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Travelling the world, hopefully with a cuppa in hand

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Photos of South America and our UK visit

Our photos are now online

We’ve finally found a bit of time to update the photo albums with photos from the last part of our round the world trip. This includes Peru (Arequipa and Lake Titicaca, not including Machu Picchu and our Lares trek – you’ll have to wait a little more for those), Bolivia and our trek to the glacial lakes and Brazil (Rio and Ilha Grande). We also added photos of our two weeks in the UK, helping Mike and Soraya celebrate their wedding and catching up with our families, and some from our stop-over in Brunei on the way here. We’ll add the missing Peru photos once we get back to the UK so soon there’ll be a full set, promise.


Learning how to make chocolate

Roasted cocoa beans

Back in Cusco yesterday we decided to recuperate from our hike with a 2 hour chocolate workshop at the highly rated ChocoMuseo. It turned out to be a great idea. Our chef first of all gave us a talk on the cocoa tree and we got to see some cocoa pods. Then back in the kitchen she took some locally grown cocoa beans that had already been through a fermentation process and slow roasted them on the hob. We all got to have a lucky stir and the aromas were amazing. We then all mucked in to shell the beans. She made the roasted shells  into cocoa tea (which we love anyway when we find it back in the UK). We ground the  remaining chocolate nibs using pestle and mortars (and then a grinder) until smooth and liquidy. At this stage the paste tasted chocolatey, but quite bitter and earthy as well. The chef then showed us how to make this into two different types of hot chocolate: one she just added water, sugar and a bit of chili like the Maya people would originally have made; the second version was inspired by the English, adding milk and sugar and then frothing it up using a twizzle stick. Both were great.


To make chocolate, the factory adds the  ground pure chocolate and sugar into a special grinding machine and lets it run for 24 hours. The proportion of sugar to chocolate makes the 70% or 50% dark chocolate we´ve come across in the shops. After this they temper the chocolate to make it smooth and silky. As we were only there for a couple of hours we were given some ready-made runny chocolate, moulds and flavourings and we got creative making some chocs.

Amongst the flavourings were whole almonds and brazil nuts, salt, ground chili, cinnamon, oreo cookies, peanuts, sugar, raisins, fennel, ground coca leaves, coconut, coffee beans and cocoa nibs. It was lots of fun making up our own combinations and initial results have been very positive!


Our Lares trek to Machu Picchu

In the rain but still smiling

We´re at the end of our trek in Agua Calientes, just waiting for the train and bus journeys back to Cusco, a hot shower and some clean clothes. We´ve both got soggy feet and some very smelly socks due to the rain over the past couple of days. We´re in high spirits though as the trek was great and seeing Machu Picchu today was amazing, even if we did have to wait for the clouds to clear. But anyway, we´re getting ahead of ourselves and I suppose we should start at the beginning.

On the trail

As mentioned in the last post, we had a very early start last Tuesday at 4am and a bumpy four hour ride along unpaved roads to Lares to start our trekking. The route was beautiful, really wild with some scary drops and bends which we got to admire as the drive was too bumpy to sleep. Awaiting us at Lares were our two horses and some free time to spend in the hot thermal springs! After soaking to our heart´s content (it´s been ages since we last had a bath), it was time to start the serious business and hit the road. Actually, our first day was quite easy, a good warm up with a pleasant two hour walk to lunch which was all set out for us when we arrived and during which we also spotted our first ever hummingbird. It was another easy two hours to our camping spot in a local village, with a refreshing cup of tea on arrival and dinner later on. We had chocolate pudding for dessert and a local boy who helped out was rewarded with a huge bowl which he carried away to enjoy in private. He had the biggest smile ever.

Surprisingly difficult

Day two started early with a 6.30am wake up call and a cup of tea brought to us in the tent to tempt us to get up for breakfast. After tasty pancakes and hot chocolate we were ready to start the day´s trek. We warmed up quickly and started shedding layers as we headed up the valley to the pass, climbing steeply up to 4650m. We puffed a bit (due to the altitude of course) but enjoyed the views and snacks at the top. Since we´d taken a slight detour off the main route, we were the only trekkers and just met locals and children herding alpacas and llamas. In one of the settlements, we chatted to a woman weaving a blanket and were also lucky to see a condor overhead. The woman was surrounded by piles of potatoes covered in hay. They dry the potatoes out in the cold air to preserve them for longer, rehydrating as they need them. We spent the night at Patacancha village, camping next to a family home. The mother of the family demonstrated some weaving and Lou had a go at spinning some alpaca yarn. We picked up a couple of beers from a local shop and enjoyed relaxing with the family, trekking staff and resident guinea pigs. They were really interested in how things work in England and how much things cost. When shopping for the beer we met some local kids and gave them some boiled sweets while watching some of the village men learn how to ride a motorbike. The kids were keen on having their photos taken but cheeky enough to ask for a propina (tip).  We did feel that most of the people we met were only interested in us for making money and they obviously learn to target tourists at an early age.

Unfortunately we got just as wet

Day three started damply as it rained all night but luckily our tent just about held out. We waited in the house for the worst of the rain to pass and saying goodbye to our chef and horseman, we wrapped up and headed out into the rain. We rapidly got wet, walking along with squidgy shoes and soggy trousers. We stopped in the next village and looked at some textiles shown to us by three local women. By the time we made a purchase the sun had come out and we had a chance to dry off as much as we could. After a packed lunch we looked around Pumamarca, the ruins of an Inca fortress and enjoyed the walk down through the old Inca terraces complete with stone water channels for irrigation.  The day´s trek ended at the ancient Inca town of Ollantaytambo where we had a few hours to kill before our train to Machu Picchu.  Because we were soaked through we just had a short look around the town before taking refuge in the hearts cafe for something warm. It was a good choice as all the profits go to projects helping the local communities and they did great coffee too. After a two hour train ride and a much needed hot shower in our hotel, we had an early night to prepare for our 4am start to Machu Picchu the next day.

`We´re going to Machu Picchu´ was our first thought on waking up, shortly followed by `Oh no, it´s pouring with rain´. It was chucking down but there was nothing for it but to head out in the dark and race up the steep steps to the entrance, trying to beat those who´d opted for the easy (and dry) option of taking the bus. After queueing to get in, our guide showed us around the main areas. It was still raining but on the upside this did mean that we got to admire (and furtively touch) the sacred Intihuatana sun dial with no one else around. This year is the centenniary of Machu Picchu´s discovery by Hiram Bingham. There are still many theories but it´s thought to have been mainly a religious site, with the Inca capital and king being sited at Cusco.

Finally some sun

Cold, wet and a bit deflated with the crappy weather we headed back towards the entrance for shelter only to find that the restaurant didn´t open till 11.30 and the only way to gain access to the $400 per night hotel was to buy a very expensive breakfast. We opted to camp out in the porch for free for nearly two hours while it rained and we did our best to dry off. Finally the weather broke and we took our chance to hike across to the Sun Gate which gives the first view of Machu Picchu to those hiking the Inca trail and you get to appreciate its remote mountain setting. In the sun everything looked a hundred times better and we enjoyed exploring all the sites for another couple of hours. We loved the cleverly designed water channels complete with filtration system, the closely fitting stones used to build the walls of important buildings without mortar, and the orientation of the important stones with mountains and compass points. The stonework was amazing, flowing around huge boulders and seamlessly incorporating them into structures and walls.

Machu Picchu is iconic and a must-see for anyone coming to South America.  Overall we really enjoyed our 3 days of trekking and our visit although we´d recommend saving up as it´s expensive and trying to do it in the dry!


We´re going to Machu Picchu!

Since arriving in Cusco on Saturday morning, we´ve been busy sorting out a trek, buying some warm gear (yay – more excuses to indulge my knitwear habit!) and doing a bit of sightseeing. Cusco is beautiful, not at all what I expected but it´s all narrow cobbled street, Inca heritage, amazing views of the hills and lots of tourists!

From a very early 4am start on Tuesday morning we´re trekking our way to Machu Picchu via the Lares route which should give us a good introduction to the culture of the indigenous highlands. We´re both looking forward to a few days of trekking; we always find it really satisfying and peaceful, although this time we´ve got a private guide, cook, horseman and three horses to keep us company. If nothing else we should be able to practice our spanish and perhaps even learn a few words of the local quechua language. We get back to Cusco late on Friday night so we´ll be able to update you all next weekend on how it went.

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The sound of little patitas - never again

We had our first menu disaster on our way to Arequipa when we stopped off just over the Peru border in Tacna. Usually, being adventurous and just picking something off the menu works really well but not this time! We asked the waiter what the dish was and got the impression that it involved salad and potatoes which sounded OK to me, going vegetarian would be a nice change.  What I got was definitely not vegetarian; it was a pile of little piggies´ trotters nicely garnished with red onion!!!!!!! I don´t like even slightly fatty meat so there was no way I was going to munch on one of those. Luckily, Jon is a lot less picky and did his husbandly duty and had a couple so the pile wasn´t quite so high when the waiter came to take it away again. We certainly won´t be ordering anything else with patitas in the title and we guess that this is one dish you won´t be recreating at home.

Later on as we continued our bus journey to Arequipa, Jon was rewarded by karma as he won the game of bingo on the bus and we now have one free return journey back to Tacna, just in case we want any more of those pig trotters!

Overall, our journey from Sucre in Bolivia to Cusco in Peru is nearly complete and we booked our bus tickets for the final leg to Cusco for tomorrow night. It´s been a long journey over the Andes; we had four hours waiting at the Bolivian-Chile border (Changara) at a cold altitude of 4700m but with great views of  the snow-covered Parinacota volcano and pink flamingos on the nearby lake. From Chile to Peru, we passed through the first desert of our trip and saw the vast expanse of the Atacama.

In Chile we broke our journey by spending a couple of nights in Arica, an oasis town bordered by sea on one side and enormous sand dunes on the other. While there we had a mini earthquake which was blithely brushed off by the locals as one of the daily tremors but was an interesting experience for us.

Santa Catalina convent

Arequipa is a beautiful city full of interesting Spanish architecture. We really enjoyed a peaceful afternoon wandering around the Santa Catalina convent built in the sixteenth century and described as a city within a city as it contains its own church, streets, houses, kitchens, gardens and even a cemetry. The nuns lived in comfort with four servants and luxuries provided by their families such as European tea services and furniture. From the deckchairs on our hostel´s rooftop terrace we also get an amazing view of the El Misti volcano that dominates the city. Arequipa is one of the places that Jon came to nine years ago, and it has changed quite a lot in that time, becoming hugely more tourist-orientated with boutique shops around the centre selling ´baby alpaca´woollen goods at London prices. We suspect Cuzco might be much the same, but we hope to join in with the centenary celebrations of Machu Picchu´s discovery and visit.