Thursday, December 22, 2011

Salta, Argentina 16-18 Dec 2011

San Bernardo Hill

After Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, I headed straight to Salta, Argentina. I took an overnight bus to the border town of Bolivia, Villazon, from here I crossed the border to Argentina, border town of Argentina called La Quinca. I made a mistake here by buying my bus ticket to Salta at Villazon, I didn’t understand that the bus leaves from La Quinca Argentinean side. It would have been cheaper buying from there. The border crossing is a pain. First at the Bolivian side, we queued for 2 hours, only to realized at the end that there is a shorter queue for people who are exiting the country, there is no sign or any indication, then we walked across the 50m bridge to the Argentina side, long queue again but this time it only took 1 hr. :-( All in we spent 3 hours for a stretch of 100m distance. After getting our stamp into Argentina, we walked about 5 blocks to the bus terminal where I catch the bus to Salta. Here I ate Empanada , it is like curry puff in Malaysia, with meat and potato inside, it was so good! From La Quinca to Salta, it took around 8 hours, lucky in the bus they played 4 movies in a roll, Spanish spoken with English subtitles :-) Free flow of coffee on board and the journey was comfortable.
First thing I noticed different in Argentina is the road, it’s pave! No more bumpy ride! :-) The country is also cleaner as compared to the others. On the bad side, everything is more expensive here. The exchange is US$1 = AP4.

Salta was a heaven after Bolivia. The weather is warm and the city is clean and green, I can finally wear my shorts and t-shirts again! Internet is fast and food is yummy! No more fried and oily stuff! I don’t remember being so happy finding a Supermarket, it was like a spree! I bought Swiss cheese, Argentinean beef, French saucisson, salad, pasta and cook myself a good meal in the hostel. Ohhh and the coffee here smell coffee and taste like coffee. I didn’t realize I miss it so much until now. Looks like the grass on the other side is greener… :-)

Since I crossed Bolivia in 15 days with many night in the buses, now in Salta I just enjoy being in the hostel, doing my photos, updating my blog, plan my trip, chill and relax. It was a small hostel, clean, quiet and friendly staff. I did some shopping in town, bought a blouse for Christmas, fixed my specs and replaced my slippers and socks. After 7 months of reusing the same thing over and over again, everything starts to wear off.
I planned to leave for Cordoba after 2 nights in Salta, I got a shock when I found out the price, guess how much it cost for the 12hrs bus to Cordoba? US$83 for a semi-cama. Ouch! That is almost my 2 days budget. Hostel s in Cordoba cost minimum A50 or $12, can’t find any cheaper either. Looks like I will have to Couchsurf more often.

On Sunday before I leave with the 845pm bus, I took the cable car up to San Bernardo Hill, there is a beautiful garden up the hill. I had Asado for lunch which is a big piece of BBQ meat with rice and potato. It was so yummy! Then I went for a stroll in the central but nothing was open, it was like a ghost town. This is so different from Bolivia and Peru where the streets and markets are the busiest during Sunday. I met up with Nhat whom I met in La Paz, he just arrived in Salta. We spent the afternoon in the park chatting and drinking beer and ate ½ kg of ice cream. Over here the ice cream shop sells ice cream by weight. :-)
Hostel Del Centro – A40 for 6 bed dorm room with breakfast and WIFI available

Bus from La Quinca to Salta – B215
Taxi from Terminal to Hostel – A9
Bus from Salta to Cordoba – A332

Cable car up/down San Bernardo Hill –A30

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia 13-15 Dec 2011

Day 1

Arrived at Uyuni 8am in the morning, it was cold and raining. The bus ride was again bumpy and uncomfortable. Mary from New Continent Agency was also going for the 3D2N Uyuni trip. I followed her to the Hostel where the Agency in Uyuni is located. I was told there were no other people signed up for the 4D3N trip to Tupiza, so I will have to go with the 3D2N trip which returns back to Uyuni. :-( We are still waiting for a group of 3 french gals and a Peruvian whom will arrive later. We have time till 10:30am before we take off. Our jeep has 7 people in total, 3 French gals, 3 Bolivian, 1 Peruvian and me. I was not very happy with the arrangement because 7 people will be tight. Mary quickly resolved the problem, she let me sit next to the driver. :-) We repacked our bags to bring just the necessities for the 3 days. We finally left around 11am.

Our driver Emilio is our superman, he is the driver, the guide, the waitress and the chef. We first got out of Uyuni town, saw tons of plastic bags littered on the ground…awful! We drove 3km out of town to the Train cemetery, it looks more like a junkyard to me. The trains were mostly used by the mining companies. In the 1940s, the mining industry collapsed, partly due to the mineral depletion. Many trains were abandoned thereby producing the train cemetery.
Next stop is a small town called Colchani where the locals earn their living from selling salt souvenirs and harvesting salt.

After this we headed to the world biggest salt lake, Salar de Uyuni at 10,582 square kilometers. It was like driving on a frozen lake. Due to the heavy down pour the night before, the lake has been flooded with 2-3 inches of water. It looks like a mirror to the sky with the reflection of the cloud and mountain nearby. Amazing!

We stopped by the very first Salt Hotel, the hotel is built by blocks of salt in 1993-1995. However, its location in the center of a desert produced sanitary problems, as most waste had to be collected manually. Mismanagement caused serious environmental pollution and the hotel had to be dismantled in 2002.
We continue to drive to Isla de Pescado or the Fish Island, it is called the fish island due to its fish like shape from far. The terrain is harsh, rocky, hilly and full of cactus. We stopped here for lunch. To ascent to the top of the island, we need to pay B30. I didn’t climb up. Here is the only chance to take our best photos in the Salar due to the flooded water in the lake. After this we continue to Atulcha where we sleep in the Salt Hotel. Almost everything is made out of block of salt, tables, chairs, bed, wall. :-) Despite the cold temperature outside, the salt block actually keep the interior warm. Tonight we had meat for dinner, it was very tough, I thought it was mutton until Emilio told us at the end it was Llama meat. :-( I ate Llama!

Day 2
Woke up at 5:30am hoping to see sunrise but it was too cloudy so I went back to sleep. We departed at 7:30am and left Salar de Uyuni to the south. The landscape changed from Salt to sand, mountain, lake and volcano. We stop at Laguna Canapa @ 4138m for lunch, here we saw some birds and Flamingoes, there are 3 different species of Flamingoes here - Chileno, Andino and James. A fox was looking for food around our picnic site, so we fed him some chicken bones. After lunch we left for a long drive to Laguna Colorada where we will sleep for the 2nd night, along the way we passed 4 other beautiful lagunas surrounded by volcano and mountains. The landscape was mine blowing!

Arrived at Laguna Colorada at 4pm, we have to pay B150 for the National Park fee that is not included in the package. Laguna Colorada (Red Lagoon) is a shallow salt lake, contains borax islands, whose white color and  the reddish is caused by red sediments and pigmentation of some algae. This is why the flamingoes are here. We walked around the lake to the view point, from here we could see thousands of flamingoes living in the lake. I have never seen so many flamingoes in my life! :-)

This night, we slept in a “home stay”, we have to pay B15 for a shower, none of us take it. :-) The room has 6 beds to fit us all in and it was colder then the Salt Hotel. It was cold outside but I couldn’t resist standing outside for couple of minutes to enjoy the view of millions of stars above the horizon of the lake.

Day 3
We had an early start today at 5am. It was great for me because I could watch the sunrise. The sky was clear, I could see lights slowly brighten the horizon of the lake. It was probably 0° outside and I was freezing my ass off trying to take some photos. :-) Emilio hurry us to leave at 5:30am, first we pass by the Geisers. We run out of the car to take some photos then run back in coz it was cold!

We drove over 5000m high across the mountain and arrived at Hot Spring, there was a small pool with hot water flowing thru. I couldn’t wait longer and jump in the pool, it was cold outside but 28° inside! Ahhh! The feeling is inexpressible!  Now I understand why the Japanese enjoy the Hot Spring in Winter. :-)

volcano Licancabur

Another 2 hours drive, we reached our final destination, Laguna Verde. The view was incredible! The blue sky with Volcano Licancabur at the background and the green lake, any shots taken here is a picture perfect! :-) After here we returned to Uyuni, it was a long 7 hours drive back with beautiful landscape.
I think everyone who visits Bolivia can’t leave without doing this trip. It is the Best of Bolivia!

Included in the package

Jeep transfer included in the package
Bus from Uyuni to Villazon – B90

3D2N to Salar de Uyuni – B650
Entrance fee to Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina – B150

Saturday, December 17, 2011

La Paz, The Death Road and Pampas, Bolivia 3-12 Dec 2011

La Paz is the highest capital city in the world, we arrived at 10pm at night, took a taxi straight to the hostel. It wasn’t as cold as we thought. Near to the hostel, there were a lot of stalls on the street, by the time we checked in and come out for dinner, most of them are closing. We found a place for dinner, they sell few different type of fried fish.  Seems like everything is fried here, fried chicken, fried meat, fried fish, fried potatoes, etc… not so healthy. We had fried fish, corns and potatoes for dinner :-( very oily! This night we didn’t sleep well because the room is at the front street and there were couples of bars on the street, too much noise all night long. We moved to another hotel the next day.

Walking around La Paz is a challenge because the streets are 45° uphill or downhill. It’s difficult to breath at this altitude. On the 2nd day, we went shopping, there were many make shift stalls around our hostel, selling shoes, cloths, toys, food, anything that you can think of. :-) There are also lots of souvenirs shops as well. While I was walking on the street I took some photos of the street stalls, an old lady selling crackers across the street waved to me with a smile, I went over and suddenly she grabbed my camera and asked me to pay. I was shocked! Antoine came over to help. I even deleted the photo in front of her but she refused to let go, then I told her I will buy some crackers from her and Antoine was also fighting for her to let go my camera. WTH! I was getting piss off and at the end she agreed with me to buy from her, I just refused to pay her for nothing. Friendly BOLIVIAN huh! We continue to shop, Antoine and Anthony bought lots of stuff, I bought a table cloth, hammock and matt to post back home as the postage is the cheapest in Bolivia. I had like 3.2kg of souvenirs including some from Ecuador, Peru and Costa Rica. It cost me B520 for the postage. The exchange for US$ to Boliviano is US$1=B6.9.

Day 3, I went to a few agencies in La Paz to look for a package for biking down The Death Road and tour to Pampas. I found Nuevo Continent Agency, the lady working there “Mary” is very friendly and helpful. I booked both the trip from her and she helps me with the bus ticket to Rurrenabaque. Antoine and Anthony left to Sorata for trekking. They wanted to climb Huayna Potosi which is at 6088m. I think I would have frozen before I reach the top, so I opt for trip to Amazonias. :-) It was great travelling with them for a few days.
The Death Road
Day 4 in La Paz, woke up at 630am. I have to be at El Solario at 7am for breakfast before we take off to The Death Road. I was given a set of equipments which are a Thermal cycling T-shirt, a long trouser, a jacket, a helmet, a pair of gloves, and a pair of elbow and knee protection. We left in a group of 16 in 2 van. We have 3 guides. First we drove to La Cumbre at 4700m, there we gear up and get our specific bike that we paid for. There were 4 different types of bikes ranging from B290 to B420. I chose the 3rd class with Hydraulic Disk Brakes. First we test our brakes then the gear, everything is good and we are ready to go. We first ride down the pave road to try our bike. Overtake some buses and trucks on the way and then we stop at the police post where we need to walk across with our bike. It was very COLD! We were all freezing. We then have to pay B25 to access The Death Road.

Why is it called The Death Road? It’s because the extreme dropoffs of at least 600 meters, single-lane width – most of the road no wider than 3.2 metres and lack of guard rails, the road is extremely dangerous. Further still, rain, fog and dust can reduce visibility. In many places the road surface is muddy, and can loosen rocks from the road but since the new highway opens in 2006, there was less traffic that passes thru this road. We did many stops along the way to take photos, fixed some flat wheel and wait for the slow cyclist. One guy who has rented the best bike fell. He hit a rock and flew, the cyclist behind him run over him and fell as well. They were both lucky that they didn’t plunge into the cliff. He injured his knees and had a few scratches on his arm. He took the van after that, no more cycling for him. We teased him for getting the best bike. :-p We finished at Yolosa at around 3pm. Only the last few hundred meters required paddling. We all made it and survived. :-)
Day 5, I took a bus to Rurre at 11:30am, I have to get to Rurre for the Pampas tour. Pampas tour is a trip into the Amazonia Basin with boat and stay overnight at the jungle hut for 2 nights, we do some trekking and boat ride to look for anaconda, crocodile, alligator, birds, and other animals. There were 2 options to get there, either fly or take a bus. The flight was B500 versus B80 by bus, obviously I chose the bus. It was suppose to be a 16 hrs bus ride but ended with 21 hours. The bus was overloaded with goods under and above. I just hope that it doesn’t overturn into the cliff. :-( There was some land slide on the way and lots of stops. The journey was rough, dusty, and hot. I felt like my lung has aged for years after this journey! Half way down the journey, a fat lady sat next to me and she was so fat that her arm overlapped on me. I was suffocated, I couldn’t move. It was horrible, I got thru the night and when the bus reached a place where some people got off, I changed my seat immediately. Finally we get there at 9:30am on day 6. I almost couldn’t recognize my backpack as it came out covered with dust!

Day 6, I am still not there yet, at Rurre, I joined the tour group, we leave on a 4x4 jeep 3 hours to arrive to the river.  In the jeep we were 9, 1 Australian with his Filipina girlfriend, 2 Spanish, 1 Israeli, 1 French, 1 Swiss, 1 Japanese and 1 Malaysian, very international! :-) After lunch we left with the boat, it was another 2 hours into the river before reaching to our cabanas. Along the way, we saw many alligators, caimans, birds, monkeys, pink dolphins and capybaras. We were all excited to spot all these animals! We took tons of photos of alligators up close and personal.

Finally after 26 hours, I arrived at Fluvial Cabanas. First thing I did was to get a shower, ahhhh… I felt so fresh and good after. We had a snack and off we go to watch the sunset. It wasn’t great as it was cloudy but I felt good to be there.  After dusk, we went hunting for alligator and crocodile in the river. With our torch, we could see their red eyes popping out from the water. The guide caught a baby alligator for us to take photos before we went back to our cabanas.
Day 7, wake up at 8am, the weather was shit, it has been raining all night long and it was still raining in the morning. We waited till 10am, the guide said we will go hunt for anaconda in the pampas. We put on our poncho and rubber boots and off we go, it was still pouring. The rain made the hunt more difficult because anacondas usually hide in hole when the weather is cold. We walked in the tall grass bush and flooded ground trying to find the anaconda. After about an hour, the guide finally found one but it was death. Well, it’s better than nothing. Everyone took a photo and after that we split into 2 groups, one groups wished to go back and another wished to continue. I chose to continue, it was kind of fun too walking in the rain. We reached a pool full of alligators, the water was at knee high with some pot holes, we walked along the pool carefully not to step into any alligator, water got into our boots and at the end we were wet inside out even with the poncho. The guide found a caiman at his nest, he was around 2.5m long I guess, he was quiet anxious when we got close. We stayed like 5m away from the nest. We took some photos and went back to the cabanas for lunch and a siesta.

In the afternoon, they went fishing for piranhas. I decided to stay and chill in the hammock. It was really nice and quiet after everyone left and I could watch the alligators, caimans and dolphins swim by the river, birds flying by, Howling monkeys, squirrel monkeys and another type of monkeys were on the trees. Just enjoy the jungle all for myself. :-( They came back with loads of cat fishes and piranhas. We had them for dinner.

Day 8, woke up at 5am for the sunrise, we were suppose to go to another place to watch the sunrise but no sign of the guide coz they were drunk the night before. Well, it was nice to watch the jungle slowly woken up with the sunrise and the call of howling monkeys and birds. I love waking up in the jungle with the sound of nature. Today we went swimming with the pink dolphins but there were too shy, they kept a distance from the boat. No luck! We left around 11am and arrived Rurre around 4pm. I have my bus booked for the night back to La Paz, I was not really looking forward to the 21 hours ride. :-(
Day 9, I spent the whole day in the bus, and finally got back to La Paz at 6pm, the journey was ok, only 18 hours! :-) Back to the cold weather and altitude, I have to walk much slower to catch my breath. I went back to Cactus Hostel, got the same room and same room mate.

Day 10, today first thing after breakfast was to send my 6 days of dirty clothes to laundry and book my bus to Uyuni. I went back to the same agency and Mary was there. I have asked for a 4D3N Uyuni to Tupiza trip, but she could not promise me the trip, we need 5 to go so hopefully there will be enough people to go when I arrived in Uyuni. If not I will have to take the 3D2N trip that return to Uyuni. There is an option to cross to Chile after the 3D2N trip but I didn’t want to because my passport is running out of pages. I will save the space for after Argentina. So left with the 7pm bus to Uyuni. It was another 12 hours bumpy ride.

To be continue...Salar de Uyuni
Hostel El Solario – B25 for quad dorm room with shared bathroom and WIFI available but didn’t work.
Hotel Maya Inn – B50 for triple shared with continental breakfast, shared bathroom and WIFI available.
Hostel Cactus– B30 for double dorm room with shared bathroom.

Taxi from Terminal to Hostel – B10 each way
Taxi from hostel to V. Fatima Bus Terminal – B15
Bus from Rurre to La Paz – B80
Collectivo from V. Fatima Bus Terminal to Hotel – B2
Bus from La Paz to Uyuni – B120

Biking the Death Road with the 2rd class bike – B320
Entrance fee to Death Road – B25
3D2N Pampas tour – B680 include bus from La Paz to Rurre
Entrance fee to Pampas Park – B150

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Puno, Peru and Isla Del Sol, Bolivia 1-3 Dec 2011

The stop at Puno is for only one purpose, to do my Bolivia Visa. Puno is the border town of Peru by Lake Titicaca. I had all my papers ready to visit the Bolivian Embassy. Photocopy of Bus ticket to Bolivia, print out of Bank statement, photocopy of passport, photocopy of yellow fever certification, print out of my itinerary, print out of hotel which I planned to stay in Copacabana, a passport size photo, and the application form filled up. I hope it’s all what they need for my visa. I was the first person at the embassy, the man just asked me where I am from and how long do I want to stay in Bolivia, he checked all my papers and then said ok come back at 2pm. :-) I guess that is pretty much an OK. I was really happy.

I had a stroll around Puno market and town, there is nothing much. Back to the hostel, there is internet. I just spent the morning updating my blog. I wanted to go to Urus Island in the morning, the only tourist attraction in Puno, but I need to return to the embassy to collect my passport so I could only go in the afternoon. The hostel has a tour that leaves at 2:45pm, thought it is a bit late but I have no choice.
Everything went well, my visa was ready on time, it was a 30 days visa in Bolivia, and I don’t have to pay anything. I am all set to see Bolivia. While walking back to the hostel, in front of the church there was a dance performance. A group of students from a local Art school was performing some traditional dance and modern dance. It is always interesting to watch their costume and dance and listen to their traditional music. The sky starts to turn cloudy by 2pm, I rushed back to the hostel to cancel my trip to Urus because no point going if it starts to rain. I was more enjoying the performance then going to Urus. By late afternoon, the temperature drop to freezing cold. It got worse when the wind blows. I rushed back to the hostel and hide under my blanket. Thank goodness I didn’t go to Urus Island I thought, it would have been so cold that I couldn’t enjoy the trip.

I am ready to leave Puno to Bolivia, my bus leave 7:30am. It was a 3 hours bus ride to Copacabana, a town next to Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side. The border crossing was smooth, the bus assistant gave us a briefing of what we have to do at the border. At Peru side we first go to the Police post to get a stamp out on our white card. Those who lost their white card have to pay S15 for the penalty. Once we get the stamp from the Police post, we then go next door to the Peruvian custom to stamp out on our passport. Then we walked 100m across to the Bolivian custom. At the Bolivian custom I showed them my visa and they stamped on my passport. That’s it! Then we get back in the bus to continue to Copacabana.

I wanted to visit the Sun Island or Isla Del Sol. Isla Del Sol is located in Lake Titicaca, the biggest island in the lake. From Copacabana we can take a 2 hours speedboat to the south of the island. The island is not very far but the boat is slow. There are only 2 schedules per day, one at 8:30am and one at 2:30pm. I had my lunch “Fried Fish with rice” or local called it “Trucha Frita” famous dish b the lake and then I bought my ticket to the island. I planned to stay at the south island where there are more hostels. While waiting for the boat to leave, I saw 2 familiar guys walking to the boat, Antoine and Anthony whom I met in the train coming back from Machupicchu. I knew there were going to the island too but I thought they will take the morning boat instead. Well, seems like they didn’t make it for the morning boat and now we are on the same boat. I was happy to bump into them, they then decided to find a hostel in the south as well. :-)
The Inka steps
We arrived at the south island, we only saw a few houses and hostel from the shore. Where are the villages?  Before I came I read about the Inka steps that goes 200m uphill. Everyone said to leave the big bags at Copacabana but I was too lazy to repack my bag, so now I have to deal with it. Climbing the killer steps with my 16kg backpack + 5kg in front to look for a hostel…. :-( bad idea! Luckily Antoine helps me with my small bag. But it was still very tough, as Lake Titicaca is at 3800m, at this altitude even without a bag it’s hard. I took many stops along the way, I felt like my body is going to break and I am going to die soon. The freaking hostel is at the top of the hill! At the end I finally made it, Antoine and Anthony were already there checking out the price and rooms. The view is awesome! We have a balcony overseeing the lake and the Glacier Mountains. We tried to bargain for a cheaper price but the lady didn’t want to reduce. We went checking another hostel higher on the hill, they were willing to give us for B5 less but at the end we all preferred to stay at this one because it was newer.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the south island, we met a bunch of kids which show us the way to see the sunset, and unfortunately it was cloudy. We asked the kids about the route to the north, how we can escape the fees. The kids told us we could trek on the route close to the sea and villages without paying the fees.  Sounds like a plan! At night we went for dinner around 8pm but we were having tough time looking for a restaurant that opens. We almost finished by buying some biscuits from the shops till the lady from the shop show us a small restaurant behind her shop which is still serving food. Phew!

The next day, we woke up at 5am to see the sunrise, it was still cold and dark. We found a spot next to the ponnys pit to squad and wait for the sunrise. It was a clear day, no cloud and we watched the sky slowly light up with the beam of the sun. It was awesome! One of the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen. After the sunrise, we went back to bed, today we planned to trek to the north island and back to Copacabana with the afternoon speedboat. We left around 9:30pm after a wonderful breakfast at the balcony.

The trek was easy, as the view kept us busy, we walked by the hill, by the beach, through a couple of villages and finally arrived at the north island around 12:30. We managed to escape the fees. At the north island we enquired about the boat ride back, as it could be pretty rush for us to walked back to catch the 4pm boat. We have to pay B25 for the boat ride back to the south island, pick up our bag and then head to Copacabana, sounds like a deal! So we spent the last 30 minutes visiting the museum. The museum display some art effect which they discover in the lake from the Inka. Too bad we didn’t have enough time to visit the ruins but it was still a great day.
Antoine, Anthony and me
Now back to the south island for the final climb up the Inka steps to get our bags from the hostel. I swear I will never climb his steps again! :-( We left to Copacabana and took the 6:30pm bus to La Paz.

Hostel The Point  - S25 for quad dorm room with private bathroom, breakfast and WIFI available.
Hostel Las Islas– B30 for triple share with shared bathroom.

Taxi from Terminal to Hostel – S3
Speedboat from Copacabana to south of Isla Del Sol – B10
Speedboat from north of Isla Del Sol to south of Isla Del Sol then to Copacabana – B25

Entrance fee to Copacabana town – B1
Entrance fee to south of Isla Del Sol – B5
Museum in Isla Del Sol – B5

Friday, December 2, 2011

Machupicchu and Waynapicchu 4D3N Jungle Inka Trek, Peru 23-27 Nov 2011

Day 1
We waited for the pick up at 7:30am, they came to pick us up at 8am. We took a taxi to another gathering place, there we were gathered into a van with bicycle loaded on the roof top, we were 15 in the bus including 2 guides. We had another stop for them to switch some bikes before we finally take off at 9am.

Our guide Alex told us we will spilt in 2 groups, there are 3 including a guide from different agency in the minibus. Our group will be 12, one Australian guy will be only joining us for the bicycle ride as he is doing only the 3D2N Trek. All right so 11 to a guide, supposedly should be 10 to 1 guide. Cutting corners!
We had 3 hours minibus ride from Cusco to Abra Malaga @ 4350m where we will get off and gear up and ride down with our bicycle to a town close to Santa Maria @ 1250m. That is a 2100m descent. The journey up to the top was beautiful, breathtaking view of valley, waterfall, rivers and mountains. We arrived to the top around 12 noon but it was very misty and raining. A bit too dangerous to start the biking so the guide decided to move on further down to find a spot less misty and rain. We drove for another 15 minutes and stop at an empty area.

It was still raining and cold. All the bikes were off loaded. We were given a helmet, gloves and a safety vest. We were given a safety briefing, always stay 1m behind the next bike and always keep to the right. If we have any problem with our bike, stop and the minivan will stop to help. The guide did a final check on all the bicycle brakes and another briefing were given regarding the brake and gear. Final adjustment to our bikes, gear, seats and test drive, we are all set! All set in our poncho and safety gear. Off we go! The minivan will tail us from the back.

The road was pave 99% we were going down 80% and 20% was flat where we need to paddle. A couple of pit stop and brake fix, we zoom down the mountain. I can’t feel my fingers and nose anymore…it was freezing! :-) We crossed couple of rivers that run thru the road and at the end about 500m of unpaved road. It was a breeze. We arrived around 3pm at the small town to drop our bikes, and then the minivan sent us to Santa Maria which is 1 hour away. We were starving! We took our lunch at 4pm. The rest of the afternoon was free and easy. Santa Maria is a really small town, only 1 main street with a few restaurants and shops. We all slept early prepare for the tough day tomorrow.

Day 2
Breakfast at 7:00am and we start our trek 7:30am. Our breakfast was either pancake with banana and chocolate or scramble egg. For those who ordered pancake had a huge regret because the pancake was just a piece of crepe wrap with half a banana with some honey on top. We were still hungry after the breakfast. We were given option to send our stuff which we do not need during the trek to our next stop. The charges were S5 per bag. We weren’t told the options during our briefing in Cusco :-( else I could have brought more cloths. So we sent all our cloths in a shared bag to Santa Teresa. It’s better with only carrying water, camera and some food.

Coca Plants next to Alex
We started with an easy walk on the road along the Urubamba River, Alex explained us about the Urubamba River and what it did to Aguas Caliente last year when Machupicchu was shut down for 3 months. Every year during the raining seasons from January to March, the rivers destroy everything by the bank, including villages, farms, plantations, road and bridges. We were glad we had a sunny day today, we reached our first resting point. It’s a house of a local, she lives out of coffee and fruits plantations. She sells us fruits and drinks and fried some trout from the river and cooks us some tapioca. She gave us some coca leave to try as well. The coca plantation here are planted for their own consumptions only, selling is illegal. At the end Alex asked us for some tips for her which I think it’s fair.

After the break we had a 2 hours up hill, we had another pit stop before we reached the 1km Inka trail. The Inka trail is right at the edge of the mountain with sheer drops to the Urubamba River. We walked really close to the wall to avoid any accident. At the highest point of the Inka Trail, Alex gave us a briefing about the story of Inka Empire. We were all sitting close to the wall where he was standing at the edge of the trail. :-) We then continue for another 2 hours decent to a small village called Qellomayo for our lunch. We had a 30 mins snooze in the hammock after lunch.

It was our final stretch of walking along the river side until we reached the Hot Spring at Colcamayo. We crossed a few hanging bridge and 1 basket crossing. The basket crossing is where there is a cable tied across the river and a basket for 2/3 person hangs on the cable with a rope to pull yourself over. We have to pay the guy S1 to pull us over. It wasn’t as scary as I thought.
ColcamayoWe arrived around 5:30pm at the hot spring, exhausted! Our feet were numb and our body was raising red flag! After a cold beer we all jump into the hot spring, ahhhh… it was the best moment of the day! We soaked there for 2 hours till they kick us out. :-) We were supposed to walk the last stretch (1 hour) to Santa Teresa but all of us raised white flag! We took and minibus instead. We paid S5 for the 15 minutes ride.

At night after dinner, Alex invited us to go partying. We were exhausted but we went to have a look. After a few drinks at the club, we became energized again and we danced whole night till 2am in the morning. :-)

Day 3
Meeting time was 8am for breakfast. All of us woke up with a hung over. No one was looking forward for another day of walking. Even the restaurant owner was late for the breakfast because he was also partying hard last night. We finally got our breakfast at 9am but still no sign of Alex our guide. At 9:30am he finally appeared obviously with a hung over as well. :-) Some of us already decided to take a bus to the next stop. Well, Alex suggested that we should not miss the first part of the trek where we will trek to a waterfall, and then from the waterfall, we could take a bus to Hydro Electric for the last 3 hours of walking to Aguas Caliente. We all agreed to walk the first 1 hour to the waterfall. It was not a huge waterfall but after an hour walked under the hot sun, dipping in the waterfall was just refreshing. We cut 2 hours from of walking by taking the minibus.

Arrived at Hydro Electric for lunch, here is where the train trek ends. From here we will walked by the train trek all the way to Aguas Caliente. It took us around 3 hours. Along the walk we saw the peak of Machupicchu and Waynapicchu. The walk was pretty relaxing, flat and shady. We got to Aguas Caliente arund 5pm. We were all relief to make it here. Aguas Caliente is also called a Gringo Town which obviously carries the name. It is really touristic, full of restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops and foreigner everywhere. Because it is so hard to get here, either walk or train, everything is 50% more expensive here. A plate of pasta is S15! A hamburger is S10! :-( Lucky we had our dinner and breakfast covered! Francois and me were check in to a very nice Hotel. We got individual room for ourselves, with cable TV, double bed, tower and soap. Wow! A little surprise at the end! :-) The rest were checked into to a hostel because they went with other agency.

During dinner, Alex gave us a briefing about tomorrow’s plan. He had a bad news for us, he forgot his Guide Pass, so he can’t guide us to Machupicchu but he got his friend help to cover him up. More bad news, the 2 German couple didn’t receive their Machupicchu and train tickets. And more bad news Francois and I didn’t receive our Machupicchu tickets as well. It was already late, Alex arrived at our hotel just in time, he helps us manage the situation with the agency. For Francois, he is only going to Machupicchu, they can get him his ticket tomorrow morning at 5am once the office is open and the agency will pay for his bus ride up to Machupicchu since he can’t make it for the tour if he walks from 5am. For me it is impossible to get me my Machupicchu and Wanapicchu tickets because they only allow 400 visitors up to Waynapicchu per day. The tickets for tomorrow have been sold out. The agency told Alex to tell me to go to the Mountana. When I heard it I was pissed off! It’s like there is no apple take the orange. F@#@$! I insisted I want to go to Waynapicchu, if not tomorrow the day after. I was angry the fact that for 3 days the agency didn’t get the problem resolved until we arrived to the hotel. So the agency said there are tickets for the day after and they will pay for an additional night in the hotel for me, plus a guide when I visit Machupicchu. Phew! Cool! All problems sorted except for the 2 German couple which still has no news about their tickets. Alex had to hunt down the agency and yet still no news about their tickets.

Day 4
Since I don’t have to go Machupicchu today, I slept in! :-) Woke up at 9am and found that I have missed my breakfast time. The guy from the hotel was looking for me, he said there is a problem with my student card, it’s false! Shit! I though in my heart, yes it’s false, I made it in Thailand. But I have to pretend that it is real. So I have to go to the office with him to verify that, when I arrived at the ticket office the guy showed me a stack of similar cards that he has comfisticated. He questioned me where did I get my card? I have to stay cool and said I got it from my university in Singapore. I don’t know why it is false! I knew I have to give in and buy the non student ticket, so I told the guy to pay for the non student price instead. It was $20 extra. I wanted my card back at the end and he made a hole on my card. Well, I wasn’t happy but I couldn’t say much! :-( Now that I have got my ticket, I need to change my train ticket. We went to the train station to make the change, I have to top up $7.50 to change to the 6:30pm train. No choice!

For the rest of the day, I spent in my bed watching cable TV. Since I only have S30 (US$10) left with me, I can’t do much. I still have 2 dinners to cover with what’s left. Francois came back around 2pm, we have a chat, he had a great day up at Machupicchu this morning. He and the rest left with the 6:30pm train. The 2 Germans have to pay for their tickets to Machupicchu and didn’t get to visit Waynapicchu. They hope to get their refund from the agency when they get back to Cusco. Well, lucky me I don’t have to pay anything, instead I still owe the agency US$20. :-(

Day 5

It’s finally time for me to visit Machupicchu. My guide tour is at 7:45am, so I could sleep a bit late. I had my breakfast at 5:30am. At 5:50am I started to walk to the bridge. It was a 20 minutes downhill walk and after the bridge, it was a straight ascent up from 1900m to 2425m. It was tough, steps all the way. I was watching more the steps then the view. I made it up in 50minutes. The other option was to take the tourist bus, one way is $6. I couldn’t afford. :-( Anyway I made it up, I had 45 minutes rest before the tour start. By 8am, there are already tons of tourists queuing. I joined one of the English group. The tour was around 2 hours. It was quiet interesting to hear how the place was discovered yet lots of info are still pretty unclear. I was lucky again that the weather was perfect. Machupicchu and Waynapicchu was standing beautifully with the clear blue sky. Pictures after pictures!
Finally is my time to ascent Waynapicchu. There are only 2 group per day, each group consists of only 200 visitors. Group 1 was at 7am and group 2 was at 10am. From 10am, the second group can start their ascent. Long queue again at the entrance, I started climbing around 10:45am. The path was steep and narrow, slowly and carefully I arrived at the peak at 12:30 noon taking some time along the way to enjoy the beautiful view around. At the peak of Waynapicchu, we can see the entire valley surrounding Machupicchu. It was incredible! I just sat there and enjoy the moment.

By 1pm, the guard started to chase us down, and the sky is turning grey as well. By the time I reach Machupicchu, it started to drizzle. After my packed lunch I started my decent from Machupicchu around 2:30pm, half way down it starts to pour. Oh! Gosh! I am glad I have a waterproof bag, everything else is wet including me. Back at Aguas Caliente around 3:30pm to the hotel to get my stuff, couldn’t take any shower, did a quick wipe and change into the same cloths that I wear before. Yeah! I have been wearing the same pants for 4 days now, I think that’s the first time in my life I get so dirty. :-(

My train left on time and I got to Cusco around 10:30pm. The entire 5 days has been challenging physically, the achievement and the experience is worthless! I am glad I did it! :-)

Including in the package 1 night Hostel in Santa Maria, 1 night Hostel in Santa Teresa and 2 nights in Aguas Caliente.

Bicycle, Walk, Busket ride across the river S1 x 1, Minibus S5 x 2 and Train.

Banos Termales – S5