Sunday, May 12, 2013

Lost in translation

We've now been in New York for 7 weeks, and we are starting to feel settled. We have found a permanent place to live just by Battery Park, and we are spending a small fortune so that if we crane our neck out of the window the we can just about see the statue if liberty:

One of the most entertaining things about living in the good old US of A is the language barrier. England and the USA are two countries separated by a common language. Take exhibit A. This is the nameplate that arrived for me at work:

Is Garris even a name?

Every trip to the supermarket brings more entertainment as I scour the aisles for products with ridiculous names. Two of my early favourites were Nips (butter rum flavour of course):

And 'Toss n Done' by none other that 'Arm & Hammer':

(Note the "Fast & Easy" promise!)

Top of the list though for me is 'Nads' hair removal cream:

Primarily because it reminded me of the funniest amazon review that I have ever seen:

In my short time here, I felt it important that I take in as much American culture and history as possible. So made tracks to Las Vegas. My dad, brother, Rich, Andy and Pete all made our way there for Cinco de Mayo, and whilst I will live by the mantra of what happens on tour...STAYS on tour. I will divulge some high level details of the carnage. We arrived around 9:30pm on Friday, and popped out for a single beer to help us sleep. At 8am the following morning, I emerged on my own from a night club having lost everyone else and with the sun high in the sky. I took myself home to the hotel to find that (after my dad) I was the first one home. The less said about the ~10hours in between...the better. The details can only incriminate people.

The two things I can talk about are the boxing (Matweather vs Guerrero) which was one of many highlights of the weekend. A card full of great fights and. 12 round headline fight with Mayweather dancing around the ring and rarely getting caught to win unanimously on points:

The other disclosable topic is Hugo's Cellar which was a restaurant caught in a 1980s time warp with the best steak I have EVER eaten. It's in the basement of the gaudiest and most retro casino in old Vegas called The 4 Queens, and is well worth escaping the strip for.

A final word of wisdom filling my first adult trip to Vegas, and this cones care of the ever wise Rich. When leaving Vegas, get on the earliest flight that you can. That last hungover guilt ridden sober day in Las Vegas is one to be avoided!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Off to New York

As we are off on another adventure, thought it was a good time to start up the blog again. Everything is packed up in London and we've said our tearful goodbyes. Now it's time to start our new life in NY. I suspect I will use the phrase "only in America" many times in the coming posts...

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Our first morning in Brazil was a hazy one, because we’d met up with Tess & Anton (the Aussie couple we’d met in Cordoba) the night before. We’d gorged ourselves on one final slab of Argentine beef, and then we’d hit the bars of Puerto Iguacu. We eventually stumbled back into our hostel at 3:30am, and five hours later (though it felt like five minutes) our pre-booked taxi was banging on the door. Thankfully it was only a short journey that we were embarking on. The Brazilian border is only five minutes from Puerto Iguacu, and then Foz do Iguazu (the nearest Brazilian town to the falls) was only a further five minutes. The border crossing was informal to say the least, and our taxi driver was allowed through without having to show any identification whatsoever. This was for the best though, because our hungover bodies & minds couldn’t have coped with extensive questioning.

On arrival in Foz do Iguazu we checked into the excellent Hostel Bambu, and immediately went back to bed. After a couple of hours sleep our hangovers had subsided sufficiently for us to get up and explore the Brazilian side of the falls. From Brazil you get a much better panoramic view of the falls, and there are some great catwalks that take you along near the bottom of some of the falls. I think the Argentinean side was little a more impressive, but it’s definitely worth seeing the falls from both sides.

On our second day in Foz do Iguazu, Gaz convinced Tara to go and see the Itaipu dam. This is an engineer’s dream outing, but for normal people (like Tara) it’s probably more comparable to a frontal lobotomy. We were lucky (or at least Gaz thought so) to visit the dam on a day when two of the three massive spillways were open. These are only opened when there is too much water upstream of the dam. During our visit 40,000 cubic meters of water were flowing through them every second, which is 25 times more water than flows over the Iguazu falls. The dam is a joint venture between Brazil and Paraguay with the electricity produced being shared between the two nations. The negative environmental impact of the project is enormous, but the venture generates 90% of Paraguay’s power and 30% of Brazil’s, so it’s not all bad news! The tour of the dam is criticised by many travellers as being a marketing exercise for the Itaipu, but Gaz really liked it and Tara gained some small enjoyment from the opportunity to wear an orange hard hat.

From Foz do Iguazu we took a flight up to Sao Paulo, and checked into a hostel in Vila Madalena. Vila Madalena is one of the few parts of the city that you can safely walk around after dark, and uncoincidently is also the home to the some of the best nightlife in the city. Sao Paulo is generally considered to be a party city, but unfortunately Tara was suffering from a bought of flu whilst we there so we didn’t really see much of this. From a sightseeing point-of-view, Sao Paulo has pretty much nothing to offer. We spent two days walking around the city, and in that time we only felt the need to take my camera out of our bag twice. This was probably for the best though, because showing your camera in public was a beacon to sticky-fingered locals.

From Sao Paulo we caught a bus up to Rio de Janeiro, and located our hostel in a seedy part of the city called Lapa. We arrived at the hostel late at night, and the streets around it were teeming with prostitutes. Bizarrely, seeing these ladies of the night made us feel quite homesick, because the streets around our flat in London are also home to a busy red-light district. After dropping our bags off in our dorm room we ventured out to get some food, but the streets of Rio felt quite intimidating at night so we beat a hasty retreat to the hostel and ordered a delivery pizza instead. Whilst our hostel in Lapa wasn’t salubrious it did have one redeeming feature, it was staffed by a couple of Argentinian models (one male and one female). So we spent the evening sipping caprinhas and admiring the scenery within our temporary home.

Thankfully the streets of Lapa were far more welcoming the next morning, and once we’d got our bearings we felt quite safe in the area. Rio has a bad reputation for crime, one which is probably quite well deserved. Personally we didn’t experience any trouble at all, but we met several people who’d been mugged. The advice given to all tourists if they are confronted with such a situation is to handover whatever is asked for in case the attacker has a knife or gun. This makes tourists easy pickings though, and I reckon tourists should be encouraged to scream like a banshee and start swinging at their assailant. Street crime would probably fall quite rapidly in Rio if tourists started doing that.

During our time in Lapa we explored most of the sites in central Rio. We took the funicular railway up to Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), which was disappointingly small and incredibly crowded. We also walked around the city and visited the Cathedral, which must rank amongst the top 3 ugliest buildings in the world. Unfortunately for Rio de Janeiro, it became an affluent city in the 1970s and several of its key buildings (including the Cathedral) are grey concrete monstrosities. The stained glass windows of the cathedral make it worth a visit though.

On our penultimate day in Rio we went on a tour of the Rocinho favela, which is a shanty town built on a hill behind the wealthy Ipanema neighbourhood. The favelas of Rio are notoriously dangerous and they advise against visiting them without a guide, so we where a little apprehensive about the trip. The tour was one of the highlights our 6-month journey. We were picked up from our hostel by our BeALocal guide and driven to the bottom of the favela. There we transferred onto motorbike taxis, and we driven at breakneck-speed along winding streets up to the top of the favela. Along the way we saw drug-runners armed with machine guns guarding the favela against the police. From the top we were walked down through the small alleyways of the favela with sewage running around our feet. The most surprising thing about the favela was that in spite of its lawlessness it still is a relatively normal functional suburb of Rio. We visited an art studio, a bakery, and a day care centre as we walked down, and everybody we met was very friendly. Most of the houses had electricity and running water, and some would be considered middle-class abodes in Bolivia. The favelas are owned and run by the drug-lords, and it was interesting to learn about the hierarchy and the ever-present danger of being shot. On average 2-3 people are killed everyday in the favelas of Rio.

After our tour of the favela, we were dropped off in the Santa Teresa neighbourhood which was recommended by many guidebooks. We weren’t particularly impressed by it, but enjoyed riding the bonde (a street tram) down into the centre from Santa Teresa. This was probably one of the most unsafe modes of transport we’ve used in the last six months, and we were convinced that our tram was going to fall off its rails as we passed over the Lapa arches. After our tram ride we made our way over to Sugarloaf Mountain to watch a magnificent Rio sunset. Tara was having a bit of a slow day though, and when we bumped into our friends, Siobhan & Dave, she excitedly asked if they’d been on the favela tour yet. We’d met Siobhan & Dave for the first time that morning….on the favela tour.

From Rio we flew up to Salvador in the northern state of Bahia where we discovered a true gem of a hostel. It was owned by a Mancunian called Russell, who’d effectively transplanted a British guest house into the heart of Barra in southern Salvador. Like every other city in Brazil, Salvador is considered to be quite dangerous. Wandering even a few meters off the main thoroughfare could lead you into some serious trouble. Thankfully we managed to avoid any problems, but we were constantly hassled by street sellers & beggers. We spent a day exploring Salvador’s pelourinho, which is a series of picturesque interconnected plazas adorned with beautiful colonial era churches and buildings. The most stunning of all was the Sao Francisco Church, which is better known as the Golden Church because of the ornate golden gilt work inside. When this church was built the African slaves were angry that they weren’t allowed to worship inside it. They retaliated by amending the appearance of religious characters in the woodwork. Nearly all of the cherubs in the church have African features (both in their faces and below the waist), and many of the angels appear pregnant.

After speaking with our host, Russell, we made the decision to head to Morro do Sao Paulo, which is a small Atlantic island off the coast of Salvador. The quickest way to get there was on a catamaran, but we’d heard rumours that the crossing could be a little rough. So we did some research and spoke to a few people who’d done the crossing and it sounded like Armageddon. The crossing is so rough that everybody on the boat gets seasick. There is a woman working on the boat, whose only job is to collect full sea sick bags and hand out new ones. Surely this must be the worst job in the entire world?! Based on the information acquired, we (well, Gaz) decided that we’d take the long route to the island. This involved a ferry across the calm Todos os Santos bay to Bom Despacio, then a bus down to Valenca, and finally a speed boat to the island of Morro do Sao Paulo. This only took us four hours (two more than the catamaran), and is worth it if only for the fun speed boat ride at the end.

We spent five days on Morro do Sao Paulo, and settled into a nice routine of spending all day drinking on the beach, and all evening drinking in the bars & restaurants. Conveniently Michael & Cathy (who we’d first met in Boliva) and Siobhan & Dave (who we’d first met in Rio) were also staying on the island so we had plenty of drinking companions. The beaches of Morro were always lively and entertaining, with the locals practising their capoeira (a Brazilian non-contact martial art), playing football, or beach volleyball. We rarely got off our sun loungers though. The only time we mustered any energy was on the last day, when Gaz decided to try out the Tiroleza. The Tiroleza is a wire that runs from the lighthouse at the top of the hill on Morro do Sao Paulo, down to one of the beaches. For a mere 25Reals Gaz was allowed to strap himself into a harness and jump off a cliff whilst attached to this wire. Ever the daredevil he decided to attempt this feat in a superman style pose. This all looked good to start with, but lost its shine when he started skimming across the water on his face. It makes for a good a video though.

From Morro do Sao Paulo we made our way back to Salvador, and spent our first evening at a show of traditional Bahian dancing. The majority of people living in the state of Bahia are descendants of African slaves, and their dancing and food is heavily influenced by this. On our final day in Salvador we caught a bus up to Flamengo beach, which is 45 minutes north of the city. We got quite lost on the bus, and we were unsure for most of the morning if we were even on the right beach (it turned out that we were). It didn’t really matter to us though, because one tropical palm tree-lined Atlantic beach is pretty much the same as all the others.

From Salvador we flew back down to Rio, and it was on this journey that we had our first real medical problem of the trip (excluding minor bouts of flu and hangovers). Tara started to get some very bad head pains on the flight, and she was clearly in agony. The air stewards were really kind, but the problems seemed to be caused by the change in pressure on the flight and short of an emergency landing there was nothing they could do to help. The pains eased once we’d landed, but with a 12 hour flight back to London in a week’s time we felt we should check it out. The doctor prodded, poked and x-rayed Tara, and concluded that she had a nasal infection and to her horror prescribed a course of antibiotics. This meant that Tara had to finish our trip as a teetotaller. Sympathetic as always, Gaz assisted by getting extra drunk on each of the remaining five nights of the trip.

In spite of the alcohol restrictions, we still managed to make the most of our last few days in Brazil. We spent quite a bit of time on Copacabana and Ipanema beach, and Tara purchased a seventeen pairs of Havaiana flip-flops. An excessive number considering the fact that there are only seventeen hours of sunshine in an average British summer. Conveniently our final stint in Rio also coincided with a football derby between two of the city’s biggest teams. So for the second time in our trip, Tara was dragged along to a football stadium against her will. The atmosphere inside the Maracana stadium was incredible, with flares, flags and drums everywhere. In the unlikely event that anybody is interested, the game ended Flamengo 2 – Fluminense 2 with Kleberson (ex-Man Utd) rescuing a late point for Flamengo.

After the football match we set off for a nightclub in the Rio Das Pedras Favela. We’d been warned that the club could get edgy, but unless you were a single female tourist then you were reasonably safe. The shirtless local boys were like dogs on heat, and any girl not clinging onto a male companion was likely to be mauled. The boys had no interest in the local girls though; who would be strutting their stuff in little more than a bikini yet received no attention whatsoever. We never felt threatened though, and in some ways it felt safer than your average trip to Infernos in Clapham.

We both really enjoyed Brazil. We’d been travelling in winter clothes since leaving Australia, and it was nice to get back into shorts and flip-flops again. There’s a lot written about the crime levels in Brazil, and we felt that often the fear of the crime was worse than the crime itself. There’s definitely too much crime in Brazil and something needs to be done about it, but as long as you’re careful then you can avoid most problems. I found that walking around as a couple immediately made you less of a target, and we never carried anything of value so there was nothing for us to lose. Brazil has a rich culture and amazing scenery, and Rio is in our opinion the most beautiful city in the world, so hopefully the street crime doesn’t put too many people off visiting.

Our flight back to London was on September 3rd, which is also Tara’s birthday so on our final night in Rio we decided to splash out and go to the best restaurant in town. We pulled on the best clothes (well, the least tattered anyway) in our rucksacks, and set off for Cipriani Restaurant in the Copacbana Palace hotel. The food was exceptional and it had a price tag to match. We have a tradition of going to plush restaurants on each other’s birthday, so we’ve eaten in some fantastic restaurants in London and this was easily the equal of them. It was a fantastic way to finish an amazing trip. Our travels around the world have been the best six months of our lives. It probably cost a little more than we’d planned, but it’s easily the best money we’ve ever spent.

We’re often asked which country we liked most, and it’s a difficult one to answer because each place we visited was special for a different reason. Bali is high up on Gaz’s lists, and we both really enjoyed Argentina. Australia was a huge amount of fun, and New Zealand had the best scenery (but it was a little cold for our liking). India had the nicest people, and Cambodia provided us with one of the most obscure evenings of our lives (getting trapped in a bar with a drunken Irish accountant and his mercenary friend because of the floods outside). The entire trip was amazing (even Bolivia in hindsight), and has given us both the travelling bug. With a little bit of luck, this won’t be the last time that I update this blog. We have to go and sell our souls back to Investment Banks for a little while now, but next on our list is Mexico….then Columbia…..then Japan…. then Equador……..

Thursday, August 28, 2008


After a four hour flight from Lima we arrived in Buenos Aires airport excited about the next step on our journey. Argentina is a country that we’d both been particularly excited about visiting from the very start. Unfortunately Argentina didn’t start well. Firstly we struggled to convince the cash machines in the airport to give us any Pesos. The first three cash machines that we tried wouldn’t give us any money at all, and Tara was only able to get any money out of the third one when she reduced the amount that she asked for. We later discovered that Argentinian cash machines won’t ever dispense more that 300 Pesos at a time. All the other travellers that we met had the same problem, and we’re still not sure if its a ploy by Argentine banks to reap some additional transaction fees or just a measure implemented to prevent their currency from crashing....again. Anyway, armed with some cash we bought ourselves bus tickets and set off for the city centre. Unfortunately our bus only made it as far as the car park entrance, and we then sat there for an hour. We’ve no idea why we sat there because despite all the passengers on the bus growing more and more irate, the bus driver didn’t think to inform us of the cause of the delay. We probably wouldn’t have understood his Spanish anyway, but it would’ve been nice if he’d told everyone else. We eventually managed to escape the car park and proceeded without incident into central Buenos Aires. We checked into our hostel (the plush Milhouse hostel, which we highly recommend), and then set off in search of some food. It was here that Argentina started to show its class. We settled on a Charcuterie (BBQ meat restaurant) near the main pedestrian shopping street, and gorged ourselves on the best steak that either of us have ever eaten. Not only were they the best steaks that we’ve ever eaten, but they were also the biggest steaks that either of us have ever eaten. It gets better though. The steaks were also complimented by some excellent red wine, and the final bill was equivalent to what we’d spend in McDonalds in London. From that moment we knew that we were going to enjoy ourselves in Argentina.

We spent our first four nights in Buenos Aires and explored most of the key sites the city has to offer. We visited Eva Peron’s grave (one of the more morbid sites on the standard Buenos Aires tourist trail) in Recoleta cemetery on our first morning and then made our way over to the colourful houses in La Boca where we watched a tango show and ate lunch. Gaz then convinced Tara to visit the Boca Juniors football stadium, where we had our own personal English-speaking guide who made us feel like minor celebrities. From the La Boca we headed back into the Microcentre (the business district), and took advantage of the weak Peso and did some shopping. One of the main department stores had a sale on, and we stocked up on Havaiana flip-flops at the bargain price of ₤2 per pair. In an attempt to save some money we decided to eat dinner in the food court of the Galerias Pacifico shopping centre. This was somewhat different from the standard McDonalds & Burger King offerings available in Lakeside or Bluewater though. In Argentina, you have the option of eating large good quality slabs of steak for very little money, so naturally Gaz indulged himself...again.

On our second day in Buenos Aires we hopped on a bus and made our way to San Antonio de Areco in search of some gaucho culture. The gauchos are the Argentine version of cowboys and San Antonio de Areco is generally considered to be their heartland. From what we could see though, the gaucho culture is just another excuse to eat lots and lots of meat. We went on a horse ride when we first arrived, and once again we demonstrated our equestrian ineptitude. Whilst the Argentinians galloped around us, we couldn’t convince our horses do anything more than walk very slowly. In fact Gaz’s horse didn’t even walk very far. After a few meters his horse located a nice patch of grass and spent the next ten minutes munching on that. Following the horse riding we were treated to some traditional gaucho singing and dancing, before eventually settling down to the main event....dinner! We’d never seen so many different cuts of beef in all our lives. Once again we gorged ourselves on steak (and red wine), and after a severe case of the meat sweats we joined in with some of the gaucho dancing. After dinner, the gauchos showed us how to ride a horse properly (Gaz was taking notes) and we were then taken to a gaucho contemporary art gallery, in which all the works where inspired by the humble cow. Then it was time to get back on the bus and make our way back to Buenos Aires.

On our final day in Buenos Aires we went on a walking tour of the city, and went to the Evita museum (which was closed but their cafe was open so we drank beer and ate cake instead). We then visited Tierra Santa, which is the world’s only religious theme park. This was one of the more obscure attractions that we’ve visited so far on our travels, and definitely the most kitsch. Every half an hour a 20foot Jesus resurrects out of the top of a plastic mountain. The park includes many mocked up religious scenes and has memorials for Pope John Paul and Ghandi. The theme park also put on a dance show for us which we’d expected to have a religious theme, but the thrusting and grooving dance moves of the belly dancers we’re definitely not suitable for children. After a visit to the park’s wailing wall and one final resurrection, we felt that we’d seen enough so we set off back to our hostel to prepare ourselves for our bus journey to Rosario.

Rosario was a pretty city, but the main attractions in this town are the river islands and the beaches. Unfortunately we were visiting in low season so the island ferries weren’t running, and the beaches were deserted. The highlight of the city for us was the monument to their national flag, which was very impressive but was tainted somewhat by the Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands) memorial that adjoins it. Gaz felt that an Argentine Malvinas memorial was akin to a German World War II memorial (they started it!), but managed to maintain his dignity (for a change) and not offend any of the locals.

From Rosario we travelled to Mendoza, the heart of Argentina’s wine country and we checked into Hostel Lao. This was one of the best hostels that we’ve stayed in during our trip. The excellent communal areas and free flowing red wine meant that we quickly made lots of new friends. Two Argentinians in the hostel took it upon themselves to cook an Asado (traditional Argentine BBQ) for the whole hostel on our first night. They’d bought an entire cow to cook so once again we feasted on steak (as well as glands, intestines and other offal). We hired bicycles whilst in Mendoza and toured the local wineries, where for a few pesos they would provide us with some generous wine tasting sessions. We also visited the impressive Parque General San Martin, modern art museum, the Serpentaria (snake zoo) and Aquarium (which had a huge turtle in a very small tank), but the cheap wine was definitely the highlight.

Having drunk our fill of red wine in Mendoza, we caught an overnight bus to Cordoba. This was a journey that Gaz had been dreading, but turned out to be one of the most comfortable trips that we’ve made in the last 6 months. Argentinean buses are the antithesis of English National Express buses. A trip on a long distance bus in Argentina is at least as comfortable (if not more so) than a trans-Atlantic business class flight. Cordoba was another beautiful city, the hightlight of which was the stunning Manzana Jesuitica (Jesuit Block). We also visited the Che Guevara museum in the town of Alta Garcia (where Che grew up), and ate some excellent pasta (Gaz’s first meal in Argentina which didn’t involve steak) in La Mamma restaurant with some Aussie friends (Anton & Tess) that we’d met in our hostel.

Our final stop in Argentina was Puerto Iguazu, home to the magnificent Iguazu waterfalls. We arrived from Mendoza at about midday, and had intended to go to the falls that day. Unfortunately, Gaz was distracted by the offer of yet more succulent steak and red wine, and by the time we’d finished our lunch the falls had closed for the day. So we got up early the next morning and caught a bus to the falls to try and see as much as possible. This proved to be a good move because for the first two hours we had the falls pretty much to ourselves. The falls themselves are truly magnificent, but after walking along the catwalks at the top and bottom of the falls we felt that we weren’t getting close enough so we signed up for a boat ride by the falls. We got an inkling that this may not be a nice sedate ride when the boat captain handed us two dry bags for our personal possessions and told us to remove our shoes. So we wrapped ourselves up as best we could in our rain ponchos and set off for a close-up of the falls. We got soaked! If hadn’t been for the ponchos then I reckon we’d probably still be drying off now. It was great fun though, and well worth the extra expense. After the boat ride we set off to see Garganta del Diabolo (Devil’s Throat), which we were told is the most impressive of the many individual falls that make up Iguazu falls. It was better than either of us could have ever imagined. It makes Niagara falls look like a dripping tap. After taking literally hundreds of photos we made our way back to the town of Puerto Iguazu, and met up with our Tess & Anton (our Aussie friends that we’d met in Cordoba) for our final Argentinean steaks. We were heading to Brazil the next morning, but that didn’t stop us from drinking into the wee small hours.

Argentina is a strong contender for the title of “favourite country we’ve visited”. The infrastructure in Argentina is far superior to any of the other countries that we’ve visited in South America which makes it much easier to travel around. Furthermore, your time on the road is much more enjoyable because the buses in Argentina are really comfortable. The food in Argentina is excellent as well, unless you’re a vegetarian that is. In Argentina any meal that doesn’t include beef is considered vegetarian, so don’t be surprised if your veggie pizza turns up with lumps of chicken on it. We were told that Lima was the gastronomic capital of South America, but we found that food was far superior in Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Cordoba than anything we’d had in Peru. Thanks to the devaluation of the peso in 2001/2002, Argentina is an exceptionally cheap place to visit as well. Its not as cheap as Bolivia or Peru, but its still great value and far better quality. We’d both really like to return to Argentina and explore it some more. Parts of the south were inaccessible when we visited due to the snow & ice, and I don’t think we saw Rosario in its best light, so we’ll try and make sure our next trip occurs during the southern hemisphere's summer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


From Copacabana we booked ourselves onto a bus destined for Puno in Peru. As with everything in Bolivia, the bus didn’t quite run smoothly and we were forced to change to a second bus before we’d even left the town of Copacabana (that’s my last moan about Bolivia before I move onto Peru). When it did eventually leave, the bus took us the short distance to the Peruvian border and dropped us off so that we could complete the immigration formalities. We then boarded the bus again and set off for Puno. Our bus had managed to acquire an additional passenger during the border crossing, and he wasn’t difficult to spot because he was carrying a large ceremonial sword. Initially we were concerned that a sword-wielding lunatic had joined us for the journey, but it later transpired that he was in fact the local chief of police. He proved to be a useful addition to our contingent because at each police check-point he would wander to the front of the bus and wave his sword at the local constabulary. Our bus would then be ushered through without hesitation each time.

Puno is the Peruvian gateway to Lake Titicaca, but as we’d already explored the lake from the Bolivian side we decided to head onto Juliaca instead. Upon arrival in Juliaca we were warned by our taxi driver that it was a dangerous city. He even recommended that we stay locked in our hotel after sundown so as to avoid any trouble. So after eating both lunch and dinner in the best hotel in town (a 3* hotel), we made our way back to our accommodation and settled in for the night. At about 2am in the morning we were awoken by a really loud bang. This was then followed by shouting and repeated door-slamming for the next three hours. From our bedroom it sounded like someone was going from room to room robbing each guest. I (Gaz) had been pretending to sleep through it, but Tara eventually woke me at about 3am and asked me if I could hear all the commotion. Ever the hero, my response was, “Yes, and if they come to our room I’m not opening the door”. Eventually the noises subsided, and when we emerged from our room the next morning everything seemed to be normal. It was probably just a case of overactive imaginations on our behalf, but it was nerve-wracking at the time.

From Juliaca we flew up to Cusco in the hope that a nicer side of South America awaited us. Thankfully we were not disappointed. Cusco is a great city, with a very European feel to it. We spent our first few days exploring the many cathedrals, churches and museums that Cusco has to offer. We also made full use of the excellent bars and restaurants in Cusco. After two weeks of essentially emergency rations in Bolivia, we felt that we deserved some good quality food and wine. If you’re ever passing through, then make sure you head for Jacks. The food is outstanding, and great value.

Whilst in Cusco we also booked ourselves on a 4-day trek through the Lares valley ending in Machu Picchu with SAS Travel Peru. SAS have a poor reputation for their office’s organisation skills, so we were slightly concerned when we turned up on the morning of the tour at the meeting point to find that our guide was nowhere to be seen. Thankfully he did turn up within about 10 minutes, but it was another hour before our bus turned up. This was the last of the hiccups though, and we were soon heading out on our bus to the Lares valley. Our first stop was in the market town of Calca where we stocked up on pencils and sweets. These were gifts that our tour guide, Justino, advised purchasing to give to the many indigenous children that we would meet along the way. After a quick breakfast we got back on the bus and drove onwards to Quiswarani, with a quick stop en-route at a Condor “sanctuary” (a “sanctuary” in South America is actually a small cage with barely enough room for the animal to move). As soon as we got off the bus at Quiswarani it became apparent why we needed so many sweets and pencils. We were immediately mobbed by a small horde of adorable Peruvian children that were hungry for free goodies. We placated them with some sweets, and then set off on our trek. We covered 12km on our first day of hiking, and reached an altitude of 4200m. Despite the fact that we’d been acclimatizing to altitude since first crossing into Bolivia, we still found it very hard going. The air was very thin, especially near the top, but we’re both proud to say that we never had to resort to using the emergency donkey that SAS Travel provided just in case. Our efforts were very much overshadowed by our porters though. They not only covered the same ground as us, but managed to do so twice as quickly and without breaking a sweat. Furthermore, they still had the energy to put up our tents each evening and cook us breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. We bonded with our fellow trekkers over dinner on the first evening. Our group consisted of two Irish girls (Clodagh and Elaine), an American mother and son duo (Christine and Chris), Diba (a superhuman hiking machine from South Africa), and a group of four girls that had met volunteering in Wanaka (Laura, Rachelle, Annamarth, & Robyn). After a long days hiking we bedded down early in our tents, and had a reasonably good nights sleep considering the altitude (4000m) and temperature (below freezing).

We started our trek the following morning by visiting a traditional Andean home. We were sceptical of this, but it was far more authentic than we ever imagined. An old couple in their 70s lived in the small hut which was no more than 3m by 3m, the floor of which was infested with Guinea Pigs (a local delicacy). They cooked, cleaned, lived and slept in this tiny hut. Justino, our guide, told us all about their way of life and translated our questions into Quechua (the local indigenous language). From the house we continued trekking and by the end of the day we’d covered 15km and reached an altitude of 4400m. Our campsite for the evening was at 4200m, and was considerably colder than the previous night. Despite the harsh conditions our chef cooked up a storm again. We’re still amazed at how he managed to produce such culinary delights with the aid of only a gas hob.

Thankfully our final day of hiking was nearly all downhill. We walked from our campsite down to Ollantaytambo (18km),and from their we caught a train to Aguas Calientes. Diba, Tara and I all indulged in a well deserved beer on the train whilst we took in the stunning scenery that surrounded us. Following one final screw-up by the SAS Travel office (they’d forgotten to book our accommodation in Aguas Calientes), we settled into our hotel and then made our way up to the thermal baths from which the town gets its name (Aguas Calientes literally means hot water in Spanish....I think). We were then supposed to meet our guide at 7:30pm so that we could go for dinner, but he’d got lucky with one of the girls at the thermal pools so was running a little late.

The following morning we dragged ourselves kicking and screaming out of bed at 4am. For some unfathomable reason we’d decided the night before that it would be “fun” to walk up to Machu Picchu. The walk consists of a 400m ascent up uneven Inca steps in the pitch dark. Its definitely not fun. It was worth it, however, as it means you reach the site before all the hoards start arriving in buses. Justino had spent the entire evening with the girl from the springs and was lacking the energy that he’d had on previous days, but still managed to give us an informative tour of the site before letting us loose to explore on our own. Despite having hiked over 40km in the past 3 days, Gaz managed to muster the energy to climb Huayna Picchu, and Tara walked up to the bridge on the original Inca trail. We then set off back towards Cusco by train and bus, arriving back just in time to check into our hostel before heading out on the town with our fellow trekkers to drink away our aches and celebrate our achievement. David & Victoria, a couple we’d met in Mission Beach (Australia) and again in Copacabana (Bolivia), were also in town so they joined us as well for a skinful of booze. I’m still not sure how, but we even managed to drag ourselves in Mama Africa (one of Cusco’s nightclubs) for a dance. I believe a considerable number of gin & tonics may have been responsible for this.

We spent a couple more days in Cusco after our trek and visited a few more Inca ruins. Its alarming how blasé you become about ancient ruins after a few days. The most interesting of the ruins was Sacsayhuaman (or Sexy Woman as its often referred to by visitors), which is in the hills just above Cusco. From there we decided to go horse riding around a few more of the local Inca sites, but we were conned into paying for a three hour ride which turned out to actually be a 1 hour pony trek to just a single site. Fortunately the trek only cost us £7, so we weren’t too badly out of pocket.

From Cusco we flew to Lima where we spent five nights. In hindsight this was probably too long to spend in Lima as there’s really not that much to see, but we took the opportunity to do some normal none-travelling things such as watch the new Batman film (probably the highlight of Lima to be honest). Lima has an abundance of good restaurants (especially in the Miraflores area where we were staying), so we took advantage of these and made some serious progress in regaining the weight (fat) that we’d lost whilst on emergency rations in Bolivia.

On our penultimate day in Lima we took a day trip out to Pachacamac. This pre-Inca archeological site was pretty uninspiring (mainly because most of it looked like piles of sand), but the trip deserves a mention because of the other people on our tour. They were without doubt the biggest freaks that we’ve come across so far. The group consisted of three parties as follows:

1.A skittish lady who was dressed entirely in white (white cap, white leatherette backpack, white shorts, white t-shirt, white rain jacket and white shoes), and refused to tell anybody where she came from (although it later transpired that she was Russian).

2.An American family of four with an obsessive compulsion to keep as clean as possible. After stroking one of the dogs at the site, the children immediately ran to their parents so that they could disinfect themselves. The mother is pictured below wearing florescent pink and yellow children’s sunglasses.

3.An American family of three, the father of which wrote down everything that anybody said in a notebook. When not writing things down he spent most of his time ordering his wife to take photos of inanimate objects. The son scared me most though. He had the air of one of those crazed trenchcoat wearing American children that might embark on a killing spree at any given moment.

Before the tour we’d had high hopes of meeting some new and interesting people (as we had done on every other tour that we’d been on), but instead we finished the tour feeling that someone had sucked the life out of us.

Fortunately Peru had on the whole been a great experience (with the exception of that first night in Juliaca). We both really enjoyed Cusco and our Lares Trek to Machu Picchu. We’d also met some great new people (both Peruvians and fellow travellers), and we’d managed to replenish the fat supplies that we’d lost in Bolivia. Given our time again we probably would not have spent so much time in Lima, but as our days in Lima coincided with Peruvian Independence day (a bank holiday) we would’ve struggled to get to anywhere else anyway.
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