Earth is flat and penguins fly

Yesterday I went for a cruise on the Beagle Channel; a 5 hour cruise to see the plethora of widlife (sealions, seals, albatrosses, several types of penguins and a large variety of other birdlife). 

It was quite cold so I prepared and brought a small bottle of whisky - you know, to keep warm and that… 

Meanwhile, as I was making sure to keep warm, we docked in front of an island full of penguins. Not just full, it was overflowing. Some of the penguins flew in and out of the island. As I vacuously observed these penguins I eventually had the onderlying epiphany: Huh? Flying penguins? I didn’t know there was a species of penguins that can fly… is there? After I squinted for a while longer I realised that of course, they weren’t penguins. They were just birds disguised as penguins.The scary part is it took me a while to  register that there was something not quite right with my registration of what I was looking at! DUH. Don’t get too warm, it interferes with your overall coherence.

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Please note: these are NOT penguins flying past in the picture above.. 

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The legend of Gauchito Gil

Anyone who has travelled the roads of Argentina will have noticed the red shrines dotted along the roads everywhere. You find them right in the middle of nowhere - and on the well trodden track. On frequently frequented junctions, in city centres and alongside remote dead country roads. Massive devotion areas that take up more room than a small church can be found on the curb or along busy highways as well as tiny little red boxes with a wee little saint in it somewhere obscurely burrowed under a tree, not much larger than the size of a shoebox. This is Gauchito Gill, a legacy of the legend of Argentina’s sanctified cowboy. 


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There are several legends behind the history of Gaucho Gill. The one I like best is the one that follows below. 

In the mid - 1800’s  Antonio “gauchito” Gill was a Robin Hood type thug, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Before he had turned to this sympathetic path of crime he had been serving in the army but when he was lined up to fight in a civil war in which he did not believe - “brothers should not be fighthing brothers” or something along these lines is what he is believed to have said - he deserted the army and therewith became a fugitive. 

Once in the bad books with the strong arm of the law, naughty Gauchito (literally: little cowboy) thought he might as well stay a rebel and turned to robbing the rich so that he could donate his takings to the poor. He became notorious for his noblility until he was caught and hanged from a tree. Before he was hanged, he told his executioner that he would have to ensure to give him a proper burial; if he would fail to do so, the executioner would come home to find his son on his deathbed. 

The executioner did not take a word  to heart, cut Gauchito’s throat and threw him in a cheap grave. When he came home he found his son gravely ill, and close to dying. The executioner went back, gave Gauchito a proper burial after all and prayed to him. When he came home next his son was on the mend to health. 

Whether there is any truth to the story anywhere, or whether any details have any roots of truth (did the actual character even exist?) I have no means of knowing.  But to date Gauchito Gil is revered to as a saint, shrines are put up along the roads everywhere in his honour, flaunting red flags, ribbons, pictures and statues of the Magnum mustached Mr Gil, poems, prayers and thank you notes are left and offerings are made in the form of cigarettes, opened beer cans and burning candles. There have even been several attempts to the Vatican nominate him as a saint (but to date to no avail).

It is nice to see Gauchito’s shrines alongside the roads everywhere you travel in this massive country. Gauchito Gill is protecting you, Gauchito Gill will keep you safe. 

India

When I first met India I was determined not to want to get attached to her at all. Gabi and I had just been to Europe and I had decided to stay an extra month to have some time alone with my family and friends. Gabi didn’t speak any English or Dutch so during my time back in Holland (after three years of not having been there) I had only been interpreting while he was around, and not really catching up with everyone properly so we decided he would go back to Argentina and find a place where we could both work and live, and I would join him there a month later. 

Gabi chose San Luis, pretty much a crappy town but he thought there would be work. While I was away he was quite lonely there so he thought it would be nice to get a puppy to keep him company. When I heard about this I was furious, we had plans to travel! What are we going to do with a puppy! Nobody accepts dogs when needing a place to stay, not to mention the complications when crossing borders! Of course as soon as I  met India a month later my heart melted and I could not care less anymore about how hard it would be in the future. India was gold. She was cute, sweet, clever, smart, cuddly, streetwise, I loved her to bits immediately. 

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At night when we were asleep she would nuzzle up to my cheek if she needed to go for a wee or a crap -  not wanting to wake anyone up (except for me) so I could let her outside. She followed me around everywhere (well, like a puppy) and refused to leave the house if I wouldn’t come (or refused to stay in the house if I would leave). We went hitchhiking from Argentina to Vina del Mar in Chile, and she was the perfect accomplish. She would hide between our backpacks until the very last minute, and when we would give the signal she’d sneak up and we would quickly put her on the floor somewhere where she would stay dead still until we got out a few hours later.

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Some of the drivers were flabbergasted to see we got out and got followed by a happy (usually busting) chubby little puppy. She was so good. I was there when she went to a beach/the ocean the first time, she absolutely loved it and I loved watching her be such a happy pup.

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She understood traffic lights and when to wait or walk, didn’t need a leash but just followed you everywhere, she was the best dog ever. She ate strawberries just because she saw us eating them (though she kept looking at us while trying to gnaw at one, thinking: are you for real? You eat this shit??)

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About two months later Gabi and I broke up and I was quite upset, but the worst for me was farewelling the dog. She was Gabi’s dog, and anyway, I wanted to continue travelling - what am I going to do with a dog that is going to be a HUGE dog judging by its paws? It was the best thing to do  at the time. 

Gabi and I stayed in touch and I still love him to bits but we agreed we are just too different in too many ways for it to make it work. I hadn’t seen India since October 2012 when we split up, but always had hope that one day I will see her again. That day seemed to be a possibility when Gabi told me he is moving to Lima (Peru) for a while to live, and he is taking India with him. I will be in Lima in May this year, so how great would that be! And how will India react? Will she remember me? And if she does, will she be really happy, or really indignant, or really upset? I kept wondering about this but was really happy to think I might see her again. 

Until I woke up this morning. I saw a heartwrenching message from Gabi on Facebook. Two days ago he wrote a message to say that India and her pet Gabi made it to La Paz, Bolivia. this morning it said that India had passed away at a vet’s practice in La Paz, after shutting down completely due to  lack of oxygen. I chatted to him this morning and he told me that he made it to a vet’s on time but they had no oxygen, and they refused to take them anywhere else where they might have been able to help India. Because she was just a dog after all. Out of desperation he resorted to mouth to mouth but of course this was a lost cause. To India. To Gabi. 

I cannot begin to express my feelings of sadness, frustration, empathy and sympathy, as well as anger about this. Why become a vet if you don’t give a toss about animals, if you only see them as “only a …”  A vet should be there to give it their everything to save a life, right? Especially if they get paid to do it! And it was so unnecessary, all India needed was a boost of oxygen, then be shipped a kilometer lower and she would have been allright again. But no. She had to die because of a careless vet that doesn’t like dogs.

This did not only impact poor Gabi who has to go on by himself now, who had to leave India’s corpse at a cold vet’s practice in cold La Paz, cold Bolivia. He is no doubt riddled with feelings of guilt (and who would have thought altitude could have this kind of an impact on a dog?? I would have done the same thing!) it also has had a huge impact on me, on my family and friends who never even MET India, on Gabi’s family and friends. 

In my opinion all animals have a soul. You see it when you look into their eyes. They all have a character, a drive, a personality. India had a HUGE personality. That is why I and so many people loved her so much. And that is why it is so sad that she is no longer here, still a pup. I was lucky to be with her for two months and I am heartbroken. Imagine how Gabi must feel after 1.5 years. Here’s to you, beautiful India, I will never forget you and will always think of you heart filled with lots of love and with lots of sadness. 

The joys of travelling
Challenging times…

I generally really enjoy being a tour leader.
First of all there’s the lifestyle: weekdays lose their meaning as every day is different, no weekends to look forward to but rather destinations. It is hard work, especially when in charge of a big group you are constantly planning, organising, booking, cooking and shopping in between answering endless questions, repeating the same information and trying to resolve any upcoming problems.

Then there’s the people, there are always so many interesting caracters on board, and the majority are really great company and heaps of fun. Of course, some are total and utter wankers, but the majority are just the type of people that I like. Cruisy, easy going and enjoying life as much as they can. Throw in a great sense of humour for good value and the tone for an awesome fun trip is set.  

But like I said… there’s also your share of total and utter wankers. The trip I am doing now was supposed to be a six month circuit from Quito (Ecuador) down to Ushuaia (Southernmost city in the world, Argentina) and back up to Quito via Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia. However, things have panned out a bit differently. The last few weeks were very stressful. We had a full truck (34 people) and a lot of things went wrong. On top of that I was leading blind (i.e. taking the group to places where I had never been before) and there were a million and one extra events to organise (side excursions, especially in Rio de Janeiro where we went for the big carnaval).

When we set off from  Quito in November the group was absolutely great. A lot of younger people and the general feeling was just fun, lots of laughter, lots of enthusiasm. By the time we got to Santiago (mid January) the group changed dramatically. We lost about half of the initial group and the majority of the newcomers were a lot older. And they were a lot different… 

We had some trouble with the truck. Quite a bit actually, which meant we were stranded on two occasions. This was resolved by overnighting one night - the driver going on all night to still get us to Ushuaia at the same time as per our schedule. But then we had to pick up a part on the way back which set us back another day because we had a big detour because of this. Later on we got stranded again, this time in Buenos Aires. I got everyone a nightbus to Paraguay to stay as close to the schedule as possible, but because of the truck break down we missed a full day in Paraguay. To top it all off my bag got stolen, which had my passport in it (as well as company credit cards and cash). This meant I wasn’t going anywhere, we had to fly in another tour leader to acccompany my group while I was trying to obtain a new passport (of course it happened on a friday evening, so my hands were tied until Monday morning with the embassy being closed…) 

These events on their own are stressful but manageable. But not when you have several passengers whinging, complaining, disapproving about every single petty little thing. And that is what it was like. A lot of people (especially the younger crowd and the long-term travellers doing the full six months) were fine with changes - this is what overland travelling is about, after all! Things change, some last minute, it even says so on the online itinerary (as well as on the daily one that I give out to people). It is all part of the adventure, is the tacky slogan we always shout out at such moments. Just adjust your plans and deal with it! But no, there were several disgruntled passengers that had decided to make it their mission to have a miserable time. They had decided they were not happy from the start of the trip, and instead of just rolling with it and getting over things they accumulated every single little thing that happened and got more and more sour.

One couple in particular shouted at me or at the driver over the most ridiculous things. They made unfair comments and unjust observations and were emailing our office in Cuzco with complaints just about every second day. Every time when we tried to make a gesture of good will (a letter of apology from the office, a round of drinks, a dinner on the company) they refused to accept (the pathetic losers even tore up the letter!) and they would not socialise with any of the group. When having dinner they would sit in the back, just the two of them, away from everyone else and that was pretty much the way they had decided to act for the entire duration of the trip. 

I can safely say without a doubt that I have NEVER, EVER been under so much stress as I have been within the last few weeks. Not just because of those passengers, not just because of the string of bad luck we had, but also because of all the organising I had to do for such a massive group, as well as for preparing for the next leg of the trip (the majority of which is going to be leading blind, and with 21 new passengers from Rio on top of 11 that are already on the tour).

Above all I don’t have a great working relationship with my current driver and in the end it escalated, having him say that he would leave if he had to work with me any longer. So we all had a sit down and decided that I will change tours. I will be doing the exact same trip I have just done, but in reverse so 3.5 months going from Rio de Janeiro to Quito via Ushuaia. 

I have mixed feelings about that; I am really happy because I will be working with Will again, he is my buddy and we work together really well. I am also happy because I am going to have a small group which makes everything a lot less stressful and easier to manage. Also I will be doing a tour I have just done, so I know exactly what to expect, what to organise, what to tell people.But I would be lying if I didn’t say that I also feel sad because I was really looking forward to getting to see Brazil and Venezuela, and going back to Colombia which I absolutely love. And I feel sad for leaving the group of people that are staying on because I really like them. But then, shit happens. You just roll with it and get over it… It will be a lot of fun and fortunately I haven’t ditched my winterclothes yet - as we will be heading back to Patagonia!

Torres del Paine National Park

A downside of travelling in Patagonia is the numerous border crossings between Chile and Argentina in order to get to see everything pretty under the sun. When going into Chile all fresh products have to be discarded; no meat, veggies or fruit are allowed to be taken into the country which is a pain in the arse when you have 36 people on board to try and pre-buy food for in a place where supermarkets are very few and far in between (not to mention having to cross such borders about six times within 3 weeks). Furthermore all luggage has to be taken off the vehicle and put through an x-ray machine; a lengthy process and if you have one of these every two to three days it puts a bit of a damper on your already long travel days. 

After having been to the impressive Perito Moreno glacier we crossed one of those bitch borders again so that we could get to Torres del Paine National Park. 

Torres del Paine is notorious for its unpredictable weather and during our four days there this was no exception. Everyone was camping and the nights were just freezing; it is very hard to get out of bed when everything around you is so cold! The first couple of nights it was also pissing down with rain which made it even harder. 

We had ourseles a guide for the duration of our stay - again the same silly rules; individuals are allowed to go there by themselves as long as the entry fee is paid for - but it’s when you are a group of people that you are forced to hire a guide - or you get a juicy big fat fine. Our guide was John and he was really good. In the end it worked out just how lucky we were to have had him with us. 

The first day we (“we” meaning the fitter among us) went to do the towers walk; an eight hour return trail that leads up to the “Towers of the Paine” - that what the national park is named after. It was a lot harder on me than I thought; and the reason was because I didn’t have any walking sticks! It is amazing how much difference that makes, without sticks it is a lot more strenuous on your  entire body. 

The walk was absolutely beautiful, walking through valleys, past rivers, through forests and the last climb up and through rocks. The last bit was not so beautiful. It was barren and crumbly and it was certainly the hardest part. Enjoying the walk and the sun, at one moment I looked up with a semi smile on my face,
SEMI until I saw little moving dots between the sky-high rocks.
Little moving dots that were people.
Sky high.
Between those far away rocks.  
FUCK, I still have to climb that far up?? That  sure tought that smart-arsed semi smile a lesson and it vanished in a heartbeat.

It was absolutely beautiful there though, so it was worth the effort. Especially so because there is no other way to get there: no bus ride, no taxi that can take a lazy cheat the easy way up. If you want the views, you put in the hard work or else just Google the pictures from your recliner chair! 

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View from the campsite

The next day some of us went for a five hour horse ride, again through stunning scenery - riding through rivers of increadibly pretty colours, forests, hills, paddocks and riverside beaches. It is most definitely the most beautiful horse ride I have ever done. Of course OF ALL TIMES EVER this was the day that my camera battery had gone flat - and I could not find my charger anywhere. So no pictures of the following few days, or of the horse ride  :/ 

The entire stay at the park was packed with activities, and the third day was no exception. We could choose between two walks to do, and I chose to go to the Frances Valley. Again a very pretty walk, leaving in the morning to cross a lake with a catamaran, where we started the walk just before noon. It was meant to be a six hour return but something very unfortunate happened that changed a few plans. 

When we got to the lookout point on top of the mountain the wind had started blowing very hard. It was beautiful up there, we were looking out on a big glacier right in the mountain tops and every now and then a big part of the glacier crashed, making for an impressive avalanche with big noises to accompany it. I love big noises. 

I had started my descend back down when a passenger from my group came running after me, shouting out my name. It turned out that Lucie, another passenger, had been blown into a branch by a powerful wind ghust and was badly hurt.

I rushed back up and it was very bad indeed, the cut was big and extremely deep, and bits of leg and fat were hanging out of the wound everywhere. John (the guide) had come with us fortunately so he ran down to warn the rangers and then ran back up again, all this within an hour - not bad for a smoker, not bad at all! You see, children? smoking’s not bad for you at all, it is good for you. It makes you a super fit super hero.

We waited for the rangers to come with a stretcher so that we could start evacuating Lucie down to the water front, to get her onto a boat and from there into an ambulance. My passengers had already started the descend a few hours earlier to make sure they would make the catamaran back across the lake. Normand (Lucie’s hubbie), John and I had stayed with Lucie. 

There were about 15 to 20 volunteers helping out (they were camping nearby) with the evacuation which was great, and John coordinated it brilliantly, telling everyone exactly what to do, how and where. We got Lucie down in about four hours, but the wind had gotten worse and worse. Consequently it was impossible to get a boat across the lake, the waves were too big. So we had to stay the night with the rangers. There happened to be three doctors that were camping nearby, this was very  lucky for us. They cleaned the wound out properly, flushing it out with lots of water first (remember, there were no anestetics!) Lucie held up very brave, I would have kicked, screamed, scratched and punched if that had been me but she just bore it with clutched teeth and eyes closed. She is a very brave woman!  

We stayed the night at the rangers’ refuge and the next day the wind had died down so we could get down to the shore, and from the shore to the other side of the lake where the ambulance was waiting. By then the rest of our group had already made it to the next place, I stayed with Lucie and Normand and later we had to go with another ambulance to get to a different hospital where Lucie could get surgery.

Sincce then unfortunately Normand and Lucie have had to sign off the tour; they had to return to Canada because the wound was so severe that Lucie needs plastic surgery as soon as possible. It is a real shame because they were a very nice couple (unlike some wankers on this tour…) 

I caught up with my group again the following night just in time to carry on right into our next stretch of bad luck. But one step at a time, this is enough for now… One more bad blog to follow, let’s hope bad things also come in three and that will be the final bad one ;)  

checking in from Buenos Aires.

I have not had a chance to write a blog for a while. I have a massive group totalling 36 people (myself and driver included) and this leaves me with my hands full most of the time. 

The last time I wrote a post I had just had my hair done (IN BOLIVIA so I deserved the end result) - this is 6 weeks ago. I finally had it “fixed” in Buenos Aires this morning, and it is even worse than it was! Never mind, we are heading for the carnaval in Rio de Janeiro so now I have a good excuse to wack an extravagant bright red or purple through it. 

What have I been up to… I have been to beautiful Patagonia for the first time! So far I had never been further south than Santiago and Buenos Aires, so it was all a new experience over the last three weeks. 

One of the first things I started noticing were the strangely shaped clouds. This is to do with the air pressure, temperature and the mountains. They look like UFO’s, it’s rather awesome to see.image

 
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First we headed for Pucon: a lovely little lake town in the lakes district of Chile. I am not a happy camper so I have been sleeping in the truck almost every time when we didn’t get an upgrade to a room (which is most of the Patagonia part of this trip!). After Pucon we headed for Bariloche; a border crossing into Argentina to get there. Bariloche is beautiful, another lake side town. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to look around there much because I had too much to organise. 

And then the really interesting and beautiful stuff was about to happen! First a stop at el Calafate: a giant glacier. I had never seen a glacier before so that was really impressive, it is a very intense blue colour. Organising it was a bit of a nightmare:  

I had sold the glacier visit as an organised tour to my passengers, and told them that it included the transfer to the national park, an English speaking guide and a boat trip. After I had sold it I found out that my info was no longer accurate, and that the boat trip was no longer part of the excursion but had to be sold seperately! Shit, what was I going to do! I sold them something that didn’t exist.

After begging the hotel where I booked the tour to cancel the tour, they luckily agreed to do this. So plan B was that we would drive our passengers to the national park ourselves, with our own truck and this way we could also include the entrance fee. I informed my passengers of this and it sounded too good to be true, didn’t it! And it was.

When I got to the town of El Calafate, the reception staff of the hotel told me that it was not possible to get to the national park ourselves, unless we hired a local guide (this is what they implement with groups of ten people or more, just another cash cow, basically). So off I went first thing in the morning to hire a guide. Except I am not allowed to just hire a guide, because we are a commercial company and therefore are not allowed to drive our own transport to the park.

The only way to do it was through booking a tour - you know, the kind of tour that I had just cancelled! FUCK, what am I going to do! I exclaimed. A it was too late to book an organised tour, because they all left at 8 AM and by now it was 8 AM - too late to book for 35 people - and B the tour did not include boat ride or entrance fee - two features I had promised to be included. The lady at the guide office (whatever that is called) said the only other way to do is was to go with public transport. That way you could go with more than 10 people and you didn’t need a guide. So off I went again, this time to book a bus. This was do-able, except the buses are only allowed to go into the park twice a day: at 11 AM and at 2 PM! so I had to tell my group we weren’t leaving at 10 AM after all, but would be going at 1PM instead to get to the park at 14:30. 

We got on the bus and into the national park, and stopped off at a lake before heading on to the glacier. Once at the glacier I asked the driver where we had to go to get a boat. It turned out we should have gotten off at the lake to catch the boat, and there wasn’t a possibility to do it later! I had just assumed that one of the several walkways by the glacier would lead to the place from where the boats left! FUCK! When I asked why he hadn’t said anything to us when we were there before he replied that this was not his job; none of the drivers announce this. Great, that’s super helpful! So I begged the driver to please take us back to the dock, so that my passengers could at least get their promised boat trip around the glacier! Fortunately he agreed to do this and this is the reason I am still alive today. My sister is an events organiser and I can tell you I thought of her quite a few times, now I understand what she goes through when things turn to shit! That is not a happy feeling. 

The glacier was spectacular: the pictures speak for themselves. 


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The crashing sounds when parts of the glacier drop into the water is equally spectacular. It was quite a sight. 



At night I got back to the hostel and there was a cat that went to sleep on my bed. The small things that make a place feel like a home! image

And then it was time to head on to what must be one of the hightlights of what I have seen so far;  back into Chile to get to Torres del Paine. When I Googled it before actually going I saw an image from Google Earth and thought: O  GOD, WE’RE OFF TO MORDOR! I could not have been further from the truth, what a stunning place! More on that in the next blog, this one is long enough for now… 

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The final mistake of the year

I mean: what were we even thinking, we really got what we deserved…

Yesterday I went to get my hair done with two other girls from the group that I am travelling with. We wanted to get our hair dyed. Blond. Of all places we decided to do this in Bolivia- a developing country where they walk around in aprons, 30 stacked up skirts, silly hats and where they still think 80’s music is cool.  if you do come across a Latino with bleached hair it is never blond, it is piss-yellow. We should have known, we should have known…  

Kerry wanted her roots touched up and so did I, and Sarah wanted to go fully blond. Kerry showed a picture of what her hair used to look like, and I just showed the end bits of my hair - and pointed out I wanted the same colours again, but from the roots. Sarah pointed at a picture on the wall and said that was the colour she wanted. To be on the safe side we pointed at the colours on the colour chart we were presented with. All different shades of blond. We were content and really, really believed that this would be how we would look! HAHAHAHAHA how naieve were we!

As in most of Latin America, everything takes forever so it was not strange that we were sitting around waiting for an hour before they even got started. I was up first. A wide ape-like lady with a face vagina (an ingraved frown between the eyes) started dunking this huge brush full of dye on top of my head, in a straight line going from my forehead down towards the back of my neck! Kerry looked horrified and I exclaimed that she had to stop that immediately. It is not what I wanted, I want to keep my three colours of streaks! The lady responded that she had already mixed the dye - after which she just looked at me, awaiting my reaction (“ok, never mind, I paid a lot of money to get my hair to look like this when I was in Holland, but hey, I mean if you already mixed up the dye, we don’t want you to waste it). 

I couldn’t help laughing out loud because it was so bad that it was hilarious. She explained she just wanted to bleach the roots first, then add the streaks that I wanted, and after that it would look exactly like before and I believed her. FOOL!

Poor Sarah was sitting around for two hours before they even started on her hair. The other hairdressers kept cutting other customers’ hair until I eventually had to say that it was not fair because we got there first. After a few seconds of contemplating and whispering with each other they eventually agreed that this was true and finally started on Sarah’s hair.

Kerry was already under the knife and looked like she was about to cry. She was so nervous and asked if she could do it herself but the hairdressers weren’t keen on that idea. She kept re-wrapping the foils herself because it really seemed the hairdressers did not know what the hell they were doing. Seemed? 

My roots ended up lighter than the rest of my hair which looked terrible plus it was orange! After I finished laughing about this (tears running down my face) I put my serious face on again and said that seriously they had to fix this up now. So, off they went again, they made a half hearted attempt at putting some foils in my hair randomly with the two colours that I had picked. All the foils kept falling out one by one during the next half hour and after a while they put me under a hair drying cap. While I was sitting there with my head in the drying cap smoke started to appear from the cap and from my head! Kerry and Sarah’s faces were in shock horror and I was in tears with laughter once again. Only in Bolivia! 

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Eventually, four and a half hours later the three of us all looked alike. The exact same gingery orangy colour - even though we all picked different types of blond, even though I was supposed to have streaks (the ones I had before have all disappeared), even though Sarah was supposed to be fully blond. 

I think they must really have only one type of blond and would have been having a right laugh when we were all thinking we were getting different types of blond picked off the chart, them probably elbowing each other out the back! They did offer me to put a toner in for another 20 minutes so that the orange would disappear but I was dreading wasting even more time and having more chemicals in my hair (they were using ammonia based dye, something that they haven’t been using for twenty years or so in the west!). 

Long story short: all three of us looked a lot better when we walked in than we did when we walked out! I can only laugh at this though, it cost the equivalent of $30 and I’ll just get it fixed up once I am in the  civil world again. Or maybe next time I’ll get it done by a bunch of chimpanzees - higher chance of success. 

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The Inka Trail

The Inka Trail is just one of those magical mystical mythical sounding phenomena; a four day hike on an ancient pathway that was constructed and utilised by the Inkas many centuries ago. A four day hike that leads to the ruins of Machu Picchu: your prize to claim for the day after all your hard work (and to share with too many pink fat sweaty tourists that just took a bus up to get there).

I had been to Machu Picchu before just over a year ago, but didn’t have a chance to hike the Inka trail that time. Now that I work as a tour leader my employer booked me a spot on the trail along with my group. Here’s how I experienced it! 

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Ready as I’ll ever beeeee….

On the first day we were already delayed by three hours in total (welcome to South America, babyyyy - so how is that patience of yours developing so far?) and finally managed to set off at 13.10. Apart from a few steep climbs it was not a very hard walk; a total ascend of 400 meters from 2600 to 3000 meters above sea level (MASL). I was amazed by all the little porters that were carrying cargo almost twice their size - and they were running up the hills! One of my passengers observed how they resembled leaf-carrying ants, all trotting in line with a big colourful load on their back it looked exactly like that. 

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and so it begins

Our expedition consisted of 24 gringos, 26 porters (carrying all our stuff for us, including tents, sleeping bags and personal belongings) 5 guides and a cook. 

After a couple of hours of walking we stopped for lunch - our busy porters had already set up the lunch tent (including tables, chairs, cutlery & crockery, right up to and including the tablecloths!) and the cook had already prepared us a hot meal to eat. After that we bellied out for 15 minutes before continuing on to the campsite about 2 or 3 hours away. 

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Our tents were all set up for us by the porters when we got there and after some snacks and dinner everyone crashed pretty early. There, that was day one ticked off the list already, but it was day two that everyone was dreading. This is the day we climb up to the first-and highest pass- Dead Woman’s Pass - going from 3000 to 4200 MASL. A steep climb at high altitude is physically challenging for the fittest of us, and I can confirm it was not easy. Especially the last hour up to the summit was a killer, unsteady wobbly legs, out of breath and dizzy we dragged one leg up after the other and we all managed in the end. We had to. 

Camp number two was located at 3500 MASL and the toilets were as bad as the first and final campsites’ bogs. Holes in the ground with a hellish stench that greets you from 50 meters away these are best avoided. Fortunately my bowels agreed with this philosophy and decided to go on strike over the entire four days of the track. THANK YOU BOWELS! They kicked in again as soon as I walked into a restaurant after I had returned back to the civil world - how good are they! I have now given them a contract for life, such efficient employees are hard to come by. 

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I was third to make it up the summit and the first to get to the campsite, with the final people of my group coming in three hours later. The remaining days I was first in all the way through. I really surprised myself at how fit I was - though realistically I think I just wanted to get it all over and done with and that’s what was really the pushing force behind it. 

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Day two was physically hard but day three was the most difficult of the entire track. A rather long day and mostly downhill, this is very hard on the knees and eventually on the lower back (and no, I wasn’t walking it on my knees). 

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The fact that it was raining for most of the day didn’t help, it eliminated all views, put a damper on our spirits, made our bodies cold and the path very slippery. It was very hard going, continuously concentrating on where to put your feet next. I was going hard out, non-stop just to get the day over and done with.  Oh, and this was Xmas day.

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A fake smile could not even be forced out anymore by this stage

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Once I was in dry warm clothes it was all good again though, and by now we only had one final short hike to go on day four. 1.5 hours from the final campsite to the Sungate was all that was left. From the Sungate you got your first glimpse of Machu Picchu, and this is where the rest of our group joined us that hadn’t walked the Inka trail.

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We had champagne to celebrate our victorious achievement and to celebrate xmas, and we did a gift exchange right on top of Machu Picchu (Secret Santa). 

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 Overall it was quite an experience and it was good for me to see how I could push myself but I would not do it again in a hurry! I was disappointed by the vast amount of people that are on the Inka trail each day; it is literally swarming with people and this commercialism really takes away from its mystique. The state of the “toilets” is another big fail in my view; if you have so many people coming through each day then surely it is not that much to ask to have a few properly functioning toilets (or even just long drops) to accommodate them? Some groups were travelling with a portaloo and I can understand why. I just feel sorry for the porter having to carry it. 


So that was the Inka trail. Next up: the Ninka trail. A La Paz pub crawl on new year’s eve. I am sure it will be physically challenging as well, but I have no doubt we’ll pull through! We have been practising, after all.  

Aaah the challenges of staying a stress-free tourleader…

Ingredients:
-One faulty credit card
- One Travelex card with a $700 daily limit (fuck all)
- One big-ass truck needing fuel, repairs and maintenance
- Twenty people to feed and put up with accommodation
- Number of passengers to increase to 27 next week.
- 3500 kilometres / three weeks to shiny new working credit card.