for not listening to those back home that said that travelling alone through South America was dangerous and stupid. I hadn’t felt in danger once during my travels (minus the time I was 1 kilometre deep in a silver mine – but that was self inflicted!) and wanted to show everyone back home how easy it is to travel solo. It may have only been three months since I left Australian soil but I feel like I have learnt and grown up so much. Travelling alone (and with friends for that matter) teaches you things that no school or university can. While I’m not out there doing my Masters or making millions, I’m learning important life lessons that you can only get from travel… Plus it’s way more fun! I know I’m not quite setting up my life like my friends are but I wouldn’t change the experiences I’ve had for a second – no job or house deposit can replace what I’ve done! It might be the extra strong coffee I had this morning talking, but I can happily say that the path that I’ve chosen to take in my early 20’s might not be the conventional way, but it’s the way made for me. But that’s enough cheesiness for now…

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Some of the gorgeous people I met while at Dragonfly! 

After several fun-filled days I sadly had to leave Lima and continue my travels, however I wasn’t alone. My next plan was to do some hiking in the mountains of Huaraz and had made friends with a French girl who wanted to do the same so we caught the night bus to Huaraz ready to shock our bodies by heading back into the high altitude and cold weather.

Stay tuned to see how we went after five days hiking!

J. x

The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

My month in Cusco came to an end swiftly and before I knew it I was on an overnight bus heading south to Puno. I was sad to leave little Cusco; I was starting to feel like a local there, I knew my way around the streets and had my favourite cafes and drinking spots. I was also sad to leave the many new friends I had made there but I knew I would find them again somewhere along the way, a lot of them are travelling the same way I am.

The overnight bus to Puno went quickly – the buses in Peru were just lovely. Huge seats that reclined nearly to horizontal, blankets, charging points and legroom! Legroom is a rare commodity in South America when you’re a tall person and I relished in all the space that I had. I arrived into Puno at the god-awful hour of 5:30am and with the sleep still in my eyes I stumbled into the Puno bus terminal. I was supposed to have a driver pick me up to take me to the hostel but there must have been some miscommunication because there was no driver in sight. I waited patiently for 20 minutes before hailing my own cab to the hostel because I only had an hour until my Lake Titicaca tour started.

I arrived at Qorikancha Hotel and checked into my room before having a quick catnap. It was a full day tour to the floating islands and surroundings and I needed all the energy I could get. My pick up for the tour arrived before I could grab some breakfast so I stuffed some Oreos into my mouth as we drove down to the wharf. I joined our group, which consisted of about 20 other people. We were ushered onto the boat and given an explanation of how the day would pan out.

We had an hour boat ride to the Uros Islands, which are the famous floating islands in Lake Titicaca. There are forty-two floating islands on the lake and each island has been constructed from dried totora roots that grow in the lake. New roots have to be added every three months so the islands don’t sink and the sensation of walking on the islands is really weird. It’s cushiony and soft; I wouldn’t want to be on the island during a rough storm!

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Uros Islands
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Entirely made from reeds, incredible
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Local houses

The leader of the island gave us a demonstration on how they created the island and explained about their daily life. It was hard to believe that people could still live so primitively when the nearest town was only a boat ride away, but despite a few TV’s and radios, these people do. One particular aspect of this primitive living is the way they use the reeds from the lake for many different things, such as diet and medicine. The white part of the reed is eaten like a banana and the flowers are dried into tea. It’s also a good hangover remedy and cooling agent for burns. We got to try some of the reed and I have to say I didn’t enjoy it. It tasted exactly how you would imagine, like wet reeds – not exactly the most flavoursome of foods!

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The mini demonstration of how the islands are made
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Traditional boats
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Traditional Uros women
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The island leader explaining about their daily life

After the floating islands, the boat took us to the next island, Isla Taquile. This was a two-hour boat ride away, so I got to catch up on the sleep I had missed from the night before! We arrived to Isla Taquile and the sapphire colour water looked so enticing! I wanted to jump straight in! We had to hike uphill for about 20 minutes to reach the main part of the island and at nearly 4,000 metres above sea level; I was out of breath within steps! We had lunch at a small restaurant just outside the main plaza which was I so ready for because I hadn’t eaten anything since the couple of Oreos this morning. Our lunch consisted of vegetable and quinoa soup and trout and omelette. It was delicious and I hovered it down! After lunch we walked across the island to the other wharf and were greeted with a spectacular view! The azure coloured water sparkled in the sun and the yellow flowers that sprouted sporadically on the island contrasted perfectly with the clear blue sky.

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The entrance to Isla Taquile
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Life of Isla Taquile
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Plaza De Armas

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The other side of Isla Taquile

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We caught the boat back to Puno and I checked into my next hostel – the Cozy Inn. This sweet little home stay was tucked away into the chaotic streets of Puno, close to the city centre. I found dinner at a restaurant in the centre and headed to bed early, knackered from the last couple of days. Tomorrow I’m off to a new country, bring on Bolivia!

J. x

Hiking to Rainbow Mountain

There are many famous sights to see when travelling around Cusco – Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail, the alpacas – but there is one place that hasn’t quite hit the tourist radar yet. And I’m so glad to have experienced it before it has.

Vinicunca (or more commonly known as the Rainbow Mountain) is a particularly astonishing act of Mother Nature just a few hours out of Cusco. It is close by to Peru’s largest mountain Ausengate and is one of those places where a photo – no matter how filtered – will do it justice.

I booked my trip through American Inca Trail in Cusco, who were the same company that I booked my Machu Picchu trip and the ATV-ing with. The owner, German, is fantastic at what he does and ensures you can get the best possible price. A trip to Rainbow Mountain doesn’t come cheap as it’s not a well-known tour and the road to get there is really rough. For a single person to go to Rainbow Mountain with a car and a guide it can cost between $140 – $200, however if there is more than one person on the tour the price can drop to $105. Luckily German had found another guy wanting to go to Rainbow Mountain the same day as me so I didn’t have to fork out so much moolah – though I still would have paid that much to see this natural wonder.

I was picked up from my hostel at the lovely time of 4:30am and driven three hours out of Cusco. The first two hours were smooth and sleep inducing but the last hour however was windy, slow and at times a little scary. We carefully putted alongside the edge of a mountain, which provided us with spectacular views and racing hearts. We passed a small village where the locals were out watching their alpacas and kept driving until we were in the middle of a huge valley. Our driver stopped the car and our guide told us this was the starting point. – the middle of nowhere. Still half asleep, I wasn’t sure if he was joking but obliged and got out of the car anyway.

We loaded our backpacks up and followed our guide across a field until we reached a potato crop growing on the mountain that we had to hike through. It was a direct uphill hike and at 4,000 metres above sea level, it knocked the wind out of me straight away. The altitude hit me like a tonne of bricks and within steps I was dizzy and gasping for air. I hadn’t been affected by the altitude too much before now and was slightly worried that I might not be able to complete the hike.

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If you look closely you can see our car on the road – thats the starting point

However as we walked at an steady incline, I managed to continue on. Stopping every set of twenty steps, I focused on not passing out and trying to enjoy the scenery – which even in my altitude-affected state, couldn’t help but be amazed at the view. After an hour (felt like 12) we reached a valley and finally I could breathe properly again. I guess I took for granted the fact that I hadn’t been affected by altitude much in Cusco, it was a horrible thing to fight. We hiked through the beautiful valley, past some small adobe houses with small children running around outside. The silence in the valley was deafening, a pleasant change to the constant noise I’d become accustomed to in Cusco. I don’t know where to start with the scenery – it was just too beautiful. The green carpet of grass that we trod on was lush and thick, every so often fluffy cactus poked out from the ground and small streams diverting many ways kept us guessing on where to step. The huge mountains that surrounded us ranged from colours of black to red to brown and in the distant I could just see the tip of Ausengate and its snow capped peaks. Bar the couple of farmers that were nearby, we were the only people in the valley and it was awesome – like we were discovering something new.

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Finally reached the valley where I could breathe properly again
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Adobe structures

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Shy but sweet kiddies looking for chocolate
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These views… OMG <#3

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Alpaca land

We passed through the valley and reached more of an incline, we were over half way to Rainbow Mountain but I knew this last slog would suck immensely. Telling myself to harden up I dragged behind my guide and the other guy Jason, stopping every few steps to catch my breath. We were nearing 5,000m above sea level, which is the highest I’ve ever been. Step by step we got closer to the mountain and I was in disbelief that the view could get better than it already was. By the time we reached the last ascent, I was ready to pass out from the altitude but the determination to make it there was too strong. Even though I was hiking with two men, I still wanted to get up there at the same time as them so I pushed on and reached the top. Breathless from the altitude and the view, I stood at the mirador and just grinned like an idiot. We’d made it!

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Almost there.. 
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Beginning of Rainbow Mountain
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Alpacas everywhere!
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No filter, just natural beauty
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Vinicunca 

The Rainbow Mountain was even better in real life. The different layers of colours were bright and distinct. The different hues of red shone in the sun and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. Still sucking in lungfuls of air, I suddenly had a burst of energy and when our guide said we could go higher for an even better view, I practically ran up the hill. Whatever issues I was having with the altitude disappeared as I leapt quickly up the hill to a higher viewing point where the impossible occurred – the view got even better!

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Sahhh happy!

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We had 360 degrees of Mother Nature’s hard work surrounding us. From the layered colours of Rainbow Mountain to the snowy peaks of Ausengate, it was definitely the most beautiful place I’ve been to and to have the entire place to ourselves was truly magical. Jason and I bounced around like idiots, exclaiming about the view and how awesome it was. Our guide must have thought we were complete nutters as we whooped and jumped around – a huge change from the wheezing, out of breath girl I was only half an hour earlier.

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From the mirador
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Ausengate is hiding behind those rocks
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Views for days

After taking a thousand photos we hiked back down to the mirador and had a snack before making the trek back. I was sad to leave; this place was too amazing to part with just yet. Luckily the entire hike back was absolutely stunning to look at and as we powered back down to a more pleasant level in altitude, I kept turning around to try and lock these views into my mind forever.

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Mountain ponies
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Hiking back down
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Farm kids
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Even the hike back had glorious views

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It took about an hour and a half to reach the starting point and by the end of it I was truly knackered. It had been a big day, not only physically but also mentally draining. The car ride back was a short one as I slept most of the way and before I knew it we were back in Cusco and into the hustle and bustle.

Tonight I’m catching a night bus to Puno where I’m going to explore Lake Titcaca and the floating islands. After being in Cusco for a month, I’m excited to get out and see some new things!

J. x

Machu Picchu – Finally!

Todays the day! The sun is shining , the tank is clean (actually it was pouring rain but I just wanted to use a Finding Nemo reference) and we were going to Machu Picchu! I had barely slept a wink all night because I was too excited. Before last night I hadn’t really thought about seeing Machu Picchu because we were doing some many activities but after wandering around Aguascalientes and knowing we were so, so close the excitement got to be too much.

We packed up and walked down to the meeting point about a 15 minute trek out of town. Despite the  pouring rain, nothing was going to ruin my good spirits – I was going to see Machu Picchu! At 5am they opened the entrance gate and we were off, it was a race to be the first up there. What I stupidly hadn’t realised that the hike to Machu Picchu would be a direct uphill ascent. I was still half asleep and my body couldn’t comprehend standing up, let alone tackling stairs! Within minutes I was out of breath and sweaty from the humid jungle temperature. Peeling off my jumpers and jacket, I hiked in just my singlet top and plastic poncho – it wasn’t exactly the most fashionable way to trek!

The hike took about an hour and I was one of the first of the group to get to the top to the next entrance point. It was such a relief to be there, despite my wet hair and soaked through clothes – the photos later on were going to look interesting! I met with some others from the group and we waited until the entrance point was open and the rest of the group arrived. The sun had come up by now but the morning air was still chilly, I rugged up again in what dry clothes I had left and we entered the gates to Machu Picchu.

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Walking into the Machu Picchu site

I can’t describe the feeling of seeing Machu Picchu for the first time. It was a combination of elation, amazement and excitement. It was like a scene out of Avatar, the massive mountains floated around the misty clouds and Wayna Picchu stood majestically in the background. It was funny because the most common touristic image of Machu Picchu is actually of Wayna Picchu Mountain. But it is such a grand looking bit of stone; so its understandable why they promote using this view. We had a two-hour tour around the Machu Picchu site but I didn’t take a word in, I was too busy soaking up the atmosphere. I was finally here! By now the sun had come out fully and the cool air had disappeared. My hair and clothes dried out and it was obvious that we had picked a perfect day.

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I’m here!
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Soaking wet and super excited!

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Beautiful, so beautiful!
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Machu Picchu

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Work of the Incas

We walked around the site for for awhile and I took more photos than necessary but nothing could capture how it really looked. The tiredness from this mornings hike started to kick so a group of us found a perch n the sun to lay down in until it was our time to hike Wayna Picchu. By now the sun had fully come out and the heavy clouds were now just small blobs of white fluff floating in the sky and the entire site was now clearly in view. We sat and people watched for an hour or so before putting our bags in the lockers and mentally preparing for the next hike.

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Excuse me sir, you’re in my picture!
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Having a break from walking

Wayna Picchu or Huayna Picchu means ‘young peak’ in Quechua and is 360 metres higher than Machu Picchu. Only 400 people a day are allowed to climb up the steep and dangerous mountain and after slowly making my way to the top using the cables provided I can understand why. It was a tough hike to the top but once we got there, the view was more than worth it. Looking out over the Machu Picchu site, we could see everything from a bird eye view and it was amazing to see how big the site actually was.

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Hiking Huayna Picchu
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All smiles at this stage!
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Rest stop

We sat on the edge of the mountain for awhile, letting our eyes take in the landscape and our heart rate to slow up. The people milling about below looked like ants and the heavy flowing river that we hiked along yesterday looked like a small creek. Even the zig-zag road from Aguas Calientes looked like a small path, it was unbelievable how high we were really were.

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Views from the top of Huayna Picchu
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Machu Picchu looks so tiny!

Climbing up further past the stone buildings, I sat on a rock at the highest point of the mountain and basked in the hot sun. At this point in time, there was no place else I’d rather be. The picture of Machu Picchu that I had seen for years was finally a reality and I wasn’t about to let that go quickly. As I made my way slowly down the small and narrow steps to the first lookout, I didn’t even want to blink so I wouldn’t miss any of the view.

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At the very top!

Hiking back down Huayna Picchu was considering quicker than hiking up, though it didn’t mean it was any easier! I’ve always thought hiking downhill was worse than going uphill – not only because you know how far you have to go but its also a killer on your hips and knees! (thanks Mumma for the dodgy knees! :p) We made it down to the starting point within an hour and by then the hunger pains were out of the world. With my housemates E and C, we took the lazy way and caught the bus down to Aguas Calientes, which went super quickly because I slept the entire way.

We were starving by the time we reached the bottom so we found the closest restaurant and ordered a feast of Mexican food. It cost a bomb but I wasn’t bothered, we deserved it after our massive day! After lunch we walked one street to a French patisserie and had coffee and chocolate cake to completely put us into a food coma. Luckily we didn’t have to go far to get to the train to head back to Cusco.

I was sad that the trip was over, we had seen so much and done so many cool things in such a short period of time. I’d made new friends and a bunch of new memories.. And I’d been to Machu Picchu – nothing was going to make me happier at this point! By the time we got back to our home stay it was 11pm at night and we all fell into bed without even getting changed. Real life could wait until tomorrow!

J. x