A Travellerspoint blog

San Cristobel

Galapagos Islands


We have 2 weeks in the Galapagos Islands in where we will stay on the 3 main islands. San Cristobal, Isabela and Santa Cruz. We opted for land based accommodation with day trips from each island. The other option was island hopping on boats. This was considerable more expensive and also I didn't like the thought of the 5 of us cooped up on a boat for the entire time, plus this stretch of water is notoriously rough. By booking independent accommodation and day trips we turned our budgeted trip here from 6 days into 14.

San Cristobal
We are staying right on the Malecon (promenade) on the island. Its another stay where we are in 2 rooms as we have been for the majority of the trip thus far. It's always difficult to fit 5 in a room so invariably we book two rooms and split the kids with one adult.

The views from our rooms are breath-taking. Its like having a room in a zoo. Sea Lions, Pelican's, Iguanas and Turtles all play and live right in front of us. We could happily sit in our rooms peering out the windows for hours watching them all. Although we know that the wildlife here feels no threat by humans it still takes you by surprise as the sea lions and iguanas happily come up to you. It feels like they are more inquisitive of us than we are of them sometimes.

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The view out our window
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Blue Footed Boobies

We have had only one trip organised on this island. A day trip out to Kicker Rock. This was deep sea snorkelling at it's best a massive rock in the middle of the ocean with a shear face right down to the ocean floor. The main purpose of this trip is to snorkel with the Hammerhead sharks. However as it is sometimes with nature we didn't get to have that experience. They were about but just not in sight for us. Our guide Jorge (pronounced Horhay) caught a glimpse but they were to deep for us to see. He later told us they see them about 20% of the time. We did however see huge Turtles swimming around. They were magnificent to watch as they moved so gracefully through the water.

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I'll (Rach) admit my nervousness that this was our first snorkelling experience straight off the boat into the coolish very deep water. I was worried the kids might panic - especially Bellie. Proven wrong though when she jumped in and sped off. At the brief Jorge mentioned we will have to keep pace with the kids(our lot) but after 10 mins in the water he said "man the kids are good!" Some of the other adults on the boat had to snorkel holding a life preserver!

The following two days we had no excursions booked. It was the first time since we left NZ that we had free time.
I went my first run since the Inca marathon and sussed out the best snorkelling spot early in the morning.
Early that afternoon we went to Cerro de las Tijeretas a 2km walk from the town. It is the spot where Charles Darwin first set foot on the Galapagos Islands. We proably looked pretty hard case trundling along with our big wheelie duffle bag full of our snorkelling gear. A lot to lug around but we hadn't wanted to risk especially the kids getting ill fitting gear. Much to our delight there were 3 or 4 sea lion pubs playing with us which was amazing. They happily interacted with you doing barrel rolls and coming up really close. They would nibble at your flippers and kiss your mask! Although the water wasn't that warm it was easy to spend an hour in the water with them. We had a lot of fun diving down and having them follow us zipping past us and showing off. Funny though at the end of the day when we decide to hop out. A family of around six sea lions were lying all over the steps and landing barricading our way out! Patience prevailed and about 15 minutes later we made it out. Sea Lions are only territorial out of the water which is funny and they protect their patch rather like a dog. The big ones have fierce teeth too which none of us were keen to mess with. On our snorkel trip the day before we had learnt the difference between seals and sea lions - sea lions have external ears seals just have holes. So there you go!

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Our snorkelling spot - Cerro de las Tijeretas
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Bellie chillaxing with the Iguanas
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Smile for the camera
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Being held captive - might as well enjoy it

We also hired some paddle boards to have a play in the harbour. The plan was to snorkel from them with the seal pubs and turtles. However after 20mins of being blown out to sea we made a dash to a small beach at Playa Mann and sort refuge there. Holly, Toby and me (Matt) spent some time snorkelling before we decided to walk to boards back to the shop. We figured walking the 1km back with them was safer than risking the paddle. Another crazy moment with lots of sideways looks as we wandered through town carrying paddleboards paddles and life jackets.

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Hello Mr Iguana

That afternoon we headed back to the same spot as the previous day to snorkel and had another awesome experience
We also went through the Interpretation Centre which displays the history of the Galapagos Islands and also highlights the difficulties they have with natural resources.

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A stunning pic of aqua boy

Our last night on San Cristobal was spent with Tim and Crystal who own Galakiwi a travel company based on the island. Tim's a Kiwi who started his company 15 years ago here and with lots of hard work from both of them they have buit an awesome business. We had a few drinks and then they took us to a local restaurant for dinner. It was great to spend some time with some other adults and try some of their favourite dishes.

Our time on San Cristobal has been perfect. A lovely quaint town with nature right on your door step. We left SC after 4 days a bit sad we couldn't stay longer. Next stop is Isabela Island which is a 45 min flight away.

Posted by Watson5 09:02 Comments (1)

Quito and the Amazon

The call of the wild

We arrived in Quito the capital of Ecuador in the middle of the afternoon after 2 flights from leaving Cusco in Peru.
as another experience which we are getting used to with LAN. An emergency aborted landing - a little disconcerting when the plane rapidly pulls upward just as you thought you were landing however after what seemed an eternity in a completely silent plane we were finally told there had been too much turbulence and we would have another go from a different approach. We were glad to finally have the wheels on the ground as were the other passengers who let out an enthusiastic applause - not the first time we've heard this though .
The drive to our hotel also sped up the heart rate. Our driver drove her car to its limit (and well over the speed limit!) We must have passed 100 plus cars on our journey - and it was a lady!

Our first night in Quito was at the Swiss Hotel courtesy of the Amazon stay we had booked. One night in a luxury hotel was exciting prospect after the last 2 weeks sleeping arrangements. Everything was going to plan until just after 9.30 when a 5.9 earthquake stuck the coast of Ecuador. We all scrambled to the doorways and waited out the rolling and swaying on the 4th floor of the hotel. When it finished we had a quick chat to the kids and settled them back to bed. However 11mins after the first a bigger 6.4 earthquake struck. This was frightening. While Rach got the kids jerseys I grabbed the passports and some US$ we. We left the hotel via the stairs (some guests where getting in the lifts!)
In the lobby we were ushered to a meeting point outside in an abandoned lot. There we were briefed on what was happening and also filmed by a local TV crew. We did chuckle at the hotel manager saying it was okay he felt it was only around a 6! I rang Mum to try get some info and she was great letting me know what and where it was all happening. There was no further shakes that night but it didn't set us up for much sleep. Staying in a flash hotel hadn't worked out for us!

My favourite moment of the night was from Bella. After the second quake had stopped and we where getting the kids clothes to leave the hotel she looked at me with tears streaming down her face and said "I'm to young to die I have too much to live for" She was so matter of fact it was Bella to a T. Toby on the other hand was fizzing and eager to get on google straight away to find out all the details.

The next morning we were picked up and taken to the airport for a short 40min flight to the small town of Coca - a very run down little town which is the gateway to the Amazon from Ecuador. We were then driven to the docks where we travelled in a motorised canoe (longboat) for 2 hours. A short walk across the land in between the river and the lake and then a paddle canoe to the lodge. Our faces must have been a picture - here we were paddling down a narrow stream lined with lush tropical vegetation and filled with the sounds of the wild. Within minutes we spotted two small black monkeys swinging in the trees - we were in awe.
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The girls enjoying the ride
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Loved the Howler monkeys

Rach -We were staying at Le Selva Lodge on Garzacocha lake off the Napo river. It is situated on the edge of the lake and is a beautiful open air design. Our rooms are luxurious the beds draped with mosquito nets and the windows are just net. So you lie there at night listening to the "calls of the wild". We have two units as once again our family of "five doesn't fit". So there was girls camp and boys camp. Our wake up call is 6 am each morning where one of the staff wandered around the bungalows to wake us in preparation for the mornings activities. Bella was beside herself when the chap came to her window on the first morning and said "Bella, Bella - it's time to wake up" Bella in turn wandered round and woke the rest of us up. She sure was pretty pleased with herself. Later on speaking to the Bolithos we learnt their lodge had no external walls just a floor a roof and you netted bed - eek I'd have been dreaming of creepy crawlies all night!

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The Lodge by night

Our daily activities have were a mixture of bush walks, kayak trips and telescope viewing from the observation deck at 40m - above the canopy. A visit to a community to see the school and learn about their way of life including harvesting of the main crops of coffee and cocoa. Each day we left at 7am and return between 11-12. Then after lunch it was free time until 4.30 when we head out until 7. Dinners at 7.30 so we are having long days with the kids. But its worth it to be out with a guide for 7 hours each day. Meals were 5 star fine dining - something very different for our kids. Some very fancy food and the confusion of which cutlery to use when.

We managed to see loads of species of birds and many monkeys. The highlights being Toucan and McCaw, listening to the Howler Monkeys growl (the loudest animal in the Amazon) watching 50+ parrots feed on the clay bank which is an adaptation to neutralise the toxins they ingest eating unripe fruits. They began eating unripe fruit to minimise competition for food - amazing survival tactics.

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The parrots feeding on the clay

We had a go at Piranha fishing - and caught two! And last but by no means least an up close encounter with a Tarantula. We all even managed a swim in the lake. Normally not a very exciting event but we were about 100m from where we caught the Piranhas! Would you believe though - they don't eat people - I'm sure some cartoons I watched in my youth indicated to the contrary

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A Piranha
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All in for a dip

Although the Amazon Rainforest stay was only 3 days it was a fantastic experience. There is such excitement seeing animals in there natural environment. Just the lush surrounds and the noises had our imaginations running overtime - especially on our twilight walks. The kids were amazing I know it was no mean feat for them to stay quiet for hours on end so as not to scare any potential sightings. That coupled with not being able to touch a thing for fear of some creepy crawly or bullet ant attaching themselves to you. Bullet ants can kill monkeys! With that name we weren't keen to experience their bite. It was super humid - we had to store our electronics in a dry box and I had my sweaty face on most of the time. By the time we left the Amazon we felt like every article of clothing was damp - so it was a major wash dry and sort on our one night in Quito.

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A cute fluffy TRANTULA!
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Squirrel Monkeys - super cute

La Selva is an eco lodge meaning they aim for minimal impact on the environment and have strict rules that they do not feed or otherwise encourage any of the wildlife. So everything we saw was an observation in their natural habitat. They also had a great agreement with the local village where they paid for school materials, a teacher, a water system and allowed them to use their boats twice a week. It was nice to see this cooperative understanding. Our visit to the village was fascinating. There were no kids in school but it was fascinating for our kids to see the conditions these kids work in. We were also taken to the communal area and given some food which included a rather large grub. We all managed to eat it - poor Holly struggling the most as she wretched and eyes watered but she couldn't be the only one not to do it. That's not the Watson way! Tobs and I discovered we were ace with the blow gun. A handy skill to have when we return to the streets of Richmond.

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Blowdart Champ
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local fare - grub included - it tasted like pork crackling!
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Bats in Camouflage
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Turtles keeping warm
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A Toucan

Posted by Watson5 19:18 Comments (2)

Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu

Shits and giggles

Matt - I arrived down from Machu Picchu to the small town of Aguas Calientes on the bus with Ben, smelly and tired. I couldn't wait to see the family and give them all a massive hug. It was something I had rehearsed many times over as I shivered away on the trail.

However, things that day hadn't been as planned. Poor Rach and Anna had suffered from food poisoning and were white as ghosts. I still got the warm welcome but it was obvious that we were competing for who felt the worst! That night was pretty low key as my digestion could only handle half a meal and the girls sat and watched us eat - that was all they could trust their bodies to do!. So much for partying to celebrate the day just had.

Rach - The trip to Aguas Calientes by train was gorgeous. Stunning views running along the river passing more Incan terraces and intriguing little homes that really seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. It was hard what life would be like for these people. We had received an upgrade in trains which saw us in a carriage with a sky view and catering. The kids were all excited to be travelling by train and the hour and a half journey went in a flash. It was probably the only trip so far I wished had been longer. Our accommodation was a short walk from the train station. An advantage in terms of carrying bags but you guessed it - it was insanely noisy! We took the kids for a wander round town which had a bit of an ski resort feel to it - bustling with tourists, restaurants and bars. We were enticed into a restaurant offering a 20% discount for kids. The meal was fine apart from having to keep our puffer jackets on to eat - no one seems to want to heat their restaurant here. We decided to make it an early night after spending most of the day travelling and were given our bill only to find an additional 20% service charge - yip we were had!

The next day we had big plans for shopping in the market. I went to bed feeling a bit "off" but didn't think to much of it till an urgent call to the bathroom at about 2am. Man did I felt crook - 2 hours of both ends left me feeling a little like death warmed up. Around 7am I text Anna who was a floor above to tell her I wasn't well - only to get a reply a few seconds later saying she wasn't either! Some meal we'd both eaten in the last couple of days had left us reaping the consequences. Thank goodness the kids were still okay.

So Anna managed to walk the kids down to breakfast which was one step more than I could muster. She appeared at my door bent over in an L shape in her pj's. She dropped them off downstairs and made a hasty retreat back to her bed. The 5 kids had a ball at breakfast. I imagine they were looking like a group of young backpackers - they described getting some funny looks but relished the responsibility of ordering their own breakfasts and helping each other out. Holly and Toby even managed to go 3 doors down and get me some water and lemonade - pretty awesome considering the language challenges. So that was our day. Anna and I eventually parked up in the same room and the kids had unhindered electronic time - a rare treat indeed. We excelled ourselves and managed a walk around the block o buy them bread rolls and a packet of chips for lunch. Thank goodness for antibiotics and we gradually felt better during the course of the day. A few laughs were had relishing how much fun this travelling lark was and what we'd write in the blog. Anna's only request was the title - "Shits and giggles". So there you are buddy I dedicate this one to you - a memorable day of friendship and one I care not to repeat.

Around 5pm the boys arrived back from their massive efforts in their run - not to the warm welcome and fanfare we'd hoped for. We headed out for dinner that night and were well and truly the life and souls of the party. Eating half a bread roll each and a glass of water woohoo bring on tomorrow!

Matt: The next morning we decided to miss our booked in early morning tour of Machu Picchu as the weather was overcast and there was no chance to see the sunrise. Instead of getting the 5.30am bus we headed up at the more leisurely time of 10am. For the first hour we found a quiet spot which had great views of the ancient town.

Perched 7000 feet above sea level Machu Picchu is nestled on a small hill top in the Andean Mountain range unseen from the Urabamba valley below. The Incan built structures has been deemed the "Lost Cities" as they were only recently discovered in 1911.

We spent a good hour taking photos and just enjoying where we were. The views and scale are simply breath-taking - we continued to be in awe of the Incan's. The next two hours we wandered around taking short breaks from the sun which by now was out and in full force. The irony of the day before slogging my guts out in the rain and snow to now being a shorts and t-shirt day was not lost on me.

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It would have been nice to have a guide with us to explain it all as we had had with Jamie through the Sacred Valley but sometimes you have to compromise. The sleep in for Ben and I to rest our weary bodies and also the extra time it gave the girls to recover was greatly appreciated. In the end we spent 3 hours at Machu Picchu. The kids did really well during this time.

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The rest of the day we checked out more markets and tried to avoid steps as they were causing a fair amount of discomfort with my wee legs. That night we all attended the Dinner put on by the running company. It was good chance to catch up with the other runners. Ben and I didn't get much time with them but it was nice to be able hear their stories, of which many where more horrific than my own. One of which was a runner who took 14 hours to get to the 36km mark to camp for the night. 5am to 7pm running and then have to camp and finish the next day!

The next morning we took the train back to Ollyantambo and then a mini van to Cusco. The girls had raved about the scenic train trip and it was stunning. A much easier option to travel that distance!

Once back in Cusco we moved into the Loreto Boutique Hotel right on the edge of the Plaza De Armas. It was a dash to get washing done. The 2 hour laundry service was taken for an extra $1 per kilo! Last minute shopping and then dinner. Tonight was going to be the night we tried Cuy (Guinnea Pig) however a moral dilema arose within our family. Instead we decided we would pass on the national dish and support those who were passionately apposed. The Bolitho family tucked into one and reported how delicious it was.

After getting kids to bed Anna, Ben, Rach and myself meet in the lobby and had a coffee and chatted away on what was our last night together. It had been great having their company and share the experiences. The two sets of kids had a ball catching up with each other. There were some occasions you would pinch yourself as we had meal in a small local restaurant and that we were in Peru and not at home.

The next morning we were flying to Quito to start our Ecuador adventure.

Posted by Watson5 20:26 Comments (3)

The Inca Trail Marathon

I said my goodbyes to the family at the plaza in Ollantaytambo and Ben and I joined the other runners on the bus headed for the start of the Inca Trial. I'm not sure if what I was feeling was excitement or nerves. It had been a long time in the planning but the time had nearly arrived to see if I really could run the Inca Trail in one day.
From km 82 we had 8km walk in to Llaqtapata where camp was set up for us by the race organiser. During the walk we had light showers, an ominous sign for tomorrows run. That afternoon we had a look around the ruins, had a runners meeting and early dinner and into our tents for an early night. Wake up was going to be 3.30am!
Not much sleep was had as my little brain was whirling away with what lay ahead for me. Infact i was relieved when 3.30 arrived and could stop trying to get to sleep.

Breakfast was served at 4am and we all met at the start point just prior to the start time of 5am. The Race Director counted us down and with head torches lit we enthusiastically took our first steps in what was going to be a very long and eventful day.

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We started at 2600m elevation and ran the first 6km which was and out from and back to camp in the dark. There was a cut off for this of 1hr. If you missed it you were pulled from the marathon course and re-directed to the shorter 30km Incathon. I passed the mark in 48mins and headed down the next out and back. Out of the 21 marathon runners 7 didn't make this cut off and were elimated from the marathon. The reason given was if you were unable to make this time you had no chance to make the 3.30pm cut off at Winay Wayna which is the 36km mark.

By now my running mate Ben had disappeared into the Peruvian darkness and was pounding out fast kms. I wasn't finding it so easy. I felt really lethargic and had jelly legs. I was worried that if this relatively flat section was causing me trouble how the hell I'd be able to tackle the climbs up to 4200m.

With the sun well and truly up I made it to the third aid station at Wallabamba in 2 1/2hrs having covered 19km. The next leg of the run was up Dead Woman's Pass. 5.5km climbing from 3000m to 4200m. This was a grind like no other. It was one foot in front of the other for hour after hour. The relentless uphill mixed with the altitude was soul destroying. As the air got thinner it was getting harder to breath - each step seemed to be harder than the last. To add to the challenge it was now raining and getting cold. I was now getting up to the height of Mt Cook. The saving grace was the encouragement from the hikers on the trail. By now word had got out that a group of idiots were attempting to run the trail in one day. All those doing the walk in 3 or 4 days were great support - there kind words and occasional company was greatly appreciated. I spent time with a mixture of Brits and Americans who would spend 5-10 mins walking with me before they fell behind and I carried on my way.

This part of the day I started feeling quiet emotional - I was finally on the Inca Trail which was a childhood dream. All things going to plan I would see Machu Picchu at the finish line. The previous few days our guide Jamie had explained how the Inca's had created this trail and how important it was for them. Here I was walking the same route they had for centuries. It also gave me time to think about my family and how important they are to me. That part of the day was so incredibly hard but one that I learnt a lot about myself.

Reaching the summit of dead woman's pass was a huge relief. It was 10am and I had been on my feet for 5 hours. A guide from the running group talked to me at the top and told me not to stop as it was too cold his advise was to carry on the steep decent. Taking his advice I made my way down. Still one foot in front of the other as the gradient was too steep to be able to run. Also with the rain getting heavier it was to dangerous to try move quickly on the slippery stones. By now I had caught up to another runner. I passed him on the downhill only for him to catch back up on the 2nd climb. It was another epic climb and to add to the drama it had started to snow!

Climbing back up from Pacamayo to Runkuracay the snow was starting to fall heavily. It was bitterly cold. I was wearing 5 layers with gloves and a hat but was still freezing. My fellow runner overtook me only for me to catch up to him 15mins later where he was standing still shivering. We chatted for a bit and decided to keep each other company for the rest of the climb. I was starting to fear I would become hypothermic, I had numb lips and had no feeling in my fingers. It was really hard to keep motivated but there was no choice. At this point the only safe option is to carry on. There is no getting off the trail without walking out.

My goal was still to get to Winay Wayna before the 3.30pm cut therefore be able to continue the last 6km to Machu Picchu. If you don't, you have to camp the night there and finish in the morning. Not what I was wanting.
The snow started to subside and the rain took over again as I made the top and started another decent. This gave me some encouragement as I knew I had no more major climbs. For the next hour the only people I saw were the stream of Porters running past me with there heavy loads carrying gear for the hikers. Carrying up to 30km each they fly by as if your standing still.

I then started to catch up to some of the other runners. The ones who had been pulled from the marathon. Two of them who were inadequately dressed were holding hands walking at a snails pace. I stopped and asked if they were ok. They were freezing and asked me how much further to the camp. Not knowing I guessed and said to keep moving and I'd let a guide know where they were. An hour later at an aid station I met the race director and told him about the couple. The next day I was relieved to see them both well. They didn't make it off the mountain that day but had camped the night. They had expected to run the marathon in a day and instead only been able to cover 24km.

Still freezing I contemplated pulling myself from the run and getting to the camp at the 36km mark. All runners had to provide a drop bag in case we couldn't make the finish. I had packed a set of thermals and warm clothes. The thought of getting out of my saturated running gear and into them was very appealing. I was suffering from the cold and wanted to stop what I was doing.

From the summit of Dead Woman's pass I had traversed two ranges over a 4 hour period. Those 12 kms were horrific. The soreness in my legs was nothing compared to the mental anguish I was suffering with being freezing. However upon reaching Winay Wayna camp after 9hours all that seemed to disappear. I had made it an hour and a half before the cut off. The altitude was down to 2600m and it was a lot warmer than being up at 4000m. Still wet I was in a state of euphoria as I saw the aid station and the guides. High fives and smiles were just what I needed.
I was given the option of taking some gear from my drop bag but instead took the entire bag. Even though I had 6kms to go I was quiet happy to carry it in my hand knowing I could have some warm clothes to change into at the finish line. That last 6km I'm sure I was running a foot off the ground - bounding along like I was beginning the run and not 9 plus hours into it. As I caught up to hikers I would shout "Ola" to let them know I was approaching. In one American group the lady at the back called to rest of the group "porter coming" I laughed as I went by and said sorry I'm not a porter just a wet kiwi in a hurry!

I reached Sun gate just in time for the rain to stop, the cloud lifted to unveil the wondrous sight of Machu Picchu. Again the tears rolled down my cheeks. I was nearly there and felt overwhelmed by the day I had just endured.
I was also in awe of what my little brother and his family had achieved by hiking the trail a few years before. His two young daughters Georgia and Sam had walked the trail which I am still amazed at. I can only imagine how brutal it was for them and the mental toughness they had shown to complete the trail.

With only 500m to the finish line I saw my running mate Ben again. He had smashed out an amazing time and waited in the rain for and hour and a half to cheer me over the finish line. Such a class act from a great bloke.
It was such a cool feeling and to have a friendly face to celebrate with.

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I had finally finished the run. I arrived just before 3pm. Minutes short of 10 hours. It was everything I had expected and more. The terrain was harsh and the conditions that day matched it. The Inca Trail had given me something special, something I am very grateful for.

Out of the 23 runners that had started the day 21 attempted the marathon. By days end 13 had completed it -the rest had to finish the following day or do the shorter 30km course.

The Inca Trail marathon is brutal and that it what makes finishing it so special.

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Posted by Watson5 10:43 Archived in Peru Comments (12)

Cusco

On a High


Well the flight from Easter Island to Cusco was another fairly long one with 5 hours to Santiago a 7 hour wait and then another 5 hours to Cusco. This was probably the part of the trip I (Rach) was a little anxious about. Cusco - part of Peru sits at 3400metres above sea level, the the same height as Mount Cook. Many people travelling straight to this altitude will experience some form of altitude sickness. Symptoms can range from mild - nausea headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath to those that affect the brain and the heart and are more life threatening. In a ideal world you would take several days to get to this altitude and travel in by road so that your body has time to adjust and compensate. But we didn't have the luxury of that kind of time and it was also important for Matt to acclimatise prior to doing his run. There is a medication Acetazolamide (Diamox) which you can take a to help lessen the effects of altitude sickness. You should start it 1 -2 days prior to going to altitude and continue for around 3 days. We had opted to get this medication but it was stupidly in the pack left behind in Auckland and was arriving to Cusco with the Bolitho family on the day we arrived - not ideal but better than nothing. So you see we hit the ground running. Tired from a long journey and very little sleep and without having started our medication.

Arriving into Cusco was like another world. A stunning and compact city - known for it's archaeological remains and Spanish architecture it was once the capital of the Inca empire. Matt and I were reminded very much of Turkey as our plane came in to land in this beautiful city. We immediately knew we were going to enjoy this place. We didn't say much at all to the kids about the altitude - not wanting to put ideas into their heads. Walking off the plane the air was cool and definitely much thinner than usual. It was nowhere near as bad as I had anticipated - I'd envisioned it would be like breathing with a plastic bag over your head! It did however only take a few minutes to feel a little dizzy or like your head wasn't quite right. I enjoyed the ride to the accommodation with the window down sucking in as much of the cool air as possible.

Our apartment at the Warra Warra Hostel was perched right on the side of the hill overlooking the central Cusco Plaza, The Plaza De Armas. We had plenty of space and the view was just to die for. The building was quite old but we were well catered for and our kind host Miguel was very accommodating.
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The view of the Plaza from out apartment

Even forewarned of the cool temps it was still a bit of a shock too me. Matt is never one for a winter holiday - instead favouring warmer climates. So here we were armed with puffer jackets and gloves. The temp would drop below zero overnight but we were blessed with warm days in the low to mid twenties. We were keen to check out our surrounds so off we went for a wander. Poor Bellie and Holly began to suffer the effects of the altitude with Bellie throwing up in the Plaza and Holly all of a sudden becoming vey quiet. A quick dinner was therefore had by those who were up to it. Followed by the trudge up the 100 or so stairs. Well now that really and truly messed with your mind. After the first flight of stairs we were all breathing like we had run a marathon, having to stop and rest frequently. It was at that stage Matt became a bit concerned as to ever being able to run the Inca Trail with a pounding headache and racing heart despite only a couple of flights of steps.

Before leaving NZ I (Matt) booked a few half day trips with a local company based in Cusco. I knew with the altitude doing too much in one day would not go well. Our first excursion was a half day trip to Pisac to visit the ruins and also the market. As a bonus we were visiting the market on a Sunday which was the biggest of the week. The ruins were perched on the side of a mountain and gave us a decent climb to explore. Our guide Jamie (pronounced Haime) was a wealth of information. He had grown up in the Sacred Valley where we spent three days touring. His passion for the area and expert knowledge was definitely our gain. The views from the top of Pisac were incredible. Only matched by our appreciation of how hard the Inca people worked build these amazing cities. We spent two hours wandering the site under the midday sun and were relieved to purchase some freshly squeezed orange juice from a local stall holder on the way out. It was a welcome thirst quencher as the midday sun had become very hot. The rest of the afternoon we wandered the market picking up a few trinkets and some fruit to take back to the apartment. We'd missed fruit on Easter Island - it was scarce I guess due to the climate and logistics of importing it. It's amazing how quickly your body starts to crave it. We were lucky to have Jamie introduce us to many fruit we had never seen and would have been otherwise unlikely to purchase.
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The Pisac ruins

The next day we started earlier as we had a full schedule of visiting Chinchero, Moray and Maras. Again all sites in the Sacred Valley.
The town of Chinchero was the first stop. We watched a textile demonstration which was not on the itinerary! Then went into the ancient town. The plaza was really impressive as was the church the Spanish had built with it's beautifully painted ceiling - Christian paintings done by the Inca people.
The highlight though was being able to see and old Peruvian lady of 78 (Lucia) peal some Chuno (Potatoes) - these potatoes were being preserved using an ancient method of freeze drying where the potatoes are frosted, soaked in water and then peeled using your fingers. They are then frosted and dried in the sun several more times until they look like a small white stone. They can apparently be stored this way for many years.
We all had a go and enjoyed the chance. It turns out Holly struggled in the speed department and doesn't have a future in this vocation DSC02093.jpg
Us chipping in with potato peeling
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3 local village ladies on their way to church

From Chincero we drove to Moray where a series of terraced circles where excavated using the contours of the land and were used by the Inca's to experiment with diversifying thier crops in altitude. They started planting at the bottom and gradually moved the crop up a level - it therefore adapted to it's new environment in a gradual and planned way. On our walk around these terraces Jamie showed the kids how to entice the spiders out of their holes using a piece of grass and a dead cricket. The kids shrieked with delight as the spiders snatched a moment out of their holes to grab the bait. He had hoped to entice a tarantula out but fortunately for us we only saw the smaller brown spider. By this time Jamie had become a real hit with the kids. He was forever answering their hundreds of questions - no matter how trivial.
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Moray

The last stop of the day was to the Maras Salt Mines these are pre Incan and fed by a subterranean stream with salt content was 10% compared to sea water which is around 6%. The first view of the salt mines was blindingly bright the kids immediately drew comparisons with the terraces of Pamukale in Turkey. We got to wander the narrow ledges between the various salt pools. Stopping to taste the water and the salt that was the by-product of the evaporation. The pools were split between many farmers who would own and work 20 small pools each.
We finished our big day with a 1 hour trip back into Cusco - these trips in the van are not for the faint hearted as we speed and dodge between both sides of the road. Sometimes it's better to be asleep!
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Our last full day in Cusco Matt and Ben went to their Inca Marathon race meeting. We shopped at the markets and then did a 2 hour Cocoa Chocolate making workshop. We all got to make our own chocolate - the kids were in heaven!
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At the end of each day we had some fun social dinners with the Bolitho's trying out various restaurants near the Plaza De Armas - the vibrant main square and meeting point in Cusco. The kids have loved having other familiar kids to hang with and share the experience of life on the other side of the world. We part company in Cusco but are hoping to catch up in Galapagos again for a night before they return home.
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The Bolitho and Watson Clans enjoying some dinner

Our fifth day was time to move on from Cusco. An early start saw us collected from our apartment at 7 to explore Ollantaytambo and it's surrounds. The tour was a mixture of visiting the ruins and also the local village and catching a glimpse of what life was like. Jaime told more stories of life in the Incan times, the hard work, the worshipping of the natural elements - Earth, Sun and Water and the movement of up to 7 ton rock blocks onto the terraced sites by way of ropes, ramps and pure man power. The kids decided they would not have survived had they been born in the 15th Century. As in all of our visits to these Incan sights the common thread was the same. A sadness that the Spanish had desecrated these sites and in doing so had destroyed an entire culture.

We returned to the Plaza De Armas where Matt and Ben met up with their running tour group to start their adventure while Rach, Anna and the 5 kids headed off on the train to meet them at the end.

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