Tokyo: Japan experience comes to an end

Tokyo is a city that is also different from the other places I have visited in Japan. It is absolutely huge and can take a while to get from one side of the city to the other – not too different from London, I suppose. Spending seven nights here, with a couple of day trips to escape the hustle and bustle has been great and it has been nice to base myself somewhere without constantly having to take my bag everywhere. The hostel was pretty decent and quite close to Tokyo station as well as a metro station and the Imperial Palace and gardens. I walked through them and they were quite pretty in parts. After working out the Metro, I found myself at Shibuya where the big and famous pedestrian crossing is. ​​​It was such a busy district full of colour and noise. The tall buildings with screens on were quite imposing initially. Lots of billboards climbed up the buildings. I walked up to Harajuku which wasn’t too far away and this was another shopping district known for its trendy fashions which engulf the youth. There is a street called Takeshita Street which was very very busy and full of random shops selling odd things – I even found some Percy Pigs in a sweet shop!There are some places to eat where you choose and pay outside in a little machine and then hand a voucher over inside at the counter when you sit down. Then got a train to Ebisu which was fairly close and had some lovely dim sum at a place called Le Parc but it was a little expensive. A day trip to Kamakura was next which is about an hour out of the central city. This was a lot quieter and had a lot of temples and shrines, as well as a big bronze Amida Buddha (Kotoku-in temple) which was constructed over ten years in the mid 13th century, You could climb inside him and have a look at the construction of the metal work. It was originally located inside a large temple hall, but this was destroyed during a natural disaster. It has been standing in open air since 1495. I found a great little sushi place to grab some lunch in where it was made directly in front of you. I was brave and tried sea urchin – tasted very much like the sea. I also tried some squid crackers which were tasty. I found a temple called Hasedera which was fairly close to the Buddha. It had the largest wooden statue of Kannon (over nine metres!) as well as a pretty garden with lots of different coloured hydrangeas.I also did another day trip to Hakone which was only half an hour away from Tokyo. This was very scenic – lots of lovely lucious mountains. Managed to get to Lake Ashi which took a few trains, a cable car and a bus replacement service (that’s right, they have them here too!) past a clearly active volcano and through some hills. I took a sightseeing boat over the lake with the intention of catching a glance of Mt Fuji but I didn’t see it. I got off the boat and had another look at the lake from the shore. The clouds were low in the sky, but the sun was out and shining nicely. Then, all of a sudden, I saw the top of the mountain! Then went through a nice cedar avenue.

Back in Tokyo and I visited Sensoji Temple (which is Tokyo’s oldest temple), Meiji Jingu Temple (where there is a lovely garden full of irises and ponds), the Tsukiji market and the national museum, as well as a few districts. The Tsukiji market is famous for its daily tuna auction at 3am. Somehow, I didn’t have the will power to witness this although I did go down one rainy morning and sample some of the goods on offer.Barrels of sake (above)I enjoyed getting my feet nibbled by fish – ticklish at first, but then it was ok!Had some lovely tempura and ramen too!Vending machines selling alcohol and cigarettes are on most streets (also in other places around Japan). I found this odd as the legal drinking age in Japan is 20. I see a lot of business man drinking beer on the way to work on the train. Highballs are also a popular drink here – mostly containing whisky – I’ve seen a lot of highball specific bars.There was a place to eat which was run by robots (I didn’t go in because the entrance fee was 8000 Yen – which is £60) and that was not including food….I’ve really enjoyed visiting this varied country. Getting around has been really easy. I still find it odd that smoking is allowed inside certain places, as well as train carriages. Everything is very clean – there are no litter bins on the streets or graffiti. There’s no one eating on the street or chewing gum. Jay walking is something that just isn’t done – everyone waits at the crossing for the green man. The people are all very friendly and polite. Although I came across some travellers from Belgium who had said they were waiting for their friend who was in a Japanese prison cell for letting off a fire extinguisher while drunk. Anyway, next stop – China! 

Koyasan: a place of tranquility 

An early alarm and a quiet sneak out of my dorm in the morning, and I was prepared for the day ahead! Unfortunately, because it was a Sunday, there was nothing really open en route to Osaka station to grab a bit of brekkie. But Starbucks was open at the station (of course!), so I put up with an overly expensive coffee and some rather tasteless breakfast food. I caught a train to Shinimamiya and quickly changed to get to Gokurakubashi. I had to rush to grab a ticket at this point, as this was not covered by my JR pass, but it took a while to know what the right fare was. You have to look at a train line map and it shows the fare payable depending on the distance away from the station you are in. After arriving, I caught the cable car up to Koyasan station, followed by a bus into the town. Koyasan is a little town up in Mount Koya where Shingon Buddhism originated in the 9th century.

I hadn’t bought the right ticket to get me through the train and cable car, of course, so there was some sort of fare adjustment I had to pay which was easy enough to do. I bet it regularly happens to tourists. Anyway, there was a helpful bus attendant fellow, who made sure I got on the right bus to where I had to go. There were 3 different lines and you get on at the back of the bus, and exit and pay the fare at the front, depending on where you had got on. He gave me a very useful map of the town. I managed to find the temple that I was staying the night in – Kongo Sanmai-in – and leave my bag whilst I went exploring. It was built in 1223. I had to reshuffle a few dates around when I was in London, so I ended up getting quite a large room all to myself (a triple…!) which costed me a little more, but the experience was definitely worth the price. Off I went and saw the largest cemetary in Japan – Okunoin. It is where a lot of feudal dynasties have been buried since the age when the town was founded. Kobo Dashi is also interred here in a mausoleum at the end of the cemetary. He was the founder of this community and sect of Buddhism and was an influential monk. It took a long while to wander around as it is fairly big, but very peaceful and thought provoking. I get the impression it could be quite an eerie place during the evening, or when there is fog around. This is the traditional entrance to the cemetary – called Ichinohashi – and you see a lot of pilgrims pay their respects here before entering.Then it was a nice little walk through the town, which is essentially just one long street full of unique shops and the odd cafe. I had a quick pork miso soup and sesame tofu thing for lunch which was about right and continued.I then found myself in the Danjo Garen complex at the other end of the long street which consists of a series of temples dedicated to Shingon Buddhism. Kobo Dashi played a big part in the design of these.  Apparently, he founded the community here because he found his ceremonial tool in a pine tree that he threw from China. The pine tree has become known as the three-pointed Vajera pine tree because the pine needles only fall in clusters of three and not five. The temples were all rebuilt several times since they were first constructed due to several lightening strikes over a period of time which has caused them to burn down. This has happened a lot in Japan. The main temple is the Konpon Daito Pagoda. Inside is a statue of Dainchi Nyorai who is the main Buddha worshipped in this particular sect. Othersise known as the Cosmic Buddha, the origin is Indian.There is also a large hall called the Kondo Hall which is where major ceremonies are held. I also went to Kongobuji Temple which is the headquarters of this sect. There are lots of prayer rooms heavily decorated, with sliding doors.After a pop into the Reihokan museum, I headed back to the temple to check in. I was told that my evening meal would be served in my room at 17:30 and that the temple would be closed by 8pm. I was invited to attend a morning prayer ceremony in the morning at 06:30, and then have breakfast after. I was shown to my room and it was amazing. No shoes, obviously, and very basic to fit in with those who lived in the monestery. There was also a public bath (onsen), and this would only be available in the evening. I would be sleeping on a futon bed which would be made up after I had finished eating. I enjoyed the peace and quiet after a few hectic days. The food was incredible! No meat or fish, but I think there was tofu….I thought it would be quite a lonely experience, but I enjoyed the time to register my experiences so far….and to sort my bag out! Living out of a bag can be like playing a lucky dip sometimes – you’re never quite sure what clothes you’ll pull out. I was able to relax. The prayers the next morning was something that will stay with me for a long time. Even though I did not understand any of what was happening, there was a sense of spirituality and dedication from the monks who devote themselves to this way of life. We were invited to make a wish on a piece of wood which would get burned, as well as contribute to the insense burning by adding wood chips, and think about those who we would wish good health. It was quite meaningful actually and I would recommend it to anyone. Above and below: my supper! All of this just for one person….! In the big red dish on the floor was a huge amount of rice that I could not finish. You also got served rice for breakfast too. It was way too much food and consisted of mainly vegetables and carbs – but I wasn’t sure what most of it was. There was some sort of miso soup which was nice. Lots of tea!Breakfast: mainly pickles, seaweed, soup and rice. Oh, and gallons of tea. For the prayers in the morning, you had the opportunity to write a wish on. a piece of wood which would get burnt during a ceremony and the wish would be granted. Traditionally, these are more commonly known as Ema in the Shinto sect and are usually left hanging at the shrine to be received by the gods. 

Japan – wow…! Himeji and Osaka

Japan, you have thrown me. Completely. From the heated toilet seats to the endless warm flannels and taking off/putting on shoes. I’ve only been here 5 days, but it’s enough to see a stark contrast. From Miyajima, it was a train ride back to Hiroshima to catch a crowded Shinkansen to Himeji, en route to Osaka. I was able to dump my large bag in a locker in the station – I was definitely not going to carry it around with me all day!  I went to Himeji castle which was built originally as a fort in the 14th century and completed as a castle in 1609. The structure has withstood all natural elements, although there has been some restoration work done from time to time. It is quite imposing as it stands alone on top of a hill. You can climb to each floor and see the inside structure. A scale model was made to illustrate the detail in preparation for restoration. There are racks that weapons were stored in and a couple of slits in the walls that were used for defence. I also visited a lovely little set of gardens close by which were very pretty and peaceful. From Himeji, it was another bullet train to Shin-Osaka, and a local train to Osaka station. This rail pass is so great – it’s getting me everywhere! It even got me on the ferry to Miyajima island. My hostel in Osaka was fairly close to the station, but I still managed to get lost. I ended up walking for ten minutes in the wrong direction because I came out of the wrong exit. Drop Inn hostel was fairly decent. In a 10 bed dorm with individual cubicles was nice although it did mean I slept with both of my bags for company at night as there was no bag storage area – just a little cupboard in the cubicle to lock your valuables in. It had a screen so there was a fair amount of privacy. 2 nights here was fine. After some sorting, I headed out to explore. It was late afternoon by this point so there was no need to do anything too much, I ventured into Dotonbori by metro (a challenge in itself – almost got quite lost) which was the Leicester Square of Osaka, although much more colourful, large and noisy than London. I’d never seen anything like it in my life.My bed for a couple of nights! The dorms are actually quite nice – the beds are quite private.Big objects on the walls above food places illustrate the main selling point (I assume, anyway) e.g. Crab/squid. There was lots of shops in arcades too. There were so many food places to choose from. Especially down little alleyways off the main drag. There was one little street which was meant to be the oldest street and there was a temple nearby. This temple was called Hozen-ji Temple and was just off the Main Street in Dotonbori. You get this a lot, I think, in Japan where you can turn down a little side street and come across a small temple or shrine. This was tuna that I had in a sushi place on the main street in Dotonbori. It proved to be fairly popular as there was constant queues.Above: prawn tempura. Below: gyoza – pork, I think. They were so yummy that I had some more the next day!Below: an assortment of sushi – salmon, tuna and some rolls.Below: Salmon sashimi which is basically raw salmon. Fairly decent, and healthy!Eventually found something to eat after wandering around for ages. It was a little place down a side street which wasn’t too crowded and decent food. I went back there the following day. I’m still walking around 10 miles a day on average. The next day, I got up early and headed out to Osaka castle. My alarm went off which I really hated, but I wanted to make the most of the day. Had a couple of coffees before heading out. I caught a JR train, so I could use my pass, from Osaka to Oskajokoen and walked through the park. I was still feeling tired which was annoying. I’ve noticed that there are trains with women only carriages – apparently this was to ward off lewd conduct. The castle was imposing, although not as much as Himeji. It sits in the middle of a park surrounded by gates and moats. The construction was started in the late 16th century. Inside was a series of exhibitions about the history of the castle and you can climb to the top for an impressive view. I then took another JR train to Teradacho where I could walk to Tennoji which is a big temple complex. One of Japan’s oldest temples is here (called Shitennoji).  I was able to go to the top of the pagoda and have a look around the many temples. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take many photos around the religious sights. I then wondered back to Dotonbori via a different path. There was a bit of town which was the ‘gaming’ part. There was a Namco store so I had a peek inside to see how it compared to the one in London. I expected the usual sort of thing – air hockey etc, but I was very wrong…..It was amazing. There were so many teenagers in there (and smoking was permitted upstairs) and they appeared to have some sort of loyalty card or a pre paid thing. The way that their fingers moved around the screen when they played the musical games was so quick! I walked into another arcade and had a quick massage on a chair and then found a little tribute to Alice in Wonderland shop. I did some research about how to get from Osaka to Koyasan the following day using some free wifi. I was still knackered so I was looking forward to some peace and quiet! After a bit more food, I headed back to the hostel early to sort stuff. Early night required for another early start!

A brief stop in the UK and onto Japan

After arriving back in London, it took a day or two to adjust – jet lag was not much of an issue (thanks night shifts), but it was a funny feeling coming back to the flat and nothing much had changed. I’d only been away six weeks, but here I was taking the familiar routes home and seeing familiar faces when so much had happened while I was away. Mum did a roast the day after I got back which was lovely!

A couple of weeks in London were meant to be some sort of a restbite, but I ended up faffing around with embassies trying to sort two visas, as well as a lot of other menial tasks – I was actually grateful that I had come back to sort them out. The visa for China seemed to be one that caused a bit of grief as I had to have a letter from work confirming that I wasn’t travelling there to work. This meant popping into work to talk to a manager which was also a bizarre feeling – walking down the corridor gave me the creeps. The whole point of the sabbatical was that I could forget about work for six months (and I had done a pretty good job so far). God knows how it’ll feel when I have to go back to work in October! On the plus side, it was nice to catch up with family and friends – I was lucky enough to get to a wedding which I had initially thought I wouldn’t to be able to get to. I also was able to reassess the amount of clothes I should take with me – Asia wasn’t going to be as cold as South America. 

Leaving for Japan and realising that I’m not going to be home for a few months didn’t sink in when I got on the plane from Heathrow. Maybe the two weeks at home had worn me out so much that I hadn’t had time to think about it. I still felt massively unprepared, but it wasn’t a bad thing. It could mean that I’m fairly relaxed about everything, and ready to face with what I get hit with. As long as I had my passport with the right visas sorted, a bit of money and my phone, I wasn’t too worried about other things. It’s quite liberating. I had planned my route in Japan based on a blog that I had read online which had talked about the best things to do in a few weeks and showed how easy it was to get around on trains etc. I had also sorted out getting the Japan Rail Pass when I was at home which was a bit expensive, but it would make life a lot easier as long as you knew you were on the correct trains that use it – it can’t be used on certain bullet trains. 

Stepping off the plane in Tokyo after 17 hours on planes and not too much sleep was exciting, But I was only thinking about my bladder at that precise moment, so decided to do something about it. It was going to the loo that made me realise I wasn’t in London anymore. For one thing, it took me ages to work out how to flush it – lots of buttons with options in Japanese characters. Secondly, there are some other buttons on the loo you can press to play music, as well as a flushing sound. Do you really need to let other people know that you are doing your business that badly? If something needs extensive flushing, why don’t you just flush twice? I’d get embarrassed if I’d walked out of the cubicle and others washing their hands had heard extensive flushing. Would only mean one thing, really….The seats are heated too which was a little bit of a shock. 

Anyway, bar the loo fiasco, getting into Tokyo was fairly straightforward. I was struck with a sense of brightness,colour and information, both digital and placarded. I just about found the place to sort the Rail Pass out after checking there was an express train into the city fairly soon – I managed to find an app on the App Store called HYPERDIA which gives you train times, and selects those which you can use the Rail Pass on – v useful, I think you’ll agree. Just about made the train (after a moment of panic, questioning whether it was the right one as the information was in Japanese, and running down stairs with my massive bag) and it was an hour into the city, The main train station is massive and I could get an intercity train one stop to my hostel for the night. It was a pretty decent hostel and it was compartmented rather than just beds which was quite nice. Picked up some Dim Sum which was much appreciated and got my face stroked by a few people which was a bit odd. But hey ho, all part of it, right? 

Jet lag hit me a bit and I only got a few hours sleep. I didn’t mind to much as I had to be up and out to catch a Shinkansen to Hiroshima. I changed at Shin Kobe on the way so I could use the rail pass. Arrived after four hours and found the capsule hostel! I had been looking forward to staying in this. I walked through Tokyo in the early hours when it was very quiet. I am amazed at the fact that you can smoke on trains – only in certain carriages, and I’ve only noticed then on Shinkansens. 

Then it was out to explore Hiroshima. I was fairly tired but I kept on the move. I visited the Peace Memorial Park where there is a cenotaph paying tribute to all of those who lost their lives on 6th August 1945. Apparently, the park is now built on what was the political centre, and was the target of the atomic bomb, The dome building which is one of the few buildings left standing is very ghostly. I visited the memorial park centre where there was an exhibition about what took place leading up to the bomb being dropped, and the horrific events during and after the bomb was dropped. The scale of the tragedy is unfathomable. 

I then went to the castle which was originally 16th century but had to rebuilt after 1945. The building is nice and it was interesting to see some artefacts that survived. There was a shrine nearby and I first noticed the water ladels and fountain which is used to purify your hands and mouth before prayer.

I wanted an early night after a busy day so thought I’d just grab some food and get some much needed rest. There were a lot of places to choose from just off the Main Street – Hiroshima’s Oxford St. I went into one random one which was quite small and was given a menu solely in Japanese. There were some locals willing to help me out who didn’t speak too much English but were keen anyway. I had some eel, pork and endename beans – yum!

After trying to break down some of the language barrier, it turned into a great evening. The older gentleman was nice enough to buy my dinner and wouldn’t take ‘No’ for answer! This turned into going to a small bar where one of the locals worked and singing karaoke – and yes, my attempt at ‘Wonderful Tonight’ was a little to be desired!

The next morning, I have to admit that I had a bit of a headache. But it was a lot of fun. My alarm was unwelcome, but I knew I had to get another train to Miyajimaguchi which is only half an hour away. I then dropped my bag off at another hostel and caught the 10 min ferry to Miyajima Island. I hadn’t done a lot of research about the island but had heard great things. Getting off the ferry, I was greeted by deer who roam freely and are quite tame. I visited the Itsukushima Shrine which is essentially on water. If the tide comes up too much, the wooden floor can rise up out of the pole it is attached to. This was originally built in 593 but was redone in 1168. It was interesting to see how many people prayed. Also, there are a lot of places where people can write wishes and attach them to rope for good fortune. This is a shrine as opposed to a temple, because there is a ‘gate’ to the shrine – in this case, it is red and in the water. You can’t miss it.

Then off to Daisho-in Temple which is a complex full of smaller shrines. The religion here is Shingon Buddhism. This particular sect teaches that humans can attain enlightenment through rituals combining physical, spoken and mental disciplines. It is at the bottom of Mount Misen which is believed to be sacred. There were lots of different shrines for different prayers e.g. One for good health etc

After a quick udon and tofu soup, it was time to climb to the top of the mountain. It took me back to the Inca Trail – climbed 3km of stairs and I didn’t think that Birkenstock sandles and black cropped jeans were the best form of attire. Nor was carrying a rucksack in 30 degree heat a good idea, especially with a mild hangover. Made it to the top looking like a tomato! Got a cable car on the way down which was good and back on the ferry – knackered! Looking forward to the next few days!

Lima to La Paz: 30 hours by bus, mosquitos and winging it at the boarder crossing

Over 30 hours in coaches over 3 days and I survived to tell the tale! Apart from a mozzie attack which makes me look like I have some medieval disease – they had some fun with my face. After having a bit of a stomach issue and a weird headache, I was unenthusiastic about the first coach journey – it was a 16 hour overnight job and I was praying for some much needed sleep. Luckily, I got some even with a few small children behind me who eventually collapsed in a heap. Had a day in Lima to sort myself out a bit and then got an Uber to the bus terminal. It was dead cheap! Used Cruz Del Sur again. The seats recline a bit and there’s a good foot rest, so it makes sleeping a bit easier. I arrived in Arequipa the next morning and got a taxi to my budget accommodation fairly close to the main square. I was able to get into the room (thankfully!) and then took myself off to the little laundry place I used before. I went to a few places including the cathedral and an archeological museum about the sacrifice of young Inca children as some had been found at the top of one of the mountains. I enjoyed exploring the town again. The sunset was a good one to see from a rooftop. After a quiet evening, the next day was a 6hr coach back to Puno. The scenery was great again. Arrived in the evening and tried to get an early night before the early start the next day. Cue the mozzie attack!Final day of coach fun. This would be the most interesting as it was a Bolivian bus company instead of Peruvian (didn’t rate them as good) and it was time to cross the boarder. An early start and I was at the bus terminal at 7. I had to exchange a voucher for an actual ticket, and fill out a few immigration forms. It took ages to get through the exit office – a good hour! After getting the passport sorted on the Bolivian side, it was back on the coach. However, there was a bit of trouble when not everyone got back on – there were a couple who had been sitting in front of me who did not show up after the boarder – I think they had some trouble. But the bus driver was quite prepared to drive on without them, despite the outbursts of other travellers. Some people got off the coach to help look for them and got left behind too! It was surreal. The bus driver continued to Copacabana which wasn’t too far away. Then everyone seemed to get off – I had been in my own little world. So I got off too and asked someone which bus I had to get on to go to La Paz. I was directed to another bus by a lady with a clipboard. There were another couple of people looking equally confused. I confirmed the destination with the driver and a few of us got on the bus which was definitely nicer than the last. The bus set off going further round Lake Titicaca. The bus pulled up in another town where we were asked to get off again, but left out large luggage on the bus. It appeared that we had to cross the lake by boat, but couldn’t be on the bus. So a few of us had to pay for a little speedboat to take us to the other side while the bus went across separately. It was definitely an adventure! I had no idea what I was doing but just went along with it using a few choice phrases and charades to help. Back on the coach and onwards to La Paz eventually arriving late afternoon. Walked from the bus terminal to where I was staying (thank you Google Maps) and found something to eat – was starving! Rewarded myself with a glass of wine and met some friendly Canadians. What a mad few days!

Lake Titicaca and the floating islands/homestay experience (again!)

Being the tired tit that I am, I accidentally deleted my previous post **rolls eyes**, so here I am rewriting it. 

So, after a 7 hour coach journey with a punctured tyre, we arrived in Puno which is a town on the edge of Lake Titicaca. We witnessed the most amazing procession through the town in the evening as it was the start of the Easter festivities. 

Lake Titicaca is the highest lake in the world – half of it is in Peru and half in Bolivia. It sits at 3810m above sea level.  Some parts are shallow and some are deep. The clouds look as though they are almost touching the water. 

There are floating islands on the lake which are mainly made out of reeds. They grow in the shallow parts of the lake. The reeds are also eaten. A reed is cut and pulled out of the lake and the stem is peeled black like a banana skin. 

The floating islands have the ability to up and move when ever they want – the islands are ‘anchored’ using a large stick which is planted heavily into a shallow section. The inhabitants make their living out of fishing – there are 5 different types of fish. The fish gets traded in Puno.  

Went to island called Taquile for a practice walk. We climbed to the top and it was so steep – got quite out of breath quickly which surprised me! The altitude is still something to get used to. Had a wonderful trout lunch – freshly grilled. Picked up a hat in the market place. 

Then got a boat to another island where we would be staying in the homes of the locals for a night and helping them out with their daily chores. It was an amazing experience. We played a football game and did some Peruvian dancing – I’m not convinced that I suited the costume very well! Bianca and I helped to make bread, manage some sheep and gather some food for the cows. This required picking a load of crops and carrying it up a hill which was tiring! The family were amazingly hospitable and it is great fun to see how you can get along without speaking the same language. It was a constant game of charades. I felt very humbled. The people are happy and content with what they have – a lesson for us all to learn I think! I’m definitely going to be appreciating what I have from now on. 

The Inca Trail

An early start in the chill was our introduction to the 4 day hike to Machu Picchu. A bus took us 45 mins from Ollantaytambo to the start of the trek. It only costs around 300 soles (£75) to actually do the trek which isn’t a lot! After a bit of organising, we set off with our guide leading the way. There is a weight restriction on the amount of luggage you can take with you as there are porters who carry it for you to the campsite – they are absolute machines as they carry around 20kg on their back, leave after you leave, and arrive at the campsite before you do – I felt so inadequate! They are absolute machines and legends! It’s 44km over 3.5 days, which I know doesn’t sound too far, but dealing with altitude, varying weather conditions and steep ascents/decents makes it the challenge. 

The walk itself was only 11km but was up and down hill a bit. Reached an altitude of 3100m having started at around 2650m. It gave us a good idea of what to expect over the following days. We were fortunate enough to see a few Inca ruins along the way – they suddenly appeared out of no where and the views were stunning. 

The food was amazing and continued to be for the whole trip – we were definitely spoilt! I was used to eating cold baked beans out of a tin, not having amazing soup and a plate of rice, beef stew and veg, along with “Happy Hour” which consisted of several cups of tea and cheese crackers and jam. Early nights on all three evenings was a necessity as we were all so tired. 

The second day was much more of a challenge – the morning was all about climbing. Went up 1000m to 4200m and reached Dead Woman’s Pass in under 5 hours. It was such an achievement – a hard one both physically and mentally. The altitude affects the lung capacity more than you may think although the recovery is a quick one. I also had a couple of odd dreams too. The rain came down when we started the descent so it was poncho time! Is made the steep steps quite slippery. We had to keep ourselves motivated and the reward at the end was great. I thought I’d be a lot worse and find it harder than I did. The spin classes have clearly paid off! 

Day 3 was another early start – this was going to be the longest day (16km) and mostly downhill which isn’t easy sometimes – down 1000m to 2500m. My quads were starting to feel the burn on this day. I didn’t use walking poles on the second day so relied entirely on leg power. We started uphill which was ok but I was definitely slower – tiredness was beginning to sink in. The group tended to separate a bit depending on the different paces, but we all met again at various points. Going down was a huge challenge – I slipped over a few times down the wet steps and near some steep cliff drops which was frightening. Now have 2 elegant bruises on both bum cheeks. I ended up getting frustrated with myself that I kept on slipping over or coming close to it so got a bit emotional. But as the day went on, I grew in confidence and was fine by the end of the day – it takes a while to adjust to focus on where you put your feet. Everyone else was feeling the fatigue too. 

The final day – we were woken up at 03:30 to get through the final checkpoint as early as possible. This meant waiting in a line at the checkpoint for an hour in the dark. But it would be worth it. The views along the way were incredible. You were never tired of the scenery around you – 360 degrees of mountains, waterfalls, lucious grass – almost jungle like in parts. The walking on the last day was great in comparison. Easy up and down with some narrow parts. We finally reached the Sun Gate and had the most incredible view of Machu Picchu as the clouds cleared and the sun was rising. Another 45 mins on our feet and we made it! It was hard to take it all in. Of course, we were all shattered by this point and had to contend with a huge amount of tourists. Walking around the site made me realise how massive it is in comparison to other Inca ruins we had visited along the way. We explored the major temples and wandered around.The sun was fairly fierce and it was so early in the morning. 

Things I have learned to love and appreciate:

1) Oxygen

2) A toilet I can sit down on 

3) The power of the legs

4) Face wipes & deodorant 

It was the most amazing journey and I valued that more than visiting the big site itself. It suddenly hits you once you’ve completed it. Sitting in the town afterwards having a celebratory lunch was great fun. Back to civilisation – aka Wi-Fi!