A Photographic Memory

It has taken me almost six months to be able to write this, partly because I cannot physically put into words what the trip meant to me and in a way writing this officially ends the best year of my life (I am also guilty of being v lazy). But here I want to reflect  on what I learnt from travelling solo for one year and a few of my favourite photographic memories and maybe even inspire one or two of you to book that scary one way flight into the unknown!

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The last day!!!! Starting my journey home to Dublin leaving dreamy Isla Mujeurs in Mexico 😦

Trying to settle back into ‘normal life’ after 12 months on the road has been challenging to say the least. Living in a travel bubble for one year completely separated from reality changes your priorities and your entire perspective on life. This bubble is both uncomfortable, scary, exciting and dangerously addictive. Travelling solo as a female around Latin America is definitely a challenge but is one of the most liberating  and exhilarating things I have ever done. Anyone nervous especially girls just do it. I think everyone should experience solo travel at least once in their life.

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Another benefit of solo travel. You can puke all over rainbow mountain and no one needs to know about it. I had violent altitude sickness that day but managed a fake smile.

I have gotten better at embracing the here and now even if it is a two hour commute on a bicycle to Tallaght. I am a sucker for a challenge. This commute often feels like backpacking (or cycling Bolivia’s death road aka the Greenhills road in Walksintown)!

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Bolivia’s death road V my commute to work (similar gig)

Since starting I have had 4 punctures, been hit by a car (luckily I was okay the woman thought I was a wheely bin), ended up hitch hiking to a presentation (that’s a v long story), cried for an entire hour en route home pretty convinced I had frost bite (I did not!!), almost got blown away during multiple storms. Admittedly it is usually quite bleak but there is the rare day where the wind is behind my back, sun is shining and I am listening to the Beach Boys and I feel invincible. The quick morale of the story, cycling in Dublin is a joke but better than public transport!! Our bodies can do so much more than we give them credit for.

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Cycling in Amsterdam on the other hand…….

During my trip someone once told me I was a magnet for problems and disasters. Maybe that is true these disasters have subsequently followed me to Dublin and most likely will follow me wherever I end up next. Only last week I set my hair on fire in a restaurant in Berlin while roller blading a Half Marathon!!!!! Sometimes you might feel like crying  and whenever you do try your best to laugh! No joke, literally everyday of the trip there was some kind of a disaster in store both major and minor. I look back now and can honestly smile about them all.

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This is me on cloud 9 having completed my first half marathon on blades.  This is also before my hair caught on fire (most likely caused by my recent dodgy highlights which were particularly flammable).

I find it difficult to describe how I feel after the year away but it is without a doubt an emotional roller coaster consisting of indescribable joy, loneliness, guilt, sadness, isolation and fear.  A year of camping, hitchhiking, sleeping on mountains, caves and couchsurfing went by in the flash of an eye. I was broke, homeless, lost, robbed, held up at knife point and violently sick (on numerous occasions). You do stupid things and all rationale goes out the window. A perfect example of this is me buying a motorbike in Brazil with the plan of biking through the Amazon into Colombia?! In my defense I had been on a bus for almost 3 days so I was little delirious (as opposed to normal!). It is still there in case anyone reading this in headed to Brazil!?

Just a few of my photographic highlights

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Fresh off the plane. Day 1 of the trip and I am straight to the fish market in Santiago, Chile.
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Valparaiso, Chile stole my heart. I spent my first 3 weeks here (originally supposed to be 3 days).  Week one consisted  of getting  held up at knife point by two Chilains, I was attacked in my sleep by a drug dealer and lost my only debit card. This was not enough to deter me from the most enchanting  place, the people, the music and especially the street art. I rarely cry but I cried leaving Valpo. Maka thanks for the pepper spray it was literally life saving.
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My first day hitchhiking in Patagonia! A scary yet exhilarating experience. Hitch hiking was never something I planned on doing but fellow travelers easily convinced me. Little did I know it was the beginning of  a whole new level of adventure. The simplicity of this photo makes me smile and I remember how proud I was to make it to Cerro Castillo after hitchhiking with four different men. The mountain in the background is where I ended up sleeping that same night (without a tent/sleeping bag). I was luckily oblivious to the disaster that awaited me.
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Me at the top of Cerro Castillo, Patagonia. I had been trekking for 10 hours carrying my entire life (literally); laptop, wine, beer, clothes etc etc. I was covered in blood, melted butter and yogurt and was stung to death by bees. Unforgettable for all the right reasons. Patagonian scenery is so stunning it messes up with logical thinking despite everyone urging me to turn back and give up I persevered. Sleeping alone on a Patagonian glacier was yes, crazy. This was the most physical challenging thing I have ever done (2nd place is the Paris Marathon which was also hellish but at least it was only 4 hours of hell). I learnt that I am pretty hardcore, ridiculously stubborn and arguably stupid.
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Marble Caves, El Rio, Patagonia, Chile. Patagonia These caves are entirely made out of marble.
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I love the simplicity of this picture. I took this on the Carratera Austral a road in Patagonia extending  1,240km long.  This road is famous for it’s lack of transport, shops, petrol stations but more importantly for its stunning scenery of fjords, glaciers, steep mountains and lakes. Hitch hiking is a must here.
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Trekking  through  Patagonia’s Glacier Exploradores. I hadn’t slept in 48 hours  yet I didn’t feel tired at all! This was an amazing day and the scenery was just jaw dropping.
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A shell of myself at the end of the W trek (a solo 4 day mountain trek in Patagonia). I was freezing, starving and exhausted but my main memory still remains the mountains. Such a surreal place.
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Perito Moreno, Argentina. I vomited continuously at this glacier but gathered enough energy to take a few pics of this ridiculously pretty place. This day marked the beginning of my 6 week illness where I contracted a virus from drinking water from a river (in fairness I was asking for it).
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Cordero: Patagonia’s signature dish of barbecued lamb. This was a new’s years day feast where the lamb was covered in beer and barbecued for 6 hours. Without a doubt my foodie highlight of South America. This was like silk in your mouth I became quite barbaric eating this but it was a truly sensational. This was a perfect day eating cordero, drinking buckets of red wine and sunning ourselves in Ushuaia where it was surprisingly warm!
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Worth the continuous vomit inducing up hill climb for this rainbow sunrise.  I do remember thinking will I ever get better or maybe this is the new reality for me. Vomiting while camping in Patagonia is a different level of rough. For 5 minutes I completely forgot about vomit and was blown away by a double rainbow and burnt orange sunrise.
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Motorbiking from Salta to Cafayate (well not quite…sitting on the back taking photos!). This photo reminds me of two amazing things I got to do; experience couchsurfing and secondly get to motorbike around Northern Argentina (gracias Mati). I since became  a little bit obsessed with motorbikes and am now a proud owner of a Honda which is sitting in a random village in Brazil. Just another one of Ró’s genius travel decisions.
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A harrowing experience exploring the mines in Bolivia’s Potosi.
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Waiting for sunrise at Salar de Uyuni. Special special place.
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Úna!! When your Mam travels solo to Bolivia and treats you like a queen. Memories of a lifetime.
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This photo always makes me smile. I motorbiked to a peach festival in Cochabamba, Bolivia with a group of complete strangers.
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Camping in Toro Toro’s National Park in Bolivia; home to thousands of dinosaur footprints. So cool!
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Salkantay Trek; en route to see the main man: Machu Picchu
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Gocta waterfall, the third highest in the world. It has been known to the locals for centuries but it was only in 2002 it was discovered by a German who noticed it on google maps . Crazy how many un discovered beauties are potentially still out there. This was definitely one of my Peruvian highlights and better still no body else was there! 
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Successfully completing the Santa Cruz trek in Huarez in Peru.  Again from a very un-reliable source I was told this was a walk in the park and I would be fine solo. I was not……and spent the 3 day trek stranded on the Cordillera Blanca.  That being said this is home to the Paramount picture mountain so it had to be included as a highlight!
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I will never forget snorkeling in the Galapogos Islands in Ecuador. Just incredible.  Everything about the Galapagos is a highlight.
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Wild Galapagos Tortoise. Obsessed with these guys.
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Seals doing what they do best; chilling. Isabella, the Galapagos.
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Celebrating Colombia’s world cup with the locals. I made it onto Colombian radio for correctly predicting the match result (3-0 to Colombia V Poland). It insured free drink for myself and Nils for the  rest of the day!
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Typical lunch scenes in Cartagena, Colombia
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Picking up a hot German in an airport in Ecuador has definitely got to be a highlight! This is Nils, we met going to the Galapagos Islands and initially I hung out of him for his very efficient and organised travel itinerary. We shared left over lobster on our first date (the couple next to us where sending it back so I  controversially asked the waiter would he mind if we ate their left-overs). An uncomfortable yet perfect experience. I soon found out he was also pretty sound and we spent an amazing 8 weeks travelling around Colombia together.
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Getting to play 5 aside football against the locals in El Rio, Colombia. The pitch was in the middle of the jungle doesn’t get more authentic than that.
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Communa 13, Medellin, Colombia. Previously known as one of the most dangerous districts in the world.  It has since reformed itself  through art and music and stole my heart.
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When you friends travel across the world to see you (and of course Colombia). For the first time in 9 months I was given new clothes, hair and make up and made feel female again!
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The trip around the San Blas was incredible from the people, the culture and the food. I have never seen or experienced beaches like this. I doubt anything will ever compare. LOVED it.
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Guanjuato’s (Mexico) local market. I creeped on this man for ages he seemed so content selling his tomatoes. I was always at my happiest when surrounded by food.
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Cipriano; Serving the people of Real de Catorce (Mexico) with menudo. It is a horrendous concoction of sheep intestine and chilis. A must try while in Mexico. I spent the afternoon chatting to the 83-year-old who had never once left his home town and he couldn’t’ have been happier.
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Camping in Real de Catorce, a small village built-in the middle of a desert. I befriended two dogs here Cookie and Cracker who I will never forget. The only way to access the village is through a 3 km tunnel. Cracker was hit by a motorbike as I was leaving the village trying to follow me. The loyalties of dogs is an amazing thing.
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Cascada Tamul in Huasteca Potasina, Mexico. I hitch hiked to this place with a group of roudy retired Mexicans after a night camping in a random man’s house. My whole week in Huasteca Potasina  was a series of very dodgy (and exciting) adventures ( I won’t elaborate….).
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Barancas de Cobre: Mexico’s hidden gem. I zip lined through the whole canyon. Myself  and Tim a man I picked up on the bus had the place to ourselves. Pictures will never justify this place. Without a doubt scenery wise, my favourite place in Mexico (and 3 times as large as the grand canyon!)
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This picture speaks for itself. I love and relate to it.
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One of the best things I ate in Mexico was this home made tortilla.  The woman grew her own corn, milled it and made fresh tortillas everyday.
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Waking up to sunrise at Hierve del Agua in Mexico. I was told I was crazy to camp here alone…well I wasn’t alone, the restaurant lady lent me her three dogs who minded me for the night. The next morning I got to explore for hours before the tour buses came in their droves.  Skinny dipping beside a petrified waterfall without costing a penny has got to be a Mexican highlight.
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El Chepe: One of the world’s most stunning train journeys located in Northern Mexico. Northern Mexico is known as being really dangerous so very few tourists come here and I was also advised against it. It was here where I left my passport in the fruit/veg aisle in a small supermarket. It was returned 24 hours later. Never judge a place based on other people’s opinions go and see for yourself.
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Northern Mexico getting another shout out.  Myself and an Israeli chap motorbiked to Creel. Trying to to take this photo was extremely dodgy but totally worth it!
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This is Rosa pre booze, a lovely lady from Creel, Northern Mexico.  This woman pestered me for ages begging for money to buy water. Obviously no one is going to deny an elderly woman water so I gave in. Moments later Rosa emerges with a bottle of tequila which she shared with me! (and yes tequila and water are the same price in Mexico).
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Rosa post booze. Rosa is now perched in our bathroom and every time I pee I am reminded of the day I went boozing with one of the Northern Mexico’s biggest legends. Her face tells a thousand stories.

Some parting advice;

Don’t always take the easy option get on that bike, book that flight, step into the unknown and who knows what might happen you may even be lucky enough to pick up a hot German in the airport.  Life can pass us by in the blink of an eye so speak to that stranger, be open-minded and curious. Everyone has an untold story waiting to be heard.

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Biking/Camping  through Northern Argentina

I completely get that hitchhiking, couch surfing and sleeping in tents isn’t everyone’s gig but it’s always good to put yourself out of your comfort zone every now and again (no need to be as extreme as me aka 8 weeks straight in a tent). The experiences you will have will be authentic, exciting and unforgettable. You think you can’t do it but you absolutely can!

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Just maybe invest in a better tent than mine 😉 This was taken in Palenque in Mexico during a thunder storm (the sunglasses are just because of sleep deprivation). My Christmas present to myself was a tent and I it was the best thing I have ever bought even though we both looked constantly disheveled.

Money seriously comes and goes and ultimately can be replaced. Some of my happiest memories are when I didn’t have any. Material things are so un-important but memories will last forever. I know its v cheesy but it’s true. I became so much better at accpeting at dealing with things that got lost, broken and robbed and believe me there were a record amount of things.

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Broke times while living in Cusco. I managed to be-friend a smelly hippy called Ekkie who taught me how to busk using a tambourine. Earned enough to buy an ice cream=success

The best thing I did on the trip? becoming fluent in Spanish. I will never forget Christmas was spent with a group of Chilanos who hadn’t a word of English and after everyone pissing themselves at my Spanish attempts I persevered and months later I landed myself a job in a hostel in Cusco and was able to lap away to every randomer who came through the doors in Spanish. Progress!! It’s hard work at the beginning but just power through it is so so worth it. The whole point about travelling is obviously seeing amazing places but for me it is more about connecting with the people. Doing both is a glorious combo.

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Getting to talk to cute locals like this in spanish is really special

Life is a series of peaks and valleys and just like traveling  it is not always going to be Instagram perfect  but wherever you are living learn to live in the moment is the best thing we can do. No matter how grim, how cold, how tired or how fed up you are there is always a solution, put a smile on your face and power through. Even a 25 hour bus can have its up sides!  Some of my most challenging moments of the trip are now my best stories and fondest memories but at the time I clearly remember thinking I had hit rock bottom (sleeping in a cave alone is perfect example of this).

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Low times in Santa Cruz. Getting stranded in the Andes in Peru is no laughing matter. Sleeping alone in a cave with a bunch of cow’s sounds worse than it actually was. As good as you would get in the Westbury.

A final thank you to all of the amazing people I met on the trip, the strangers who took me in, fed me, the couch surfing community and those who picked me up off the sides of the street. I am also so grateful to everyone who spared the time to read about some of my trip.Your comments and messages meant the world to me.

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A huge apology for the stress I caused. Dom and Una; two saints who put up with my  loose travels.

This quote perfectly summarises  what travelling means to me

”Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” Anthony Bourdain

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‘We all have a little spark of madness we mustn’t loose it ‘ Robin Williams. Me, Magda, Iv and Sheldon Manuel in Merida Mexico. The most legendary couch surfing hosts.

 

Week 26: Cachapoyas, Montanita & Banos. Peru & Ecuador.

I decided to stay in Cachapoyas longer than expected it’s such a gem of a place.  It is home to Gocta waterfall, classed as the third highest in the world at 771 m high. The highest in the world are Angel Falls in Venezuela and the second highest are Tugela Falls in South Africa. Claudia who I was couch surfing with is a guide in the area so took me to the non touristy trail (even though this entire area does not see many tourists…yet). This waterfall has been known to the locals for centuries but it was only in 2002 that they were discovered by a German tourist who noticed them on google maps . Crazy how many un discovered beauties are potentially still out there.

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There were the most stunning trees in this park
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View of Gocta from a distance
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Gocta up close

 Myself, Claudia and Tibet the dog headed off to Gocta. The route was stunning with hundreds or fruit and coffee trees and the best thing there wasn’t a sinner there. We hiked for about 5 hours uphill until you get to the top of the waterfall. The photo’s don’t even nearly justify this place it was spectacular.  As per usual I had a fall on top trying to get a picture because the water from the falls is so strong. Very sad a tourist died at these falls last year because he swam in a forbidden area. Beautiful yet dangerous place.

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Tibet to the rescue

After the highest point you descend to the bottom where you can swim, an incredible (albeit freezing) experience. Having the world’s third largest waterfall completely to yourself was one of my highlights of the trip so far. Next time I want to camp here I didn’t want to leave this stunning place.  Everyone needs to go here, seriously cool.

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Me at the base of Gocta waterfalls

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Myself and the legend dog Tibet
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Claudia and Tibet
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In my ellers
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Our swimming spot!

Fedo (the other Argentinian couch surfer) didn’t join us on this occasion and I was kind of glad. It transpired that Fedo has no money and hasn’t had a debit card for 9 months. He has been just couch surfing and occasionally going to Western Union. I’ve no idea how he has survived. Well actually I do…..he scabs off everyone else. So completely emphatising with someone loosing their card and having no money I lent him money. For breakfasts and lunches he was eating all of Claudia’s food (who was too nice to say anything) and soon enough all of my food. Now I was happy to share because I can’t physically carry all of  my food but he was taking it a step too far when he started eating my chocolate!! He got fed and watered for 1 week without spending a penny. I got annoyed when I saw him lashing into Claudia’s good  Italian olive oil and asking for the parmesan I wanted to knock him out with the cheese. Not even an utter of thanks, unbelievable. On my last night we went out for pisco sours as I wanted to thank Cluadia  little did I know I would be thanking Fedo too because once again he had no money!

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Beautiful Cachapoyas at sunset

A lesson to us all if you have no money you don’t go for pisco sour no matter how delicious they are!!!! Myself and Claudia had a ball together one of the best couch surfing experiences to date. We are both massive foodies so I have half promised to return to open up an Italian cafe with her in Cachapoyas. Our last dinner was probably the nicest food I’ve eaten in  6 months. An insane and extremely understated salad of; chicken, potatoes, lettuce, tomato, onions, avocado, cucumber, sunflower seeds, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, basil and huge chunks of parmesan, We calculated and the whole dish cost 1 euro in the local market. O mo dhia it was divine all it missed  was a large  glass of red. Dessert was this almond nought from Italy and ice cream and then off to the bus station to try to make my way to Ecuador.

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My send off at the bus station; Me, Claudia, Fedo and of course Tibet the amazing puppy

Peru has been amazing and I’m so glad I finished off in the north. I love the freedom of having absolutely no plans it’s the way to go you never know where your going to end up. The food in Peru has been a highlight with the stand outs being ceviche and just in general the food is so flavorsome and dirt cheap. If they could sort out their wine situation then we would be laughing (it’s sickingly sweet). Peru has it all ; beaches, jungle, desert and incredible trekking. It’s the third largest country in SA so 2 months here didn’t cover the half of it.  

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Hasta Luego Peru: I will be back!

The journey to Ecuador involved two night buses in a row so this was always going to be a rough one. The first one  was v v comfy but I didn’t sleep a wink with  excitement. I arrived in Chiclayo and had the day to kill and spend the last of my pesos. So no expenses spared I had a fabulous breakie of pineapple juice, mixed  exotic fruit salad with chia seed porridge and  brown bread with avocado, cheese and toms and excellent coffee (a rarity when backpacking).

Lunch was not so fabulous. Really sleep deprived and extremely hot ( I was wearing half the wardrobe and it was over 30 degrees). I researched this place a lot deciding to treat myself to Chiclayo’s most famous dish arroz con Pato (rice and duck). The restaurant was buzzing and packed with locals which is always a great sign. When my duck arrived it was a devastation. What it was, was a mountain of greasy rice and a lump of cold duck. The best thing about the dish was the side of onions and chilis.  I ordered a frozen Chica (typical Peruvian drink made out of maize). Anyway not one to waste anything I packed up the left over rice for the bus journey that night. I spent all of my remaining money on that muck, my most expensive meal in Peru.

The mauldy rice made the journey with me to Ecuador and we both endured the next night bus together. This bus was also v comfy Una you’ll be glad to know I splurged on the expensive ticket.  Once again I couldn’t sleep I think the smell of the duck and rice was nauseating me. When we arrived at the border  I was a complete disaster. I ended up queuing for 1 hour in the Peruvian que and didn’t notice there was a que especially for foreigners.   A kind lady pointed me in the right direction. I spent ages trying to find a pen to fill in the customs form when I eventually handed  it in  the Peruvian customs said they didn’t want it so I put it in the bin (naturally). I made my way back to the bus and before I knew there was a guard chasing after me. I forgot to go to the Ecuador customs (a minor detail). They needed the form I had put in the bin.  I then went back to the loo to try to find it  with the guard  escorting me But  to no avail, I filled out another and had the whole bus waiting for me . In my defense this whole operation was happening  at 3 am in the morning!

Anyway back on the bus we eventually made it to Guayaquil in Ecuador where I had to catch  yet another bus (only 3 hours) to Montanita. The beach! During this whole operation I managed to lose my greasy rice somewhere between Peru and Ecoudor I was raging having lugged it around for the past 2 days. When I arrived at the hostel I got stuck into a hammock and couldn’t move expect for food and loo breaks. I looked like  scene from a horror movie.  This was me for the next 3 days absolute bliss. Montanita is a party place and has gorgeous beaches and is a popular spot for surfing.  It is a little bit touristy for my liking but for a few days it was perfect. Swimming here was a little tough going because the waves are pretty crazy but it was still so good to be back in the water.

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Beautiful beaches in Montanita
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Sunsets in Ecuador
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First swim of 2018

One afternoon while walking in the town who do I find but my box of Peruvian rice and duck sitting on a hedge. I know a bit disgusting but I couldn’t leave it behind. We had been through  a lot together. So dinner that night was stir fried rice! I cooked the life out of it to kill any dodgy bacteria and it actually didn’t taste half bad! This is typical Gallagher behaviour and reminded me of my Uncle Joe; a lunatic but a legend.

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This was a resident at the hostel and popped up for meal times!

Next stop was Banos known as the gateway to the amazon. It started out as a bit of a disaster. I organised couch surfing with a guy. I firstly told him the wrong time because I thought the bus was 3 hours it turned out it was 10 hours (an easy mistake), the second major issue is there are apparently two Banos in Ecuador so idiot here ended up at the wrong Banos, So the poor lad was waiting for me at the bus station. Anyway potentially a blessing in disguise I ended up in a private room in a hotel for 7 dollars a night. A delightful change from my usual sleep set up!

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Road into Banos
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Banos’s main cathedral
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Banos’s is sugar cane obsessed. They absolutely love and live off sugar. Every street corner is selling a handmade candy called Melcocha. It is sickeningly sick

Week 25: Haurez, Cajamarca, Cachapoyas. Peru

Having got back from the Santa Cruz trek I was slightly delirious, sleep deprived  and grateful to be in one piece. In the hostel, I ended up chatting to this guy from Israel who was looking for hiking partners to do a 10 day trek (Huaywash). Obviously without even batting an eye lid I agreed and before I knew it I was buying maps and head torches for the challenging trek . We spent the next 2 days preparing and buying all the essential bits.  Asaf the Isreali, had been in the army for 4 years and fought in the war in Gaza. It soon transpired that he was a very intense and an aggressive guy and not exactly my cup of tea. Why I had agreed to do more hiking alone with this stranger for the next 10 days is an excellent question. Absolute idiot is why. One evening en route back to our extremely cheap hostel he pulled out a huge knife saying he didn’t trust the area and was trying to protect me. This is when I knew I needed out.

One of the  days a gang of us from the hostel went to the famous Laguna 69 which is about a 5 hour round  trip of walking. I was forced to do the hike in jeans because somehow once again I’ve lost a load of clothes.The lake is stunning and has the most magical blue colour. We had snow, wind, rain and sun at the top.  I stupidly lost my lens cover for my camera in a cave (didn’t think I’d be back in a cave so quickly).I  spent ages underneath rocks trying to route it out. I was giving up hope when I eventually found a long armed German who saved the day and rooted it out for me.

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Views en route to Laguna 69

At the top I enjoyed some of my Irish chocolate (a pressie from una). It doesn’t get much better than that.

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Me at Laguna 69
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Sara, Asaf, Martha, Morgan and me at Laguna 69

Asaf went for a dip in the Laguna and I got a full view of him in the nip as he had me fetching his clothes. This is when I decided there was no hope of me going with him the following day.

En route down from Laguna 69 I was warned that there was an aggressive cow on the path and to be careful. Having spent the past 2 nights sleeping with cows I didn’t bat an eye lid. I approached the cow and it gave me the most evil stare that I knew it he meant business. I was with a french girl who ran away ( I don’t blame her) and before I knew the cow launched at me and pinned me again the side of a cliff digging his horns into my arms. I manged to free myself by hitting him with my camera bag. For once the ridiculously heavy  2 kg camera came in handy. I then legged it as far away as I could from the crazy cow. I found out later in the day the cow attacked 5 different tourists one of which being my Israeli mate who was actually thrown off the cliff (luckily he was ok).

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My attacker at Laguna 69

After this incident I had  even less of a desire to go back to the mountains. This is a typical me situation where I agree to everything and it’s only afterwards I think. I felt guilty because this trek is not possible on your own.  So bailing meant the lunatic wouldn’t be able to go. For once, I made the sensible decision and bailed. I pulled a sickie ‘altitude sickness’. We were due to take a 4am bus the following morning  Asaf was livid with me especially when I asked could we split the food. I even went as far as spooning peanut butter into  plastic bag and decanting my portion of whiskey into a plastic bottle which will definitely come in handy later.

I spent my last day in Huarez chilling out with the sound hostel owner, drinking beer, going to stunning view points and eating ceviche.  All the while Asaf was in a huff!!With the volume of food I have now acquired  I could feed a small army. I am subsequently carrying about 5 extra kg of food just what the bulging backpack needs!  An idiot but a very relieved and happy idiot not to be on the mountain with that funny fish. Lesson learned Ro!

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Saying goodbye to the Cordillera Blanca

Huarez  itself isn’t the most stunning  town but is the perfect base to get to some amazing places. I can’t recommend it enough but it’s always good to move on so my next stop was Cajamarca.

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Street vendors Huarez
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I told this woman I loved her hat and she just grunted at me. Definitely not a gal you would want to mess with ( pic was taken on the sly)

This is Peru’s most famous place for cheese and dairy products  (what I’m missing most from home). This was one of  the main reasons for going here unfortunately the cheese did not deliver but the ceviche made up for it. While in the market I was asking where I could find the best ceviche and this strange lady called Mongolia Nelly told me to follow her to the best ceviche restaurant in the city.  So  off I went. Mongolia Nelly  is a Peruvian who lived in Miami for 25 years and another 25 years in Venezuela a strange but intriguing lady. She was right about the ceviche it was out of this world . We shared 2 beers and Mongolia Nelly milled into a Lomo Saltado (stir fired beef and rice) another Peruvian delicacy. When it came to the bill I was footing the beers.

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I have mastered the eating of ceviche but obviously not of pouring beer

Afterwards we went for coffee. I just ordered an espresso and Mongolia ordered cake (3 leches a typical moist milky sponge cake here). We lapped away for another while until Mongolia had to head off.  Once again when it came to the bill Mongolia left the honours to me to pay again! Lesson learned don’t ever trust anyone with the name Mongolia Nelly. V cheeky. She was obviously in it for the freebies but the ceviche was a hidden gem I would never had found that I forgive and forget!

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Cajamarca
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Cajamarca

I decided in the dairy capital of Peru that an ice cream was a must so I went traditional and bought lucuma ( a fruit similar enough to sweet potato) and maracuya (passion fruit). My best yet I could have eaten kilos of the stuff.

In Cajamarca I couched surfed with a lovely Peruvian lad called Hans. He brought me to  Banos Del Inca very popular with the locals.  I had no idea what this was but you basically get a private room with  a  natural thermal bath. So it was a little strange sharing a bath with my new mate Hans. At this point the made up boyfriend was brought up. He’s a catch, a doctor who plays football in Cork and he’s coming to visit me in Columbia for my birthday. Hans seemed very interested in him. I really have lost my mind it’s actually quite enjoyable making up idealistic boyfriends. Cajamarca is not touristy at all but is so worth a visit and is known as a small non touristy version of Cusco.  After our bath feeling v relaxed we had a traditional breakfast drink of Quinoa. It’s a warm drink made of Quinoa, pineapple, cinnamon and cloves. It’s so popular here and for 20c I can see why. It’s usually eaten for breakfast with an egg or avocado roll (50c).

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One of the pathways to Cajamarca’s viewpoint
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Main cathedral’s in Cajamarca

I was stopped 5 times that day from people looking for my photo they are not used to gringas here. Love the attention I should start charging  the way the Peruvians do I would be minted.

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An intense game of cheese happening near the square

So the bus from Cajamarca to Chachpoyas is renowned for being horrible. And true to its word it really was. It also known for being really dangerous the 13 hour overnight bus has to drive through the  most narrow mountain ridges And the ‘roads’ are barely passable. There are free puke bags offered at the beginning because vomiting is a common occurrence and if anyone was going to vomit it was going to be me. I stocked up on extras. I was the lucky one who got seated next to a lovely but very obese Peruvian man. He had me suffocated for the journey.  The heat the smell the entire experience was bleek, grim words don’t cover this one. I listened to the soundtrack of La La Land on repeat (forgot to download music) for the entire 13 hours. This was the only thing keeping me sane. At one point in the road there was another bus on coming so our bus man had to reverse around this cliff corner in pitch darkness.  I was scared for the entire 13 hours because I was see how close we were to the cliffs edge, sleep was always going to be an impossibility.

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The bus broke down at 3 am and in the middle of the mountains a few passangers helped replace the wheel.  The operation did not instil any further confidence.
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That’s the ‘road’ on the right from Cajamarca to Chacapoyas (for the entire 13 hours)

When I arrived in Chachapoyas I tried to recover with a few coffees and some breakie. I then made my way to my couch surfing. I soon realized I had lost my mattress. You would think a difficult thing to loose but this is my second to kick the bucket. Raging!!!

I couldn’t have been luckier with this one. It was a Peruvian couple who are both tour guides. The guy was off doing a tour for the week so it was just Claudia and their Pup Tibet. There was another guy from Argentina also couch surfing and we all hit it off from the beginning. Cluadia was just back from a month’s holiday in Italy where she lived for years. She brought back with her loads of Italian olive oil, balsamic vinegar, parmesan , chocolates and coffee.  That afternoon we all made risotto laced with the most stunning cheese. I couldn’t have been any happier tasting parmesan for the first time in 6 months. I felt like I was in a dream (it’s sounds ott but that’s how much I miss cheese).

Later in the evening the 3 of us set of to the nearby canyon for the most stunning view points.

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Me at Canyon de la Sonche
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Claudia and fellow couch surfer Fedo from Argentina
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The legend Claudia that supplied me Italian olive oil and cheese! Forever grateful (if you will ptp)

The next day the 3 of us decided to  head off the Kuelap which is a walled settlement built by the Chachapoyas population.  It is built on top of a mountain 3,000m high.  They believe that over 30,000 habitants lived there and is thought to be bigger than Machu Picchu. We set off at 5am for the challenging climb. It’s a solid 5 hour steep uphill but so worth it at the top the scenes are breath-taking.  At the beginning you see loads of trees with the Chilimoya fruit (one of my favs in South America). If your feeling lazy and have money you can also take the cable car.

On the way up I had a bit of a fall in a mud bath and got severely stuck that I couldn’t move. I had to get lifted out. The poor hiking boots have been put through the mill. The pair of us are both on our last legs.

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Post mud bath (it happened again on the way down) only one leg got stuck that time. The other were spotlessly clean!
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The extra weight from the mud made the steep uphill even harder (no joke)

When we reached the historic site there was only one other French guy there who was camping (great idea). For me this place was more magical than Machu Picchu. Clearly Machu Picchu is a wonder but the whole tourism behind it is so excessive. The place is wedged with people. Up to 3,000 people visit Machu Pichcu each day. Kuelap has yet to be discovered so go now. The people in Chachpoyas are predicting lots more tourism with the recent construction of the cable car (only since last year).

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View of the ancient village Kuelap from the outside
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Ruins at Kuelap
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Fedo at the ruins in Kuelap
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Me on top of Kuelap
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These designs are typical of the Chachapoya communities
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Kuelap’s resident Lama
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Trekking down from Kuelap in the dark because none of us wanted to leave. Insane seeing a rainbow at night

Week 24: Lima, Huarez, Yungay & Santa Cruz Trek. Peru

Leaving for Lima  I opted for a local bus just because  I still refuse to use the popular Cruz Del Sure company. The bus man said no tourists usually take this bus and was quite confused as to why I would choose it ( I quite enjoy the chaos of it all).  He let me sit next to the driver’s seat for the journey so happy days. There was stunning scenery en route as we drove through the desert we got to see some of the Nazca lines. After chatting away to the bus man he offered for me to stay with him in Lima because apparently Lima is v dangerous.  My track record in dangerous cities hasn’t been fantastic so I will have the pepper spray at the ready. I was getting some creepy vibes off bus man so declined his generous offer and took a seat in the stuffy bus.

Surprisingly the bus was alright and the time went v fast. This was my longest bus to date; 24 hours!! I got chatting to the cutest Peruvian man and we shared some oranges and crackers for the journey. He sells peanuts for a living and promised me a few kilos on the house when I return to Cusco. When we got off the bus he kindly brought me to a hotel, 8 euro for a private room just what the doctor ordered.

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Lima
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Lima

I had awful expectations of Lima but was pleasantly surprised. I paid a visit to the artsy suburb of Barranco on the sea front where  I treated myself to delicious seafood and ice cream. This place has really cool vibes and gorgeous cafes and restaurants a different world to the chaos of central Lima. I decided I couldn’t hack being phone-less any longer and invested in the highest tech gold Samsung (no more cherry mobile for me). Delira with it!  I mainly hung out by the beautiful plaza where there were a ton of armed guards which I figured was a safe spot. It was a fantastic day for the freebies where I was given free chocolates, cakes , bread and pisco in a number of different bars and restaurants. I finished off the day by meeting up with a lovely girl; Martiza who I met in Chiloe 5 months ago.

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Cathedral in Lima
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Hanging out of these lads for the day

Next stop Haurez home to the Cordillera Blanco. I decided to give couch surfing another go. Carlos picked me up from a cafe and seemed nice. His ‘house’ unfortunately was not so nice… You could smell it a mile off. It was in the sticks of Haurez and evidently a very rough neighborhood. His house consisted of one room filled with cats and dogs. The place was covered in poo and flies. I could hardly breathe.My bed for the night was the concrete floor. I immediately decided that the next day I would set off and do the Santa Cruz circuit a 4 day route in the mountains. In fairness to Carlos his hygiene might not have been his strong suit but he was a mountain guide and gave me lots of useful info. My friend Lourenso encouraged me to do this trek solo saying it was almost impossible to get lost and a complete waste to do a tour. Carlos also said the same. So it was time to take the tent out of the cobwebs. Carlos’s other job is he makes Craft Beer in Haurez (Sierra Andina). He took me for a private tour and tasting; amazing beer. So all wasn’t bad with Carlos just his house and especially his cats who were crawling on me all night. Disgusting!

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Carlos giving me a tour/tasting of Huarez’s local craft beer; Sierra Andina. Amazing beer

To get to the start of the Santa Cruz trek I had to take a tuk tuk and then 2 local buses. So it was a 5am start. I successfully arrived in a place called Yungay. The bus driver told me to wait 1 hour and we would make the 3 hour journey to the starting point. So I decided to go find breakie in the local market. By accident I ended up ordering sheep intestine soup; a Peruvian delicacy. I had a lovely experience chatting to the locals. It’s so interesting seeing the style in the different regions of Peru. The woman in Huarez are the height of fashion and have the most fantastic hats.

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Local woman in Yungay
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Sheep intestine breakfast
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Brunch Peruvian style

When I got back to my bus man he said senorita we have to wait for more passengers. I went back to the market for more grub carb loading for the huge trek ahead. 3 hours later we eventually set off with a very flustered driver. The drive was spectacular as he drove into to depths of the mountain. The van wasn’t feeling too healthy and 2 hours into the drive one of the wheels fell off!! I wasn’t even surprised and the driver managed to secure the wheel  temporarily. We had to make the dreaded 2 hour journey back to  Yungay to a garage where the van needed serious help. No one was budging for the afternoon.

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Trying to stick the wheel back together

The driver offered me a spot in the mechanics house to pitch my tent. I decided to make the most of my time in Yungay and found the most amazing cemetery. I got chatting to the park ranger and explained my situation and he told me this was the perfect place to camp while I waited for the bus the following morning. Obviously camping in a cemetery isn’t the ideal but this was a particularly beautiful one. With tent pitched and settling down with a snack a Peruvian family came over and said it was way too dangerous to camp here that at night it was filled with drug addicts etc etc. They couldn’t believe I was alone so after a game of volley ball, a photo  shoot and lots of chat they insisted on taking me home and adopting me for the night.

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Campsite for the night
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The most beautiful cemetary in Yungay
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Not the worst place to get stranded

There was about 20 of them in the family and they lived in this farm shack. A true authentic experience. The little kids were giggling with me in the house and it was a novelty for everyone involved. I’d say there was about 8 of them per room and some poor fecker was kicked out of their room and I was given a bed. Such a luxury for the night and a huge step up from Carlos’s smelly dungeon.  The mam couldn’t stop feeding me and I was served the largest portions which I obviously wasn’t complaining about. At 5 am the following morning I was woken to the smell of fish and little did I know this was my breakfast. A mountain of rice, 2 whole trouts and homemade camomile tea. A breakfast of champions for the challenge ahead. What amazing generous people.  I wish I had a way of thanking these people for taking me in and plumping me up.

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My adopted family in Haurez
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Maria (from my adopted family) with one day old puppy

I eventually made it to the start of the trek (second time lucky) and set off with my ludicrously heavy back pack. There was 1 other american couple doing the trek so I tried to keep up with them so I wouldn’t get lost but they were way too fast for me and after a few minutes they were nowhere to be seen. So true to nature I  got lost after 9 minutes and ended up in the house of a man with dead guinea pigs on the roof? I eventually got back on the main route after an hour of trying to figure it out. I was going good guns for a while. This famous route was surprisingly quiet with absolutely no tourists with only the occasional local. At one point I got lost again luckily after a while I saw this kid called Joseph who pointed me in the right direction. He was obviously looking for some kind of a payment. I offered him a banana but he refused and settled for the last of my chocolate bars ( Fiona Spain they have been life saving).  Joseph has good taste, a kid after my own heart. We said our good byes and minutes later Joseph was back with his comrades who obviously got wind of the freebies….

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Day 1 trekking Santa Cruz
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Absolutely nackered! Completely jel of these pig’s siesta!
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The locals in Santa Cruz
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On day 1 you walk through the most beautiful villages

I kept trekking for the rest of the day where I was told by Carlos to walk 1 km further past the main campsite there was another more scenic campsite. I took his instructions on board and pitched my tent. I didn’t realise I pitched my tent in a field covered in cows and their poo. That’s all I needed was more poo . The poo was actually the least of my problems… What I didn’t realise was the state my tent was in and the poles completely snapped. I managed to squeeze into the tent and tried to get shelter under a tree but to no avail. After a few hours the rain got stronger and stronger and my sad excuse of a tent started to fill with water and my sleeping bag became absolutely drenched. It was one of the grimmest moments of the trip so far. I half considered walking in the dark and figured it would be a better than lying in a pool of rain but I abandoned ship on this idea because I had no flash light. I endured the night and got up at 5am to get an early start for the challenge of the next day. I was completely alone for the first half of the day and luckily found a guide who pointed me in the right direction. At this stage I was really worried about my sleeping arrangements. Typically people do the 50km trek in 3 nights which is what I had planned because I was carrying all of the equipment and was quite slow. With the tent out of action I knew I would only last 2 nights maximum.

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The saddest excuse of a tent!  😦
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Some of the views on day 1 of  Santa Cruz
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The place is filled with the most amazing trees
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Not a sinner in sight
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Views from my ‘tent’on night 1 (with a brewing storm en route)

Despite the challenges, day 2 was stunning with beautiful views of snow-capped mountains and lagunas. Scenery like this reminds you why you put yourself through the elements it is so worth it.

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Some serious views in Santa Cruz
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Stunning Laguna (or lake  I’ve no idea what the difference is)
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Not too shabby!
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Breath taking scenery!

With strong sunshine on day 2 I tried to try out sleeping bag and tent and just like that it started snowing! Typical Andean weather. I walked for about 10 hours on day 2. I considered sleeping in the toilets (wooden huts) but then figured it might be an issue if someone wanted to use them and of course the obvious issue of smell so decided against. Just as light was closing in I thought I was having visions but saw the most perfect cave. It was as if all of my problems were solved, there was this beam of light shining on it was like someone was watching over me. I set up camp (albeit wet) and slept (with the cows) solidly for the next 11 hours. An amazing cosy sleep.

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My magical cave!
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View from the cave
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Dins camping style. This was carried in a plastic bag and  consumed for the next 3 days. I ended up loosing all my cutlery trying to wash the pot.  Next time there will be no washing!

Day 3 started off a little rough. A guide I met the previous day told me you can’t go wrong and all you have to do is go straight and follow the lake. I did exactly this which involved me having to cross raging rivers. I figured this couldn’t be right but couldn’t see any other option. I ended up destroying my boots on one of the river crossings. I changed into flip-flops for the remainder. It was scary because they were quite deep but I wanted to continue because I couldn’t face turning back. On one of the crossings I lost one flip-flop, my hat and sunglasses. I scrambled up onto a cliff and amazingly to my left I saw the most obvious pathway!!!!  A terrifying experience only an idiot like me would make. Once on the pathway I knew I was home and dry and enjoyed the rivers from a far. The views this day were amazing and I had them all to myself. It’s hard to believe beauty this spectacular is so un spoilt by tourism. I loved this day maybe because I knew a bed awaited me at the end and not a cave filled with cow shit. There were moments I questioned my sanity and why I was doing this to myself and all I had to do was look around and I would instantly understood. This place is special if you come to Peru you need to see for yourself the photos don’t justify it.

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Every turn you take there are the most beautiful waterfalls
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A nice reminder of how far I had come
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Day 3 views
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Laguna day 3 of Santa Cruz
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The colour of the lake completely changes as you walk!

Santa Cruz I will never forget you. You were almost impossible to get to and to complete but your beauty compensated for the pain you put me through. Now for a much-needed shower, sleep and most definitely a DRINK. I promise Una and Dom no more solo hiking!!

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Delighted to be saying adios to the mountains! I think it’s time for a beach!

 

 

 

Week 23: Cusco & Machu Pichu. Peru

A fantastic start to the week with my debit card arriving. I had kind of resided to the fact that I was going to be stuck in Cusco for ever. It certainly was an interesting experience living with so little.

The next day I told the hostel owner I wanted to leave and spent the day planning Machu Pichu. I wasted no time and decided to go the next day.  I originally didn’t want to go with a tour and wanted to camp myself but was unable to find anyone to come with me. My track record with camping and trekking alone hasn’t been fantastic so dying to get as far away from the hostel as possible I  booked a tour. I was lucky enough to to get chatting to this random lad Andy who organises  tours on the cheap. I opted for the Salkantay trek which is 4 days and 5 nights of trekking. If you want to trek the original Inca trek you need to book months in advance and it’s a lot pricier. I ended up meeting Andy the suspicious tour guide for ice cream and exchanged the dolla bills.  We got on like a house on fire and I somehow managed to rope him into coming back to the hostel to cook us all a Peruvian feast. We had the famous peruvian dish aji de gallina,  a chicken stew made with cream, cheese, chili and peanuts, topped off with Peru’s amazing olives. The food scene in Peru is amazing.

I stayed up all night with excitement until it was time to leave at 4am. In the height of it all I never asked Andy for a receipt so had no evidence I paid at all just praying all was legit.

Our group was all English speaking expect for 2 Argentinians. I’ve got so used to speaking spanish all of the time I feel kind of guilty speaking in English now so was delira to have the Argentinians. They were also the best  craic. The rest of the group were nice and featured a very serious German couple, a quiet French couple, two extremely annoying Americans and my camping partner Marie from France.

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The gang!

Our first days trekking was fairly easy going. After lunch we trekked up to Lago Humantay which was a bit strenuous because of the altitude. The weather was a bit rotten but didn’t take away from the amazing scenes. En route down I ended up creaming myself (due to lack of poles and lots of mud) and destroyed the one and only outfit I brought with me .

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Lago Humtantay
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The colour of the water completely changes the higher up you up
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This place was so mystical
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Cliff edge at Lago Humantay

In the height of my excitement I failed to pack a few essentials  one being; money. Thankfully I found 20 sol in a pocket (5 euro) which was to keep me going for the next 5 days! The first issue was water. 1 water cost 10 sol and they advise you not to drink from the streams especially if you have a weak stomach. So to avoid dehydration I stocked up on the juices and teas at  meal times. One night it was celery tea on the menu and I went a little overboard and drank over a litre of the stuff. Crazily my pee stank of celery for the next 2 days which was a little alarming and disgusting. The obscene amount of tea I drank at dinner meant I didn’t need to drink much during the day. It also meant at least 4 loo stops in the middle of the night. This is v annoying but you also get to see the amazing stary sky’s.

The first night of the trek was absolutely baltic and reached minus 7 degrees. I have to admit it was fairly luxurious having the tent pitched for you, gear carried and meals prepared. This is definitely not something I’m used too and I kind of felt guilty about it. The first night I was freezing because I managed to loose my hat, fleece and raincoat and what clothes I had left were soaking wet. The following morning en route to breakie I managed  to find my clothes sitting in a pool of mud and water outside. Fantastic!

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Morning views from the campsite

Day 2 was a toughie. My roomie Marie was renting a horse for the day. She is an amazing person she was diagnosed with arthritis at the age of 11 and had a hip replacement 3 years ago. This was her first ever trek. Day 2 featured really steep inclines and we had to cover 23km. The scenery  was stunning and we witnessed the most amazing avalanche. 2 weeks earlier sadly two tourists were killed doing the Salkantay trek caused by an avalanche of rocks. On this occasion it was snow and for the duration of the day we saw and heard about 6 more mini avalanches. Memorable stuff. At the top of  the mountain we preformed a traditional quecha (Peru’s version of Irish) ceremony with rum and coca leaves. We offered them up as sacrifices to Pachamama ( a Peruvian god). I was the only taker for the remainder of the naggin  of rum delira I polished off the bottle helping with my daily fluid requirements. This was my favourite day of the whole trek and the sun dried off all my mucky clothes.

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7am trekking, Day 2 Salkantay
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Amazing avalanche on Salkantay Mountain
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Witnessing live avalnches
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Amazing clouds
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Me on cloud 9

This trip is worth doing for the food alone it has been outstanding. Chef Rapheal is a genius amazing what food can be produced over 4,000m high.  Everyday we get a two course lunch and dinner. Needless to say I got v overwhelmed at meal times. The next day we walked through the valleys this was easy-going and we arrived in Santa Teresa where there was an option to go to the local hot springs. It was a 40 minute walk or you had to pay 15 sols round trip on the bus. I opted for the 40 minute walk obviously because I was v v low on funds.  Everyone else exhausted from the walking opted for the bus. The guide was really concerned about me getting lost ( I wonder why?) and going alone and told me I had to take the bus. This is why tours are so annoying! The bus man took pity on me and let me ride for free, a true gent.

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Myself, Ozzy and the two Argentinians
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View of the valley

Here is a stunning laguna we saw during the trek. Sometimes it’s hard to believe the colours are real.

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Laguna on Salkantay trek
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Me at the laguna

The hot springs were amazing we had 2 1/2 hours of pure heaven chilling with the most amazing back drop of mountains. That night we had a bonfire and a boogie fueled by the surprisingly delicious Inca tequila. The next day I was somehow booked into do zip lining it was included in my package (good man Andy). The  zip lining was amazing particularly when we got to go upside down. What wasn’t so amazing was the final suspension bridge which I was the first in the group to tackle. The guides were all very blazay about the whole thing. A lot of the lines are just supported by chunks of wood. The guide kept saying vamous amiga (let’s go my friend). I figured the bridge was simply just for crossing the river. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was strapped onto the side of the bridge and I started to slowly walk, at the beginning all was fine and I enjoyed the views . After a few steps the gaps between the bridge got bigger and bigger and the bridge started to sway violently. The raging river beneath me seemed to be getting more aggressive. Even though you were strapped in if you fell you would be left dangling with no one to help. The bridge seemed to go on for miles and the further I went the more unstable the bridge became. It kept swaying from side to side and this got worse as more people got on the bridge. My body froze and my heart started pounding and I couldn’t even turn around. All I could hear was the river and a man screaming amiga mas rapido. I was clearly holding up the whole group. It was such a horrible feeling. It was the closest thing to a panic attack I could describe my legs were shaking so badly I couldn’t move. I rarely get nervous or scared and I don’t know what came over me. Maybe because there was no prior warning and I figured it was just a scenic stroll over a wooden bridge. I eventually made it to the other side after coping on.  Never again! I was too terrified to take any pictures.

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Monay day 3 Salkantay
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Over the moon with the donation of Philadelphia (forgot how good this stuff was)

The next day was Machu Pichu! At this stage the money was non-existent what little I had left was the tip for the guides. The night before Machu Pichu you stay in a place called Aquas Calientes we stayed in a hostel and I got the honors of sharing with the Americans.  Our final meal was dinner in a restaurant, conveyor belt kind of stuff not a patch on Rapheal’s cuisine. I was still hungry after, I had brought crackers and wafers as snacks and obviously they had turned to dust. So my second dinner consisted of wafer and cracker dust.Wake up call was 4am. We were given a packed breakfast the night before which I obviously dipped into immediately. Rationing snacks is not one of my  specialties.

The trek up to Machu Pichu is fairly steep and absolutely mobbed with people.  En route up as I was de layering I found a mysterious breakfast  sitting on a rock. I tried to locate the breakfast’s owner but couldn’t. I took it as a blessing and devoured the breakfast which got me up to the top. You feel like you know Machu Pichu because of the iconic postcard photo but seeing it in the flesh it pretty memorable. It really is a wonder of the world. I had about 5 hours on top to explore before making the 3 hour walk back to Hydroelectra to catch the bus back to Cusco. The 3 hour ride back to Cusco was treacherous but beautiful. Some of most amazing scenery but the roads kind of reminded me of death road in Bolivia. I was the lucky divil who got to stand for the journey…

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6.30am view over Machu Pichu
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Views of huanapichu
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AMAZING
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The 3 hour train track route from Aquas Caliente to Hydroelectrica

On my last day in Cusco I went for one final explore of the markets I think they have been my favourite of South America so far. I could spend hours so exploring them.

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This woman thought me how to make soup using sheep’s head and legs…..
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This cutie sold the best cheese
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This needs no explanation. This section of the market sells offal

When I got back to the hostel my new phone (an early birthday present from Una)  decided it had enough and refused to turn on. There was no reviving her. There’s obviously major room for improvement in Bolivia’s electronic scene. After some emotional good byes to Karen and the hostel I set off of for Lima, the food capital of Peru. Just as I was leaving one of the girls came to me with a package of clothes saying a random woman just dropped them in saying these were for Roisin. I genuinely have no idea who gave them to me. If ever there was an example of the kindness of strangers this is it. I now have a nice leopard skin number. Absolutely delira with my new wardrobe!

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Volunteers at the hostel. From the left; Diego, Milka, Unknown German, Bane, Agoose, Kent (owner), Me, Brenda, Another unknown German and KAZ

 

 

 

 

 

Week 22 Working in Cusco, Pisac & 7 colours mountain. Peru

So there is a first for everything and on this occasion  it was busking. After a quick practice in the square Ekkie (my new hippy friend) persuaded me that I could play the tambourine. When I realized we were going into proper restaurants with our monstrosity of a duo act I almost lost my life.  It probably was the most mortified I’ve ever been. I was on tambourine duty while Ekkie played guitar, accordion and sang (terribly). In fairness he can play guitar player but the singing is very hard to listen too. A rendition of Zombie by the cranberries was an uncomfortable experience. I tried to drown out Ekkie’s terrible singing by shaking my tambourine. The worst part was when  Ekkie went around asking people for money shaking my hat (I refused this part). I’d pay just to get rid of us. I genuinely have no idea how Ekkie has funded 5 years of travel with this act!

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Learning how to play the tambourine in the Plaza, Cusco
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Smiling on the outside dying on the inside

We went to about 4 different restaurants and made 24 sols (a lot considering the calibre of music) . Out of all of the money Ekkie didn’t give me a penny! We went for ice cream after and he wouldn’t  even pay for the 20c ice cream.  I managed to find a coffee shop that constantly offers free coffee (obviously it’s become my local). Ekkie angrily asked the owner to change the music voicing that reggae and pop music are the cause of the world’s problem. A tad extreme and considering we weren’t even buying anything v unreasonable.  At this stage I wanted to nip Ekkie in the bud. I was also questioning my sanity and wondering why I was hanging out with a hippy like this. It was probably out of desperation and delirium (amazing what a lack of money can do to you)

At this stage I needed to get rid of the hippy asap. I ended up texting him telling him I didn’t want to see him again. He got v deep and upset but it was a relief to be hippy free. He tried to convince me we could make truffles together to sell in the square. Given the state of his hygiene he would probably poison half of Cusco. Going into the square now is serious danger zones for fear of bumping into hippy. Anyone I see with dreadlocks or a guitar I run a mile.

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Hasta Luego Hippy

Ekkie asked me to go camping to a nearby place called Pisac. He wanted to share tents. He smells so bad I couldn’t bare it. Ekkie ended up bailing on Pisac because of the man flu which was great. I was only delira to be flying solo. Pisac is gorgeous and has a famous craft market. I spent the day strolling around the beautiful town. Pisac is very popular among the hippy community no wonder Ekkie is a fan.

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Small town of Pisac
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Pisac, Cusco
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Pisac’s transport system

I somehow  ironically ended up in this hippy cafe just because I was trying to flee from the rain.Overhearing the conversations was unbelievable everyone was hippy and talking about good vibrations and energy and all that jaz. Not able…. The owner was so zen he forgot about me, probably because I didn’t fit the scene. 1 hour later the worst soup of my life arrived (obviously it was the cheapest thing on the menu). It was miso, seaweed and tofu just what you need on a dodgy stomach.

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Hippy buying mango in Pisac
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Amazing collection of street food, Pisac
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I couldn’t have asked for better mates in Pisac

I spent the entire journey home trying not to be sick before just about making it to Mc Donalds for the free loo. It was horrific, the nicest guy from the bus offered to pay for a taxi to take me home because I was so unwell. When I crawled back into the hostel I was greeted by angry Karen. She had the flu so told me I had to work the night shift for her from 12 pm until 6 am. I decided to try get some shut-eye before the shift. I’m so exhausted from work that somehow I managed to sleep through my alarm.  I  was woken aggressively by Karen angrily shaking keys in my face. It genuinely was like a scene from a horror movie. Nobody wants to be woken up by that face. I got through the night and obviously not a mutter of thanks from my new mate Karen the next day.

I had my first homemade ceviche of South American. We all chipped in and the owner of the hostel showed us how to make it.  Peru is one of the most famous places in the world for Ceviche (raw fish cooked in lime juice and spices). It was very nice but I’m not sure I’d be craving to have more. Work is improving slightly and I’ve made mates with the best Mexican gal and Argentinian girls. I really like working at reception you get to meet lovely people and I can practice Spanish. Best of all Karen is acting scrooge up at the breakfast so I’m left alone. I met the nicest Argentinian women who gave me a large donation of clothes and a lovely French girl gave me a few mangoes. There are still lots of gems out there.

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Kent, the hostel owner making Ceviche

Apart from trekking to Machu Picchu one of the big things to do in Cusco is to climb to 7 colours mountain which is  really high at 5, 200m . I decided to do this on my day off. The 3 am wake up call is a bit rough the mountain is a 3 hour trek from Cusco. It’s extremely touristy and there are tons of locals trying to sell their horses to bring you up the mountain. It seems pretty cruel because the horses are puffing and panting because of the high altitude. It’s really bad the locals want you to fail just so that you pay for the horse. I ploded along slowly by foot until I reached the top.

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The start of the trek up to rainbow mountain
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Horses on rainbow mountain
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Glaciers on 7 colour mountain
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Views of the valley on top of rainbow mountain

The climb itself is pretty steep and the high  altitude is the biggest challenge. I’m also in terrible shape so I found it fairly tough going. The top is spectacular I’ve never seen anything like it. I trekked for a while to find a quiet spot at the top as I felt pretty unwell at this stage. I had to puck a few times and then I was right as rain. I  don’t think I’ve had puck scenes as good as this one (and I’ve had my fair share on this trip).

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The top!!
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Relief to have reached the top of rainbow mountain

So the money situation remains the same and the waiting of card continues. I am getting used to tight budgeting. I’ve become a regular at the market now for food and surprisingly the daily budget of 2 euro goes a long way. Homemade haircuts are also on the menu complements to my Mexican friend, Brenda. She kind of butchered my hair but the standards are extremely low at the moment that I don’t even care.

The war rages on between myself and Karen. There is one shower in the entire hostel which obviously is a bit of an issue. I ended up grabbing a quick shower at 6am one morning (the only time it’s available). Somehow between the shower and my room I ended up loosing my bra. Typically it was found by Karen on the breakfast table as she was eating her pancakes (god only knows how). There were angry Spanish words exchanged and I couldn’t stop laughing. Of all the people to find it had to be Kaz!!!!

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The volunteers luxurious living quarters, Brenda (Mexico) and Bane (Argentina)
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The lucky one who gets the top bunk. There is barely enough room for your head. I wake up regularly banging my head against the roof.  grim grim grim

It’s not all bad and I hope I don’t sound like I’m moaning (too much)! In between the bad times I’m so lucky to be able to enjoy some of the amazing sights of Cusco.

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Views of Cusco from the Christo Blanco
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Full moon in Cusco
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Cusco at night

Week 21: Working in Cusco. Peru

With my debit card cloned in Bolivia, I am currently living off a few dollars for the foreseeable future. The money situation has been really tough. Spotify even had to be cancelled and I’ve had to resort to listening to Spanish radio instead which is fairly bleek.  Most people bring a few backup cards but obviously I did not. The new debit card is currently intransit to Cusco from Ireland (Ta Brian).

I decided to give work away another go. This is the site where you work and get bed and breakie for free. I figured it would be the perfect solution to my money problems. The postal service is painfully slow in South America. Una sent me a Christmas pressie to Chile and it only arrived yesterday (3 months later…..). I pray to god the card decides to show up sooner than that.  My first work away experience was exceptionally bad with me chopping up trees with an axe in the woods with a lunatic called Yuan so I figured anything would be a step up from that.

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A throw back to Yuan with his machete in Argentina

Myself and my new-found son, Kayden decided to travel to Cusco together. We arrived at the terminal by the skin of our teeth but just in time to get the bags checked onto the bus and even time to enjoy the lounge!!! (Cruz del Sur are like the Emirates of buses). We  got to pick if we wanted chicken or beef, I couldn’t believe the luxury of it all. After a while they called for our bus and when they looked at our tickets they refused to let us on and kindly informed us that the bus had gone (with both our backpacks). They told us we would both have to buy another ticket for the last bus of the night.  I pulled the nino card again and even managed a few tears explaining about my recent robbery thinking they would do the trick and they would have some sympathy. They were as cold as ice.

Kayden had  wisely left all of his money in his backpack which was now en route to Cusco . While all the arguing was going on the last bus had left, leaving us stranded. I had also stupidly left all of my remaining dollars in my backpack too.  A local women heard about our situation and advised us to sprint onto the nearby  dual carriageway to try to flag down this local bus. She has contacted the bus driver to come back. We were eventually  thrown onto this local bus and the prospects of a beef or chicken dinner were quickly diminished. Thank you so much to that kind stranger. We were both relieved and pissed off to be on the bus and prayed our bags wouldn’t be robbed in Cusco. I immediately felt sick and spent most of the 12 hours pucking.  I had to wear all of Kayden’s clothes on the bus because I got some fever, similar to what he had in Colca Canyon. When we arrived in Cusco we had to go on a goose chase to hunt down the bags , thankfully they were all in tact.

Anyone going to Peru please NEVER use Cruz Del Sur, an expensive and horrible company.

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Myself and my apparent son (Kayden), traumatic bus survivors in Cusco. Ignore my horrific sunglasses they were the only ones on sale!!! (Dom if they make it home they will be your pressie they are right down your street)
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Beautiful streets of Cusco

The following morning I was put straight to work at 5.30 am for breakfast duty.  All of the volunteers in the hostel are from Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay and Peru so  its was pretty tough at the beginning understanding what was going on but obviously good for the espanol. First day of work  was a disaster. Karen, 19-year-old Peruvian girl who works in the hostel made life miserable from the get go. She blatantly ignores me when I say hello. The next issue was when on breakfast duty I had to make pancake batter and used 3 eggs instead of 2.  I also  made the batter with milk as opposed to water (shocking). There were killings when she saw the size of the pancakes I was serving. She warned me only to give mini pancakes to people because the ingredients were expensive. I wanted to throw the batter on her and fry her up. You would swear she was milking the cow herself. The breakie is so scabby it would actually make you hungry. So when eagle eye wasnt  watching I would  slip people an extra few pancakes. I think its safe to say Karen isn’t my biggest fan (at this stage the feeling is certainly mutual). In between flipping pancakes I had to sprint to the bathroom to be sick the altitude really has me in bits. Back on the mauldy coca leaves.

Feeling a little sorry for myself I was just went to bed and spent the evening eating chocolate, what I didn’t realise is that I ended up sitting on a bar of chocolate melted the entire bar and it looked like explosive diarrhoea in the bed. I made a botched up attempt of getting rid of the evidence, failed and made it worse. . Karen my new best friend got the honours of cleaning up the mess.

There was world war 3 over the milk one of the mornings. Karen likes to keep a judgemental eye on me especially when it comes to the food (God forbid I ate too much). I asked Karen to buy more milk  because we ran out. She blatantly told me that there were rations on milk. I was absolutely mortified telling people we had no more milk. I was half tempted to legged out and buy it myself only eagle eye was watching!! Later that morning I saw Karen milling into a miky hot chocolate!!! Another one of the girls went mental at me because I threw out some of the batter  (obviously under Karen’s instructions). I will ever look at a pancake  in the same way again.

One of the days I met up Kayden, the kid from Canada. It was such a relief meeting a friendly face. We had a great day together. Two of our main tasks of the day were buying matching sunglasses and paying a visit to Cusco’s Mc Donald’s (usually my worst nightmare but I made an exception on this occasion). I have never seen anyone more mesmerized by a Mc Donald’s menu. We were the guts of a half an hour investigating it. The staff loved us.  I had to ask in Spanish to the manager was there any chance Kayden could buy one of the staff’s Mc Donald’s hats. After a few compulsory photos the staff were happy to see the back of us. The nino has guaranteed me a free big Mac and chocolate sundae in Vancouver good enough reason to go.

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Stunning cathedral in Cusco
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Who would have thought that 18 year old Kayden was the one to keep me sane
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Take care my son!

People watching in the square is one my favourite things to do.  I got chatting to this hippy  Peruvian lad and we bonded over chewing coca leaves. Ekkie has been travelling the world for the past 5 years funded by his guitar playing. We got into a fairly heavy convo about mediation and the likes (not exactly my scene). So after hours of talking and explaining my lack of money situation Ekkie suggested I start making truffles to sell on the street. He said one of his mates could  hit me up with the chocolate. The second suggestion sounded like  a winner I could play the tambourine with him and go busking in the restaurants!! So the jewellery making was short-lived but maybe the music industry could be my calling.

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People watching in the Plaza de la Armes
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This gent glued my last remaining shoes together! A life saver
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This gals face summarises how I feel about work

I got promoted to working on reception. I had to provide tourist information in Spanish to everyone, a bit of a joke really. I hadn’t a breeze! That being said It was miles better than having eagle eye criticise my pancakes so I wasnt complaining. Cusco really is a gorgeous spot with beautiful architecture and an amazing eating scene. It is very touristy but still has lots of character.  I’ve been spending most of my time around San Pedro market where you find the cheapest most delicious eats.

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Local Cusco Shops
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Maize is absolutely everywhere here
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The pomegranate’s are out of this world here!
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This local fruit is called Tuna and comes from the Cactus plant; It’s divine

Easter Sunday consisted of a black Jesus being paraded around the city for the entire day and locals throwing flower petals at him. If you had been selling flower petals on Sunday you would have made an absolute mint. The people in Peru are very religious so it was a huge affair.

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Easter Sunday, Cusco
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Local women selling rose petals to sell on the streets of Cusco
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The parade went on almost all day and night

Meeting Ekkie couldn’t have come at a better time he has been showing me all of the cheapest eats. He too is on a v tight budget. We found this amazing vegetarian restaurant which has become my local. You eat like  a queen for 1 euro.  He’s definitely one of the funniest fish I’ve met on the trip so far!

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Ekkie doing his thing! (3 instruments at once)

Hopefully work mext week is a little bit more forgiving. I’m booked in for training with Karen where she is going to show me how to make the beds so that should be fun. Something to look forward to I suppose. My goal by the end of the work gig is to get a smile out of Karen and a shower out of Ekkie (he’s v v smelly).

 

 

 

 

 

Week 20: Arequipa & Colca Canyon. Peru

I arrived into Peru in the early hours after a fairly rough ride from Bolivia (nothing new there). While trying to pay for the toilet in the bus terminal I walked off without realising and had dropped $300 dollars in the middle of the floor in the bus terminal (it’s all I have left!). I was blessed when the kindest woman came sprinting after me with the goods. The  people you meet will never cease to amaze me.

I arrived on Paddy’s day which was always going to be a write off. I camped out in the wild rover for the day (a branch of south american party hostels owned by an Irish lad). I won’t elaborate on the details of the day but lots of fun and pisco were had. I ended up bumping into two girls who live in Drumcondra, 5 minutes from our house. If you’re Irish you got free accommodation, t-shirt, hat and ample amounts of shots.Happy Days! I always love being abroad for Paddy’s Day and as cheesy as it sounds you feel really proud and patriotic to be Irish when you see people from all over the world celebrating with our flag. Now for most it’s just an excuse to party but sure who cares! A fiesta is a fiesta!

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The general gist of Paddy’s day. Photo:Wild Rover. I wisely left the camera at home that day.

So needless to say the next day was also a write off. When I eventually got to discover Arequipa I realised how stunning it was. It has gorgeous architecture, cobbled streets, amazing foods and the cutest cafes and restaurants. The perfect place to chill out for a couple for a few days.

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Main plaza at night Arequipa

One of the days I did a free walking tour around Arequipa. Feeling confident I decided to do it in Spanish and subsequently didn’t understand a tap but got to see the beautiful sites nonetheless!

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Some of the amazing architexture in Arequipa

 

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Terrace in the Flying Dog hostel, Arequipa
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Flying Dog hostel, Arequipa
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Gracias Marina for the drawings. Marina a chica from Argentina is funding her travels by doing amazing illustrations. Buena suerte!

I decided to treat myself to doing a chocolate making class  in Chaqchou which was  incredible. In Peru there are more than 60 different varieties of cacao, out of the world’s 100 total varieties. Peru is the world’s second largest exporter of organic cacao. Some of the funky facts I learned on the tour was that Christopher Columbus was the first European to taste chocolate and didn’t like it so the Peruvians aren’t fans of Chris (what an idiot). Peru is famous for making tea out of the skins of the cocoa bean, smells like hot chocolate tastes like tea. Bleeding gorgeous. I could have camped out in this chocolate factory for months.

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Chocolate making class featuring real cocoa & cocoa butter
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The coco fruit, coco butter and the chocolate tea

We picked the beans, roasted them, deskined, mixed, tempered and then picked our own fillings and made the most delicious chocolates to take home. If anyone goes to Arequipa you need to do this class. I was so inspired afterwards I was googling chocolate making machines. I was in  one of my dangerous buying moods. The fact my card is blocked was probably a blessing in disguise on this occasion.

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Going home with the goods! 70%  homemade peruvian chocolates

After the class myself and a Frenchie went for a few piscos and met  a few hippy friends of hers.  The hippies spent the evening  teaching me how to make jewellery to try and help me earn some dollar One of the tatoo artists had me almost convinced to a get a tatoo of a coco bean post my chocolate expedition ( which included an excellent discount). I honestly felt high on chocolate.  Once again the lack of money brought me back to earth. I think my jewellery making career will be short-lived. That being said I have mastered making rings out of wires ( no doubt I’ll be minted in no time)! Later in the night there was talk of getting dreadlocks he had me sold when he told me I’d really have to wash my hair! I  eventually came to the realisation that dreadlocks were a step too far even for me! When I came home I had found my only pair of shoes were put in the rubbish. One of my dorm mates told me the cleaner said they were filthy and fit for the bin, I wouldn’t’ mind but there are my ‘going out shoes’.  Needless to say they were rooted out pronto and are back in action.

The following day, I made mates with a Mexican, Argentinian and Columbian in the  hostel (flying dog, v good hostel) where we went to the local market to buy jumpers and eat helado de  queso (cheese ice cream). A really traditional dessert in Arequipa and the lady in the market is famous for hers. Looks like cheese doesn’t taste like cheese it’s DELISH.

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Mexico and Columbia eating cheese ice cream in Arequipa´s market

Arequipa’s food market was one of the most organised I have ever seen and was actually relatively clean. As  usual an amazing collection of exotic fruits and vegetables.

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One of South Americas more hygienic markets
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Fish and some other suspicious meat joints
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One of the many juice bars

One of the biggest attractions in Arequipa is to visit the nearby Colca Canyon. It is the second deepest canyon in the world. Instead of taking a tour myself and Santiago, the Columbian guy decided to go together. If you take a tour you get picked up at 3.00am so we opted for a later start. We ended up picking up a little kid from Canada (just turned 18 looks about 8) and a chap from Iceland (my first Icelandic of the trip). So the 4 of us headed  off to find the public bus to Cabanaconde. So when I first met the Kayden, the Canadian child I though he was a funny fish and definitely not your usual backpacking clientele (but then again who is…). Turns out he is the sweetest guy and getting to know him was a pleasure. He’s defo got his shit together. He has his own apartment and is the manager of Mc Donalds in Canada (I’ve been guaranteed a free big mac if I ever visit!!). Our very random group rocked up to a run down hostel. We stocked up on Clos (cartoned red wine that’s actually is drinkable) and pizza. The next day the hostel owner thought that Kayden was my son so a fantastic start to the day. Everyone was calling him a nino (child en espanol). We managed to secure the nino a discount on the entrance fee into the canyon. Every cloud and all that jazz.

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Colca Canyon day 1
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The gang day 1 of Colca Canyon
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Colca Canyon
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The place is surrounded by cactus
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More cactus

We were blessed with the weather and the views of the canyon were breath-taking. When we arrived at the oasis we checked into the hostel where a caban for the 4 of us for the night was ($2). It was the most stunning setting and we went swimming over a few beers and chilled on the rocks. We were  lucky because the day before there had been torrential rain for the entire day.

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Oasis, Colca Canyon
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Bumped into this little fella outside our caba

At 6am the next morning Ziggy woke up all  up to the sound of his crappy ring tones. The steep climb up the canyon is fairly intense and is vertically uphill all the way. You are warned not to leave any later than 7am because the heat from the sun is such a killer with the uphill. If you go on a tour you leave at 4am (fairly grim). We started off guns blazing after about 5 minutes Kayden the nino started pucking his ring up and had chronic diorrhoea. He looks kind of sick on a good day but he really looked like death on this occasion. I felt so sorry for him as I’ve been in that position on more occassions that I want to recall. Ziggy, superfit was sprinting up the Canyon so me and Santiago stayed back with Kayden. I suggested we take turns in lifting him because he genuinely could barely stand upright. When the lifting idea didn’t work out we  all crawled up with him in-between pucking episodes. We were trying to get to the top of the canyon in time for the bus back to Arequipa but as time went on this was looking unlikely.

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Some of the foliage in the Canyon
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Day 1 Colca Canyon
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Amazing scenes
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Ziggy and Kayden in Colca Canyon

 

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Me in the world’s second deepest canyon

I thought I was having visions when I saw a man coming up the mountain with a donkey. We begged the man to let Kayden onto the donkey explaining how sick he was. Obviously the man obliged at a hefty cost which Kayden was only to happy to pay. It was the first smile of the day from the poor divil. So me and Columbia trudged up the mountain and Kayden was away on his donkey. After about 2 hours of an uphill slog we made it. There’s is no way Kayden would have made it.

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The rescue.
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We made it!

Looking v shook we packed Kayden into the public bus and made our cheese and popcorn sandwiches (a fabulous  new combo). Mid way through the bus a Bolivian gal slapped me on the back screaming. Kayden couldn’t breath properly and was violently sick once again. Out of no where about 10 different peruvian women started screaming and throwing drugs at us. One ‘doctor’ rushed over and started pouring this yellow alcohol on Kaydens’s head down his back and on his chest. It was quite the spectacle and I couldn’t help but laugh (despite how utterly shocking and traumatising it was). Kayden was almost unconscious at this point and they all urged us to get of the bus and go to hospital. I knew it was something similar I had in Argentina so we eventually made it home after the most painstaking bus ride. During the course of the hysterical peruvian ‘docotor’s I realised that my bag and coat were soaking wet. It turn out it was piss and the old man on front of me had pissed all over my stuff. It really was the straw that broke the camels back I couldn’t have gotten out of that bus quick enough. The smell was intoxicating. After a few shower less days in the canyon, random man’s piss, Kayden’s puck and diorrhoea we were all ready for our shower that night. Up there with one of my worst bus trips of my travels.

That night we had our family dinner with the four  pasta carbonara a la Ro, Peruvian wine ( it’s terrible shit just tastes like sugar). Kayden was on the gaterorade and even managed some food without pucking so all in all a success. It was a very random group but we got on great despite the illness and rough transport system . We had an excellent few days. I’ve started to remind myself about this trip. Anything that’s rough is always an experience. I’m sure there will be plenty more to come! Let’s just hope they don’t involve any more vomit, puck or piss. I’ve had my fair share at this stage!