Sunday, May 27, 2012

A conclusion of sorts

For a long time now I've been putting off writing something to wrap up this blog. It's a daunting task: to summarize, in an insightful and meaningful way, six months of incredible experiences that have had a huge impact on my life. In addition to this is the need to make it accessible and relevant to my (admittedly small) audience. So writing this thing is something I have been putting off for a while.

My conclusion is that I can't do it justice. Not really. Travelling has been the single most life changing and rewarding thing I have done to date, when considered as a whole. It has had a significant impact on my outlook on life, the opinions I hold and the way I interpret things around me. It has helped me to be better at interacting with others, and shown me some of the wonderful diversity the human race contains. It has changed the way I think about my own life. It has made me appreciative of things I once never considered.

I don't think I can effectively write something that will be meaningful or interesting to the reader. After all, I started this blog primarily as a way to let my parents know about what I had been up to, and that I was still alive. It isn't a place to get deep, and I'm not the person to go there.

So all I can say is this - if you aren't a traveler yet, go and become one.  You will enjoy it.

Lastly, but far from leastly, a huge thanks to everyone I had the privilege of hanging out with along the way. Special thanks to the boys from Chile, to Lonely Rough Steve, Jack, Bretty, Eric, Amy and Dani (and the whole crew from Sucre, while I'm at it), Acacia and Sabrina, hostel Lao, and I'm sure a whole bunch more people I'm unfairly forgetting right now. My experience would not have been the same without the contributions all of you made. A huge thanks to everyone at PSF for all of the good times, you guys were beyond awesome. And especially thanks to Townie, my red bearded travel brother, who met me while I was the traveling equivalent of fresh prison ass and made sure I steered away from any (metaphorical) unpleasant shower scenes on the horizon.

And with that ... it's done.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tips for the virgin traveller

Throughout my time as a roving gentleman of leisure I learnt a thing or two about how to best get around the fair continent of South America while narrowly avoiding shanking’s, parasites, extradition and other generally unpleasant situations. Rather than taking these learnings of mine to the cold cold grave, I feel it is my duty to share this hard earned wisdom with the masses. This is probably most useful to the virgin traveller. So pour yourself a hot beverage of your choosing and settle in for some sage advice from amateur travelling’s favourite son.

·         Just fuckin’ relax aye. This is a good one for life in general but goes double for travelling. Getting sand in your bits over a bus being late or not having booked a hostel a month in advance will wreck your experience and push you towards an early grave. Just chill. If you miss your bus, there will be a later one. Can’t understand what the official looking uniform guy is saying? Bust some charades or find a translator. If you float on, things will work out and as an added bonus, you (probably) won’t have a stroke.

·         Work out what it is you want to get out of your trip. Focus on this. Make sure you get these things out of your time away. Achieve what you want to achieve. Be the star.

·         At times travelling is going to be hard, or maybe even very hard. Accept it now. It’s good for you. Hard things are often rewarding and this is no different. So keep battling with the language, the indifferent cashier’s complete lack of help, the abundance of gear you’re guarding constantly and the sicko heat. It will be worth it.

·         Travel light. I cannot stress this enough. Travel light. The lighter the better. If you are up at your 23kg flight limit you are in for a bad time. You will have to carry that a couple of km’s in the heat to your hostel (bus stations are never placed conveniently). Trust me on this. I travelled with a bike. It was a burden. I had the world’s biggest backpack, from which I was constantly shedding items. It was a burden. Moving place was a personal hell each time. Learn from my foolishness.

·         Look after your gear. It will be hard to replace, and it’s a hassle you don’t need. Despite this, don’t get too attached to it. There is a good chance you will be robbed.

·         The best way to find out about what is good in an area of the world is to talk to people that have recently been there (or are going and have talked to others who have recently been). This information is up to date. It’s got a face to go with the name. You can ask these people questions based on what you like and loathe in your travel. And it’s a conversation starter. Oh look, you just made a friend for the night. Or maybe for life. Hooray!

·         Following up on this: You know that lonely planet you just dropped the best part of 70 hard earned NZ pesos on? Burn it. That boat anchor is possibly good for a general (read: sloppy) guide to what’s around, but to follow it as gospel is folly. Save yourself much time, money and effort and photocopy some of the relevant bits from a library copy before you go if you feel too vulnerable without it. But it won’t matter if you don’t bother. So save the weight. I gave mine away in the end, and was far better for it.

·         You will have some amazing experiences, no doubt, but part of those experiences will be the people you meet. Be nice to your fellow traveller. You’re all in the same boat here, don’t let it sink. Making good friends is one of the rewarding parts of travelling. If you’re shy, remember that they want to meet you just as much as you want to meet them. Besides, it’s all about getting out of the comfort zone a bit, so be forward. Introduce yourself. It’ll pay dividends.

·         Firm itineraries are for chumps (and the extremely time pressed). Go with the flow. Follow the breeze and go to where it smells best. Remember, you probably won’t even know what the best stuff to do in the area is before you get there. At the same time, it is worth picking a few must do things and making sure you get to them. It’s all the better if they’re spread out around the place as it will keep you moving.

·         Try and find that balance between being on the bus constantly and getting tied down to one spot. Sure, there is a lot to see. But make sure you really see it before moving on. In most cases, I would recommend a two night minimum stay. If it’s choice and there’s lots to do, stretch it out to a week max. But keep moving, there is more cool stuff around the corner. Ignore this if you are studying or volunteering or the such.

·         Travel with respect. Learn the basics of the language. Follow the local customs. Be nice to locals, treat them fairly and don’t be stingy. These countries are broke and your dollars make a big difference to the people over there.

·         Travelling by yourself is not as terrifying as it seems on paper. I should add a disclaimer here: you will probably have a bad time if you are some sort of socially inept creature from the depths. However, as long as you don’t tick that box, you are never going to be as alone as you think. Travellers generally love to meet new people and you soon learn how to hold a conversation with a stranger. This stranger may turn into a travelling buddy. Then the travelling buddy could become a life-long friend.
Apart from this, cruising around on your lonesome is likely to improve your ability to handle discomforting situations, subsequently increasing your self-esteem and turning you into a suave(r) and (more) competent human being.

·         On the flip-side, I imagine travelling with old friends is pretty choice too. You might sacrifice a bit of flexibility but you get to share some of the incredible experiences with some of the people that mean something to you. So don’t be adverse to the idea of some company from back home. A nice little bonus for being in a group is increased buying power.

·         Try and stay off the waste at least a couple of nights a week. Backpacking is one big party but if you take onboard the liquid courage for too many nights in a row you will start feeling fragile in body and psyche. Burnout’s a bitch. Pace yourself champ, there’s another party on tomorrow.

·         Carabineers. These little gems are brilliant for attaching excess shit to your bulging luggage, and for leaving the things you need in a hurry in an easily accessible locale. They don’t have to be fancy, but some sort of function that prevents opening is probably desirable. I wouldn’t carabineer anything you’re fond of to your baggage that goes under the bus either, unless you want to be parted swiftly.

·         The sleeping bag goes onto the bus with you. That way, when the condensation freezes on the inside of the window, you’re still thriving.

There we have it team, a relatively good starting point for those yet to be corrupted by the ways of the traveller. I really can’t stress enough how good travelling is so take these words to heart, scrape some cash together, get out there and get it down ya.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Volunteering at PSF, part three

Missed part one? Or part two?

There is another side to PSF as well, which is an integral part of the experience. I’m talking about the social elements. The people around you have a huge bearing on your life so the communal side of things has a big bearing on the experience you have. I had an incredible experience and much of the credit goes to the people I was working and living with.

It’s no stretch to say I made lifelong friends in the two and a bit weeks I was there. Of course, this is true of travelling anywhere. But with PSF, there’s such a diverse range of talented people who share a similar mind-set that it’s easy to make real connections. Never before have I seen so many good people gathered together in one place. There are also plenty of opportunities to be social.

The living arrangements promote it. There are two buildings which house the volunteers. All meals are served at one, which has a large courtyard. This courtyard also hosts a meeting every morning. At night, there is generally a fire in a barrel to huddle around with a cold litre of cerveza. During the day, some sort of productivity is always going on in the courtyard. The whole place hums with activity the whole time. It’s a set-up which encourages interaction.

PSF’ers are the thing-doing type. The second day I was there we had a day off due to a Peruvian national holiday. We went to the beach and had a bonfire with beers. It was a great way to meet some people and get to the talking.

Something which happens fairly regularly is a trip to Huacacina, one of the nearby towns. The ‘main’ draws is sandboarding. This is basically like snowboarding but on sand. Around 20 of us went out there on the last weekend I was in Peru and it was massive. It started off with a mini-bus ride for an hour and a half to Huacacina. There was a lot of rum involved. The vibe was festive.

Upon arrival we checked into the hostal and proceeded to continue making merry next to the pool. It was mid-afternoon and we already had a good glazing. We kept up the pre-gaming at a good rate for a few hours until it was dark and late and time to go to the nightclub. Fortunately, this was adjacent to the hostal. What else could we do but go in and tear it a new one?

The next day was an exercise in agony. However the weather was good and there was a pool to laze around so not everything was mislaid. Calming recovery beers were drunk in this ideal locale (never doubt the power of a recovery beer). Later we went out to sandboard.

Sandboarding is fun and I would recommend it to a friend. First you get into a massive souped-up dune buggy and drive madly around the dunes. Then you find a good steep one and drive to the top. Next you strap a waxed piece of wood to your feet. Alternatively, you can lie down on said wood. Then you do your best to get to the bottom of the dune stylishly or at least upright.

My penchant for nudity kicked in at this point and I stripped off to do a ‘winner takes all’ high risk run on the last hill. Fortunately I made it down in one smooth, unbroken ride. There should even be a video of it somewhere (although I’ve never seen it) as I was followed by a lucky fella with a camera strapped to his head. Afterwards, everyone thought it would be a great joke to make me wait a long time for my clothes to come down. To be fair, it was. Getting back was eventful as the buggy got stuck at the bottom of a bowl of sand. We got it out eventually but it was negligible for a while.

We rushed back to PSF to go to a birthday party. With 80-odd people in PSF there tends to be one or two a week. This one was great, with lots of games and food and laughter. It was set up so that to get a drink you had to complete a challenge. It was a great night and the ideal end to the weekend.

There were two bars in town that the volunteers went to: Mystica and the other one (the name escapes me but I remember the floodlights). Both were good for a laugh although the volunteers tended to make up most of the customers when we went. I remember one night on the way to Mystica I asked the driver of the tuk-tuk (basically a three wheeled motorbike rigged up to carry some people) if I could take the controls. I was surprised to be allowed, considering I was slurring drunk. After we arrived at the bar and dropped off the other volunteers he let me take it for a lap. When we swapped bars I again asked successfully. I was properly sloshed by this stage and just gave it full noise over a speedbump into an intersection. The other volunteers on the back were terrified but I was delighted.

Another interesting but horrible social event we attended was a real-life cockfight. After pantomiming the actions of 2 roosters fighting to the tuk-tuk driver (including foot actions) we made it to a little concrete coliseum with a sandy arena in the middle. Two birds were being prepared, which meant having blades ties onto the backs of their feet. Then they were placed to face each other, separated by a flimsy plastic barrier. This was removed and the birds eyed each other up. One of them made a crowing noise. Then there was a blur of motion. Around a second later one of the birds was only good for use in soup. This cock fighting was serious stuff and I didn’t enjoy it. It was a bit brutal for my tastes. Having said that it is an important part of Peruvian culture and I’m glad I went along. We must have watched about six or seven rounds before we’d seen enough.

That’s a taste of the social scene at PSF. There’s so much more to it than that though. It’s an important element of what makes PSF such a great experience. I was surprised at how sad I was to be leaving after only two and a half weeks. But I had a flight to catch so leave I did, going through a protest and then getting on a bus to Ica. From Ica I managed to catch a bus directly to Santiago in Chile. It was 54 hours of cramped, unreclining, hostile, and distinctly non-English-speaking hell. I was the only Gringo on the bus and everyone else made sure I knew I wasn’t welcome. But I got to Santiago with a night to spare, cleaned my bike and caught my plane so it all ended okay.

Now you've read the words, why not donate to the cause? Don't be tight, they need that tenner more than you do.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Volunteering at PSF, part two

Here's part two of my rambling account of my time spent volunteering. If you missed part one, you can read it here.


I did a few days in the wood-yard, which was a good place to chill out and detox a bit. But I also got out into the community a bit. I spent an excellent day out at a school helping to put the finishing touches on a cafeteria. Mostly it involved cutting tiles in half using an angle grinder, barefoot and shirtless in the sun. Later a few of them got put onto the wall. The school itself was not tip top after the earthquake, with one of the larger buildings earning the condemned title. This meant that the school ran in the mornings for primary level and the afternoons for secondary. It’s not the ideal for the kid’s educations. Anyway, the cafeteria was a nice big space which was sorely needed at the school, and there were plans to provide nutritious lunches afoot when the building was complete, which will likely make a big difference to the quality of the kids’ lives.

One Saturday morning I had an interesting time teaching English to some local teenagers. I battled. I was lucky they were at an intermediate level or I would have been left high and dry. Mostly it just involved talking to them, which was interesting as I got to learn a little about their lives. There were also some activities which we got into, but I found them as difficult as the students. It made me realise that as far as languages go, English is very inconsistent and a little bit stupid sometimes. I have heard it called idiosyncratic before but I think that’s being a bit gentle. The problem I had was giving a legitimate and sensible reason as to why we speak English the way we do. “It’s just the way it is” wasn’t to inspiring for those I was trying to teach. If you speak English as your native tongue, I think you are very lucky you learnt it at an early age.

I spent a good few days helping to build a new wing of an existing hospital, which I really enjoyed. The project was known as ‘the French Hospital’ in PSF because the hospital we were at was originally set up by a French organisation. We were building a women’s wing consisting of several rooms. The structure was made out of brick with concrete pillars. While I was there bricklaying was underway and some pillars were also being poured. I helped with that.

To pour a concrete pillar, firstly a framework of re-bar (reinforcement bar) must be built. This involves four big metal poles sticking up out of the ground at the corners of a square, with many little squares attached at various heights around the initial poles. Form board (big planks, basically) is put around this structure (with ample space between the form board and re-bar) and the form-board is tied to the re-bar using wire. Then concrete is poured into the top. Air is removed using a machine called a vibrator. Innuendo was everywhere when the vibrator came out, providing many laughs. When the vibrator’s done its job there is no air left down there and the form boards are full, the pillar is left to set. When the concrete is set, the form boards are removed and we are left with a fresh shiny pillar.

I particularly enjoyed my time at the French Hospital as it was good manual labouring out in the sun and in the community. It felt good to do some physical work after so much time spent looking at the sights and practicing bottle-sized bicep curls. Concrete is bloody heavy stuff and passing up buckets of it above your head for a couple of hours certainly lets you know about it later in the day.

Those were the only projects I got onto at PSF. I also took a turn cooking, which was a surprisingly fun day. Cooking takes an entire day for four people. This is because you cook for everyone at PSF, usually about 70 or 80 people. We were a team of four lads, and none of us are going to give Gordon Ramsey a run for his money anytime soon. Things looked a bit bleak for the stomachs of everyone at PSF. The cooks get to choose what they cook which is a bit of pressure when it’s for so many. In the morning you go to the local market and buy all of the ingredients you need, with the allotted money you are given. The food markets are an experience in themselves and it’s a great way to see some of the local culture. It’s also fun to haggle over the price of food and generally have a mosey around.

Once you’ve got the food you need the four of you head back to PSF to start preparing and cooking the food. The trick to success with cooking for that many people is definitely to keep it simple and cook what you know. Even following these golden rules, we were under a lot of pressure to get everything ready on time. To make matters worse, I was frantically attempting to organise some sort of transport to get me to Santiago in time for my flight and had to go on a mission to the bus company at one stage (with no love; my new plan became wing it and hope, which sort of worked out). In the end it all worked out; our chicken pasta didn’t cause any deaths so I’d call it a success.

I got to participate in just a tiny fragment of the projects PSF initiates and gets involve with. A big one I missed was building modular houses. Apart from that, they also do things such as childcare, environmentally friendly fuels, houses made from bags of dirt, painting murals, building parks and gardens and other programmes designed to improve the lives of those living in Pisco. Something I really like about PSF was the way they were always looking for new ideas which they could implement to improve Pisco.

The whole place was amazing because it shows what people can do when they pull together. We’re communal animals, us humans, and we have the capacity to achieve great things when we’re in groups. To me, that’s what’s happening at PSF. I find it incredible that a bunch of regular people can get together and make a real and effective difference to the lives of those in need out of the goodness of their hearts. These people are often driven by enthusiasm and determination over expertise on their way to doing what’s needed. There aren’t necessarily  a whole lot of people with a lot of skills and experience in construction and that sort of thing out there, but everyone there has a red hot go and makes sure that what needs to be done gets done in order to make the community of Pisco a better place. And it works out, because these people make it work out. It just shows what people can do if they really want to and it was a great thing to be part of.

Stay tuned for part three, where I tell you all about the social scene at PSF. We go large!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Volunteering at PSF, part one

For the last two and a half weeks of my time in South America I had lined up something I’d wanted to do for a while. My time away was incredibly rewarding and I wanted to give something back to the place which had provided me so many new experiences and helped me to change my perspective and grow as a person.

So I was excited about spending some time volunteering in a South American community. There is a plethora of organisations dedicated to the cause on the continent but the one I settled on was Pisco Sin Fronteras (PSF, in English it means Pisco without borders). It’s based in Pisco (yes, it’s not just a deliciously potent alcoholic drink, it’s also a place) and has a reputation for both providing a great service to the community and having a really good social scene amongst the volunteers. I had heard about it from an English amigo I had gone large with in Chile and the way he talked about it really sold it to me.

The reason Pisco needs some help is that there was a fairly large earthquake there back in 2007. By fairly large I mean fucking huge. It kicked around the 8.0 mark on the Richter scale and laid waste to the city in a tremendous way. Sadly it killed a fair few people - I’ve read a variety of death tolls from 430 to 595 – and it is estimated to have badly damaged 80% of the buildings in the city. Many of these buildings are still unliveable today, over 4 years later. In some cases, entire families are still living in tents or under tarpaulins. Anyone who has been to South America will understand when I say that the government is simply unable to provide sufficient aid to the city. And that’s where PSF steps in.

I was dumped at the turnoff to Pisco at an ungodly hour of the morning after an awful overnight bus-ride from Cuzco. I had a throbbing hangover and no idea what was going on. In my haste to leave Cuzco after the Inca trip I had neglected to get any information on where PSF actually was in Pisco. Immediately there were a bunch of taxi drivers gabbling at me in rapid-fire Spanish so I picked one who looked trustworthy and loaded my gear and burdensome bici into the back of his station wagon.

On the ten minute or so drive into Pisco I got my first look at the place in the early morning light. I remember wondering what I had gotten myself into as the place looked like a dump. Everything was haggard and run-down and there was what looked like rubble visible in some places. At this stage I basically didn’t know what to think. I had been into some places that I thought were pretty dodgy looking in Bolivia and this was up there with any of them. I remember having some doubts at this stage.

The taxi driver said he knew where he was going and we soon arrived in the right place, but being so early in the morning no-one was awake. I was locked out of the complex. I told the driver that I would be fine and he could go and then proceeded to make a lot of noise on the metal gate. It must have worked because I was let in and went to sleep. All in all my arrival to Pisco and first impressions were not the best.

I had arrived on a Sunday. The next day was Monday and that meant straight into working. I started off in Bollywood, PSF’s wood-yard. PSF’s bread and butter is building modular houses and it’s in Bollywood that the modular’s constituent pieces are created. The houses are modular because all the parts are ready to go when they get to the site – so you start with a bunch of walls, a door and some roofing, and can then very quickly finish with a house.

Bollywood is where the walls are made. The process is as follows: Every week, a sizeable stack of pallets is collected from the local metal-works located just outside of the city. These pallets are then broken down by the volunteers (which is a fun couple of days of smashing them with sledgehammers, stomping them apart, and for the truly savage, ripping them apart with bare hands). After this the nails have to be removed, which is A Bad Time. The pieces of wood are then cut to a specific length and stacked neatishly. While these goings on are going on, a framework is built up – it’s basically a big rectangle divided in half by a cross-brace. A piece of tarpaulin is cut to fit and stapled to the frame. Finally, some of those boards so diligently stacked earlier are removed from the pile and attached to the frame using nails. And just like that, a section of wall is ready to go.

It may not sound like much, a house made from recycled pallets and lined with tarpaulin. But remember, some families here have been living in a tent for over four years. Sure, camping can be fun, but only when you have a nice safe secure place to go when you get over it. I want to emphasise the word secure here because a problem  with living in a tent that I didn’t think of is security. How do you make sure your possessions are safe? So in addition to providing much needed shelter, these houses provide security for families.

Read more about PSF in part two, coming soonish ...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Inca jungle trip, part two

Right before lunch we had our faces painted and were given our Quechuan (the native Peruvian Incans) names; mine was Puma which was lucky because it meant I had a chance of remembering it. Everyone else had to battle with multi-syllable mouthfuls that sounded like they were speaking through the remnants of a small rodent. Which we soon were, because lunch was the traditional Peruvian meal of Cuy.

Oh yeah, monkey house had turkeys. Aren't they ridiculous?

Creepy, no?
What is Cuy, I hear you (maybe) say? Guinea Pig. Just like the one you used to play with as a kid, in the backyard at home. I had been looking forward to trying the little rat bastards for a while at this stage, and was delighted to discover that we could choose which of the furry little delights we wanted to consume. Our guide recommended picking the fattest looking one as they were meant to be the tastiest. Our first choice wasn’t allowed because it was pregnant but the cook couldn’t see a problem with our second option. Let’s call her Madeline. Grabbing her by the back feet and the head, she pulled gently until Madeline’s cute little neck snapped and she breathed her last.

Madeline, noooo!

The lady was surprised to see Madeline still moving when she put her onto the table (in fact, she moved enough to fall right off). It turns out that Maddy was actually pregnant as well, effectively turning us into monstrous animal-baby killers. If hell exists and I wasn’t already on the list, I must be now. To be completely honest, it dropped the tone of the experience a fair bit. Bad times. Still, there was no point in letting poor Madeline go to waste so she was expertly plucked and gutted by our cook, who then impaled her with a skewer and barbequed her to secret Peruvian recipe specifications.

The result wasn’t all that good. There wasn’t all that much meat for a start, and what there was tended towards really fatty or really chewy. The flavour wasn’t anything to write home about either (although I suppose that’s what I’m doing right now). Having said that, if you get the chance to munch a Guinea pig (without forever scarring a small child by eating their pet) then I think you should take it.


Once we had gotten the Cuy down us we were back to the hiking. It was a fairly long day on foot overall and by the end of it some members of the group were pretty done with the whole thing. We were on the actual Inca Trail in the afternoon and it was stunning. There were some good high narrow sections to keep us on our toes. We also stopped at a point with a great view and Towny and I expressed ourselves with the physical form. I think the results are quite poignant.

Cheers Towny for the awesome photo and for letting me play grab-ass with you in the far left part of the shot.

A good spot to really ponder life's big issues.

Fortunately at the end of the day there was a little treat waiting for us across a river (which we crossed in a little basket on a wire which was pulled over by a little old man – I took a turn and pulled some people across for him). At the end of our trek we got to splash around in some hot pools for a while, and I had been carrying a treat for us for the last two days: a fine bottle of Appleton’s rum.

It's the team!

Our poor rum never even got the chance to encourage us to make bad decisions. While we were lurking in the hot pools some tosspot Englishman managed to knock over the bottle, smashing it. He achieved this despite the fact that it was tucked away under a lounger - quite a feat. To say I was gutted would be understating the issue. Apart from the fact that I love a good rum, I had lugged the bloody thing a long way (it weighed about a good chunk of my total bag) and now I wouldn’t get to enjoy the rewards for my toils.

Dodgy as river crossing mechanism

It turned out the English dude wasn’t so bad and replaced our rum on the spot, although with a lesser bottle (luckily they were selling booze at the pool, you’ve gotta love South America). It was remarkably pleasant sitting in some hot pools drinking rum, and we all got a bit tipsy which was good as it encouraged us to keep drinking through dinner and then go out to a sub-par nightclub in the middle of nowhere. I had a bit of a bad one, got too drunk for anyones good, had a bust time and lost my wallet with my one credit card in it.

Therefore I was less than pleased with life the next day when I woke up. I had effectively lost any access to cash that I had. This is the one thing you don’t want to happen to you while you are travelling. They always say you should travel with more than one credit card and I thought I had just found out why, the hard way. But I’m a lucky bastard sometimes and this was one such occasion.

We went out to our next activity, ziplining. I was still pretty raw about the wallet thing so it was thrilling to find out that a gringo in one of the other tour groups had found someone’s wallet last night, at the very bar I was in no less! They were leaving as we arrived but we were going to the same place for lunch so I was hopefully to be reunited with my leathery friend and his plastic cashflow treats in the near future.

With that off my mind I could get to grips with ziplining hungover. The worst part was the walk up the hill to the first line, it definitely got me into the pain cave with the heat and the steepness. I’m also reasonably afraid of heights so ziplining was a bit out of my comfort zone but after the first line I settled down a bit. It’s mighty good fun. I also bent the rules a bit and managed to convince the operator it was a good idea to let me go sin ropa for one of the lines. Another little highlight was seeing Michelle Rodriguez there, as she was with another tour group about to get amongst it as we were leaving. Neat.

Spot the bollock. Photo courtesy of Eric (he's very courteous when he doesn't know about it).

Lunch saw me reunited with my wallet and very grateful for it. It was a very lucky escape for me there and I vowed not to hit the piss with my credit card ever again (I’ve since failed on that goal). The afternoon hike was a bit grim for me as it was flat and along a railway track. That’s barely hiking as far as I’m concerned and certainly not my idea of a good time. After a few hours we arrived in Agua Calientes (which means hot water, who calls a town that?), the nearest settlement to Machu Picchu. We had a pretty relaxed and early night as we were getting up stupidly early the next morning to visit the ruins themselves.