San Carlos de Bariloche – Lakes, Mountains, Ice Cream, Beers

Travel

Overall Destination Rating: 92%

Argument Density: Moderate

Argentina – the country that just keeps on giving. Our journey south to Patagonia started with a quick flight to San Carlos de Bariloche – a quaint little town known as ‘the Switzerland of South America’. If you like endless views of snow-capped mountains, turquoise lakes and lush green forests then Bariloche is for you. If you like craft beer, handmade chocolate and sensational ice cream, then Bariloche is for you. Three perfect days of climbing up hills and having beers at the top, thank you very much Bariloche.


Day 77 – A Final Hurrah in Buenos Aires

With our flight not departing for Buenos Aires until later in the afternoon, we had a morning to kill. Turns out that once you’ve visited the falls, there isn’t a great deal to do in Iguazú. You can barely get a good coffee and scrambled eggs for breakfast. We set out with the best intentions for seeing the border mark where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet, but easily convinced ourselves that this would, in fact, be a bit pointless and so we resigned ourselves to some questionable cheese toasties to pass the time until we were to be reunited with Tone. I found time to buy myself a small bottle of whisky, which remarkably only cost 70p, a small price to pay for mine and Ross’s sanity on the flight. The airport wait was made more entertaining with Monopoly Deal and a very friendly tourist who took it upon himself to draw Ross and I whilst we tried to plan our wins.

It was to be our final night in Buenos Aires, and, even more sadly, our last night with Stevie and Nyssa. Having grown quite accustomed to travelling as a 4, I was fairly dismayed at the thought of going back to having to deal with Ross’s bad jokes alone.

Our meeting point for the evening’s festivities was La Carbonera – a Venezuelan empanada joint which had eluded us previously, but was now going to get the absolute treatment. Luckily for me the corn empanadas are naturally gluten free so before Ross could say “pint of quilmes por favor geez” I had earmarked a couple of flavours to spend my pesos on. From here on in, a mini bar crawl ensued, where we stopped frequently at anywhere that looked Instagram worthy, the highlight being a bar whereby everything, yes everything, on the menu was $89 pesos (around £1).

After several rounds of Monopoly Deal, more mojitos than could ever be necessary, and questionable rum shots that appeared without anyone asking for them, we ended up with some halloumi treats before bidding Stevie and Nyssa a tearful farewell. We couldn’t have asked for a better pair to explore Peru, Chile and Argentina with and can’t wait for some more adventures on the other side of the globe.


Day 78 – The Remarkable Norwegian Air, Lago Nahuel Huapi

For fear of sounding like a travel blogging cliche, I’m quickly learning that one of the best things about travelling is the incredible people you meet. This flight was a true example of that. Not only did a lady named Irene actually swap seats with Ross in order to sit next to me and chat to me throughout the flight, Marcia the flight attendant was exceptionally helpful, even writing me down (in Spanish) a list of things I could do to help with the shakes.

We landed in Bariloche with bright blue skies overhead and artisan ice cream calling our names. We checked into our Airbnb, dumped our dirty washing at the laundrette and set off for a recce of the village. Turns out Bariloche is like a mini Switzerland and the perfect stop before heading into Patagonia.


Day 79 – Cerro Llao Llao, Sendero de los Arrayanes

After a home cooked meal and (finally) some veggies, it had been an early night for us, meaning this morning we were up early ready for a day of hiking. We jumped on a local bus to Parque Municipal Llao Llao where some pretty trails awaited us.

First we tackled the Sendero de los Arrayanes, a relatively easy trail through the forest taking us past a pretty lake and via some very photographable viewpoints…

Once we’d reached the end of that trail, remarkably with not even a peep from me about my feet hurting, our appetites were whet and so we set off on a second trail which looped us round the edge of the lake and towards our ultimate destination of Cerro Llao Llao.

This marked the end of the enjoyable walking for the day, as a sharp left took us climbing up to the top of Cerro Llao Llao. Notoriously not a fan of any sort of incline, I was soon huffing and puffing, with Ross becoming increasingly less patient with each hairpin bend. Thankfully, it was only about 30 mins of wheezing and snapping at each other before the trail opened out onto one of the most spectacular views we’ve been granted thus far on the trip.

When we finally made it back down to sea level, there was just enough time for a quick home made dinner and a few episodes of Friends before another early night.


Day 80 – Cerro Campanario, Mamushka

Another lazy start for Ross as I ploughed through a job application and he alternated between Facebook videos of dogs and the Mail Online sport section. We finally got ourselves out of the apartment and made a beeline for Mamushka – an ice cream vendor that Irene-from-the-flight had recommended to us. Turns out Irene knows a thing or two about ice cream, with a delicious vegan pineapple, ginger and mint flavour, and a lemon pie with real meringue swirls, being the showstoppers.

We decided to tackle Bariloche’s most famous and most visited viewpoint today – Cerro Campanario. The viewpoint and cafe can be reached by a quick jaunt up the ski lift but, in the interest of saving our pesos for a pint at the top, we decided to scramble up the steep, dusty trail below it to get to the peak. It was a rough climb but we were rewarded with 360 degree views of the surrounding area, a cold pint for Ross and a lovely white wine for me. Worth it 100%.

The journey back down the mountain, after a drink, was much more sketchy than the way up, and it was only after several stomach-churning slips and slides, many a stumble, and a couple of panicky grasps at tree branches, that we finally boarded the bus back to our Airbnb.


Day 81 – Cerro Otto, Telerifico Cerro Otto, Rotating Cafe, Habsburg Stone, Manush, Belek

Fearing we had seen the best of what Bariloche had to offer, we did a quick trawl of the nearby trails and came across the Cerro Otto Telerifico (cable car). After a quick move from our Airbnb to a cute ski chalet type hostel, we set off for the cable car station, bright eyed, bushy tailed, and bravely planning to hike up to the top of Cerro Otto rather than get the cable car.

It was only when we were half an hour into an overgrown trail that we began to question our plan. It was with many concerned glances at each other that we persevered a little longer, but soon were faced by a pack of aggressive dogs that sent us skidding back the way we’d come, cursing the advice we’d read that the trail was viable.

We eventually admitted defeat and were soon being locked into a carriage and hauled up the mountain by the somewhat rusty cable car system. I enjoyed the view through my fingers as Ross taunted me with “what was that noise?” and “that wind can’t be safe” comments.

At the top of the cable car, there are a few viewing platforms, an art gallery, rotating cafe, and trailheads to various points in the mountains. Upon some advice from a friendly and enthusiastic ranger, we set off for the Habsburg Stone – a rocky outcrop offering more incredible views. The walk was about two hours each way through the forest, and was flat enough for Ross and I to remain friends throughout.

We got back to the cable car station just in time as they were closing the trails, and decided to treat ourselves to a drink in the rotating cafe. Ross enjoyed a pint and we shared a very Christmassy apple strudel whilst Ross tried to pretend he wasn’t getting travel sick.

On the bus back from Cerro Otto, we agreed that tonight would be an excellent night for our Around The World in 80 Arguments Christmas Do. We started in Manush – a local brewery offering 2-4-1 happy hour craft beer and jugs of wine for cheaper than a bottle of water.

From here we moved onto Belek where Ross worked through their craft beer offering and we sampled some of their cheap but very cheerful burgers. Little did Ross know, as he was pounding his fourth and fifth beers, how much he would come to regret them in the morning…


Iguazú Falls – Perfecto!

Travel

Overall Destination Rating: 92%

Argument Density: High (theme – “Ross stop using me as banter fodder”)

The world’s best example of an waterfall, the world’s worst example of mass tourism, but still a place that will forever (and ever and ever) hold a place in our hearts. Every bit as beautiful as Instagram promises, Iguazu deserves a visit. 100% go to both the Brazil and Argentina sides (and not just for the passport stamps).


Day 74 – The Best Smoothie Bowl So Far, Arrival in Iguazu, Big Tone, Questionable-Meat-Kebabs

With a flight to ‘look forward to’, we decided to use our last morning in Buenos Aires to relax. We went for a quick run, stored our luggage and then found a shopping mall with a cute Hawaiian hut called Mahalo which served incredible smoothie bowls for breakfast (think: more Nutella than fruit). Ross predictably swerved the smoothie and opted for a ham and cheese toastie and then we set off for the airport.

We met Stevie and Nyssa, who were engrossed in a game of ‘Monopoly Deal’ (more on this later), and I quickly excused myself for a swift double whisky in the Hard Rock Cafe. Thank you Buenos Aires airport. Ross had opted not to sit next to me on the flight, leaving me sandwiched between two elderly Spanish ladies on an organised tour to the falls. Upon take off, my tears started and I immediately found each of my hands in a vice like grip administered by the ladies on each side. This turned out to be more of a comfort than it sounds, and by the time I had looked at all of window-seat-lady’s travelling photos, we had landed.

Upon reconvening at the airport, we were met by our chauffeur, Tony. Tony, Tony, Tony. An unexpected highlight of our trip, offering his services for the rest of our visit to the falls.

We arrived at our Airbnb and decided to opt for a cheap and cheerful dinner at a local restaurant. The meat was unidentifiable but tasty, and Ross nearly killed Stevie by making a poorly timed joke mid-swig of beer. We headed home for an early night, excited for the day of exploring ahead.


Day 74: The Brazil Side, Aqva

We’d lucked out with our Airbnb; yes it was insanely cheap, yes it did have air con in every room, yes there was a great table for monopoly deal, however most importantly it came with our driver for the next 3 days. The one and only Tony, or affectionately to us known as “Big Tone” (we got the impression he was quite a big deal in Puerto Iguazú). In all seriousness, we were just expecting a transfer from the airport, but Tone gave us the soft sell en route to our apartment and his charm combined with him undercutting the bus prices meant we signed up for a 3 day contract, border crossings included.

As such, we awoke with great anticipation, not only were we going to Brazil, we had a full day with our driver’s dulcet “Tones”. The conversation between myself and Tony flowed well, as I also acted as translator for Ross, Nyssa and Stevie (although Stevie did spend most the journey trying not to to end up asleep on Tony’s shoulder as the gentle motion of the Toyota Corolla lulled him into a blissful doze). Expectedly, Tone handled the administrative burden of the border crossing well, and after a quick form filling exercise and passport stamp we were racing into Brazil. I would fully recommend getting a driver as opposed to faffing about with the bus – financially it worked well for us because we were a group of 4, but had it only been Ross and I it would have still been more viable.

After arriving in the national park, we approached the self service ticket points, which remarkably were more efficient than the Tesco offering and without any unexpected items in our own respective bagging areas, we headed to the bus departure point in order to make our way to the trailhead.

After alighting, we were greeted with swarms of tourists. A series of marked viewpoints along the trail frequently meant battling with the other tourists for the best photo opportunity. At more than one stage I’m sure I ruined a family photo, but ultimately it was the Chinese tourists who were most ruthless. “Dog eat dog” in their approach some might say.

Having had our fill of viewpoints, we then headed towards the starting point for our boat trip, which we had pre-booked in town on the advice of Tone, since it was far cheaper. After a brief ride, we were asked whether we wanted to take the “dry” or the “wet” trip. Naturally we all opted for the wet option and it was only Ross who was left questioning the logistics of how we were to dry off prior to the journey home so as not to damage Tony’s upholstery. It was at this point that Ross revealed to us he had actually read that it was useful to bring swimmers, but he discounted this on the basis that he didn’t anticipate us taking a dip in the falls. Take my advice, bring something to wear for the boat trip, and a dry pair or clothes, otherwise you will end up with a very wet bottom for a very long time.

Having not planned a boat trip, I would fully recommend it, allowing you to see the falls from another vantage point whilst also experiencing the immense water pressure by going under the water from some of the smaller waterfalls. After getting an absolute soaking, we headed back to the car park where our trusty steed awaited us to escort us back to Airbnb.

After a brief consultation with trip advisor, dinner in Aqva was selected. What a choice that was – the breads alone made me think I was going to lose Ross to a wholemeal roll soaked in olive oil and balsamic.


Day 76 – The Argentina Side, Monopoly Deal, Aqva Again

We woke this morning and pulled our hiking boots back on, ready for our expedition to the Argentinian side of Iguazu. Traumatised by yesterday’s crowds, we had requested Big Tone come and collect us extra early, and so it was with bleary eyes and a Doritos breakfast that we stumbled into Tony’s car and onward to the entrance.

We breezed through the gates, arriving as planned before the tour buses, and set off for the ‘Inferior’ trail. ‘Inferior’ turned out to not, in fact, refer to the quality of the trail, but rather to the fact that it descended lower than its counterpart the ‘superior’ trail, allowing us to get up close and personal with the waterfalls and also some cheeky monkeys with their eyes on our remaining Doritos.

Our next hike took us on the ‘Superior’ trail – a romp along the top of the waterfalls and ultimately to the mouth of the Devil’s Throat itself. Despite being well and truly drenched by the spray, this was an incredible experience and really rounded off what had been an exceptionally good day of hiking.

Finished earlier than expected, I sent Big Tone a message to request a pick-up. To all of our disappointment, he sent a colleague, Small Dave, which resulted in a fairly quiet journey home. With the whole afternoon ahead of us, we purchased beers (Stevie and Ross) and a bottle of red (Nyssa and I) and settled into a long stint of Mono Deal. Mono Deal, as it turns out, is the most competitive card game I’ve ever come across, and we lost several hours to the game before Nyssa suggested a tentative ‘I’m quite hungry…”.

With last night’s meal in our minds, none of us could pretend we didn’t want to return to Aqva, and so back we went, securing a table very quickly, ordering very similar meals to the night before, and launching into an entertaining exchange of ‘worst skiing accidents’ stories.

Too soon, it was time to retire to bed and get ready for our return to Buenos Aires and what would be not only our last night in our favourite city in South America so far, but also our last night travelling with Stevie and Nyssa…

Buenos Aires – Very Bueno Indeed

Travel

Overall Destination Rating: 200% – moving here ASAP

Argument Density: Moderate

We had the very best intentions to repent for our Mendoza sins in Buenos Aires, marking out running routes, museums and healthy food options. We did some of the above but no one warned us how fun Buenos Aires is. And so, what ensued was many more vino tintos, cold cerveza and late nights. It’s easy to play hard in Buenos Aires, so when you go, go hungry and ready for a good time.


Day 70 – Milking Our Time in Paradise, Arrival in Buenos Aires

We woke up in our cloud of a bed at Casa De Uco, only slightly reluctant to get up and admit we had to leave. Before breakfast we had a quick visit to the (tiny) gym and sat on the balcony admiring the vineyards in the early morning sun. Breakfast was a sprawling buffet and they even included a tower of pancakes for Ross to celebrate his birthday.

Having requested a late check out, we enjoyed a lazy afternoon by the pool chatting to some other travellers. After sharing a bottle of wine with our new pals, it was time to load up the car and depart for the airport, destination: Buenos Aires.

The flight was uneventful, as I’m beginning to learn is the norm, but not without several mild panic attacks from me, meaning tensions were high upon arrival in BA. Exhausted, hungry, and slightly fed up with each other, we checked into our (overwhelmingly orange) AirBnB and grabbed a hurried McDonalds before retiring to bed.


Day 71 – DIY Walking Tour of BA, Klub Polaco, Mezcal

Ross acted as our guide again today – planning us a DIY walking tour of Buenos Aires to help us get acquainted (and probably to earmark some good craft beers for later).

From our accommodation in the trendy and fun Palermo, we started with a stroll to Plaza Armenia – which would turn out to be our favourite stomping ground in BA, full of fun bars and restaurants, with hundreds of people sat outside drinking wine into the early hours. From there, we walked on to the Eco Parque, which at first seemed like an unassuming but attractive park until I spied the two elephants randomly roaming in the centre. After some investigation it turns out the park used to be a zoo but after some tragic animal deaths due to staff negligence, it was slowly shut down. The remaining animals are the ones that cannot be reintegrated into the wild.

Feet beginning to hurt, and heavens threatening to open, we made our next stop the MoMA – for some art and culture. We admired the wacky art installations, some better than others, and then took refuge in the cafe whilst the skies emptied themselves outside.

Ross then guided us on to the Recoleta Cemetery – very impressive but suitably spooky destination with some famous graves and lots of incredibly grand statues. Worth a visit but definitely in daylight!

From the cemetery we continued our walk (via some snacks for me) to El Ateneo Grand Splendid – a magnificent bookshop in an old theatre. I could have stayed here all day but with no football being screened or beers on tap, Ross was itching to continue with the tour.

We wandered via Teatro Colon and the Obelisco de Buenos Aires for some photo opportunities (without really understanding what we were looking at – Ross’ walking tours rarely extend to local history) before finishing our tour with a much needed beer (Ross) and whisky (me) in a cool outdoor bar back in Palermo.

We met Stevie and Nyssa for a hearty Mexican in Mezcal before we called it a night and finally peeled our sweaty trainers off.


Day 72 – Parque Jordan C. Wysocki, Paseo El Rosedal, Boca Juniors vs Argentinos Juniors, Rebelion

Still feeling some leftover guilt induced by all the red wine in Mendoza, we set off this morning for a run, earmarking some pretty looking routes around the city. The blazing sunshine made our ‘run’ more of a ‘trot’, but did lead us to Parque Jordan C. Wysocki and Paseo El Rosedal which made for a very pleasant morning.

The rest of the morning was pretty slow, with Ross tracking down the least dodgy barbers to try and negotiate, with the use of Google Translate, a much-needed haircut. I enjoyed half an hour to myself in the Airbnb and then it was time to get ready for our evening plans – a football match at the Boca Juniors stadium – La Bombonera.

We met Stevie and Nyssa and waited with a small group of people, all much more prepared in their blue and yellow attire, for our tour guide, Gaston, to arrive. We were briefly accosted by a bolshy American eager to teach us about Australia and England respectively, to varying degrees of polite but unenthusiastic murmuring. Gaston bowled over only ten minutes late, big grin and clipboard, and loaded us onto a minibus like a herd of excited sheep. Gaston was keen to use the short bus journey to test out his new stand-up material, treating us to a variety of impressions and regaling us with tales of chicken nuggets.

Our first stop was El Cuartito – an old-school pizza joint whose walls were plastered in football paraphernalia. Ross, like a giddy schoolboy, took his seat and rubbed his hands in glee as a litre of Quilmes and two slices of pizza were placed in front of him. Once our bellies were full and our Ross could no longer contain his excitement, we were on our way to the stadium. Upon arrival, it became clear none of us were going to be able to resist some merchandise, and soon Ross, Nyssa and Stevie were sporting vibrant t shirts in La Boca colours. Thinking I wouldn’t get the wear out of a shirt, I opted for an ill-fitting bucket hat that, in hindsight, I probably won’t wear a great deal either.

We had been handed our tickets earlier, and due to them being unused season passes, had also acquired a new name for the evening. Ross became John and I became Kevin. On closer inspection our tickets revealed a problem greater than the unlikelihood of my name being Kev. We didn’t have seats together. With some Dutch courage from the beers, we decided to sit ourselves brazenly in the centre of our section, hoping we could hold our ground until the game started. We were successful in this operation, if only because most of the supporters opted to stand precariously on the railings rather than be seated.

The football was fun, and the atmosphere every bit as incredible as promised. The fans never stopped singing or pumping the air with their fists. The language was colourful and at many a point I genuinely feared for the ref’s life.

Following a 1-1 result, we were driven back to Palermo for a quick round of tapas at Rebelion before retiring to bed.


Day 73 – Cigalo, San Telmo, La Boca, Don Julio

After another morning run featuring actual running and a moderate argument about Ross running too fast (or me running too slow, depending whose side you’re on), we met Nyssa at Cigalo in Palermo for breakfast and to book our next adventure – Iguazu Falls.

Accommodation and flights secured, and iced lattes consumed, Ross and I did a quick hostel change before meeting Nyssa again to go and explore San Telmo, a neighbourhood known for its antique markets. A quick taxi ride dropped us right in the mixer, and soon we were practically wading through charming little stalls flogging wares ranging from dusty stamps to elaborate lace dresses. Nyssa picked up a beautiful vintage seltzer bottle and I stopped at every stall selling silver rings.

After some exhausting wandering, and a drawn out visit to the dulce de leche shop (hello free samples) we decided it was time for a break and stumbled upon the San Telmo Market itself – a huge covered market with many a cute eatery crammed amongst the antiques. We settled on a place offering freshly made pasta and Ross and Nyssa chose a big bowl of fettuccine each. I had a less fortunate experience, ordering a pumpkin soup and receiving a cold and tasteless gazpacho. You can’t win them all.

From there, we went for a quick coffee in Chloe Cafe – mostly so we could use their bañosand then plugged La Boca into Google. La Boca, Nyssa informed us, is one of the oldest parts of Buenos Aires and is known for its colourful streets. A half an hour walk brought us back to the La Boca stadium and a few more roads away we’re the colourful, ramshackle old buildings (built mostly from wood and old shipping containers) we’d been seeking. The area is cute but very over-touristed with performers luring visitors into overpriced lunch stalls and many a souvenir shop.

We didn’t stay long before walking back to meet Stevie and then it was time for the day’s most eagerly anticipated activity – a traditional asado at Don Julio. The food was certainly not traditional backpacker fare, and Ross and I are now very much back to baked beans and bananas, but it was a feast we’ll remember for a long time. After a two hour wait in the queue, during which we were handed champagne and empanadas to keep us happy, we were seated and sharing an enormous plate of meats, veggies, bread and wine. Perfect.

Next stop: Iguazu Falls


Mendoza – One Wine, Two Wine, Three Wine, Four… Five Wine, Six Wine, Seven Wine, Floor

Travel

Overall Destination Rating: 100% (but that might be the wine talking)

Argument Density: One enormous row about how useful ‘data’ is….

Squashed between the beautiful Atacama desert and the highly anticipated Buenos Aires, I was worried Mendoza would get lost. I was expecting a few blurry days of drinking some good red wine a nice view, but little else to make it stand out. How wrong I was. The city centre boasts great food, cheap happy hours on the most fun high street we’ve ever experienced, wine that exceeds expectation, and then the stunning panoramic views of the Andes whichever way you look. If you only ever go on one holiday again in your life…maybe it should be Mendoza.


Day 65 – Aeroplane Friends, Boogaloo Happy Hour, Cordillera Vinos y Fuegos

Another 4am-start-and-two-flights-day made for a fairly dull start, marginally spiced up on our second flight by a) the stunning views of the Andes, and b) Ines. Ines was a stylish grandmother of two sat beside us on the flight, diamanté shoes kicked off, and patent pink handbag perched on her lap. She spotted my shaking leg and proceeded to regale me with tales of her travels for the whole flight, sharing some unpopular opinions such as ‘Cambodia’s not worth it’, ‘Philippines is rubbish’ and ‘I’ve been to Toronto so there’s no need to bother with the rest of Canada’.

We ended up sharing a taxi with Ines to Mendoza, and once we arrived were thrilled to step into a lovely Airbnb with a bottle of red waiting for us.

Eager to get out and about after so many hours in planes, trains and automobiles, we set off for Avenida Arístides Villanueva – a long stretch with a very healthy number of bars, cafes and restaurants. After wandering up and down in awe, and in search of a screen showing English football for Ross, we settled on Boogaloo. No Chelsea game, but £1 beers, £1 wines and the Copa Libertadores final with some excited River Plate fans.

Feeling poorly after all the stress of flying, I headed back to the Airbnb for a nap whilst Ross did a quick supermarket sweep for breakfast goods, and then we headed out for some food. Both too tired to trawl for somewhere we stumbled across Cordillera Vinos y Fuegos, which ended up being great, especially when invited down to the wine cellar to choose our accompaniment for the meal. Welcome to Mendoza!


Day 66 – Parque San Martin, Michel’s Ice Cream, Cervezeria Artesanal, El Mercadito

With last night’s dinner sitting heavy, we set off for a run this morning around the nearby Parque San Martin. After a couple of laps of the rowing lake, and a quick argument that neither of us can quite remember the origin of, we went back, showered and got ourselves back out for some exploring. Michel’s Ice Cream was the first stop, and then on to some cute little plazas before the heavens opened and we retreated to the Airbnb for some FaceTime with family and to crack open that complimentary bottle of red.

When the red was sunk, we were on the road again, this time with the Cervezeria Artesanal in our (Ross’) sights. This was a crowd pleaser, with exceptionally cheap drinks, great music and a fun vibe. We almost left it too late to get some dinner, but luckily sneaked a table at El Mercadito, which offered lots of veggie and gluten free options, and a burger for Ross. Everyone’s a winner.


Day 67 – Maipú Valley Bike Tour

“Time for the real Mendoza” we thought when we awoke this morning, excitedly pulling on our trainers and setting off for Maipu – a close-by wine region famed for its backpacker-friendly bike tours and cheap wine tastings. We were not disappointed, met by a larger-than-life Argentinian and two rickety bikes, and sent on our way with a rudimentary map with some key sights (wineries) circled.

The cycling itself was unremarkable – long stretches of main road or busy avenues, often dodging locals who were rolling their eyes exasperatedly. Having left late, in true Emma and Ross fashion, we didn’t have time to visit all 6 suggested wineries and so earmarked a few which sounded promising. The first was Mevi, a ‘modern and boutique’ affair nestled in a sprawling vineyard.

We were met by a jolly lady who showed us to our table and shortly after brought out our wine tastings. For the £2 we each paid, we were expecting a sip of each wine and then to be sent on our way. Instead, it was three generous pours each, enough to constitute a large glass of wine each. The wine was delicious, the views gorgeous, and we left feeling delighted with our find. We intended on visiting Tempus Alba – right next door to Mevi, but we had spent a little longer than intended indulging in Mevi’s Malbec and so had to hurry to our scheduled tour and tasting at Trapiche. (Only Trapiche requires a booking in Maipu – everything else is walk-in friendly).

After a hurried and somewhat wobbly cycle to Trapiche, we entered the beautiful old estate just in time for the start of the tour. We followed the tour guide around the old factory, exchanging looks with our fellow tourists that clearly said “I’m just here for the tasting”. The tasting was worth the wait – one white and two red, again very generous portions, overlooking the vineyards. We were so enamoured we even stayed for a full glass of our favourite wine in the garden restaurant. This, however, was to be a fateful move, as we returned to our bikes to find someone had made off with Ross’ noble steed, only to leave him with their rather shit bike, complete with unhooked chain.

Several expletives later, we called for help and after a swift bike exchange we were back to the bike shop, where we were met by free wine and big smiles by the owner. Once we’d drunk as much as possible, we staggered into a cab home, glad to be rid of our bikes, and set off for some alcohol-absorbing bread and an early night.


Day 68 – Luján de Cuyo Bike Tour

Surprisingly un-hungover after yesterday’s proceedings, we agreed to meet Stevie and Nyssa for another cycling adventure, this time in the Luján de Cuyo region. Baccus Bikes supplied vehicles slightly more fit for purpose than those of the previous day and helmets, a luxury. Again, we were sent off with a detail-light map clutched in Stevie’s hand, and the best intentions to visit as many of the wineries as we could.

It took some time to find the first stop – Carmelo Patti’s bodega, an unassuming little cluster of buildings tucked behind what seemed to be a parade of shops. We hesitantly entered, and were met by a cheerful, short, white-haired man who, we could tell by the enormous poster behind him, was Carmelo Patti himself. We enjoyed an intimate tasting with Patti passionately describing each of his wines in rapid Spanish as a translator desperately tried to keep up with him. The wines were good but were certainly outshone by Carmelo’s stories and sense of humour.

Our next stop was Viamonte – a much more polished and commercial winery with an impressive vineyard, beautiful restaurant and tour given by a chirpy Canadian in a Viamonte branded sombrero. This time, the tasting took place at a grand oak table in the restaurant with views out over the vineyards and the Andes mountains poking through the clouds in the distance. We sampled a white and two reds, all very tasty, and all very sizeable portions. We were so enamoured by the place we stayed for lunch (and a bottle of wine). This made for a fairly entertaining onward journey, with the four of us forming a precariously wobbly convoy towards Alta Vista – our final stop.

Alta Vista were close to shutting up shop for the evening but happily served us a large glass of wine each (at this point I have no idea what we drank aside from that it was red and tasty) at one of their charming trestle tables in the garden.

Needless to say the journey from this final stop back to the bike shop is hazy at best, and in retrospect I do wonder about the general health and safety of the whole endeavour. However, we made it back in one piece, albeit in varying degrees of giddiness. In a moment of madness, we pointed our taxi in the direction of a final happy hour hurrah before admitting defeat and pitching up in Burgery for some cheap comfort food. Somehow Ross still had room for an accompanying beer. Animal.


Day 69 – Casa de Uco

For Ross’ birthday (in August) I had bought him some vouchers to be redeemed at a hotel of his choice at some point in our travels. Enchanted as he was with Mendoza, Ross sought out a wine lodge in the Uco Valley, and we booked a room for our final night in Mendoza. Having called ahead to say this was a birthday treat, forgetting that upon checking Ross’ passport this may garner some scepticism, we were treated like kings from the moment we arrived at the spectacular property.

We had some lunch and a tour of the vineyards whilst waiting for our room to be ready, all the while practically clapping our hands and jumping up and down in delight about our surroundings.

The rest of the day was spent with a quick dip in the (very cold) pool, enjoying the hotel robes with wine on the balcony, and then dinner accompanied by five more free ‘tasters’ of wine. It was somewhere around the third glass I made the throwaway statement that ‘data is mostly useless’ that incensed Ross so much he spent the next two courses explaining why I was wrong.


San Pedro de Atacama – Is This Even Real?

Travel

Destination Rating: 92%

Argument Density: Moderate

This funny little town, dropped right in the middle of the Atacama desert as if by accident, nearly didn’t make it onto our itinerary. “Too far out of our way” and “a hassle to get to” rang in our ears but pictures of the otherworldly landscapes and promises of the world’s best stargazing were too enticing. We’re pretty thrilled we took the leap. It was a little piece of magic.


Day 60 – Arrival in the Desert

After a night in Lima’s dingiest hostel, we were slightly less than ‘refreshed and raring to go’ for our day of travel to get to San Pedro de Atacama. Leg one, Lima-Santiago, was another tearful, shaky flying experience, and before my bottom lip had even stopped trembling we were boarding a flight from Santiago to Calama – the nearest airport to our destination.

The second flight was quick, and afforded some spectacular views over the Andes and the desert. Even through my hastily-drunk-in-departures red wine haze, I could appreciate it was pretty special. Upon landing we were whisked away by a Transvip driver who, rather than play the radio, hooked YouTube up to his speakers and blared out the likes of NSYNC and TaTu for a delighted Ross and I.

After some commotion trying to find our Airbnb, we arrived. It didn’t take us long to familiarise ourselves with the small mud hut we were to call home for the next few nights, and we headed out for some crisps, a bottle of water, and very little else before a much needed nights sleep.


Day 61 – Cafe Ckapin, Valle de la Luna,

Once we had finally dragged ourselves out of bed, we had a quick explore of the town. A small grid of dusty roads is home to hundreds of tour operators, copious ice cream and juice vendors, and the odd cafe or restaurant. Ross sought out the poorly spelt but well air-conditioned Cafe Ckapin, and we troughed down an açai bowl (me) and enormous portion of waffles (Ross), with some medicinal coffee. Thankfully, as our alarms had done little to rouse us, the tours in Atacama start at a much more godly hour than in Cusco, and we weren’t too late to get ourselves signed onto a tour to Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) that same afternoon.

We were collected at 2pm, and via a small tantrum by yours truly regarding some threatening cloud cover (see: Machu Picchu), we were settled on the transit van with our chirpy tour guide Nicolas. It wasn’t long before the town gave way to sweeping expanses of desert, views of the mountains, and then Valle de la Luna itself. We were driven into the valley then told we would be walking up the sand dunes to get to the best viewpoints.

This activity did not disappoint, with both of us even whispering the unheard of – “is this even better than Yosemite…?”.

The next stop was a brief tour of the old salt mines (“they mined for salt here, here and here”) and a quick look at a stone formation which used to depict three praying ladies, but through erosion (and legend has it, one drunk tourist) the ‘ladies’ have been decapitated, making for a somewhat unremarkable geological feature.

The tour ended at a sunset spot, and despite being heaving with eager tourists trying to work out how to use their over-the-top new camera gear, was pretty spectacular.

By the time we were dropped back to San Pedro, we were ravenous, and were thrilled to stumble upon a a traditional little restaurant serving up a daily, three course, set menu for £5. A hefty portion of risotto later, we were back in the mud hut and I was falling asleep through the penultimate episode of Narcos, earning me several sharp jabs in the ribs and a sassy “I’m not going to tell you what happens again” from Ross.


Day 62 – Cafe Ckapin, Mercado Blanco, Cafe Kimal, Stargazing

Regular readers of the blog (are there any of you out there?) will know Ross and I are creatures of habit, and so back to Cafe Ckapin it was, this time for a sizeable sandwich for Ross and an easily digestible smoothie for me (Atacama and my tummy didn’t get on well – I’ll spare you the details).

For reasons related to both my dubious digestive health and our lack of organisation, we didn’t book onto any activities today, instead opting to wander the streets, dipping into various cafes when the burning sun got too brutal. We stumbled across the very cute Mercado Blanco, where I could have easily blown all my money on silver rings and cactus bath oil, had Ross not been following me with eyes like a hawk. We ended the afternoon with a healthy juice in Cafe Kimal – a very lovely restaurant/yoga shala/spa. Swept up in the calming music and heady aroma of essential oils, I booked Ross and I massages for the next morning and we headed home feeling very zen indeed.

We had booked a short activity for that evening – a stargazing tour just outside of the town that promised free hot chocolate and some of the clearest skies one can encounter. We set off at 9pm, and as soon as we arrived, I was giddy with excitement. The cloudless sky was absolutely full of stars and with the help our guide, we were able to spot planets, constellations, and stars at various stages of their life cycle. Whilst I greedily elbowed my way to the front of the group to look through each telescope, Ross remained rather underwhelmed at the back, refreshing the sports section of the Daily Mail and nodding vaguely when I excitedly pointed something out to him.

This tour ended with a brief astronomy lesson over a hot chocolate or glass of wine, before we bundled back in the van and taken home.


Day 63 – Massages, Lagos Escondidas, Pizza

It was a milestone morning for Ross as, at the ripe old age of 29, he woke up looking forward to his first massage. Prior to our spa visit, we met Stevie and Nyssa for breakfast (three guesses where) and caught up with their adventures in the national parks of North Chile and our slightly less wanderlust-y adventures in one of Lima’s dodgiest neighbourhoods.

We left Stevie and Nyssa in a tour operator, and headed back to Cafe Kimal for our massages. I opted for a deep tissue massage to try and reverse some of the damage I’ve caused with my sustained tensing on our various flights, while Ross went for the ‘relaxation’ option. We came out blissfully un-knotty and pleasantly sleepy, with Ross absolutely baffled that he hadn’t indulged before: “what have I been doing my whole life??”.

Our plan for the afternoon involved a trip to Las Lagunas Escondidas. Ross had stumbled across these ‘hidden lagoons’ whilst scrolling through Instagram (not always a waste of time, as it turns out), and we immediately began the surprisingly difficult search for a tour operator that would take us. Also known as Lagunas de Baltinache, these lakes are a series of seven crystal blue pools dotted strangely in the middle of the desert.

We eventually found a guide and after a very long wait we were met by Philippe – a redhead with a natty goatee and a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ approach to languages. After he’d introduced himself in Spanish, English, Portuguese and French, we were finally off. Philippe warned us that seatbelts were a must – and we soon learnt why. The term ‘road’ is tenuous when applied to the hour-long trip of potholed gravel and dust that we bumped along before arriving at the lagoons.

However, as we are coming to learn is the norm in South America, the painful journey was worth it for the reward. Ross and I excitedly kicked off our trainers and opted for a dip in the first lake – happily watching all our fellow travellers scamper away to the furthest lake. The lake was freezing, so full of salt you could barely put a foot down, but still the coolest place I’ve ever had an afternoon swim.

Once our skin was stinging too much for it to be fun anymore, we hauled ourselves out and squished our salty feet back into our socks, cursing the tour operators advice not to bring flip flops. I also learnt the perils of wearing denim around salty water and soon felt like I was walking around with barbed wire wrapped around my upper thighs. All this aside, we set off for the 20 minute walk via all seven lakes, and could barely talk to each other due to our mouths hanging open in awe.

When it was eventually time to pile back in the van, only pausing for a quick cold shower in the crowded facilities that did nothing to remove the hardened layers of salt, we set off – but in the wrong direction. Philippe, a wicked glint in his eye, told us he had a ‘surprise’ for us, and proceeded to play what can only be described as horror movie music through the crackly speakers. I contemplated how, if we were in a movie, this would definitely be the scene right before we died, and by the nervous looks being exchanged by the three Portuguese girls in front of me, I wasn’t alone in my trepidation.

After passing at least three ‘no driving’ signs, our minibus finally clattered to a halt in the middle of vast, Mars-like scenery. Philippe stood up, and I prepared for the worst. However, laughing somewhat maniacally, Philippe led us off the bus and round a corner to an old deserted bus which he explained was called ‘The Magic Bus’ and had been left there in an endeavour similar to that of the one in ‘Into the Wild’.

Once I’d finally reassured myself we weren’t about to be lined up and shot, I was able to enjoy the stunning scenery. Ross enjoyed scrambling up the various rock faces like an excited Labrador, demanding ‘take a photo of me on top of that’ at various points. Philippe called us over again and handed out pisco sours, red wine, cheese and crackers, and proceeded to flirt shamelessly with every girl, whilst maintaining a heated debate with a pair of French men about where in the world you could find the best wine.

Pisco eventually finished (mostly by me), we were back on the bus and headed back to San Pedro, where Ross and I found a simple and cheap pizza place where I could fill up on avocado and salad, and he could eat his weight in pepperoni.


Day 64 – Lagos Altiplanicos, Atacama Salt Flats, Flamingos and Bar

With Bolivia off limits, we were crying out for some salt flat action, and luckily for us the versatile San Pedro was able to deliver with a tour to Salar de Atacama via the Lagunas Altiplanicas (some really high lakes) and the Los Flamencos National Reserve. Our mouths were watering at the prospect of breakfast with the flamingos so it was with relative ease that we sprang out of bed at 5.30am ready for our 6am pick up. We patiently waited at the side of the road, as we were frequently surrounded by the local stray hounds. Ross became particularly agitated at points, sure that he was going to get bitten to death, so I was often thrust into their path as Ross cowered behind me trying not to get licked by the playful pups.

It got to 6:45am and our bus still hadn’t arrived, and feelings of rejection rushed over Ross as his WhatsApps to the tour company had been given the blue tick treatment but without reply. It wasn’t until gone 7am that we checked the booking receipt and realised we had accidentally been booked on the tour for the next day. It was with much disappointment that we trudged into town to see if there was another trip we could sign up to. After 20 minutes of walking around to no avail since everything was still firmly closed, we had given up hope and assigned ourselves to taking a nap in the square (we had already checked out of the mudhut) when Stevie and Nyssa messaged us to confirm that the receipt was in fact wrong and the tour was on. Ross sprinted back to the pick up point and I trotted along behind him, desperate to ensure we didnt miss our pick up despite them being over 90 minutes late.

Miraculously, we finally boarded the bus, and kicked back as our guide reeled off the itinerary for the day and we made the hours or so drive to the high altitude lakes. They’re fairly impressive as large expanses of water go, and our guide informed us of their origins based on the volcanic activity years before. Ariel, our driver, took a break from belting out “under the sea” and made us a slap up breakfast of bread, scrambled flamingo eggs (I fell for this joke), ham and cheese. It was quite the spread considering we were at 4000m in the middle of nowhere. I obviously couldn’t contain my delight when they subsequently dished out chocolate bars.

Hunger sated, we headed for the salt flats, which meant another long drive towards the national reserve. After alighting, our guide proceeded to give us a detailed explanation about the formation of the salt flats, comparing the process to putting a saucepan of salty water into the oven. I’ll let you guess what happens next. There was time for a few photos of the flamingos as we compared and contrasted the relative similarities and differences of the Andean and Chilean varieties – fascinating stuff when you know what you’re looking for.

I was still feeling slightly under the weather so a nice dinner was just what I needed. Luckily we found Roots sandwich bar which offered gluten free beer and a plethora of gluten free food options and I thought I was going to cry with happiness. After sampling the gluten free tapas, I actually did shed a small tear, it was that good. Stevie and Nyssa joined us for more beers, and four hours of nostalgic conversations about underage drinking.

The positives of the day ended there, however, as we checked in to our new hostel for the night and were starkly reminded of the cells in Alcatraz. Luckily, we had to be up at 4am for our flight to Mendoza, so we only had to spend a few hours under the questionably stained sheets.

Machu Picchu – Magic in the Mountains

Travel

Overall Destination Rating: 91%

Argument Density: Moderate

Machu Picchu, being close to the top of both of our ‘most-excited-to-see’ lists, had a lot to live up to. We’re pleased to report that, even despite Mother Nature’s best sabotage efforts, it exceeded expectations. There’s nothing quite like turning the corner and being met with the expansive citadel sprawling and spilling over the mountain top, with the other-worldly mountains poking up through the cloud around you. This won’t be a long blog post because no words will be able to accurately describe this wonder of the world.


Day 56 – Vistadome, Aguas Calientes

We schlepped across Cusco this morning, bidding a sad farewell to the lovely city we’d come to feel very at home in, headed for the PeruRail station to board our train to Aguas Calientes. Aguas Calientes is a small ‘pueblo’ which sits at the foot of the mountains in which Machu Picchu can be found, and provides the most popular resting spot before a Machu Picchu endeavour.

We opted for the Vistadome train, which features floor-ceiling windows and a glass roof for optimum views as the train rattled through the Sacred Valley. We’re glad we did – as the comfy seats, free snack and drink, and incredible views were a far cry from the bumpy and sweaty PeruHop buses we had been accustomed to.

Arriving into Aguas Calientes was an assault on the senses – it was a ten minute walk through the crowded and colourful market to our hostel, with bright alpaca-wool ponchos, barrels of silver jewellery, and assorted Machu Picchu paraphernalia being thrust under our noses. Our hostel was simple but effective, and check in easy. We booked our bus tickets up to Machu Picchu (walkable, but not if you’re tight on time… or don’t want to) and sent a hesitant message to a guide whose number we’d been given in Cusco. ‘Fredy’ replied right away and we arranged to meet him for a briefing that evening.

There was just enough time to grab a traditional Peruvian Irish coffee before we met Fredy and conducted a very informal interview before informing him we would be delighted for him to be our guide. Fredy advised us, ominously, to pack our raincoats and then disappeared into the night.

We found a relatively cheap Italian for a quick dinner, which was unremarkable apart from my soup order being wrong (and as a result not gluten-free) and me being too polite to complain. This resulted in a great deal of ‘I told you so’ and ‘you’re an idiot’ back at the hostel, which was, of course, exactly what I wanted to hear to ease my pains.


Day 57 – Machu Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain

I woke up promptly this morning, initially unsure whether I’d been stirred by the alarm or the rain pounding on the windows. Aghast, I flung the flimsy curtains open to see… very little. The thick cloud cover made it impossible to make out even the hostel next door. I could barely bring myself to break the bad news to Ross – blissfully unaware in the bathroom. After a small moment of despair, we gathered our things, resignedly zipped up our waterproofs, and set off for the bus. We joined a line of similarly bedraggled punters and waited, in the torrential rain, for our ride.

As we wound our way up the mountain, the clouds became a little less dense, and I started to become hopeful we might at least be able to see a bit of the ancient citadel. Fredy welcomed us with open arms, resolutely optimistic about the weather ‘clearing up by noon’ and we started our tour. The site itself was majestic, and not even the miserable weather could dampen our awe as we followed Fredy through the mazes and terraces.

Once our tour came to an end, we set off for Machu Picchu Mountain – for which I had naively booked us tickets expecting a quick jaunt to a slightly elevated viewpoint. As we began the four hour round hike (!) my mood began to sink again. Not a fan of an uphill slog at the best of times, the heavy cloud and white-out views were doing nothing for my morale. As usual, Ross bounded ahead like a young springer spaniel, leading to many muttered expletives from me and exasperated ‘come on!’s from Ross. Two hours later, wet through from a combination of mist, drizzle and sweat, we arrived at the top. A haphazard wooden post announced ”Mirador” – a little tease of the incredible view we may have witnessed on a clear day.

We hung around long enough to get at least a glimpse of Machu Picchu from this vantage point before, gasping for air, I demanded we head back down. Unfortunately the rain was only to get more persistent and by the time we reached the main site again, we both looked like drowned rats, which is a look that suits one of us much more than the other.

Here threatened a sizeable argument, as I had a small tantrum about the weather and refused to be in a single photo. Ross, exasperated, tried to convince me I would obviously regret this, only to be met with a vibrant explanation of where he and his camera could go. I was eventually persuaded to pose for a few photos, and the clouds finally relented for some beautiful views of Machu Picchu and Huyanapicchu behind it.

We left, via the obligatory tourist passport stamp, and began our journey back to Cusco. There, we checked into a new hostel, expecting little but being enormously pleasantly surprised when greeted with a hot water bottle, and headed out for a belly-filling, crowd-pleasing curry to end our day.

Cusco – A Bit Better Than Costco

Travel

Destination Rating: 82%

Argument Density: Moderate

Okay, okay. I know I’m a fan of a superlative, but Cusco has got to be the best place I’ve ever been. Stunning mountain scenery? Check. Great restaurant on every corner? Check. Gluten free banana bread? Check. It’s touristy, it’s busy, llamas outnumber humans seemingly 2:1, and you can’t walk four feet without being offered a £4 massage, but this place just feels a bit magic. It totally deserves to be more than just a hopping-off point for Machu Picchu.


Day 51 – 13 Hours on a Bus, Mirador Lagunillas, Taste of India

It was with very little excitement that Ross and I chucked our bags onto the PeruHop bus in Arequipa, ready for 13 hours, almost non-stop, to Cusco. Already queasy from the 4am alarm, and anticipating some further altitude-related ailments, we settled into our seats, plugged our headphones in, and set our faces into the grimaces they would sport for the rest of the day.

We were granted one stop about four hours into our trip – at a viewpoint 4,444 metres above sea level. Mirador Lagunillas did deliver some attractive views, if one could suck in enough of the sparse oxygen to drag their suddenly heavy feet off the bus.

The rest of the journey was remarkably uneventful, aside from a few glimpses of snow-capped Andean peaks and some creative solutions to the ‘number ones only’ rule in the bus toilet…

We arrived in Cusco later than anticipated, and into a rainstorm. Feeling rather worse for wear, with altitude headaches brewing despite the family bag of ‘coca sweets’ we’d shared en route, we sought out that true British Comfort Food – the curry. The Taste of India provided us with cheap food and big portions, eaten in near-silence as we both tried to keep our eyes open and heads from spinning.


Day 52 – La Rabona, DIY Walking Tour: San Pedro Market, Mirador Santa Ana, Plaza de Armas, San Blas, Limbus Bar, Green Point

Whilst last night’s emergency curry had taken the edge off the altitude sickness, both of us still felt a relaxed day was very much needed. After a brief inspection of some of the walking tours on offer, we decided we wanted to take in the sights at our own pace and so took the itinerary from the most popular one and plugged it in to google maps. Ross assumed the role of tour guide for the day and repeatedly asked how much I was going to tip him, despite me not laughing the first time he asked.

First stop was San Pedro Market, which we reached following a long stroll past lots of street vendors who were selling far too much questionable raw meat for my liking. Even Ross contemplated giving up eating chicken for all of about 30 seconds. The market itself is vibrant and bustling, with numerous locals and tourists tucking into food on offer or perusing the native dress.

After a couple of arty snaps, we set off to the next stop on the tour – Mirador Santa Ana. What should have been a swift trot up a fairly inconspicuous flight of steps left me gasping for air, lamenting Ross’s choice of route and thinking that a local guide would have taken us via a more manageable path. Nevertheless, once we did reach the top we were greeted with some fantastic views across the city.

We then made our way to San Francisco Plaza before heading to Plaza des Armas and then on to the San Blas neighbourhood. Suckers for a bar with a view we then treated ourselves to a fresh pineapple juice at Limbus Restobar.

Satisfied that he had taken us to every worthwhile sight in the city, Ross finally allowed me to visit the attraction I was most excited about – the Museo de Cacao. Yes. The Chocolate Museum. All I can say for this experience is FREE SAMPLES.

We headed for dinner at Green Point – a fully vegan restaurant that I had earmarked in late 2018 when I knew we were going to Cusco. Whilst I was in my element as I perused the delights on the menu, most of which were gluten free, I watched Ross’s furrowed brow as he weighed up what would “taste most like meat”. To his astonishment, his vegetable lasagne was a more than adequate meat substitute and my Pad Thai was a taste sensation.


Day 53 – Monkey Cafe, Sacsaywaman, Vino Tinto, La Bodega Takeaway

We packed up this morning ready to head to our second Cusco Airbnb – this one a beautiful little house up in the hills, with a ridiculously good view of Cusco. A small birthday splash out which was totally worth it. With a gap between check out and check in, we dragged our backpacks back up that San Blas hill, and into Monkey Cafe, yet another cute breakfast spot spilling over with backpackers with expensive cameras round their necks. We got a ludicrously good deal on fresh banana smoothies and toasties, before heading on for another uphill push to our Airbnb.

Our new home was positioned extremely conveniently for our planned afternoon activity – a trek up the hill to Sacsayhumán – a site of Incan ruins perched above Cusco. Fun fact – Cusco was built to be shaped like a puma from above, and Sacsayhumán sits in the puma’s ‘head’. We had intended to hike all the way up to Tambomachay – another site further up the hill, but were forced back by a large paddock of horses (more on this later). Sacsayhumán, nonetheless, made for a very enjoyable afternoon stroll, although admittedly could have been more interesting had we invested in some information about what we were exploring. The views of Cusco were beautiful though and the herds of llamas very entertaining.

After a jaunt back into Cusco to purchase cake and cookies, in which we accidentally found ourselves in the midst of a crowd of excited football supporters watching a local match on a big screen in the main square, we headed back, excited for a takeaway pizza (Ross) and big bowl of veggies (me) and an early night in front of Netflix.


Day 54 – ATV Tour of Salinas and not Moray, Cicciolina

Eager to further immerse ourselves in the Incan culture surrounding Cusco, we felt it only apt that we invested in an ATV tour around the Sacred Valley. The Cuscans (?) love an early start, so it was with bleary eyes that I grasped for my banana bread to the sound of the 5.30am alarm. Suitably fuelled, I followed Ross to the square, in the pouring rain, to await our minivan pick up. Worryingly our guide, Brian, took this opportunity to warn us that the inclement conditions would most likely make the day “a bit shit”. We were optimistic however and hoped that during the hour drive out of the city the weather would brighten up. Seemingly neither of us have a future in weather forecasting.

We reached our first stop, a salt mine, and were herded into a local shop to learn about the many uses for Peruvian salt (not very interesting) and to try free samples of salted chocolate (very interesting indeed). The salt mines themselves, Las Salinas, didn’t quite live up to expectations. In the sun they’re probably quite picturesque, but in the rain it just looks like hundreds of dirty puddles enclosed by a few stones.

We made light of it, eagerly anticipating the excitement to come, and after another short ride we arrived at the ATV station. Unfortunately the rain had now gained momentum and despite Brian hastily drying the seats with a saturated cloth, I wasn’t hopeful for avoiding an undignified wet patch upon disembarking. Following a brief tutorial, in which we were informed “there is no insurance, as these ATVs are illegal in Peru…”, we were off, headed towards a lake that was recommended as being more picturesque than the ruins we had initially earmarked to visit. As soon as we were off, I was faced with a tough decision; visor up and risk being blinded by the driving rain, or visor down with little to no visibility. I opted for the latter and hoped that the dirt roads wouldn’t be particularly busy. We sped past locals who looked at us like we were riding bright pink unicorns… I couldn’t quite believe what we were doing either. The enjoyment of riding the quad was short lived, after losing the feeling in my hands and being caked in mud I couldn’t wait to reach the beautiful lake.

As we approached I made a mental note to wring Brian’s neck, as the supposedly amazing lake was more like a big pond with a couple of pedalos stationed on the bank. Who is paying for trips out on those I will never know. We were given 15 minutes for photos, but even I couldn’t work out what filter I would need to make the view look even vaguely appealing on my Instagram feed. We eventually headed back, both of us now so wet that we might as well have had a swim in the lake, dreading the damp drive back to Cusco.

Once we got back to our Airbnb, and after a much needed hot shower, I felt like I was coming back to life. We were long overdue a catch up with Stevie, Nyssa and Sarah, who had been exploring Machu Picchu whilst we were devouring cheap red wine and pizza, and so arranged to meet them at La Cicciolina for some tapas and sharing plates.


Day 55 – Jack’s Cafe, Narcos Series 2

Horses. Now, I love all the creatures on this earth but if there was a mass horse extinction tomorrow I would be popping bottles and naming it a national holiday. It was because of the wretched, allergen-ridden mules that Ross and I spent about 48 hours agonising and debating over our Cusco itinerary. Two of Cusco’s best day trips, Humantay Lake, and Rainbow Mountain, were upon inspection, absolutely riddled with ponies, rendering them too risky for me, even if armed with an Epipen in each hand. After some to-ing and fro-ing about whether to do a day trip solo, Ross also decided the trips were a 3am start too much for him, and so we ‘resigned’ ourselves to another day mooching around Cusco.

This meant the day consisted enormous fry-ups in Jack’s Cafe, a quick workout, more banana bread, and then an entire afternoon of watching Narcos in bed. Not even dinner could lure us away from the house, so a makeshift meal of crisps and deli counter goodies from the local shop was the order of the day.


Day 56 – La Rabona, Pisac, Chakruna Burgers

By 6am I could no longer hold my excitement in and was up and excitedly reading happy birthday messages – the highlight being video message from my nearest and dearest featuring my parents in a remarkably accurate reimagining of Breathe – Sean Paul and Blu Cantrell.

Wondering how my day could get better than watching my dad rap in a beanie with make-up enhanced facial hair, I woke Ross up and waited (im)patiently for him to be ready to start the day. We blitzed another quick workout and after my shower, I came downstairs to find Ross hunched over my sketch pad, a look of intense concentration on his face as he crafted a birthday illustration of the view from our Airbnb for me.

With food on my mind, as always, we headed back to La Rabona for another açai bowl and wedge of banana bread, before heading back to the Airbnb to decide what to do with our day.

After some extensive Tripadvisor-ing (the only thing Ross loves more than beer) we settled on a jaunt to Pisac – a site with Incan ruins about an hour out of Cusco. After a relatively easy navigation of ‘colectivo’ and taxi, we arrived, paid for our boleto turistico and set off to explore the ruins. The site turned out to be far more impressive than we had anticipated, and kept us entertained for the majority of the afternoon, snapping pictures and getting lost in the maze of old buildings. A definite recommendation for a fuss-free day trip from Cusco.

Later that evening, back in Cusco, we followed our bellies to Chakruna for burgers. My gluten free quinoa offering was delicious but Ross was uninspired by his. We braved the thunderstorm back to the Airbnb and settled down for a last night in our home-from-home before setting off for Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu early the next morning.