Tag Archives: mountain biking

Inca Jungle and Machu Picchu

The classic Inca Trail books up months in advance and is by far the most expensive option to see Machu Picchu. But there are many alternatives – Mark and I thought the 4day, 3night “Inca Jungle Trek” sounded more fun anyhow. Why walk when you can mountain bike and zip line?!

The first day started with downhill mountain biking. Although the road was completely paved, I actually felt more unsafe than on the WMDR because of shoddy, rusty, unmaintained bikes. We had fun for a few hours: whizzing down fast you feel the air change between warm and cool in different places, carrying aromas from the citrus trees and mountain herbs.

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Day two was the toughest: over eight hours of walking and quite a bit of steep climbing. I actually find long downhills the toughest of all; especially carrying a pack as this wrecks my knees. Give me an uphill any day!

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Our guide kept the trek interesting by pointing out small farms of coca leaves and other plants.

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Some plants held vivid paint-like juices, used for natural dyes by locals. This is one of the first times I have worn “make up” in weeks!

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These chillies are known as “monkey dicks” for obvious reasons…

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We stopped in at a few houses owned by friends of our guide along the way, to refresh supplies of snacks and water, use the bathrooms … and play with their crazy pets.

This cheeky monkey went straight for pockets, bags, even women’s bras in search for treats!

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This is our buddy Matt rocking a new look, the “war paint & parrot” combo. You saw it here first.

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Best of all was spotting these live guinea pigs (cuy) scurrying around a kitchen floor. We almost didn’t see them; nobody thought to point them out as this is such a common way of life in Peru. Cuy is the local specialty and it makes sense to keep a steady supply of free range beasts around, let them breed, fatten them up on peelings and other scraps and cook them up fresh when needed.

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Much to the relief of our trekking group’s token vegetarian, the mama of this house was away and her teenage daughter didn’t feel confident in preparing cuy for us to try. (We tried some another time in Cusco – quite tasty, surprisingly rich, fatty white meat, lots of fiddly bones).

We also crossed this dodgy bridge, keeping an eye out for holes…

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… Which was nothing compared to this cable car, dangling pathetically over a massive drop into rocks and rushing water…

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There was no other way to cross; you just had to clamber in and put your faith in the wiry old man at the other end, who pulls the car back and forth all day (link to video).

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For those whose legs had turned to jelly after that experience, the natural hot springs just 20 minutes from the cable car were a welcome respite.

The next morning we were all pumped for the ziplining part of the jungle trek. Click here to see a video of me screaming like a girl. I’m sure the Incas would have got around this way if they had worked out how to make steel cables…

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There was also a wobbly rope bridge high up above the trees, with just a couple of inches of splintered wooden slats placed every couple of feet to stand on. Some people, like our trekking buddy Bryony, calmly completed the challenge with style and grace…

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While others (me) were not quite so composed…

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The last part of the third day was a gentle stroll along the train tracks. Again, we occasionally had to watch out for treacherous gaps…

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… and fast moving trains. We put coins on the track when we heard trains coming, so they would be squashed to keep as souvenirs. Not sure what to do with several flattened, misshapen bits of metal now…creative suggestions welcome!

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We were having so much fun with all these different activities and sights that we kept having to remind ourselves that we were on the way to see one of the world’s Seven Wonders, Machu Picchu. When the day arrived it was a bit like being a child at Christmas, particularly with the shockingly early 4am start.

This was to give us enough time to complete the final scramble up to the site before crowds of the lazier tourists arrived by the bus load by mid morning. We were told the steep 400m climb would take around two hours so were pretty chuffed with our sub 50 minute time – until our guide told us that a group of crazy Aussies nearly hospitalised themselves after sprinting up in 18 minutes. Won’t be trying that any time soon.

I will always remember the first glimpse of Machu Picchu. The sun had not fully risen at that point so there was a chill in the air and the mists shifted and separated between the peaks of the mountains. As the sun grew stronger, they evaporated, slowly revealing the famous stone structures lit by the morning’s gentle orange glow.

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These stone walls and buildings are so familiar from millions of photographs, it was odd to actually stand in front of them and try to take it all in. I can’t imagine how Hiram Bingham, the Yale professor who rediscovered the lost Inca city of legend, hidden under overgrown jungle in 1911 must have felt.

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Surprisingly little is known about the site. It was only occupied for a few short decades and may have been a palace for Inca nobles or a university for their future leaders and wise men. Part of the reason for the lack of knowledge is the difficulty in translating their language. Apparently this is not the dodgy drawing of a three year old, but Inca text!

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We also paid the extra $10 to climb up Machu Picchu mountain for some aerial views. No lazy bus tourists up here – the steep 600m ascent took care of that. When filling in the sign-in book at the bottom, we spotted some people had given up and turned back after just 10-15 mins of climbing.

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The view from the top – you can see Machu Picchu below, in the distance.

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We climbed back down on creaking knees in time to spot the resident llamas enjoying the sunny spots on the grass.

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One llama preferred “photo bombing”…

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The pretty ones seemed to like posing…

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Others weren’t so photogenic…

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Some llamas seemed to be there for the same reasons as us, to enjoy the spectacular view. Spot the difference…

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World’s Most Dangerous Road, Bolivia

written by Mark

Don’t tell Leila’s mum, but one of our highlights of our time in La Paz was cycling down the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” (a.k.a. “Death Road”, whichever makes you feel more comfortable). The numbers vary depending on who you ask, but we heard that on average around 13 people died each year when the road was the major route over the mountains to La Paz.

Thankfully, they built a new road in 2007 so this old 64km WMDR route is only used by cyclists, tour buses and the odd other vehicle. Still, our guide Jubi was aware of about 24 cyclists who had died in the last 14 years, so the name “Death Road” is no false moniker.

So, armed with this information, our group was just itching to set off.

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Given the infamous WMDR history, safety is given the utmost priority. Barracuda Bikes gave us high quality Kona steeds with hydraulic disk brakes and full suspension.

We were given a good briefing and even made an offering to Pachamama to bid us a good trip: a drop of 96% strength alcohol for our bikes and the road followed by a drop for ourselves.

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Then we were off. The first 25km or so was down a tarmac road, good to give us all a feel for the bikes.

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Then the 37km down the Death Road itself began. The road is narrow (often only one car width wide, with vertical 200-300m drops on one side and a cliff on the other. The surface is gravel, and loose in parts.

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Those who have seen the Top Gear episode where they drive on this road will know it can easily crumble away beneath the vehicle. For that reason it is the only road in South America where it is customary to drive on the left – so drivers can more easily see how close they are to the edge.

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The dust kicked up by cars was often suffocating; we were caked all over by the end of the ride.

The road is littered with crosses and graves, a good reminder to check your speed.

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We took care to stop for regular breaks and take lots of photos. Jubi was a bit of a joker.

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The ride was great fun, with just enough danger to keep it interesting. I’m pleased to say everyone in our group got back in one piece.

Annoyingly, we left La Paz the next day before we could pick up our “Death Road Survivor” tshirts, but Leila did come back with one souvenir after taking a tumble.

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