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  • Day28

    Have just returned to our Cusco hotel following our 4 day hike to Machu Picchu.

    Trek was long but not overly difficult. We had constant good weather (I only wore my raincoat for 2 hours total).

    Each day began with a 5 am start, around 8 hours walking (lunch in between) then camping and bed by 8 (!). Views often obscured by fog, but I've attached the good pictures.

    Food was pretty good considering the circumstances, but the portions could've been bigger. If I'm saying that, then there's something wrong.

    Machu Picchu was impressive, a nice end to the trail. Was actually not that significant a site during the Inca times, just happened to be preserved from the conquistadors. Full of tourists coming in by train though.

    Peru is also in the middle of a political crisis - President was charged with corruption yesterday (by some of his own party, which he founded). Expected to step down very soon. Peruvian sole has dropped a cent vs the NZD so this trip just got cheaper.

    Nix lost this morning (useless) and I'm off back to sleep.

    Pics: (1) Inca trail; (2) Original Inca roads; (3) Our camp site (20 porters!); (4) Machu Picchu; (5) Llamas eating in Machu Picchu - you can buy one for 400 NZD.
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  • Day25

    I really should've read our tour itinerary. Instead of beginning the Inca Trail straight away, we actually were booked in to visit a rural village to spend a night home-staying.

    I was rooming with Louis this time. Our host mother Patricia greeted us at the parking-lot with flowers. She then carried all our bags up to her home.

    The village itself mostly consisted of mud-brick houses. Facilities were basic, but better than I expected, with both running water and electricity. There was also a football pitch where we kicked a ball around with Michael (Patricia's 9 y/o son).

    We were taken to do some local farming, where you bang a hoe into the ground near plants. I have no idea how this helps them grow and, frankly, we did a terrible job. The 'experience' was called off after 20 minutes as it became clear we were ruining the harvest. If they really do still farm in the traditional manner (there could well have been a tractor hiding from tourist sight), that is impressive but somewhat misguided - modern machines are far less labour intensive and do a better job.

    The meals served by our host family were hearty, though both Louis and I have our reservations as to hygiene. Another spin of food-poison roulette wheel.

    Next morning, we bought a woolen hat each from Patricia (she is a weaver, like most of the village women). The transaction was completed in her home, meaning she could conceal it from the rest of the village. They are supposed to share all weaving profit apparently, and this is enforced by them all supposedly selling only at their central market. The attitudes and mannerisms all felt very much like a Greek village (very 'choriatiko').

    An interesting and enjoyable experience. For a night.

    NOTE: We are setting off on the trail tomorrow - no internet so no posts for 4 days.

    Pics: (1) Patricia, despite our objections, carrying our bags up herself; (2) All dressed up; (3) Farming lessons - not the career for us I think; (4) The hills were very steep; (5) The annual running of the sheep; (6) A sample of local cuisine (cute guinea pigs) - would you eat it Sophie?
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  • Day23

    Doing stuff for the first time is always difficult - you never know what to bring, which way is quickest, what to buy and what you can save on. Some people love the experimentation but I just hate the inevitable waste.

    Spent much of yesterday deciding what gear hire was worthwhile. Have settled on a pair of hiking boots ($20 NZ), walking poles ($15 NZ), mattress ($20 NZ), sleeping bag ($20 NZ) and plastic poncho ($5 NZ). Tents are being provided by the tour.

    The 4 day trek itself dips to as low as 2000m and rises as high as 4000m. Such fluctuations can lead to altitude sickness but I think we'll be fine.

    We will be accompanied by several porters. They carry up to 6kgs of our belongings, though much of that is taken up by the sleeping bag, mattress etc. Feels slightly imperialistic but they seem pretty happy with it.
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  • Day22

    We're five days into our "Peru on a shoestring" tour, which is proceeding at breakneck pace. Every day involves a 5-10 hour bus ride (sometimes overnight) to our next destination. "Peru in a minute" might be more accurate.

    Have been unwell with a cold for the last few days, no doubt exacerbated by this absurd level of travel. Did stay up until 4am to watch the nix last night however, so partly my fault.

    My roommate Ohm is bugging me for us to go so I'll leave it there. Will give a fuller update when can.
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  • Day20

    "The Peruvian mainland has captured my heart. Lima was a great disappointment. It reminded me of Auckland. The contrast since leaving the cities has been amazing.

    The local dress in the highlands is charming. Beautiful bowler hats, knitted sweaters and ponytails are everything I expected and more. It is also surreal to walk down the street without being harassed.

    People whipped each other at the restaurant today. The whipping exorcises demons."Read more

  • Day19

    "Some sort of Stockholm syndrome blankets the world. Former Soviets no longer hide their desire for American goods. Indians play cricket against the English every year. On the ground here it’s more obvious than ever that Latinos love Spanish football. Today I’d like to write about the South American envy of North America.

    Throughout the last century the CIA undermined many countries in South America. Many South Americans perceive American tourists as stupid and arrogant. They also flock to buy goods from the United States despite this.

    Years of antagonism appears to have built a great respect for the quality of American goods. Ecuador uses the Dollar and everyone drives Chevrolet. All tourists are assumed to be American, most annoyingly. It is the repression of South American spirit that is more concerning to me however.

    Some locals have joined the Americans after a century of being beaten by them. Their commercialised and selfish approach to work is in stark contrast to that displayed to say, Pacific Islanders.

    The invasion of Hamburguestas and loss of what little cuisine existed prior serve as a great symbol of this change. Processed food is the only hygienic option around here. It would be a shame if the great food from Asia or Southern Europe was also replaced.

    It is not just Australia’s name that is similar to America. I hope New Zealand does not follow this course. The lack of cuisine has already been exposed."
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  • Day17

    Quite a bit has happened in the last 48 hours. Our next stage from Colombia (with Avianca) to our connecting flight in Ecuador to Peru (with Latam) was supposed to take 8 hours but has instead consumed two days. We arrived at Bogota airport (Colombia) to find that our first leg had been delayed 3 hours. At least half the flights were behind schedule and a TV crew were there doing a live cross. I was initially quite grateful for the delay as it meant I could watch the nix play at the airport. The way everything panned out however, I just wish we’d just gone as planned.

    Things deteriorated quickly. The nix somehow managed to lose despite leading two-nil at half-time – they’re an absolute disgrace and completely unprofessional. Our flight was then delayed further (“operational difficulties”), sparking an angry mob at the boarding counter. Our first flight finally took off but, despite a sprint in Ecuador to our next flight, we missed it by 2 minutes. Got to watch it take off at least.

    We approached some officials who nodded at our explanations, then left us sitting on a bench for 4 hours. An Avianca official then came up and said that, as we’d booked each leg separately (one with them, one with Latam), they would not compensate us with second-leg tickets to replace the flight we’d missed. His explanation is absurd and we let him know it. Inevitably though, we were always going to have to fork out the $500 USD each for new tickets. They put us up at a nice hotel (why didn’t they just subsidize our flights?) but the hotel bus was then delayed for another 30 min. More operational difficulties perhaps. “This is just such a saga” said Louis.

    Have finally made it to Peru, linking up with our next tour. We’re climbing Machu Pichu next week to meet the Incas. Posts may become more sporadic due to lack of internet.

    ALSO: Louis is writing his own post here on our travels so far (but only after I agreed to suspend my role as editor).
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  • Day16

    "As I write this the airport lights have turned off. We are not sure when the light will return. Time passes differently in South America.

    Dimitri’s short sentences are indicative of the frenetic pace often encountered here. Of course there is another side to this. A great malaise frequently settles across the land. I like to think the dichotomy formed by these two sides might be apparent to Dimitri too.

    In situations like this I like to examine detail. Images often capture much more than the single moment of time they picture.

    ...

    We missed our flight to Lima. We hustled through the airport to no avail.

    The switch has flicked once again as I finish writing.

    A man is fixing our problems. He was last seen descending into the depths of the Internal Ministry."
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  • Day15

    Got up and watched the World Cup draw. Much less interesting when everyone you support has been knocked out.

    Walked to Bogota's Museo del Oro today (literally the Museum of Gold). Houses ancient indigenous gold artifacts. Surprised there was enough to form an exhibition seeing as the conquistadors ran off with most of it.

    Then visited the pompously-named 'Palace of Justice' - Colombia's supreme court. The court was stormed by FARC rebels in 1985, very bloody. Colombia was actually at war with FARC (its own people!) until a few months ago. Lots of soldiers about the court complex but we were allowed in and wandered around.

    Finally stopped by to admire some church, can't remember the name. Marble arches and lavish decorations (not sure what Jesus would say). Rather than worshipers donating and then lighting candles, they have this board with LED light bulb candles. Drop a coin in and another lights up (pic attached). Had to give it a go - that's my 'candle' top right.

    Pics: (1) Old indigenous gold death mask (top) along with a traditional indigenous gold party hat (bottom); (2) The church candles; (3) Watching the football with Louis.
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  • Day13

    Just touched down in our third country, in airport having breakfast. We are sticking to the gringo menu (bangers and mash) as both my companions have fallen sick already due to dodgy food. It's their own fault really - I wouldn't touch the street food here with a 10-foot barge pole.

    Climbed Mt Pichincha yesterday, going as high as 4,600 m. You really feel the lack of oxygen in your lungs at this height. Louis and Eyob climbed the rock wall to the top, I decided the view was just as nice from 20 m below.

    Colombian customs seems a bit slack. There is no body scan (you just walk through) and, while my luggage was x-rayed, the lady watching the monitor looked half asleep. Then again, there was another security guard at the exit holding a pump-action shotgun. Makes you wonder what the cartels are running around with.

    Pics: (1) Me half-way up the mt - Quito in the background; (2) Having breakfast - It's $4 a bowl and Louis made sure he got full value.
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  • Day11

    The Three Musketeers is a story of loyalty and brotherhood in the most trying circumstances. Their unity is embodied in that famous line above. I like to think our triumvirate shares a similar bond, strengthened by time and shared experience. Sometimes, however, the musketeer bond finds itself tested:

    (Note: Names censored after threats of defamation from my fellow musketeers)

    1) The hostel room window: Undoubtedly the biggest point of contention. Two musketeers feel hot and want it open, one doesn't and tries to close it secretly. Words have been exchanged over this, but no duels yet.

    2) Hygiene: I'm not particular about this, but one musketeer has had a mere 3 showers in 10 days. He's beginning to smell..

    3) Directions: Despite travelling Quito a mere 3 days, each musketeer is adamant he has developed an ingrained map of the city. Disputes arise at cross-roads, where each musketeer will insist on a different direction, split and beginning walking down it, before we all rush back, realising we need each other. Google Maps is no help as we've all run out of data.

    Humanity's success comes from our ability to pool talents and work together. We're plainly more successful than other animals, who just kill and steal from each other most of the time. The fate of this group will depend on our ability to suppress selfish primal instincts and compromise. The signs are good though - no one's punched another yet.

    Pics: (1) One of the disputes breaking out into open violence; (2) The top of some church - Virgin Mary statue framed by the two clocks, each showing a different time (neither correct); (3) Another Ecuadorian street for Sophie - this is what most look like.

    Final note: We are actually having a great time together. Mostly. If only they'd close that damn window.
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  • Day10

    As requested, something a little more cultural for this post. The following is from our tour guide today, augmented with my own thoughts.

    Today is Ecuador’s Independence Day, commemorating liberation from the Spanish Crown. Ecuador has two favourite sons, Simone Bolivar and Antonio Jose de Sucre. They were aristocrats of Spanish descent who, like the United States’ founding fathers, were dissatisfied with subjugation to a distant monarch. They raised an army together and drove the Spanish off the continent entirely. Bolivar had dreams for a united South America (‘Grande Colombia’) but this never eventuated. South America is rich in resources and, organized, Grande Colombia could have rivaled the US. Instead, the continent’s fragmentation, conflict and abuses of power means it has been left seriously underdeveloped. Who wants to invest in a country where everything you work for can be nationalized in a heartbeat?

    Ecuador’s recent political history is similarly chaotic. It’s been invaded three times by Peru since 1941 over some random valley. It had 10 different presidents in the 1990s, then one for 10 years, who was finally forced out this year when he tried to enact laws allowing him to rule indefinitely. The current President, Lenin Moreno, is crippled by a gunshot so was installed by his party as a pitiable public face amidst discontent. He’s gone off script, apparently, and has impeached the former President for corruption. Probably just cleaning house to consolidate his own position though. Madness.

    There’s a doco on Youtube, Civilization: The West and the Rest, which touches on South America’s untapped potential. You need stability, security and accountability to create great countries, something in short supply here.

    Also, do let me know what you want to hear more of. Otherwise you’ll just get me ranting about crappy hostels or South American mismanagement.

    Pics: (1) The Independence Day parade. President Moreno is on the balcony; (2) Pinatas of politicians - one of them is Trump apparently.
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