* It's late as always but I'm in the Galapagos and since that blog is next, I had to get this up...*
Puno, Peru - We finally crossed into country number 6. I've noticed that South America has this weird obsession with getting you off a bus to walk over to immigration and into the other side. Gosh knows, it would be easier to go on a bus but apparently, walking is literally a right of passage. We stopped off in Puno long enough to see the Floating Islands on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. Although extremely touristy, there is something really cool to be said about the man-made floating islands made out of the local reed that is found in the lake. It started hundreds of years ago as a way to escape the mainland (and the Spaniards). Nowadays, it's a bit kitchy since the locals pretty much live off of the tourist that visit. The experience comes complete with them singing "Row Row Row Your Boat" as you enter (wrong words and all). However, it's still pretty much amazing to see how an entire village on floating man-made reed islands can sustain itself. The next island we visited proofed exactly how small the world is when I bumped into a friend I hadn't seen since university. Imagine my surprise when I heard my name called after huffing and puffing up a huge hill...
We then headed straight to Cusco, since our main priority was really to see Machu Pichu. The only part of Cusco we really saw was the cute main plaza where all the tourist agencies are set up. We went horseback riding in the Sacred Valley, which in reality sounds far cooler than it actually was. Don't get me wrong, the views were great but I think that's the slowest horse I've ever been on. The most interesting part was the witch we met in one of the ruins who read our futures from a cigarette. I'm supposedly going to marry a blond man with honey coloured eyes have 3 children, a dog I don't really like but my oldest son does and a house with 2 floors and large windows - I'll keep that in mind....that narrows things down. Yuko didn't like her reading too much but I'm cool with apparently not being too rich but very very happy.
Machu Pichu - I chose a the 4 day Inca Jungle trail since I wanted variety in my trek. Since Yuko's stomach hated her throughout Bolivia she opted to take the train there and back. As for me, well let me tell you, that was the best/most exhilarating, challenging and physically demanding thing I have ever done!
Day 1 - It started with a very early morning downhill bike ride for 50+ kms. Very much like Death Road (expect without the constant fear of dying) - you start from a much higher altitude amidst the clouds and cold wind. This time, I rode like a pro, feeling very much at ease with the speed, fog and mist that surrounds you. We ended up biking much longer than expected since there have been local strikes going on. Something about gas prices being unfair for the locals. We were fairly lucky since it wasn't really violent and they pretty much let us pass every single checkpoint. After about 4-5 hours of adrenaline pumping biking we ended up in Santa Teresa and rushed to do some river rafting. Despite being "dry" season, we rafted and body surfed on level 3+ rapids on the Rio Urubamba.
Day 2 - There was lots of walking, I means lots and lots of up and downhill treking that took you past rivers, hills and mountains. We walked on part of the 40,000+km of the Inca Trails which connected the better part of the region. We were painted like warriors with the native plants, saw fields of coca leaves (the legal kind), swam in natural thermal baths and crossed the river with a pulley cable. As fun as that was, the 7+ hours of walking that day meant that I developed blisters on both sides of both feet - yeah, not so fun.
Day 3 - Thankfully not as arduous as the day before but there was definitely more trekking. You know you're tired when you look at your watch and it's only 9:30am knowing full well that you still have over 20km of walking to do. The views are amazing though and it's hard not to enjoy yourself when you have great company. We hugged the river and walked by the railroad on the way to Agua Caliente.
Day 4 - The group woke up at an unGodly hour of 2:45 am to make sure that we were amongst the first 400 so we can sign up to climb Wayna Pichu. I was one of the few that decided to safe my energy for the 2 mountains and paid the $7 to get up to the gate. As soon as you walk in, it's hard not to be in awe of the magnificence of the ruins. We watched the sunrise from between the mountains and light up the terraced vistas of Machu Pichu. We walked around and marveled at the history. We tackled Wayna Pichu, which is roughly about 45 minutes uphill until we could see that ruins were actually designed to be shaped as a condor. We hung out on top, soaked in the rays and enjoyed the views. And as if that didn't get us tired enough, we decided to go up another mountain that was even higher and harder! The views were pretty darn great already, I couldn't imagine it getting better. Oh and yes it did. The Machu Pichu mountain, itself is an 1.5 hour hike up the opposite side of the ruins that enables you to see 360 views of the whole region. It was worth the 20 hr day we had just to see it. Definitely an awesome highlight!
After Cusco, we started to make our way north towards Lima and had a little pitstop in Huacachina, a little town known for lagoon and it's legendary sand dunes. Ken and I went sandboarding and riding on a buggie in Huacachina with Jesus, the crazy awesome driver! I grew up in the Middle East with tons of sand dunes but I have never flown through or jumped dunes quite like that!! At those speeds, roller coasters just won't cut it anymore. I won the medal for "fastest and longest" ride down the biggest and steepest dune ever. I realize that I feel most alive when I'm doing something exhilarating and beautiful. It's not that I'm an adrenaline junkie by any means, but there is something to be said for feeling nature's elements at it's ultimate peak - Feeling sand on your body, the wind through your hair, the tingle in your belly when you fly through the air. We ended the day watching a beautiful pink sunset and took silly pictures.
Mancora, is one of Peru's premier beach destination, and while I liked it, I think Yuko was more disappointed in the lack of surf-able waves. Maybe on my way back, I'll take advantage of the kiteboarding that goes on there. The best part of this town was meeting up with old friends, hanging out in with guitars & harmonicas, trying to find the hot springs in the national park and getting lost with our moto-taxis (kinda like tricycles in the Phil or tuk-tuks in Thailand) and eating churros on the beach.