Friday, March 28, 2008

Dune Buggy! Yeaah!

Us at the dunes
Photo of a photo

Our sand duning team!

Just a quicky today as I´m in a beautiful coastal town much like I imagine Byron Bay was like before it became so commercial, so I want to take as much time as possible exploring this place! The above photos are from a massive range of sand dunes we went riding over. It was one of the most fun things I´ve ever done in my life! It was like a roller coaster but cooler! We then went down a few hills on boards which was pretty cool also and Jem ended up with sasnd in every crevice!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Our porters Hey llama... View from our tent second night Bloody steps... Maccu Picchu!!! Mountains surrounding Maccu Picchu

Inca Trail

The girls of the group day before the trek

So, the infamous Inca Trail. Everyone knows about it, its probably one of the main reasons we decided to book this tour, but here's an account of the reality of the Inca Trail, well our side of the story anyway.
Looking fresh before the trek!

DAY 1: After being taxied to Ollyantaytambo where we spent the night and got stuffed on veggie lasagne and then banana pancakes the next morning, we headed to our starting station where 20 porters loaded 30kg onto their backs (tents, food, our duffkle bags etc). After a quick passport check we embark on our journey!

Day one isthe most deceiving as its literally a walk int he park! An occasional stop to carefully observe the native medicinal flora or for a story on the incas and how they lived. Our guide Ruben is passionate and infinately knowlegable, he's done the inca trail 300 times ad you can tell he lives and breathes everything inca! Lunch is served in mess tents surrounded by chickens and donkeys next to a gorgeous little stream - quinoa soup, rice, tuna lasagne and an avocado cocktail to die for! Nope -no slop, no eating out of acan, this 5 star service in incredible! The meals on the inca trail were better than some of the meals we've eaten in restaurants!

Our first Inca site! Yay!
Our first campsite is in a gorgeous clearing next to a stream, our tnets are ready when we arrive, along with roll matts and afternoon tea with hot chocolate!!! The dinners are just as awesome, although the toilets leave a lot to be desired, but at least we have them!

DAY 2: This makes day one seem like a lazy stroll! We're awoken at 6:15am, pack our shit, eat breaky (fruit salad, popcorn-like cereal, porridge and pancakes!) and head up the mountain. When I say up...I mean UP!!! 7hrs of steep, rocky incline in the form of hills or steps (I hate steps with a passion now!!!). The group becomes scattered, the competitors first, followed by the fit, the us!! Delayed by lack of oxygen, beautiful scenery or an obsession with photography (not naming any names Jemimah!!) we make it to the campsite between 12 AND 3.

Now, those not familiar with the effects of altitude, let me paint a nice little picture for you! You start off fighting fit, charging up the stairs. After 10 seconds, you start sucking air, you fill your entire lungs with air but find only a tiny shrivel of oxygen in each breath. You breathe harder and faster, your body realises its not getting any O2 and starts to slow down. Almost to ahalt. This is when your brain realises you still have 9km to go with f"%k all oxygen and steps the height of your thigh. Walking sticks provide some leverage, but all in all you're in struggle street! However, the stream trickling next to the path, the misty clouds covering the gigantic mountains, the view of the camp you're coming from looking like tiny ant villages in the distance and good company long the way makes you realise, this isn't difficult. Sure, its a challenge, but you're having the most amazing time and seeing the most increadible sights!!!
With this in mind, you manage to drag yourself to the summit (otherwise known as Dead Woman's Pass, how comforting!) at 4200m above sea level. At first your're relieved. Until it starts pissing down,drenching every item of clothing, despite the fact that its all waterproof! Your knees start creaking as you descend down an enormous amount of stairs, and a small waterfall follows you down due to the amount of rainfall. However, again, you don't mind. A curious llama greets you along the way with giant eyelashes, you pass a waterfall that relaxes you, and you realise the ones who should be struggling are the porters that pass you, running, looking like tortoises with their load. You realise that the two jolly Canadians behind you are struggling just as much as you are or in Jem's case, the journey is helped by a random guide who's lost his group and decides to be your personal buddy along the way.

By the time you reach camp, the best thing in the world is adry tent, a warm change ofclothes, a hot chocolate and a piece of bread with butter and jam!!! The porters applaud your arrival to the campsite every afternoon, weshould be applauding them!!!
DAY 3: This is the day known as unforgettable. The first inca ruin is awatch tower, circular and on the top of a hill looking at the trail, monitoring its pilgrams, reserved exclusively for the religious members of society. The incas had a very interesting social ladder, we learn fromRuben. As usual, there were royalty, followed by nobles of blood, nobles of privelege, the army, working population and then servants. However, unlike ancient Egyptian and African societies, the Incan government treated their servents very well. Once a servant had completed ajob, they were allowed to join the working population, or in rare cases, sometimes even nobility!
Aseries of short inclines and declines leads us to another site, this time a religious site where we learn that the icna religion originates from several pre-inca societies. This mono theistic society was based around the 'Spiritual'or 'Flying' god. This then developed into poytheism, where deities from the pre-incas were re-incorporated (puma, condor, snake, mountains etc) and promoted to gods in the process.

After lunch, we keep trekking for anotherfewhours through beautiful rainforest (at 3000m??) and massive100m drops off the side! This is 90% original inca stones and mortar which makes the walk all the more surreal!
The the motherf"%king steps! 3000m steep, mossy steps, some which, despite the general natureof a step, are round! Knees, calves and any other leg-part are dying, people are stacking it all over the place which provides a bit of a laugh!!!
We're told to look out for a tunnel, but once we get there, its dutch-ovened by one of the guys in front of us, meaning we have to stall our journey until the smell disperses and causes us to believe that Matt is in need of some immediate medical procedure to cure whatever the hell is wrong with him!!
The walk home is amazing and excrutating at the same time, until we FINALLY reach camp for acoke and snickers to undo all the good work we've just done!!
DAY 4: We're awoken abruptly at4am and due to the fact that our torch has run out of battery, are forced to pack in the dark! After a hot breakky we head out blindly to the Sungate, about 2hrs trek from camp. When we arrive, however, instead of being able to see Maccu Picchu, all we see is white!The mist is supposed to clear at 8am, 2hrs from now! So we wander around in the mist until we start our tour. Like clockwork, the mist clears at 8 to reveal the most amazing place I have ever been in my entire life!! There'sno way to describe this ancientcity so I will use photos instead (see above post)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Travelling Follies

So whilst one is travelling, one learns many things along the way. I have made a short list of the things thus far NOT to do whilst venturing through South America on a tour:

DO NOT loose your exit card, for any country

DO NOT use indian ink fruit like its finger paint, on your cheeks, on your arms, anywhere really! IT DOESN'T COME OFF!!!

DO NOT eat curry from a Japanese restaurant in Brazil. Despite what you may think, they have NO IDEA HOW TO MAKE IT!

DO NOT loose in a game of arsehole. This will result in you having to wear a pair of pink antennae around the city you are in until someone else looses the infamous card game.

DO NOT fail to get everyone to get to play arsehole once you have lost, meaning you cannot pass your title onto the next unlucky victim

DO wear sunscreen on nose whilst horse riding. Otherwise you will be affectionately known as Rudolf until it fades.

DO NOT attempt to do the Brazilian version of the macarena in night clubs, despite what you may believe, you DO NOT look as good as the locals do!

DO dance on the bar at the local clubs, it will result in free drinks if your dancing impresses the bar staff...not sure if robot dancing really counts...

DO NOT attempt to do a jetstar jump on salt flats, it is not like snow and will not be merciful when you jump too high and stack it...

DO NOT attempt to play soccer at 4000m. It will result in your lungs feeling like they're on fire and despite the faith you may have in your playing abilities, ou WILL NOT beat the locals!

DO NOT forget that although the country you are in is close to the Equator, at 3000m plus, ITS STILL FRIGGIN FREEZING!!!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Sorry guys, the internet is rubbish at the moment so here are a couple of photos to wet your appetite! Salt flats in Uyuni, playing silly buggers!
Train cemetery, pretty cool

Indian ink, comes from a fruit in the Pantanal, we accidentally used it as finger paint and it didn't come off for a week!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Can you pass the salt?

Ok folks, so its quite apparent that there're a lot of blanks in this blog that will need to be filled in at a later date, probably not for another couple of months most likely! But I just had to get on today to tell you about what we've been doing for the last couple of days. We're in Uyuni at the moment, a small town about 3600m high, right next to a massive, and I mean massive (250km wide) salt flat! Now that in itself may not sound that spectacular to you, but I assure you, it is one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced!

First we take 3 jeeps out onto the flats. We have iPod connections in the car so we're listening to a combination of Chillies, U2, Britney and Madonna (thanks Jem....) whilst speeding on a vast expanse of white, flat salt, with nothing in sight but a few blue moutains in the distance. Within an hour, any part of our body exposed to the sun or the reflection of the sun on the salt is scorched (mainly my nose and Jem's legs!!!) but it doesn't stop the view from being breath taking!

Because there is so much white, and one flat horizon, you can take silly photos by playing with the perspective, i.e. have a group of us sitting on a jar of vegemite or other such props. Who knew this photo taking could amuse us for over 2hrs!

So that night, we stayed in a hotel made entirely of salt and went star gazing which was amazing due to the lack of light in the area (we were showing all the pommies the southern cross and irion, apparently the only constellations I know of!).

The next day, we get back into the 4WDs with our driver (Juan the man! Or Juan is number wuan!) and drive to fisherman's island, a huge rock formation bang smack in the middle of the flats covered in large, phallic looking cacti which provided us with a bit of amusement, followed by bbq llama meat and frizby on the flats. We then drove back to Uyuni and we're now waiting for an overnight train to Lapaz where we say goodbye to about half of our group and take on another 8 people to go to Quito.

I must admit, it feels like I've been away from home for about a week. I feel bad that I don't want to come home, but I do wish Mum and Adam could see all this stuff and wish Bec, Brad and Em could come 4WDing with me and play silly buggers! But my new foreign friends are so much fun and I'll be sorry to see them leave the group this weekend, its funny how you can be with someone for only a month and feel like you've known them your whole life! I've shared meals, excursions, rooms, cards and banter with these kids and I'm sure many of them will be my friends for a long time to come! (Plus its quite handy having friends from around the world!!!)

We're grabbing everyone's photos in Lapaz so hopefully I can chuck some up then, I must admit our photography skills are above and beyond...or maybe the subject matter is helping us a little...

This is the most amazing adventure I've been on! I'm so glad I'm doing this, I'll never forget the experiences and people on this trip! Yeeeeeoooooowww!!!

Until next time, stay excellent dudes...