Memories not Dreams – Bucket List – Trek the Inca Trail, Peru

I cannot remember when I first learnt of the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. I can only assume it was from the numerous travel books and travel shows that consumed my time from the moment I took my first trip abroad with my parents. As I got older, trekking the Inca Trail started getting further to the top of my bucket list until it was number one and has been for many years now. And here I am, October 2018 and ‘hike the Inca Trail’ can now be ticked off. Check!

As we were told by our guide on day one, it is more than just a hike, it is a journey. I know this sounds cliché but honestly, it is true. Ok, so not in a sacred way as it is for the Peruvians and for our guide, but for me, it showed me that I can make dreams become memories no matter how long it may take, and also that I can push my body to its limit to accomplish what I want.

The Classic Inca Trail is an ancient trail through the Andes mountain range, past the Amazon Jungle and along Inca stone paths leading to a 15th Century Inca city, Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was abandoned by the locals when the Spanish invaded Peru so as to keep it hidden. It then remained undiscovered until 1911 when it was discovered by an American explorer. Machu Picchu is now a World Heritage Site and is known as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Day one had our group of nine, led by Leo and assisted by Frederico, ease into the four day trek. Along the way we were taught some of the history of the Incas and the Inca Trail and educated on the wildlife and flora and fauna of Peru. All very interesting and a welcome distraction from the climb. A few hours into the walk we went off track towards the edge of a huge drop. We were then asked to take off our bags and cameras, stand in a line linking arms, close our eyes and take steps forward. We had to totally trust Leo because we assumed there was a sheer drop ahead of us. After about 20 steps we were told to stand and listen to the sounds of nature and after 15 seconds open our eyes. Upon opening our eyes we were pleasantly surprised to be overlooking the drop and down onto stunning Inca terraces.

The first day was just as hard as every other, even though it was supposed to be the gentler one. My body was having to get used to the altitude, the terrain and the amount of work it had to do in one day. My mind was telling me it was difficult but my body just kept pushing on and once I reached camp, the sense of achievement was over whelming.

Dead Woman’s Pass

Day two was a very tough day. It was the day we had to tackle Dead Woman’s Pass. It is given this name because the peaks of the mountains look like a woman laying down. It is also known for the height and the step like trail leading to the top of the mountain. 4100m above sea level, climbing for hours with very thin air and the hot sun beating down on us, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. My body was exhausted, but I never wanted to give up. With my head down and at a slow pace, controlling my breathing, I just kept climbing and I did it! As we all know; what goes up must come down, and reaching the peak of the mountain only meant we had to go down, to reach camp. Easy you would think, wrong. The rocks were slippery, uneven, huge and very steep, the impact on your knees and ankles is agony and because you don’t lose breath as much as going up, there is no resting; just a continuous slog down for three hours. Through all the pain and lack of energy, not once did I hate it or wish I wasn’t doing it, it is such a strange emotion, and I strangely loved every minute of it.

Day three was the longest day of walking. With yet another 5am start we started the morning with a steep climb until we reached the first of four Inca sites we would see that day. The day consisted of lots of inclines and declines but it was all worth it when we found ourselves walking on a ledge of the mountain looking down onto the start of the Amazon Jungle. By the time I reached camp I was exhausted and my feet were in some pain from the downward steps. But all was forgotten once I sat down for another amazing meal and thought about what I had achieved and experienced.

Admiring the new wonder of the world, Machu Picchu, does not come easy when you do the four day trek but I wouldn’t have done it any other way. With a 3am start on day four, we still had a morning of hiking ahead of us, with exhausted bodies but excited minds, we conquered the monkey steps and made it to The Sun Gate in time for the clouds to part and catch our first glimpse of the famous Inca site. The sight was just as grand as I had imagined. However, the trek wasn’t over. Leo led us down the mountain and with a very tired body I continued to trek with my head down. Assuming I was nearing the site, I looked up and my eyes suddenly caught sight of the magical Machu Picchu. It exceeded my expectations and I couldn’t wait to start exploring. But first, I had a very big surprise waiting for me. My boyfriend led me to the top of the Inca terraces away from the 3,000+ plus tourists that had started making their way into Machu Picchu via the train and, you may have guessed, he got down on one knee!!! I was so taken aback with happiness that the tears wouldn’t stop flowing. Needless to say, I said yes! My Inca Trail experience couldn’t haven’t been any better. Two dreams came true in one trip.

I was very fortunate to be part of a great group, my biggest fear was being part of a group that I felt I was holding back. We all went at the same pace and it felt as though we were all at the same ability level, although I am sure some of the group could have raced on ahead, we all stuck together and achieved it together.

I booked my tour with GAdventures and they were amazing. Our guides were friendly, informative, helpful, happy, funny and encouraging. I would certainly recommend Leo as a guide! The porters were unbelievable, carrying our food and tents on their backs, up and down the mountains that we struggled so much with. The food was like fine dining in a tent. How the chefs cook up so much delicious and nutritional food that they too have had to climb the mountain with and cook from a tent is beyond me. The porters would race past us on the mountain and set up camp in the stunning surroundings for when we arrived. Nothing is allowed to be left on the mountain, quite understandably, and so everything is carried, set up and packed away by the porters every day. They do such an amazing job. The squat toilets on the trail, not so perfect, but at least there were some! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A lot of the money paid to GAdventures by tourists, goes straight into Peruvian communities. Providing job opportunities for all adult ages and abilities, creating communities so that women can finally work and support their families, and most of all, they help to keep the history and culture of the Incas alive.

Peru is full of culture and beauty with so much history and beautiful surroundings. And what really stood out to me, is how happy the Peruvians are. The children always have the biggest smiles on their faces. It was an honour to be welcomed into their country.

I would like to pass on a few tips, which were passed to me and for which I am extremely thankful for:

1. Use/hire walking poles. I have never used walking poles before but they really helped lessen the impact on my knees.
2. Hire a mattress for the tent. The tents are pitched on the mountain in natural surroundings!
3. Wear knee supports. Even if you have never had problems with your knees before, they are worth investing in.
4. Take lots of snacks. GAdventures provide plenty of nutritional meals and they also provide a snack pack at the start of the four days, but you will probably need the extra snacks along the way.
5. Pack light.

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The country that has it all. 🇳🇿

📍Fox Glacier to 📍Wanaka to Queenstown📍

The South Island of New Zealand certainly hasn’t disappointed. It truly is as beautiful as the internet shows. Less than an hours drive and the scenery changes, from lush green rolling hills, to coastal roads, to snow cap mountains, to stunning blue lakes, to fun towns and cities. I never get bored of gazing out of the car window. Once you leave the West Coast hills and beaches it’s the beautiful blue lakes which take your breath away. Some so vast and blue they can easily be mistaken for the Indian Ocean.

2712E55F-42A4-4C17-8611-DBABD5C132E8On any trip there will always be a particular moment or event that slightly stands out more in your memory, and for this trip I think it will be the time we spent at Wanaka. Our tent was pitched with a beautiful view of the mountains and the lake where we toasted marshmallows under the most amazing, starriest sky I have ever seen, took a morning swim in the fresh lake and listened to the man playing the piano by ‘that Wanaka Tree’.

The serenity of the lake wasn’t to last long as our next stop was the ‘adrenaline capital of the world’ – Queenstown. Queenstown is also centred by a lake and surrounded by mountains but people are gliding off the mountains or biking down them and jet skiing on the lake. The buzz of Queenstown is contagious and within 2 hours of being there we were karting around the mountain on Luges. The following day we were being thrown around a jet boat through a rocky gorge and swinging from a canyon!

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The Shotover jet boat was so much fun and a great way to get our adrenaline going as our driver sped through shallow water narrowly missing the rocks. From the jet boat we headed to the canyon swing. As you know I have skydived before, but this was a totally different feeling. The guys playfully messed with our heads, whilst strapping us together for our tandem jump, into a swing position, until they pulled the cord which let us freefall 60 metres vertically down a steep rocky cliff before swinging 200 metres across the canyon river. The sensation of the drop is indescribable other than ‘my stomach was in my mouth’ and ‘it was amazing’. And yes, I would definitely do it again.

We spent two nights in Queenstown and stayed at a lovely house called Spa B&B. The owner was so friendly and kept the place sparkling clean. We had a huge bed with yet another beautiful view of the lake and mountains. We were even able to watch the sunset from our bed.

The stunning views were not to stop there. Our next accommodation was in Lake Tekapo where we stayed in a shared house and the view from our bed was of yet more mountains and another stunning lake; this one so blue it looked like a swimming pool from a distance. We have been truly spoilt with our morning views on this trip.

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Only a few days left of our amazing trip and these have been spent back in Christchurch and Akaroa with my boyfriends family and friends, eating, drinking, swimming in the sea and enjoying the sunshine.

An amazing road trip which felt like a different holiday each day. I have loved every minute and will definitely be coming back. I know this beautiful country has so much more to offer.

Kiwis and Glaciers

📍Hokitika to Fox Glacier📍

Opening the curtain the next morning I was happy to see the sun shining again. Now we just had to hope that the road leading to our next destination was open. We had been told the night before that the bad weather had caused a land slide and the road was closed. This would mean a seven hour diversion instead of a two hour drive to Fox Glacier. Biding our time until we could get an update on the road we visited the aquarium so that we could see New Zealand’s national bird, the Kiwi. The Kiwi is very endangered and also a very shy flightless bird, which means it is very rare to see one. Luckily for us it was feeding time at the aquarium and so the two kiwis came out of hiding to eat. They are kept in a dark enclosure and so you would usually have to look carefully, but on this occasion they kept walking directly in front of the glass so we got to see them up close. It was also feeding time for the eels and I was actually allowed to feed them and stroke them. I always assumed eels would be slimey but they felt more squidgy than slimey.

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Hokitika is famous for its greenstone (Jade) and calls itself Jade Country. It is tradition for Jade to be gifted and true to tradition, my boyfriend bought me a lovely Jade necklace after a walk around one of the Jade factory shops.

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After lunch we got the good news that the road had been cleared and was now open, so we got in the car and headed for Fox Glacier. But first, a little detour of course. We drove down to Hokitika Gorge where we could take a short walk to the blue-green water and dip our feet in the cold water which comes straight from the mountains.

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Arriving in Fox Glacier the skies had clouded over but our accommodation was so nice, we didn’t care. We stayed in Fox Glacier Lodge which was a lovely cabin overlooking the mountains with all the comforts you needed for a comfortable night. Not ones for resting for too long, we headed back out in hope that we could see the glacier. The route up to the start of the glacier is now closed due to the cyclone which hit last week, but we drove to another view point and with the cloud clearing for approximately 10 minutes we were able to get a glimpse of the spectacular glacier. We took an hours walk around Lake Matheson in hope of seeing the reflection of the mountains in the lake, just like you see in photographs of Lake Matheson, but unfortunately we were not lucky this time. Not far from our lodge was another glow worm dell and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them again. This time we walked through the forest for about 45 minutes in the dark with the bioluminescence larvae glowing all around us.

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West Coast Detours

📍Marahau to Hokitika📍

A shower, a beer and a massive burger was just what we needed after the trek and these were found in the little beach town of Marahau. Again, we were fortunate to have a family member help us out with accommodation which meant we left for our next destination with well recovered bodies.

The sun was no longer shining and the rain was falling, but it didn’t really matter as we had a full day of driving ahead of us to Hokitika, with only one planned stop; the Pancake Rocks. Of course, a road trip isn’t a road trip without unexpected detours and today was another one of those days. First stop was at Murchison Tea Rooms where I got to taste my first New Zealand pie. I had heard so much about how great the pies are in New Zealand that I was excited to try one. I opted for a mince pie and I have to admit, it was very tasty! On a full belly we drove on through Buller Gorge and along the Great Coast Road, until we spotted a sign in Cape Foulwind which pointed to a seal colony.

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Taking another detour we soon found ourselves looking out to sea at lots of seals and their cubs swimming and bathing on the rocks. Back in the car we headed for Pancake Rocks again, but spotted another sign. This time directing us to a historical gold mine. We followed the track the carts would have taken through part of the mine tunnels and saw some of the machinery and tools that would have been used. Another successful detour.

We finally made it to Punakaiki to view the Pancake Rocks. The Pancake Rocks is eroded limestone which look like layers of Pancakes. The wonders of nature.

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We arrived in Hokitika a bit later than planned but it was worth it. We checked into our hostel, Mountain Jade Backpackers, which was located in the town and was a nice hostel for a nights stop over. About a 10 minute drive from our hostel was a glow worm dell. I had read in my pre-travel research about the glow worms on the West Coast and was eager to see them but didn’t really know what to expect. Well I was very pleasantly surprised! Walking into the woods at 10pm with only a small torch to guide our way, we walked for less than 10 minutes and were surrounded by hundreds of tiny little lights created by bioluminescence larvae. An amazing experience to end a great day.

Camp cookers & sleeping bags

Bee stings, blisters, sore shoulders and no phone, trekking through the deep bush with the only sound for miles being the birds tweeting, the bugs buzzing and the streams trickling, Nature at its finest.

Heavy backpacks filled with food, cooking equipment and a few clothes we set off on the 4 day coastal trek from Marahau to Totaranui – The Abel Tasman Great Walk.

Each day consisted of 4 to 5 hours of walking between camp huts. We opted to stay in huts rather than tents to save ourselves from the extra weight on our shoulders. There are only 4 huts along the route so you need to book them early to secure a spot for your sleeping bag. The huts are just that, huts; with a space for your sleeping bag and a bench for your camp cooker, but they were perfect. A place to rest your tired body, cook your dri-freezed food and wake up in the morning overlooking the sea.

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The walk was quite challenging at times, with our backpacks weighing us down and the sun beating down whilst climbing steep hills, but the struggle was forgotten within seconds when we reached the top of each hill, and standing above the trees we would look down onto golden coves and glistening sea. The descents were not that much easier but the rewards at the bottom were just as special, with lunch on the beach, time for a sunbathe and a swim in the clear sea which looked so inviting from the top.

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BA50BAE9-19ED-46C9-9693-4C3171F558A1With the sun beating down on us on our first day we walked through open country until we reached the start of the beech forest. We trekked on until we came across a beach for a quick swim and some lunch and then onto Anchorage Bay where our first hut was. Our second day surprised us with an amazing 47 metre suspension bridge which crossed over Falls River, more lush green forest and into Bark Bay for our second night in a camp hut.

Bark Bay to Awaroa was our longest walking day but we broke it up by spending the afternoon on the beautiful Onetahuti beach. It was also the hardest climbing day but the views at the top were amazing with the tide in the inlet creating different shades of blue swirls. It reminded me of Whitehaven Beach in Australia.

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Our last day was quite an experience. To leave Awaroa we had to cross an inlet within 1 hour before low tide. The water never fully subsides as the sea meets a river. Being the short 4ft 9” that I am, we had to ensure we crossed at a good time that I could get across without the bottom of my backpack hitting the water. Luckily we judged it just right and made it across the water with a dry backpack and plenty of time to reach the finishing point of our trek, Totaranui.

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Making our way back to “civilisation” on our pre-booked water taxi and looking out onto the bay of hills, was when I realised how far we had actually walked and how high we had actually climbed. What a great achievement and an amazing experience.

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New Zealand – South Island Road Trip

Day 1

Arriving in Christchurch at 5am we decided to start the day straight away to help fight the jet lag. Once the sun came up we set off in what is to be our car for the next 2 weeks and drove through the wide, clean streets of Fendalton. We started an incline up through the hills and upon reaching the peak I was pleasantly surprised with a beautiful view of the sea.

The rest of the day was spent walking through beautiful botanical gardens & into the city where I first witnessed some of the damage caused by the major earthquake which hit Christchurch in 2011. Although parts of the city are being rebuilt, the Cathedral still stands surrounded by scaffolding & fallen bricks. Only a tiny insight into the damage that was caused.

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Day 2

📍Christchurch to Blenheim📍
After loading the car with all the necessities, we set off through the rolling hills, along the coast, spotting seals to our next destination, Blenheim. Blenheim is known as ‘the gateway to wineries’ and when all you can see for miles is vineyards it’s easy to understand why. Obviously it would be rude not to taste the famous wine and so a lunch stop at Brancott Estate with lovely food and tasty wine whilst looking out over the vineyards was a simple decision. A great way to see Blenheim is a morning walk up Wither Hills. From here you can see the little town nestled in between the vineyards.

Day 3

📍Blenheim to Nelson 📍
As the drive to our next destination was a bit shorter, following our morning climb up Wither Hills we headed for the quaint port town of Picton, the entrance to the beautiful Marlborough Sounds, an area of sea-drowned valleys.

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We carried on driving through the picturesque hills into Pelorus, where the sun was shining and we parked the car and headed down to Pelorus Bridge. A short walk down some rocks and I could see the clear river glistening. It looked so inviting in the heat that I jumped in from the rocks only to discover, after finding my breath, that it was the coldest water I have ever been in! After warming up, I found the courage for another jump and then it was time for a New Zealand treat; goody goody gum drops ice cream. Delicious ice cream with jelly sweets mixed in.

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Today was in fact Waitangi Day, (a public holiday). The 6th February 1840 is when the Maori signed a treaty with the British and became part of the commonwealth. A lot of shops and restaurants where therefore closed and a lot of people were out enjoying the sunshine.
The rest of the drive into Nelson was through the hills and it was my turn to take the wheel. Some of the tight turns with steep cliff drops were quite scary, but all in all it was a very pleasant drive. Nelson is a much busier town, with homes in the hills with beautiful views of the beach. It was here we spent our last comfortable night before sleeping bags and camp cookers.

We were very fortunate that my boyfriend’s family and friends were happy to accommodate us for the first few days of our trip. Such lovely and welcoming people. We were truly spoilt with good food, comfortable beds and great company. We made the most of it all before our next adventure…

The Warm Lakes of Mjlet, Croatia

I love exploring cities and getting lost in mazes of streets, but I also love trekking through woods and swimming in the sea, and so, a trip to one of Croatia’s many islands was inevitable. We opted for the island of Mjlet which is a national park with two salt water lakes and an island in the middle of the lake with a disbanded Monastery. You can take day trips to Mjlet at a minimum cost of £65 (528 Kuna), which will get you picked up from your hotel, a catamaran to the island and entry to the National Park. Or you can make your own way there for approximately £30. We thought it would be fun (and cheaper!) to make our own way there. On paper, it didn’t sound simple, but in reality, everything went smoothly and was actually very easy. There is one boat which leaves Port Gruz to Polace at 9am with only 200 tickets available. We got to the port at 8.10 to start queuing for our ticket – this is highly recommended to ensure you get a ticket. Our return ticket cost £17 (150 Kuna) and in 1 hour we were stepping off the boat onto the island. The entrance to the national park is at the port where you purchase your £12 (95 Kuna) NP ticket. This ticket includes entrance to the park, return bus journey to the lakes and a return boat journey over to the island where the Monastery is.
My followers will remember that I love exploring and so instead of using the free bus service, of course we decided to take an hours walk/hike in 33 degree heat, on open roads, up steep hills, down rocky paths and through dense wooded areas  to the lakes. Finding the clearing and stepping out onto the shore of the lakes was a stunning view that will always stay in my memory. After the long hot walk, jumping off the rocks into the salty lake was blissful. The water was warm and the only sounds I could hear whilst swimming around were the birds and the gentle lapping of the water.
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We had so much fun walking around the lakes, stopping off to jump in the water whenever we wanted and eating our packed lunch by the side of the lake in the sun. We didn’t have much time to explore the whole island so we did a quick trip over to the former Monastery erected in the 12th century, using the boat service included in our ticket. It took about 10 minutes to cross over to the small island which also has a café. We explored the Monastery and the Roman ruins, had another swim in the lake and then sadly it was time to head back so that we didn’t miss the last bus back to the port for the only ferry going back to Dubrorvnik. A day trip is not long enough to really appreciate Mjlet. You can stay overnight which will give you the opportunity to hire canoes and bicycles and really enjoy the beautiful island.

My 5 days and 4 nights in Dubrovnik were truly memorable and it is safe to say, I love Croatia!