Posts tagged ‘Lares Trek’

The backpack diaries – our top ten South American experiences

So this post is a little late – over a year late to be precise – but that’s okay because we still remember every miniscule detail of the trip as if it was yesterday. We’re determined to get back on the blogging horse and we have a few great European posts up our sleeves for you, including (home sweet home) Dublin, so don’t go away yet. To get the ball rolling here is our long overdue Top 10 of South America, it took almost a year of arguing, biting and scratching to compile so you had better enjoy it…

10. Paraty, Brazil
Pretty little Paraty may not make it onto many Top 10 of South America lists but this picturesque gem of a town beat tough competition from Ilha Grande to appear on ours. The reason is its unusual charm, the product of pristine beaches married with a picturesque historical centre. In town you have uneven cobbled streets lined with white-washed cottages, windows and doorframes a flipbook catalogue of bright blues, reds, yellows and greens. Outside of town there are endless perfect beaches backed by rainforest that get quieter and quieter as you trek through the forest, away from parents sipping beers on plastic chairs and kids playing football. Walk far enough and you’re sure to find your own deserted patch of sand.

9. Colca Canyon, Peru
Hidden away from the world by towering canyon walls is a tiny gem of a place. Giant cacti bearing bright red fruit, birds with a three metre wing span, terraced fields, well tended orchards, winding paths sheltered by overhanging fruit trees and little girls chasing stray sheep. This is where the mighty Amazon begins as the gurgling stream we dipped our toes into after the long slide downhill. The only problem? What goes down must come up. It was a hike that for me at least, was more difficult than the three day Lares trek – but we did it in two hours.

8. Wineries in Mendoza, Argentina
Take six wine-loving backpackers, six dodgy bicycles, one hand-drawn map and dozens of world-class vineyards, chocolatiers, olive oil producers and absinthe brewers. Throw in a dash of sunshine, a sprinkling of local characters and you have yourself one hell of a day.

7. Trekking in Tupiza, Bolivia
Who would have thunk it? In the arse end of Bolivia, itself the (lovely) arse end of South America, we found the whirlwind adventure we had been chasing all this time. Our reluctant partners in crime, advertised as Argentinian stallions, turned out to be a bunch of fat, grumpy Bolivian mules. Together we cantered across arid scenes of red-sand cliffs and rocky terrain worthy of John Wayne, we crossed railway tracks, fast-flowing rivers and fields of waist-high grass. When we slept it was metres away from them. When we ate they were tied to the trees under which we sat. We wore cowboy hats, chewed coca leaves and spat a lot. It was breath-takingy beautiful and eventually, bum-numbingly painful and it was our biggest South American adventure.

6. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
You don’t walk in Rio de Janeiro, you dance. You tap your toes as you sit in a restaurant, wiggle your bum on the beach and shake yo’ thang at the Lapa street party. Here salsa is king but caparinhas shaken by large-bottomed women with infectious smiles are a close second. Rio lives up to the hype. We came expecting endless white sand beaches with beautiful people playing volleyball, City of God slum towns where kids wandered alleyways with guns slung over their shoulders, skyscrapers that winked in the sunlight and entire neighbourhoods that spent all night dancing in the streets. It was all of that and more, so why isn’t it better than Buenos Aires? Because we were expecting it.

5. World’s Most Dangerous Road, La Paz, Bolivia
At certain points, if you go over the edge of the World’s Most Dangerous Road you fall 600 metres before there’s anything to grab hold of. So obviously we had to try it. And obviously we were bricking it. The start was a fantastic warm-up – smooth tarmac road, a metal barrier and space enough for everyone – but eventually the road changed into a narrow, gravelly track that wound blindly around corners. Then came the trucks, hurdling towards us at video game speed. They took the inside lane while we spun out to the very edge, our toes teetering over a vast drop where birds circled above a rainforest canopy far below.

4. Iguazu Falls, Argentina
At Devil’s Throat it wouldn’t be hard to convince yourself that the waterfall is actually inside your head. With the way it thunders and pounds, sheet after sheet of white noise, it’s hard to think of anything else really – just the waterfall and those suicidal little sparrows that nose dive into huge clouds of spray. Foz Iguazu is actually 275 waterfalls spread over 2.7km in two countries. At it’s highest point it drops 83m, that’s 29m more than Niagara and at one viewpoint, visitors can enjoy 260 degrees of waterfall – a fact that prompted Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to sigh “Poor Niagara!” on her first visit. Poor Niagara indeed. Surrounded by national park, the Argentina side has a fantastic array of wildlife too, from rainbow coloured butterflies to (reportedly) tigers. And no visitor should miss a chance to take a speedboat into the waterfall either – all those screams you hear are happiness at it’s most hysterical. Just leave your clothes on dry land.

3. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Since we’ve been home people have asked us time and time again where did we like best. Now we don’t like to play favourites but if we were to pick just one place where we could stay suspended in time for ever and ever, it would be Buenos Aires. Maybe it was because we had a reunion with a long-missed friend or maybe it was just because Buenos Aires really is just that good. It has tango dancing in the streets, steak you can cut with a spoon, a nightlife that never seems to stop, real life cowboy markets, a cemetery you could easily build a home in and so much to do that you could never get bored here. Buenos Aires is all that and a bag of chips.

2. Lares Trek, Peru
Okay so there was a little bit of altitude sickness but there was also a team that sprinted ahead of us to cook four course meals three times a day in an oven made from stones, a guide that made us giggle, hours of singing The Sound of Music while we skipped down mountain sides, and eye-opening visit to a Quechun village, beautiful scenery, much coca leaf chewing, a night spent drinking macho tea under the stars and of course, the star of the show, Machu Picchu. I defy anyone not to include this beauty on their top ten of South America list.

1. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
For two days we saw nothing. The sandstorm was so bad it tore the roof off a hostel (the temperature was -20°c), so bad that it blasted all the paint off one side of our jeep, so bad that we couldn’t see to the end of our bonnet. Then we arrived at Salar de Uyuni and it stopped. At first it was just a mirage glimmering on the edge of the desert but as we got closer it sucked all the colour out of the world until all that was left was a bright blue sky and a ground so dazzlingly white, we needed sunglasses. This wonder of nature is one of the few places in the world where you can clearly see the curve of the earth.


There are more pictures from South America available in the gallery


December 21, 2011 at 11:44 am 10 comments

The road to ruins. Lares to Machu Picchu, Peru

There are a handful of moments on this trip that I know I will remember forever. Walking the Great Wall of China; taking my first breath underwater; watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat; and trying to decipher the curve of the earth in Salar de Uyuni for start. Now I have another snapshot to add to my gallery – struggling uphill to a crumbling ancient tower and stopping to catch my breath only to have it stolen away again by my first complete view of Machu Picchu, ‘The Lost City of the Incas.’ Like our Great Wall of China visit, the first hour of our visit to Machu Picchu had been swallowed by a thick mist, making a joke out of our guide’s best attempts at a tour (“if you just look at that mountain over there…”)

Bit by bit, stone by stone we uncovered the city behind the fog. First a manicured terrace used for planting crops, then a small house, a temple built to honour the sun and a dozen seemingly throwaway stones placed with precision to catch the summer and winter solstace and reflect the light in a basin of water. Slowly we were realising that in this ancient city – built 500 years ago by people that searched high and low for the perfect stones and soil, carrying them hundreds of kilometers from the lowlands and jungle with only a few llamas for help – there was no such thing as a throwaway stone.

In Machu Picchu everything had its purpose be it to tell the seasons, please the Gods or enhance the community. Sound from the top terrace was magnified by the mountains so that the layfold could hear the words of their leaders and priests from their living rooms. This is not a city built by amateurs or ‘uncivilised’ folk as was the presumption of Bingham, the American who ‘discovered’ the ‘lost’ city while it was inhabited by three families and after it had been visited by two Europeans. No wonder Bingham bashing is such a popular sport among tour guides and visitors to these parts.

By the time the fog lifted our guide Paul had showed us the city’s every nook and cranny, somehow finding spare time to deliver a full history of Peru from pre-Incan times to present day. We thought that we were finished but how wrong we turned out to be. To be truly appreciated Machu Picchu has to be seen from a distance – admired as a whole. So we climbed up to the tower and gasped and sighed and then filled ourselves up with sugar in preparation for the climb up Huayno Picchu, a very steep neighbouring mountain.

Mark, Gary and I had been up queuing since 2am in the hope of securing three of the limited tickets handed out daily to scale the peak and gaze upon the ruins. In hindsight this may not have been such a great idea because (warning: controversial statement to follow) while the view may be worth climbing the steep, backbreaking steps for it probably wasn’t worth the early morning and lingering exhaustion. In my opinion the view from the tower is better although it is rather nice to perch on top of a rock at the top of a mountain looking down on one of the world’s wonders, marvelling over how it can be so very intact after sitting uninhabited at the top of a mountain for so long. Have they really done so little renovation work on it?

Getting to the ancient city was no walk in the park either. Over the past three days we had hiked 42km up back-breaking hills and down into tumbling valleys. We had huffed and puffed as we reached the crest of a mountain only to realise that we were just half way to the top. We had threatened to vomit from altitude sickness and taken long breaks in an attempt stave off dizzy spells. Katie had fallen over at least a dozen times and I once when karma kicked me in the face for laughing at her.

We had zig-zagged our way up, down and across so many different landscapes that it seemed impossible we were still on the same trail. Occasionally a horizon once dominated by a record-breaking, snow-capped mountain melted into a hazy afternoon image of horses grazing by a ribbon of freshwater lakes. We walked for hour upon hour without meeting a single person only to find a lively village where schoolchildren chattered on their way home and indigenous women laid out blankets laid with Coca-Cola and alpaca wool hats for us to buy.

Our biggest challenge came with our highest peak. At almost 4,700 metres above sea level the Lares Trek topped the Inca Trail for height and just about killed us. That said it was never as hard as Colca Canyon and knowing what real misery felt like made it that bit easier. Getting to the top on our second day to realise that the worst of it was behind us and to chow down on chocolate bars almost made the whole exercise worthwhile too. No pain no gain right?

It wasn’t all sweat, complaints and tears though. Mostly the Lares Trek was a lot of fun. For every uphill there was a downhill which Gary, Mark, Katie and I invariably took at full speed, arms outstretched belting out tunes like The Elephant Love Medoly from Moulin Rouge and the entire Sound of Music and Sister Act soundtracks (much to Paul and the nearby llama’s pleasure.) Then there was the food – the wonderful, delicious, wholesome food that our genius chefs Mario and Mario somehow managed to whip up three times a day in a small tent in the middle of nowhere using only an oven made of stones and a bit of creativity. We ate stuffed avocado salads, chicken satay, omlettes, chips, steak, soups, vegetable rice, fried potatoe salads…. Quite frankly the best food we had eaten since leaving Sucre and that posh French restaurant to be honest. On top of that the SAS staff laid out a basin of warm water and soap for each person, set up our tents, packed away our sleeping bags and roll mats and even carried a portable toilet for three days just to make us more comfortable. We were really slumming it.

Unlike the Inca Trail, Lares was pretty people and culture-focused. Some days it seemed like we were stopping every five minutes to chat with locals, stick out our tongues at grubby faced children and offer a handful of coca leaves to farmers on their way to and from work. Not to mention our first evening when Paul (an absolutely flawless guide and a barrel of laughs) brought us to meet a local family in their homes. There he introduced us to their way of life – from weaving blankets to cooking dinner in an iron pot over a fire and planting and harvesting potatoes and coca plants depending on the season. We saw their farm equipment, the many hats that made up the womens’ daily traditional attire and much to our surprise, the hundred or so guinea pigs that ran freely around the house and shed. Life in the rural valleys of Peru was unquestionably hard but brightened by a strong sense of community and some 100 watt smiles. And to be honest, the thatched roofs and simple but seemingly happy way of life didn’t look a world away from the Ireland of old that we had so often heard lamented.

By the end of our trek we felt like we had really experienced a slice of Peru that few people get to see. We herded hundreds of bleating sheep, llamas and alpacas over a mountain. We watched a full moon rise over the mountains while we sipped macho tea (tea spiked with rum) by a camp fire. We slept soundly in the great outdoors. Plus we had made some fantastic new friends.

As the train trundled its away from Machu Picchu and back down to Cusco we were restless at the thought of leaving our new friends and having to resume our normal life again – well as normal as our lives could be considered. How would we survive without Paul showing us where to go, what not to sit on and how to appease Pachamama (mother nature) before drinking a mug of home-brewed chicha? And how could the rest of South America ever hope to compare to the ‘Lost City of the Incas’?

There are more pictures from the Lares Trek and Machu Picchu available in the gallery

September 15, 2010 at 9:42 pm 3 comments


Thanks for coming to visit us – stay tuned to watch us argue, punch, kick, pinch and scream our way around some of the most beautiful parts of the world.

Over the next year we will be fighting in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South America.

If you are interested in printing any of our work or would like us to write or take photos for your publication, please contact us at -

This blog is featured on

Lonely Planet

This blog was a 2010

This blog is featured on

Most recent Twitter Tweets!

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Most recent image

New Delhi, India

Previously . . .

Enter your email address to subscribe to our blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 81 other followers

This blog has been viewed

  • 297,832 times