Exe-rated runners!

Exe-rated runners!
The successful Harriers team, en masse, at the Erme Valley Relays, July 2013

Monday, 18 March 2013

And in other news from the southern hemisphere....

... it's time to check in with Katie and, after a gap in updates, the news is now flooding in thick and fast. So prepare for a few installments from Comer's Corner!


Day 1 – Mic woke up with a really sore eye. Went to the hospital for some eye drops and to get it checked.  I went to the truck park to clean Cindy and do some general maintenance. Got back to the hotel to find Mic couldn’t open her eye and unable to go anywhere, so dashed out into Lima to print trip notes for the next leg, book a restaurant, buy lunch for the following day, change money and get more drugs for Mic. Got back to the hotel with 10 mins to spare before meeting our new passengers and to take them out to dinner!

Day 2 – Mic still couldn’t see so one of my pax, Bex, joined me to retrieve Cindy from the truck park and navigate on the way back. We still got lost as the route notes sent us right instead of left, but after a small miracle (and stopping to ask a policeman for directions) we still managed to get to the hotel on time.  A short drive day took us to Huacachino, where we set off dune buggying and sand boarding in the desert.  Sand boarding involves lying on a snowboard, and whizzing down various sand dunes which just kept getting steeper and longer the more we did! Great fun! We then watched a beautiful sunset, camped under the stars, drank pisco & coke and partied the night away.

Next morning, we were back in the dune buggies and returned to Huacachino for breakfast, before setting of along a beautiful desert road to Nazca. We stopped at the observatories to see the Nazca lines, before continuing to the campsite. The Nazca lines are large pictures in the desert, and are thought to have been made by the Incas as a plea to the Gods for rain, as it typically only rains for a total of two hours every year.  The lines have been made with volcanic rock, which radiates the suns heat thereby deflecting the sand which blows across them enabling the lines to remain clearly visible.  Some of our passengers then took a plane over the Nazca lines, whilst Mic & I went into Nazca to do some work and stock up on items for Cindy.

Day 4 – Met local guide Janssen, an archaeologist, and went to some cemeteries where mummies are still regularly found. Macabre but fascinating, the mummies are still in the graves and still have their hair and clothing, plus items buried with them. Janssen is a passionate and enthusiastic speaker who helped National Geographic locate a mummy of their own. After being offered a lollipop he also taught us that in Peru if a man sucks a lollipop he is openly declaring his homosexuality.  After dropping Janssen off we headed to Puerto Inka, an idyllic location where we camped on the beach and spent the afternoon relaxing, swimming and exploring, before dining over a open fire.

Day 5 – Headed off from Puerto Inka along a beautiful desert coastal road, before heading inland towards the ‘white’ city of Arequipa. A long drive day, we stopped for lunch en route at a yogurt factory where we sampled a number of different flavours which were available for ridiculously cheap prices. Arriving in Arequipa a wrong turning lead to fun and games negotiating a tight turn at a market where a local had parked his car right on the corner, rendering it almost impossible to get round. Cue a Dragoman style traffic jam for 5 minutes, I finally coaxed Cindy round the corner to applause from my passengers and locals alike. A lively evening followed with a pleasant meal, a bar, a powercut throughout the whole of Arequipa, and eventually we found ourselves dancing the night away in a bar which had a generator.

Day 6 – a free day in Arequipa. Spent the morning catching up on paperwork, before taking our passengers out for a very good lunch, where they had the chance to try guinea pig – this time a whole roasted one served on the plate. During the evening we went to the cinema to watch the Hobbit.

Day 7 – a late start. Finished a few last minute jobs before we left at midday to drive further into the Andes to Chivay, crossing a high pass of 4,900m en route.  A beautiful drive, we saw the first llamas, alpacas and vicunas of this trip and the scenery became more picturesque by the hour.  Arriving just before nightfall in Chivay, we put Cindy to bed and headed out with our passengers to get some dinner.

Day 8 – Colca Canyon day! Sadly very misty, but we headed optimistically into the canyon where we were (after a little patience) lucky enough to see two condors. We never managed to see into the canyon, but we did see some stunning views and enjoyed an easy walk before heading off to an ‘all you can eat’ buffet with a number of different dishes including one with sheeps lung which was actually very tasty. In the afternoon I took a group of passengers down to the hot springs to relax before getting an early night in anticipation of a long and challenging off-road drive day.

Day 9 – An early start was required as we headed over the Andes towards the tiny village of Raqchi. The views and the drive were simply incredible.  We stopped for an ‘on the road’ lunch with incredible views. Unfortunately Cindy decided that she had played ball long enough, and after a brief 5 minute stop at a small shop she refused to start.  After a quick assessment we determined that it was a problem with the starter motor. Fortunately we were facing downhill so a quick jumpstart did the trick so we could get to our destination and see if we could solve the problem there. Another hour of driving and we finally arrives at our home stay, where we spent the night in traditional houses with Peruvian families.

Day 10 – Our local guide, Smithy, took our passengers round the ruins at Raqchi while Mic & myself donned our overalls and got dirty in the mud under the truck.  A quick review identified problems with the connections to the starter motor which we repaired. Sadly Cindy still refused to start, and as we were running out of time we decided not to change the starter motor until we reached Cusco when we knew we had the time and equipment to do it. A quick clean up and our Peruvian mummy dressed us in traditional Peruvian clothing to watch a pottery demonstration and a Pacha Mama ceremony to pay tribute to Mother Earth. A quick lunch and it was back to the truck to manually released the handbrake as the air levels had dropped so the brakes had locked on. I then experienced one of those priceless moments, sat in the drivers seat, looking down on half a dozen Peruvian mummies dressed in the traditional clothing, all helping to push a 16 tonne truck to get us started. Priceless! 

Finally started (and the handbrake re-tightened) we headed on a short three hour drive to Cusco! So excited to be back, once we had Cindy put to bed and booked a restaurant, we got dressed up and headed out to dinner where a local band playing traditional music turned up at the restaurant, They were amazing! We then headed to the local nightclub,  Mythology where we negotiated free drinks for our passengers, and where they actively encourage dancing on the bar. Needless to say it was a good night, finally getting back to the hotel at 7am to get changed, dash out to the truck park to collect various items, then back to the centre to buy visitor passes for my passengers and get back to reception for 10am to meet our new passengers joining us for the Inca Trail, and to get an ill existing passenger medical treatment. Phew! Once done Mic & myself headed down to the Andina office to pay for the Inca Trail and confirm arrangements. A quick lunch and we were back at the truck park to arrange to have various jobs done and do some quick maintenance before returning to the hotel to pack for the Inca Trail and find Christmas hats for everybody. A quick half hour power nap and shower, and I was back in reception to meet our guides, Smithy and Paul, ready for them to go through the plan of action with our passengers for the following day.  Finally Mic & myself grabbed a weary bite to eat, before getting an early night.

Inca Trail day dawned… and it was raining!  Not that it seemed to dampen spirits. An enthusiastic crowd set off to our first ruin, Sachsayhuaman, where I discovered that Paul was an exceptionally good guide. From a Quechuan community, he understood the mountains better than any guide I have ever joined on the treks, he is passionate about passing on information and it was fascinating listening to him.  A short drive on to Pisac ruins, followed by lunch and we were finally ready to start trekking to our first community of Cancha Cancha.  The weather fortunately improved for the first afternoon and we were lucky to enjoy spectacular views on the way up.

The second day of the trek, over the high pass of 4,900m to the community of Quishwarni started in beautiful sunshine, but sadly not for long.  By the end of the day we had experienced four seasons in a day – sun, rain, fog, hail and snow! Even so, the clouds parted at the top of the pass revealing stunning glaciers, deep valleys and spectacular views. Simply beautiful!

The third day dawned, Christmas Eve!! After a good breakfast we helped to set up Christmas celebration for the local children, with hot chocolate, bread rolls and a T-Shirt.  Soon afterwards we were off again on a steep uphill ascent. Unfortunately one of my passengers had a slight asthma attack, although she was fine after a short rest and an enforced slower pace. Again we started in good weather, only to hit poor conditions as we approached the pass.  In the first group to reach the pass, Mic and I proceeded to shout encouragement to those who followed with promises of chocolate and rum at the top with amazing results!  The way down wasn’t quite so straight forward with a couple of struggling passengers – one due to sore knees and another due to illness. Staying with the back group we made our way down the mountain until I suddenly realised Paul was taking a different route to the one I had used before in order to avoid a potentially dangerous river crossing. Putting my running to good use, I tore down the mountain to get directions so I could safely guide my ailing group safely down the mountain – a job which was getting more difficult with the onset of heavy rain and thick fog. Fortunately Paul was good with his directions, and once he had got the rest of the group to safety he made sure we on the right track behind. Lunch was welcome and the weather suddenly improved for the last two hours to the hot springs for some rest and relaxation.
The evening brought entertainment in the form of a Merry Christmas Peruvian drinking game called Todititito, with a few added international drinking rules for good measure. 3am finally arrived and we rolled into our tents.

Christmas morning dawned and I was back in the hot springs, before a traditional Peruvian Christmas breakfast of hot chocolate and bread. Ollayantaytambo.

Truck day – pax Machu Picchu. Return – Fallen Angel, Paddy’s, back to Mythology for a celebratory night. 6am back to the hotel or a few hours sleep. Jacks, breakfast. Truck day. Problems – fridge taken away. Test drive – breakdown. Got her going, back to truck park. Changed filters in the dark – Mic back to do meeting. Finally got back at 10pm with fridge due to arrive at 7am, nearly an hour late but it was back and it was working.

Set off to Puno and Lake Titicaca. Stopped at Sillustani ruins en route. Amazing lightening storm in the distance. Went out for dinner – xmas celebrations and street dancing.

Sent pax off to Uros islands, did paperwork!! Collected truck, met pax at docks for lunch. Set off around Lake Titicaca towards Copacabana, crossing the border to Bolivia. Stopped en route to see Indian head in rock. Fatima’s for dinner.

Accounts and paperwork day at Fatima’s whilst pax went to Isla del Sol.

Set off to La Paz. Ferry crossing across the lake. Reached La Paz (translation ‘The Peace’) to find complete chaos ready for New Year. 

Katie celebrated Christmas day on the Inca Trail, but still managed to dig out her antlers!

Statues on the shores of Lake Titicaca (no sniggering in the back row!) in Bolivia.

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