Victory!

Man versus kite: man wins.

Got up! With a bit of aggression the kite came under control and I was skimming across the surface of the water. Stoked.

None of these guys are me.

Its a surreal experience. I thought it would feel like wakeboarding but when surfing downwind the kite skims across the surface. It felt like I was on ice.

That's not me either, but he says hi.

Until, of course, the edge of the board clipped a waved and once again I was inhaling the Pacific Ocean.

Saskia enjoys the pool.

Saskia went for the sensible option and spent her time poolside. The resort, which hosts the kitesurfing business Ecuador Kite Surf, was our home for about a week. We spent the time chatting to locals and taking the occasional trip to Manta, 20 minutes north.

But for the most part we sat by the pool and enjoyed a beer in the sun.

That's me!

 


Kitesurfing is Madness

Salt water stings when it is forced up the nostrils at 100 km an hour.

This is me (Mark) during a kitesurfing lesson in Santa Marianita, Ecuador. I was doing my best but a water kite is a powerful piece of equipment. It can produce the same acceleration as a jet boat, but without the surety of control. All it takes is one gust of wind…

Still, if it wasn't for the risk I wouldn't be interested in kitesurfing. I get a real thrill watching people tearing along the surface of the water and launching into the air. I dream of being able to do the same!

It is an exciting sport but it is devilishly difficult to learn. From previous experience I knew that kitesurfing has a steep learning curve so I committed to an eight hour course to give myself the best possible chance.

The reason I'm still sneezing salt is because controlling the kite can be counter-intuitive. When a strong gust of wind catches me by surprise my muscles instinctively contract and pull on the control bar. This causes the kite to instantly gain power and next thing I know I'm swallowing pelargic fish.

We had an adversarial relationship.

For those unfamiliar with the sport it may help to think of motorcycles. If you pull back on the handle you accelerate, so time needs to be invested upfront to learn how to control the vehicle in all situations. And so it is with a 12 m squared kite, which at worst could drag me on land and through all manner of solid objects.

Speaking of which, my mates love to remind me of a time when I was demonstrating how to use my new kite on the beach. I misjudged the wind speed and a gust of wind lifted me off the ground and two metres forward in the air. I lost control, ripped the emergency chord and watched my friends run back and forth across the beach, doing their best to tame the beast while trying not to spill their beers.

Despite the hazards it is good fun. With practice my kite control has improved and by the end of the lessons I'm hoping for results…

My instructor Pauet, a great bloke.

 

 


Isla de la Plata

The affordable alternative to the Galapogas Islands, Isla de la Plata is an exciting day trip off the south west coast of Ecuador. Supposedly named after guano from the bird population (and less likely, the hidden treasure of an English sea captain), Isla de la Plata has many of the charms of the Galapagos Islands, just not in a comparable abundance. We had a great time and recommend it, especially if you are at the tail-end of your holiday and running out of kish cash.

Mosh pit.

The above photos were all taken from the landing beach. Not bad eh?

A view of the island.

Frigate birds clustered on a tree.

The charismatic frigate bird. The males inflate the pouches to try and pull the ladies.

A baby frigate bird.

A popular reason to visit Isla de la Plata is an opportunity to see blue-footed boobies nesting. We were lucky to be there at the right time.

As a final treat we were visited by a bale of turtles (that's what a group of turtles is called, apparently). They were pretty big, jumping in the water did not seem like a good idea…

 


Montañita

After a long overnight bus trip from Mancora with very little sleep, we arrived in Ecuador. Montañita is a little oasis of touristy delights. Perched right on the white sandy beaches of the Pacific ocean, the town is full of western bars and restaurants to cater for the steady stream of backpackers and holiday makers.

By the time we arrived, we were pretty travel weary so we made good use of the hammocks and the sand. The water was unfortunately freezing, which was disappointing! Even though we were so close to the ecuator, it was far too cold to go swimming but we did brace ourselves and jump in for a quick dip.
While we were there, we had the opportunity to go whale watching and spend a day in Isla de la Plata, an island off the coast commonly referred to as the “poor man's Galapogos” because it has some of the same animals but without the exorbitant price tag. The day trip was fantastic and highly recommended! We saw so many whales! They were breaching and playing all around us, one even went right underneath our boat. It was huge! An incredible experience!!

In the next post we will share our experience hiking on the island.

 


Máncora

Our last stop in Peru after Lima was Máncora, a surfing destination close to the northern border with Ecuador. It is a popular backpacker spot but most importantly, it has a beach.

We decided to find somewhere quiet to stay and found a nice bed and breakfast just down the road from Máncora. Marcial and Cecilia were wonderful hosts, great cooks. We really enjoyed our stay there, some much needed seclusion.

Our room at Marcilia Beach Bungalows

Our hosts explained that at this time of year the humpback whales were travelling south along the coast. That afternoon, as the sun was setting on the horizon, we saw a humpback from the comfort of our deck. We rushed down to the beach and watched the creature launch itself out of the water, again and again. Magic.

After two nights of solitude we shifted to Máncora, where we stayed for three nights. Again, peace and relaxation were on the cards. Fortunately some friends from the dune boarding adventures were also in Máncora so we caught up with them. A friendly Irish lad also became a regular drinking partner.

Kimbas Bungalows

Máncora was a good stop but we were surprised by how austere the landscape was. Much of the Peruvian coast is arid and desert-like. Máncora was an orange, rocky expanse with a beach. If it wasn't for the surf break it may not have become a destination in its own right. We had heard that Montañita in Ecuador was better so we packed our bags, gulped down some ceviche and said goodbye to Peru

 

 


Lima: The City of Kings

The best thing about this city is the food. We finally found something worth eating – ceviche, the delicious dish that is the star of Peru’s culinary repertoire.

A sample of ceviche.

Wandering along the coast line, stopping to drink wine and eat seafood is a pretty awesome introduction to any new place. We decided to stay in Miraflores, the seaside suburb of Lima, and stopped for lunch at ‘La Mar’, one of Lima’s best cevicherias. Here we were treated to a selection of different ceviche dishes (variations of raw fish, chili and onions marinated in lime juice). Ceviche, where have you been all my life!?

Lima is also the home of the Pisco Sour, a cocktail that is popular along the west coast, and the Lima Sigh, a wonderfully sweet desert. A stop at the Gran Hotel Bolivar, where the Pisco Sour was conceived, is mandatory, and any decent restaurant around the central squares will spoil you with a Lima Sigh.

We weren’t in Lima for long, but we did manage to catch up with old and new friends, as well as wander around the shops and city streets. A referral put us onto a city tour bus, which we thought was the easiest and cheapest way to get around and see the sights all in one afternoon.

We went through the old squares in the center of town and saw the glamorous buildings from the colonial era, which still look magnificent.

The tour finished at the Museo Larco, which has one of the most incredible collections of Inca art anywhere in the world. The museum is a beautiful building of white washed walls and red flowers. Established in 1926, the Museo Larco hosts a vast collection of around 45,000 artifacts excavated from northern, central and southern Peru.

Photo taken from the courtyard.

Peru is one of the six cradles of civilization and the museum exhibits cover the many tribes that rose and fell over the last 5,000 years. Over time it is possible to see how the art became more sophisticated and how the different cultures influenced each other. The apex of this art is represented by the Incas, who amalgamated all of these influences as the empire spread across Peru.

We learnt a lot from the visit, and as it happens many of the best pieces from Cusco’s Museo de Art Pre-Colombino are on loan from this museum. We were so impressed with the collection that we bought a photographic book published by Museo Larco (which Mark used to design a tattoo on his back).

Lima itself was rather grey due to a haze that hangs over the city from April to November. It would have been nice to stay longer, but we were getting travel weary and were keen for some sunny beach time. So we boarded a dreadful overnight bus and escaped to the surfer’s paradise of Mancora!

The hazy shades of Lima.

 


The Nazca Lines

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While we were staying at Huacachina, we arranged for a day trip to Nazca and a flight over the Nazca Lines. Although we had heard scary stories of the plane ride, we thought it was an opportunity not to be missed.

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Apparently these lines were created by the Nazca people sometime around 400-650 AD, but only became well known after a Peruvian archaeologist saw them while hiking in 1927. Although some can be seen from on top of the surrounding foothills, it is best to see them from the air to get the full scale and magnitude of the images.

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The lines are made by removing the red pebbles on the ground and uncovering the lighter coloured ground beneath. Once up in the sky, it is quite astounding to see that there are lines EVERYWHERE! Along with the familiar pictures there are also just geometric shapes and random lines scattered across the desert landscape.

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The most impressive where the hummingbird, monkey, whale, dog and the waving man that looks like an alien!

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Sandboarding in the Desert

The coast of Peru is one long stretch of desert. We got our first taste of it on the trip from Cuzco to Lima, which covers some fantastic landscapes, moon-like plataues of rock to massive sand dunes.

We had learnt that it is possible to stay at a small oasis in the desert a couple of hours south of Lima. The oasis has become a resort style town called Huacachina and it is surrounded by crazy-huge sand dunes that you can sandboard on. We were mad keen to give this a go so we stayed a couple of days and hit the dunes.

The oasis at Huacachina.

The dunes stretched as far as the eye can see.

The size of the dunes requires some serious machinery to get around. This came in the form of dune buggies on steroids. These machines roared up the hills at speed. As we would reach a summit the driver would plant his foot and we would plunge down the other side. It was like a roller-coaster ride, a huge rush!

We were pumped by the time we hit our fist dune. We rushed to the crest and after a quick wax we were throwing ourselves head long down the biggest dunes we had ever seen.

Waxing the board.

It was an awesome buzz. Here's hoping we get to do it again sometime soon!

 


Alternatives to Hiking the Inca Trail

Hola amigos,

Today we wanted to share a few ideas on great treks that you can do around Cusco in addition to, or as an alternative to, the Inca Trail. This post largely reflects our own research but also conversations with fellow travellers. If you find the Inca Trail to be prohibitively expensive, or you want a bit more Indiana Jones in your adventure, then this might be of interest to you.

There are three trips near Cusco that we would recommend looking into:

  1. Choquequirao
  2. Salcantay to Machu Picchu
  3. Vitcos and Espiritu Pampa

These trails are great alternatives the Inca Trail. There are companies offering hikes to all three, although Choquequirao and Espiritu Pampa are not covered by many companies, which is part of their appeal. They are also multi-day hikes of at least four days in duration.

A brief explanation on each is offered below. If any of them catch your interest then we highly recommend looking into the South American Explorers Club, who have a Cusco office. They gave us valuable information on everything from details on the trails, the cost of guides and where to buy hiking equipment. Membership is cheap and covers all of their clubs in South America. We also highly recommend the Trailblazer Guide to the Inca Trail, which provides detailed hiking information on these and other trails.

Note: Machu Picchu is part of a network of trails within the region. The Inca Trail is but one route to get there. The other trails range in terms of difficulty but it is possible to link up other ruins as part of a greater multi-day adventure to reach Machu Picchu. See the Trailblazer book for more information.

Choquequirao

This hike caught our intention for a number reasons. It is one of the few trails you can do without a guide, which brings down the cost substantially. In fact all you have to pay is the park fee, which from recollection is under USD100. So, those used to carrying their own gear will appreciate it. The trail is also straightforward – it is two days to the ruins and you return along the same path.

Choquequirao is a large site south west of Machu Picchu. Some consider it to be Machu Picchu's sister site because of its size and the quality of the stonework. Part of the appeal lies in the fact that the ruins are still being uncovered, so there is a genuine opportunity for a bit of exploration. It is off the beaten track too so you won't have the same crowds and it is possible to walk from here to Machu Picchu or to Espiritu Pampa.

We were dead set on tackling this but due to a bought of food poisoning we had to pull out. A shame as we put a lot of time into planning it. Send us photos if you go!

Salcantay to Machu Picchu

This is touted as one of several alternative trails to Machu Picchu. Salcantay is a nearby mountain with trails that can connect you to Machu Picchu. This trail is common amongst tour companies and it costs less than the Inca Trail. We are not clear on whether this trek can be done independently but we suspect it will require a few vehicle pick ups.

Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Salcantay_Stevage.jpg

We spoke to several peope that tried this trail and highly enjoyed it. Worth looking into!

Vitcos and Espiritu Pampa

Those wanting a real adventure need to seriously consider Espiritu Pampa, the real lost city of the Incas. This was the city Hiram Bingham was trying to discover when he found Machu Picchu. For many years people really thought Machu Picchu was the last city if the Incas. However, the general consensus is that in fact it was Espiritu Pampa, the last refuge of Manco Inca when he was in rebellion against the Spanish.

Source: http://www.thewhiterock.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Peru-2011-333-Copy.jpg

Like Choquequirao the ruins are still being uncovered however you are probably going to see more vine-covered ruins here. The reason is that this site is so off the beaten track. We only found two companies that would hike there. Unfortunately at the time we could not go because the Peruvian army was cracking down on local drug traffickers. Anyone interested should make enquiries as to the security situation.

Our understanding is that it is not advisable to tackle this hike on your own. Guides should be used. The track is not frequently walked and is at least four days. To get there you need transport to Huancacalle, the last town on the road west of Ollantaytambo. We explored public transport and it seemed difficult. We looked into just visiting Huancacalle for the day and were told it would cost several hundred dollars. So, a trip that needs serious planning and a good guide.

The White Rock. Source: National Geographic.

This trip has the advantage of including Vitcos, the ruins of an Inca town, and the sacred white rock. Neither site is visited frequently and apparently the local valleys are beautiful.

And so ends our series of posts on the Incas. We hope you have enjoyed them and if you missed any just click on the 'Inca' tag below or on the right hand pane.

Gracias,

Mark and Saskia

 


MOVE: A Fantastic Travel Video

Hi everyone and happy new year! Apologies for the gap in posts, we are getting back into it soon!

Saskia found a great travel video online. It is only a minute long but take a look. The premise: three friends took one second of footage at scenic locations across 18 countries. An inspired idea and a great result.

Enjoy :)


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