So, we got a little behind on this post last month (read: too busy having fun!) so we decided to lump June and July together.
That's two months of non-stop travel covering two countries, many buses, obscene amounts of cheap almuerzos, scaling mountains, relaxing at the beach, surfing in wetsuits, photographing great cities, taking in the number one entry on most people's South America bucket list and a visit from friends.
Exhausted yet? You've no idea!
so long beach!
We started this month with a bump, heading back to altitude after seven weeks on the coast. After a night spent swaddled in many layers of clothing and just as many blankets craving the warmth of the sun we came to the conclusion that we were just not as hardy as we imagined - the Quilotoa Loop was going to be tough, but at least a stop over in Latacunga meant clean pants for the first time in a while (washing machines are soo under-rated!)
a long walk in the andes
A true highlight this month was our adventure in the Andes - a five day hike ending at the magnificent Quilotoa Lake!
It was tough, we got lost A LOT and spent the final few hours of the fourth day scaling the inside of the crater lake (convinced that as the light was fading we may have to spend the night camped out on the edge of faint trail - not the best time for Andrew's vertigo to kick in!) but my God was it worth it.
We even made a few friends along the way, helped no doubt by our secret stash of lollipops that remarkably, Andrew managed to not devour all by himself.
the return to latacunga
One night turned into two, which turned into three and then four as we recovered from the epic five days on the road. We are not embarrassed to admit that we visited the same takeaway pizza restaurant twice, and then a greasy chinese, for good measure!
We think it's fair to say that we found a little home in Latacunga - and a mother of sorts! The owner of our hostel was simply one of the most adorable people we've met in months. Constantly offering us cups of coffee, palming piping hot leftovers onto our plates and always up for a hug. She even gave us leaving gifts!
breaking our butts in baños
Baños: the home of the adventure junkie. And for four days, the home of two budget backpackers. Which meant that it wasn't really the place for us. Yet, try as we might, we actually really enjoyed it here, although our butts will probably tell a different story.
Not content to cycle just the Ruta de las Cascadas (waterfalls), a mere 20 km, we decided to triple it and hit the road all the way to the edge of the Amazon. All 60 km of it! Armed with some questionable pastries and safe in the knowledge that we needn't turn any corners and therefore lose our way (always a concern when we head out together) we made it to Puno!
The remaining days were spent enjoying our better than average room, preparing feasts and repairing our destroyed muscles in hot springs with our rather fetching rented swimming caps.
We also made the trip to the world famous treehouse swing (great photo, less than impressive site) but the highlight was watching Andrew trying to negotiate a small zip-line with questionable technique. As the cackles of passers-by subsided, there were definitely some man points lost - but at least it gave us a chance to use our first aid pack on his bloody knees!
getting our drink on in Cuenca
Looking back at our photos of Cuenca, it strikes us that, well, we didn't really take many. We were too busy listening to live music during a festival there, getting drunk and singing Mexican songs exceptionally badly with Ecuadorians at the karaoke. But still, it's a very pretty city and the best spot if you want to spend a lot of money on a Panama hat (which actually come from Ecuador).
the worst bus in the world
Get the organised over night bus to Peru they said, piece-of-piss they said. What THEY failed to mention is that said night bus plays the very worst sort of Latin music from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m., stops to pick up strangers in border towns in the middle of the night and believes that if the driver is awake then you should be too. Suffice to say, entry to our 11th country of this trip did not go quite as smoothly as planned - and we still had another three buses left that day to reach our first bed in almost 48 hours!
sun, surf and some very old ruins
As much as we loved our final couple of weeks in Ecuador, we were more than ready for a few days at the beach on our arrival in Peru - especially after THAT bus journey!
Unfortunately, the beaches in Huanchaco are not the prettiest so instead we made use of our hostel's fantastic roof terrace and explored some of the local ruins, ate some EPIC burgers and enjoyed some incredible sunsets. Andrew even put a wetsuit on inside-out and back-to-front, which is quite an achievement.
We also partook in some of the oddest yoga of our lives. Trying to keep a straight face whilst growling like a tiger is rather difficult, as it turns out!
You know when you see a picture of somewhere that is utterly breathtaking, but deep down inside you prepare yourself on the assumption that it can't possibly live up to your expectations? Well, that's exactly what we did with Laguna 69.
As it turns out, it IS actually that beautiful!
What is perhaps even more shocking, is that we completed the hike quicker that almost everybody else. Considering this is not long after having left the beach where it is far to say, we indulged, perhaps a little too much, is no mean feat. And Emily barely moaned at all! It really must have been that impressive.
lima - a much needed city break
After nearly 16 months on the road, we have definitely begun to appreciate some of life's simple pleasures and unashamedly admit to enjoying being back in a big city that affords us the option to drink a great cup of overpriced coffee, take in a fantastic art gallery and have a taste of our old lives. Lima gave us that.
We didn't do anything on the tourist trail, instead choosing to try and LIVE in the city. We indulged in goats cheese, had some of the best bread EVER, visited Mario Testino's art gallery, nabbed multiple free samples at an organic food market, gorged on gelato and wandered the streets of Lima's trendiest neighbourhoods. We even met up with a lovely Mexican girl who we met in Poland a few years ago!
However, we can't fail to mention the highlight - a cat park! Armed with a packet of cheap ham we became friends with at least 30 of the parks more than 100 cats that call Parque Kennedy their home.
the best bus ever!
It was a long way from Lima to Cusco, twenty two hours in fact, so we decided to do it in style. We may not be able to afford to fly first class, so we might as well give it a go in the bus! After months of being crammed into overfull chicken buses being able turn your chair into a bed excited us both probably a tad too much.
a reunion amongst the ruins
Our arrival to Cusco heralded the beginning of Emily's friends visit from the UK and a great reunion involving smuggled in cans of gin and tonic and many a British treat (i.e. chocolate for Emily and Haribo Tangfastics for Andrew).
It also meant the beginning of several days exploring the ruins that make up the Sacred Valley under perfect blue skies and a blazing yellow sun. We may have been freezing our tits off when the sun set, but it was great to wander through the countryside in near perfect conditions!
nightmare on the train tracks
For months we've known that we wanted to reach Aguas Calientes on foot rather that pay the exorbitant train fares, and so armed with our trusty tuna sandwiches (we've actually started to go on hikes just so we can eat them!), a few litres of water and enough clothes for a couple of days we set off along the tracks.
Cunningly dodging train guards and successfully avoiding being mowed down by speeding drivers we made it 23km before disaster struck - a particularly territorial dog attacked Emily.
Three deep puncture wounds, an outpouring of blood and hysterical screams from both of us, we were incredibly thankful that we had our small medical pack with us. Seven slow kilometres later, armed with rocks we now have no problems throwing at particularly mean looking dogs, we stumbled into Aguas Calientes only to discover they don't have rabies vaccines (which is a little odd considering that this country, ummm, has rabies!) - but this is another story for later...
With blisters on our feet after the 30 km walk, we were both absolutely shattered but, after a visit to the doctor and a couple of stiff happy hour pisco sours to sooth the pain, we had an early night because the next day was the big one...
The icon that's been staring at us from the front of our South America Lonely Planet was now becoming a reality. To be honest, because it's something we all know about and hear so much about, we were both expecting it to be a little bit of an underwhelming experience just because it's SO blown up by every traveller out there.
And, in some ways, that's how it turned out.
There is an entire cottage industry around MP which charges you a lot for the privilege of being in its vicinity ($12 for a 20-minute one-way shuttle bus is the only way for you to reach the entrance if you don't fancy a hike at 5 a.m. in the dark, still charging you to take a piss even after you've bout the $50 entry).
But, in spite of the hundreds and hundreds of tourists you share it with and the omnipresent guards whistling at you to stop doing whatever it is you're doing, Machu Picchu was still bloody impressive. As Emily was temporarily disabled, she was left to bond with the handful of llamas roaming around, whilst Andrew hiked up Mt. Machu Picchu on his own to get some stunning views of the site.
After walking 30kms the previous day, dealing with dog bites, getting up at 4 a.m. and spending all day in the sun at altitude, we were both absolutely exhausted with multiple blisters on our feet by the afternoon. Bed and a day of rest was callling.
What more could a man want than red wine, good cheese, fine meats and fresh bread? For Andrew's birthday, we planted ourselves firmly in direct sunlight, ate far too much and got a little tipsy.
And like any good birthday, once we'd finished that bottle, we made our way to the rooftop balcony of our hostel with another bottle and the biggest piece of chocolate cake known to man.
Followed by perhaps the worst pub quiz we've ever joined and the strongest cocktails we've ever tasted in the most gringo of gringo bars this side of Sydney!
recovering in Arequipa
Peru is exhausting, and not in an always great way. After a quick jaunt through the north of the country, 12 days on the gringo trail, and an epic search high and low for a second rabies vaccine we were shattered - both mentally and physically.
Unfortunately the south Peru seems to have evolved into a place for two-week holiday makers and not for those that prefer slow travel at a reasonable price. We won't go into too much detail now, as we have an article planned about it but, suffice to say, when our friends left, we needed a break from travelling around Peru - and Arequipa seemed a good a place as anywhere.
We got some work done, planned a little more of our route and with the help of a kitchen began to feel a little like our old selves.
The Nazca lines are fascinating. Ancient and mysterious, we came to Peru hoping that we might be able to make it there and, thanks to Movil Air, we did.
On a 30 minute flight with a pilot who may have watched a little too much Top Gun (we're not sure that such HARD lefts and rights were entirely necessary) we got to see what Emily (and maybe Andrew) thinks is one of the most impressive sights in the country.
And neither of us puked! Yay!
Independence day in Peru is a big fricking deal, or at least an excuse to double the cost of hotel rooms and bus tickets. Unable (and unkeen - can you imagine anything worse than literally hundreds of local and loud families falling down sand dunes simultaneously?!) to find accommodation in Huacachina for the holidays we instead chose to bunker down in a hotel in Ica, a neighbouring town, and try and catch some parades.
This idea was great in theory, but a dodgy piece of fish meant that Emily spent the entire two days wrapped in blankets.
Emily wasn't a huge fan of Peru and, well, Peru wasn't a huge fan of Emily. Dog bites, food poisoning and then some more food poisoning. This unfortunately meant that she couldn't do sand boarding on the dunes around the oasis of Huacachina. Andrew therefore had to brave it out all on his own (honestly, this is the first time we've been apart for more than toilet breaks in what seems like forever) to ride a dune-buggy at top speed and hurl head first down the steepest dunes you ever did see.
He managed to be the only person in his group to fall off and do a few rolls down the hill sans board, which resulted in a some minor scrapes, sand in every crevice and very damaged pride.
So, that is where this story ends - what a couple of months! We're pretty sure we haven't covered this much ground so quickly ever before on our trip, and as much as we've loved having a new adventure every single day, we are very excited for what August holds..... Stay tuned!