Category Archives: Peru

Magical Machu Picchu

Aquas Calientes – A charmless town built for tourists

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Arriving at Aguas Calientes

The train ride from Ollantayatambo to Aquas Clientes, or Machu Picchu as the town is called these days, is the most expensive train ride per kilometre in the world but its the best way to get to Machu Picchu unless you are hiking there. You are only allowed to bring hand luggage on the train so we left our big bags at the hostel in Ollantaytambo to spend 2 nights and 2 days there.

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The train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes

We went on a Peru rail train with 300 degree panoramic views, meaning you can see out the window and also up through the roof. The view is great even on a cloudy day like ours. The train ride only takes almost 2 hours and on the way you get served drinks and a little something to eat.

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Not looking at the views…just colouring in!

The quinoa strudel they served was supposed to be authentic and tasted ok but I would have preferred a simple empanada instead. All in all the journey was not too long and quite comfortable ….as expected when paying top dollars for the tickets

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The valley of Aguas calientes

Aguas Calientes town is the gateway for all tourist who come to see Machu Picchu and is very different from Ollantaytambo, the old Inca town. It is built specifically for tourists and so lacks any real charm of the Peru we have grown to love. Streets lined with restaurants and 4-5 story hotels and with the the hot springs at one end and the roaring river at the other. We stayed at Machupicchu Packer, a basic hostel with breakfast is included in the price. For those starting early they give you a parcel with a cheese sandwich, fruit and water to take with you on your way to Machu Picchu.

Unhappy 4.30 wake up call to walk up to Machu Picchu

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5am start…mixed emotions

We had packed 2 small day packs wth essentials the nigh before to allow everyone to sleep as long as possible before the 4.30 am start. 1 bag with raincoats and hats and one with food and drinks. We talked to the kids about the early start the night before, but Scott was still recovering from illness so we were expecting the worst when waking him up in the morning….and he did not disappoint. After very reluctantly getting dressed he went on a huff about not having breakfast before leaving the hostel. I want pancakes he was shouting and he refused to walk.…Nothing we said could change his mood so in the end we just set off with Scott on Paul shoulders and Ingrid and I trailing behind.

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The queue to the bus and taxi up to Machu Picchu that we walked straight pased

We were slightly delayed by the morning tantrum and reached the river crossing 5.15 rather than 5 when it officially opens. As we approach we saw a huge line of people waiting by the river. Oh no, we thought it was the queue up the trail…. but no it was the queue for the taxi:-) Ingrid was laughing wondering why people waiting for the taxi were all wearing hiking outfits and survival gear. With no other hikers in sight we left the streetlights behind, turned on our head torches and started the 2 hr climb up the the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu

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Getting ready to hike the trail up

Scott was feeling happier but had no intention of walking so Paul set off up the trail in his own pace with 25kg of Scott on his shoulders while Ingrid and I climbed at our own speed…as usual while conversing about her shed and invention workshop she is planning to build when we get back to the UK.

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1hr into our 2 hr hike up to Machu Picchu

1hr into the the hike, we started passing people who had set off slightly earlier and that helped keep us going for another 45 min until we were finally there. The path of stone steps up to Machu Picchu criss crosses the main road that the taxies and busses use to shift tourists up to the ruins and we had fun waving at tourists in the busses every time we saw one. The views you climb up through the clouds is amazing but nothing compared to the stunning view you get when you enter Machu Picchu itself.

Steep climb to spectacular views

You can only see the actual ruins once you get through the tickets gate and round the corner into the main site. As we were there at 7am the stillness of this majestic place as it appears in the fresh air through the lingering clouds is breathtaking. This must surely be the best time to visit. It felt like it was all ours.

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Machu Picchu with Huyana Picchu peak in the clouds just behind

The tickets we had bought a few months earlier gave us entry to Machu Picchu and to climb up Huayna Picchu, the highest and most spectacular viewpoint over Machu Picchu itself. Our time slot to climb up was 7-8 so once inside Machu Picchu we went straight through the ruins to the Huayna Picchu entry point. There is an age limit of 12 to do this steep and slightly dangerous climb that takes about 2 hours up and down. Our plan was for Paul to race up on his own at 7am on the dot while I hung our with the kids by the entrance.

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Playing about while waiting for Paul

We were assuming he could go up and down in less than 1 hour so that Ingrid and I could still go up before the 8am deadline. Paul came down just before 8 so next up was me and Ingrid. We showed Ingrids passport and luckily the guard only checked the name in the passports against the tickets, not the age, so we were good to go up!

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Steep and narrow path to the top of Huayna Picchu

The view was totally amazing climbing up the steep and narrow stone step path. We kept a high pace and passed over 50 people on the way up to the top. Ingrid keeps count. We slowed down through a bottleneck of people just below the top viewpoint where everyone had to climb using hands and feet on the steep, slippery and very narrow steps that wound up ever higher and higher. Finally if was our turn at the very top and the view simply took our breath away.

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View from the top of Hayana Picchu

We found a perfect boulder where we sat for a minute and enjoyed a morning Twix while the clouds scattered revealing the beautiful site of Machu Picchu far below. We didn’t stay long as we were keen to get on the path down before most of the crowds and quickly defended the 500m down to the waiting Paul and Scott. What a  glorious morning of hard core climbing!

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Twix at the top

Exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu

You are not allowed to bring in food or drink to the Machu Picchu site and there are no toilets or resting areas inside the site. I guess it helps keep the crowds moving on as otherwise people would be inclined to linger and spend the whole day there. I liked how it was done as it helps keep the site clean and natural looking without modern buildings or constructions ruining the view or experience.

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Ingrid and Scott having fun exploring Machu Picchu

By the time Ingi and I reached he bottom of Hyanu Picchu it was already 10.30 and high time for a rest and recharge of everyones fading batteries. We went out of the main gat for a toilet break and to enjoy our packed lunch. Scott was tired but gradually we could see his entry levels were on the up soon ready  for some more exploring of the ruins themselves. Some ice-cream and coca cola for a final boost and then we were all ready to get going again.

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Scott like to pretend that the sun dial was a human sacrificial stone
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Exploring the royal temple and the fantastic the stonework

We entered the site again on the same ticket and joined the marked trail round the ruins, spectacular buildings and sights. A couple of hours later the big crowds started to appear just as we were feeling ready to leave. Paul and Ingrid walked the long trail down while I took a sleepy Scott on the bus.

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Ingrid still going strong after 6 hrs of high pace hiking

Finally together again at the bottom we had a celebratory early dinner, giant burgers all round! We had all too been looking forward to this day in macho Picchu and I have to say it did not disappoint.

Hikes on your doorstep in beautiful Sacred Valley of the Incas

Finally in the Peruvian mountains

Travelling on the local bus for 1.5hr from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo I was getting excited about the beautiful mountainous landscape. Such a contrast from the deserts by the coast where we had spent the past 4 weeks. The fresh cooler air I had so longed for since Nicaragua here as well, finally! The local bus from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo cost S10 per person and was very comfortable so we were happy we didn’t pay more to go on one of the big tourist busses.

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Mountain view in the Sacred Valley of the Incas

The route to Ollayntayambo is on good roads across mountain passes and along fields with a view of amazing snowcapped and rugged peaks along the way. We were dropped off on the little town square and walked 2 blocks on ancient cobbled Inca streets to our hostel. The town itself is the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas nestled in the beautiful valley among hillside ruins and streams.

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Ollantaytambo main square
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Pooh sticks
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Cobbled streed in the oldest active Inca settlement in the Americas

A great place for Scott to rest

Scott was ill since 2 days with diarrhoea and a high temperature and getting worse so we spent our first few days there just resting trying to get him better and adjusting to the high altitude of 3000m watching films on the laptop and reading stories on the kindles.

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Scotty very ill while travelling

After our 1st night in a quite expensive hostel I went looking for the best possible place for us to stay for the next 4 nights. To our delight I found a great little family run hostel Hostal Killari for half the price we were paying through booking.com! The winning formula as we know by now is a big room with beds for 4, communal space and a kitchen we can use and this place ticked all the boxes and had a bonus dog and a cat as well! Happy days!

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Common space at our hostel

Happiness in the hills with Ingrid

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Happiness on the mountain

While Scott was resting Paul and I took turns going for walks up the hills with Ingrid, exploring the town and the many ruins scattered down the side of the mountains. I totally fell in love with this place and felt so happy to finally be in the mountains. Streets with traditionally clad woman with wide brimmed hats, carrying children and heavy loads in colourful blankets on their backs under the long black plaits.

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One of many Peruvian lady carrying a heavy load
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Ingrid having a chat with the ladies
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Elena 4 in traditional Peruvian clothes

Small shops and cafes mixed with houses and hostels. No big hotels or other intrusive buildings here just a food market for the locals and a small handicrafts market for tourists but best of all lots and lots of hiking trails and ruins to explore right on your door step.

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View of Pinkullyuna from our hoslel

On one side of the valley on Pinkullyuna are ruins you can explore for free. There are a few trails up the side of the mountain taking some 400m up to ruins of ancient Incan storehouses overlooking some of the most spectacular views of the Ollantaytambo ruins on the hills on the other side of the valley and town and the whole of the Sacred Valley.

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Pinkullyuna ruins
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View from Pinkullyuna over the town and the Ollantaytambo ruins on the other side

To enter the main ruins of Ollantaytambo on the other side of the valley you have to pay an entrance fee of S70. The structures from the old inca town truly are amazing and definitely worth paying for. At the very back of the ruins Ingrid and I found a hidden trail leading up the mountain. We hiked up for an hour or so tis the trail ended halfway up to the top and headed back down again after a quick rest.

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Ruins of Ollantaytambo

Ingrid was soo in her element while hiking she was skipping along singing and talking about her plans for the future and about the amazing adventures we have had on our trip so far. I love reliving our fantastic hikes in the mountains in Nepal, China, Australia in Thailand and feel excited to add Peru to the list of amazing hikes.

Finally we all go hiking together

After 3 days of illness Scott was still not getting better and with only 2 days left before our train to Machu Picchu we decided to get Scott some antibiotics. The next morning he woke up demanding pancakes! I took him for his first walk in 4 days to the little local market to buy flour and eggs and ended up with some corn on the cob as a special pre-breakfast snack.

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Scotty demanding food – a clear sign he was getting better

Once back at the house we spent a raining morning cooking pancakes in the traditional Inca kitchen belonging to the hostel family. With food in his belly Scott was keen to go out exploring. We all went out for lunch and an afternoon stroll to test the waters. Paul and Scott exploring the ruins at the bottom of the valley while Ingrid took me up high on the other side to show me the secret cave she’d found on her morning hike with Paul. The sun came out and we had such a lovely walk.

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Enjoying my hike with Ingrid

The best walk though was on our last day here. Scott was feeling better so after packing for Machu Picchu we all walked up to the top of the trail on Pinkullyuna. Ingrid ran ahed leading the way while Paul and I took turns encouraging Scott to keep going.

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Scott did so well walking up the long trial
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A rest on the way up to Pinkullyuna

Scott made it to the top all by himself and so we all enjoyed the packed lunch we had brought with us marvelling at the views over this very special and Scared Valley. This was the warm up hike and perfect day on the mountain that we all needed before our big hike up to Machu Picchu the following day.

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At the top of Pinkullyuna

Wildlife and rest in Paracas, Peru

We escaped the floods – where to next?

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Once safe in Lima we had to decide where to go next. All roads into the mountains, our preferred destination, were still closed due to recent landslides and continuous flood risks so we had to stay by the coast.

One of the few places not to have been flooded was the small coastal village of Paracas, 4 hrs south of Lima. We met a French couple in our hostel in Lima who recommended it and confirmed it was free from floods. Perfect! The next day we were there.

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The main attraction in Paracas is the beautiful desert coastline that is the Nature reserve of Paracas and its close location to other interesting towns, ICA, Nasca, and a few km up the coast the larger fishing town of Pisco.

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After spending 1 night in in a rubbish little hostel I went looking for a more spacious place to stay. After walking round for half an hour I found a nice cheap little hostel with great communal space, a clean kitchen and fridge, a cat, a dog, a kitten and a little girl called Cielo. Perfect for Scott! Also a little park close by where the local kids hangout with a great set of monkey bars. Perfect for Ingrid. All in all a perfect place to chill out for a few days.

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Time to do nothing much

Schoolwork every morning or afternoon, followed by long walks on the beach, cooking together, playing in the park and going on little excursions.

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There is an area in Paracas filled with luxury houses and hotels, so eating out is not very cheap but with not much in our schedule here we liked spending time buying ingredients and cooking. Ingrid got her mojo back after her tummy bug and was keen to help me cook. Scott as always loves helping with any meal. A huge batch of Chile con carne got everyone back in great sprits!

The beach in Paracas is a beautiful wildlife sanctuary but not great for swimming as there is quite a lot of seaweed in the water. Instead we loved long walks to the kite surf club and back among flamingos, pelicans, sea lions and many other beautiful wild birds.

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Deserts and wildlife while waiting for the mountains

We had a great day swimming in one of the best beaches in Peru, a 15 min drive through the desert from Paracas at Mina beach.

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We went there early in the morning after at stop  to admire the red beach in the desert landscape along the way. Once at Mina, we climbed down the stairs to the sandy beach tucked away between 2 big sandy hills. Fresh, clear  and sparkling clean water, what a great little place for a swim. We paid S70 (£15) for a private car to take us there and wait 3 hrs to then the us back plus S 40 to enter the national park.IMG_9221

We  also did the mandatory boat trip to see the amazing wildlife our on the Islas Ballistas. The tickets cost S35 per person, but then just before boarding the boat they tell you to pay the national park tax as well S15 per person. 2 hrs of sea lions, pelicans, penguins and boobies with a great guide in a quiet and comfortable speedboat is well worth the money. The roaring herds of Sealions made the most amazing sound as we bobbed along the cliffs in the boat.

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So even though we enjoyed our time here, some days hiding for the blowing sand in our room, we would not have stayed here more than a few days under normal circumstance. Given the trauma and illness over the past 2 week in Trujillo and Huanchaco, this was a good place for us to rest and recharge our batteries, just be together and not do too much. We are all ready and excited to finally go into the mountains in Cuzco and Machu Picchu.

Emergency call to the British Embassy

Stranded in the floods of Northern Peru

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 Enjoying a bit of surfing our 1st day in Huanchaco 

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Kids playing in the park by the beach

We had 2 days on the beach in Huanchaco and a morning of wandering around town before the floods hit us in this town as well! We had tried to follow the unfolding Peru floods on the news, but its amazing how difficult it is to get information without access to the internet.

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Trujillo under water – residents being evacuated

Through the owners of the hotel we found out that Trujillo, where the roof of our hostel caved in just 2 days earlier, had been badly hit with the first of 7 floods the day we left our hostel there. Everyone we met in Huanchaco were concerned about the floods but not expecting it to be a problem in Huanchaco a few km up the coast from Trujillo.

Worst floods in 30 years hit us in Huanchaco

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The river in Huanchaco burst its banks

When the river bursts its bank at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, all the houses and business were caught unprepared. As muddy sludge started making its way down the main street, all we could do was to seek refuge on the roof and watch as the water continued to rise. In the distance we could see the sea turning brown from the outlet of the swollen river.

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Watching the events unfold from the roof of our hotel

Mud and sludge filled the streets and the ground floor of our hotel and all the other houses along the water front wiping out electricity, water systems and all the local phone and internet networks.

 

 

I felt completely helpless and yet somehow strangely calm as we watch the water fowling and the sun setting over the flooded streets. Time to get our head torches out, cook some spaghetti on the gas cooker and play a game of cards. We went to bed hoping to get some sleep but sirens, rain and worry kept me awake while the kids slept an unsettled sleep and Paul resting but with a high temperature and in pain day 3 of his tummy bug illness.

Stocking up on water and food

The morning after the floods Paul was feeling worse, I was exhausted and the kids naturally stressed about the flooding and situation all around us. Most of the water had subsided and in the hotel, staff and the owners had spent most of the night trying to clear the ground floor of  the mud and water. No electricity, no water in the taps but at least we had a gas cooker that worked. I set out to find and stock up on supplies. 

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People buying what they can carry
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Empty shelves in the big supermarket as people stock up and no new deliveries are made

With many shops affected by the floods those that were still open were limiting the what you could buy to make sure everyone could get something. I took our big back pack and went round looking for open shops stocking up on water and dry food to last us a few days. Spaghetti, tuna, tomato sauce, biscuits and crackers. I also got some eggs, flour, sugar and milk hey presto pancakes of breakfast to lighten the mood!

After the floods the real nightmare begins

…20-30 cm thick sludge and mud was covering everything where the water had flooded and then subsided…piles of dead fish, plastics, trees and rubble washed up on the beach and streets along with many damaged houses and buildings, some still under water.

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Mud after the flood
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Main street still under water the next day
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Beach filled with rubbish and dead fish
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Once the mud is dry everything is caked in dirt and dust

Watching the news in a little shop I could see that Trujillo and nearby Chiclayo and many other places were still inundated and that all roads in and out of Trujillo and all of Northern Peru remained closed due to landslides and ongoing floods.

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Roads still under water

I realised our plans to go further into the mountains Cajamarca and Chachapoyas would not be realised. Disappointed of course as we had all been looking forward to exploring the less touristy mountains and ruins of northern Peru…but what can you do?

Help! – Emergency call to the British Embassy

While the streets remained unsafe filled with dirt and water, Paul was getting worse, no electricity to help the kids pass time reading on the kindles, watch TV or a film…and as boredom kicks in.the kids decide to spend the morning making and running a beauty salon! I just love my kids!

With no means of leaving the flooded area or ability to check our options to fly out I took a taxi to the local little Airport to see if we could somehow buy tickets to fly out somewhere safe. No such luck….

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Only people with tickets and or ID were allowed to enter the Airport area

Military planes were evacuating people, locals and gringos had been waiting at the tiny airport for up to 36 hrs to get on a plane to get out. With the airport in chaos and no information or help to be found.

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Line for the military evacuation plane

 I returned to Huanchaco disheartened and even more worried. Flights could only be bought on line or through a travel agent, but Internet was not working and all travel agents closed due to the floods….

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7 days without food

When Paul started vomiting and shaking with 40 degrees temp, the following morning and with only $20 left in cash, no way of getting medicine or money and no where we could go I made a call to our travel agent in London on the hotel owners phone to see if they could help us buy some flights to get out …4 tickets suddenly became available to fly out the next day but Paul was way too ill to travel. Next available tickets were for 6 days later and costing us a small fortune….With the thought of 6 more days in the flood zone I feel panic kick in and decide to make contact with the British Embassy in Lima, to ask for advice and medical help in case Paul would get even worse.They tell me there is a place in Trujillo where ATMs are still working and a functioning private clinic we can go in case of an emergency….

After I made it to a shopping centre where there was still cash, Travel Nation confirmed our flights out 6 days later and I managed to find antibiotics for Paul I was feeling a bit better…that only lasted 1 day until Ingrid suddenly turned really ill as well.

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Keeping the mood up and the kids relaxed

This time I could get antibiotics quickly but was still worried sick about Ingrid who was vomiting and had diarrhoea for 2 days not being able to keep liquids down….I was counting down the days till we could leave…..

Unforgettable lessons in life

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Since we started travelling we have, and especially me, practiced being in the moment and not worrying about things that could or might happen. During our 2 weeks in flooded Peru I had to work really hard to keep calm and not get worked up, agitated or frustrated about the situation is which we accidentally found ourselves. The kids are very resilient and adaptable but they take their queue from me and Paul on how to act ad react. Keeping calm and positive was essential for their wellbeing and peace of mind in this very stressful situation.

We got a first hand experience of a huge natural disaster, it is not something I would wish on anyone but its part of life for many people and something we will never forget.

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We were never in a life threatening situation even though some moments felt dangerous and scary. We have talked about it a lot with the kids, made drawings and write ups about it to help process the experience. It has also given us an amazing opportunity to talk about global warming, water flow and rivers, about flooding and city planning, plumbing, recycling, water, volume and the devastating effects of floods.

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We wanted to explore and experience the word, show the kids that life in different parts of the world have different challenges. Ingrid and Scott have learned so much from this experience and felt first hand the fear it causes but also the importance of community and solidarity while helping clear up after the floods. I am glad we have managed to finally leave and sad that we didn’t get to see the beautiful north in its full glory, but looking back, its an experience I wouldn’t change.

Feeling emotional – Peru in floods

Feelings of doubt

Piles of rubbish and dead sea life after the floods

The past few days have been very emotional. For the first time on our trip I have gone through waves of doubt and distress wishing we were back home in the UK…. I hit an all time low just after the roof fell in in our hostel in Trujillo and then seeing Peru in floods with many people in distress on the news realising all the roads were closed and we were trapped.

The floods are still happening although water has started to reside in some areas Trujillo and Chiclayo are still under water, Lima and many many other areas have been hit by flash floods and land slides. Meanwhile, we are glad that we can pay our way to safety in an apartment hotel in nearby Huanchaco

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Taking refuge in Huanchaco

Now a couple of days later, safe from the floods in a flat in Huanchaco, just a few km up along the coast the feelings of doubt have mellowed somewhat. I would not choose to take the kids to a natural disaster zone if I could avoid it but at the same time this is real life, this is most likely the effects of global warming, this is the world we are creating for our children and it is happening right now.

Floods and mud in northern Peru

Feeling and seeing with their own eyes the consequence of global warming and how precarious life is makes you really appreciate the things that matter the most, safety and life itself.

The roof falls in

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The roof starts to fall in

We knew it had been raining a lot more than usual in parts of Peru, all the locals said so. When climbing in at the Base camp, the climbing wall in Lima enquiring about climbing in Cajamarca and Huaraz, the guide told me there is too much rain to climb and that a lot of land slides have made many routes unsafe.

We spent 3 days exploring Lima before heading north on a 10hr night bus to Trujillo for the sun and moon temples with a plan to go forth north east after a few days into the mountains.

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Magic water fountains in Lima

Once in Trujillo we could see on the news that big landslides and floods in the north along many of the big rivers causing the northern region and 811 cities in Peru to declare a sate of emergency. No busses or traffic can travel on the pan American highway that goes along the north coast into Ecuador.

Flooded cities in a state of emergency

The second night of heavy rain, I woke Paul up around 10.30pm when a big chunk of the roof in the middle of our room fell to the floor. The electricity was not working so in the light of our head torches we could se water gushing in through the wall by Ingrids bed and more chunks of the roof falling in, this time on top of the bunk bed Ingrid was sleeping in.

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The roof falls in on Ingrids bed

All the while Scott was happily sleeping in the bottom bunk in one of the other beds in our room. We decided that Paul and Scott would stay the night in our room in the relative safety in the bottom bunks and moved the bed slightly to where the roof looked less likely to collapse. Ingrid was awake and very scared so we quickly moved her into a bed in one of the relatively dry and safe dorm rooms full of excited German youth while Paul and I moved all he bags up onto the beds safe from water on the floor.

Bathroom roof falls in

At this point we did not realise the extent of the flooding in other parts of Trujillo and now also Lima together with many other areas Chosica, Piura, Chiclayo, Ica to mention a few…we only saw it on the news once we have managed to get to Huanchaco, a few km further north the next morning.

Central Trujillo under water for the 6th time in a week

Roads closed – change of plans

As the internet was not working anywhere we could only talk to people and watch the news to try and inform ourselves of the situation and the risks of flooding and damaged roads. We found out through a girl in the hostel that one of the bus companies were not running any services at all as they had had 2 accidents with overturned busses in the past 3 days…

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At the bus terminal

We had bus tickets to go on a mountainous 8hr bus trip to Cajamarca  at 2900m that day, but I was actually relieved to find out that the roads were closed as it made our decision about weather or not to go easy. At the bus office they confirmed no busses were running north or east to Cajamarca due to land slides,. The main road to Lima was also closed as one of the big road tunnels had collapsed.

Enjoying the here and now

Boys go surfing in Huanchaco

Rain is forecasted for another 5 days and more and more towns are hit by the floods as the rivers continue their paths down the mountains. In Huanchaco, we are safe for now staying in a flat a relatively expensive apartment hotel but you can’t put a price on feeling safe, especially when it comes to the kids. Ingrid was really shaken up after the roof fell in and is now after a couple of days of school work, beach and surfing starting to get back to her normal self again.

Huanchaco playpark

We have had to put our plans to go to Cajamarca and Chachapoyas over the next 3 weeks on hold and try to enjoy ourselves here and now while we wait for the roads to open. The logical part of me says this is all part of living in the now and appreciating the things around us rather than planning and wishing for things that may or may not happen while the emotional me would prefer to be somewhere else…

Here and now in Huachaco, the food is good, the flat is good, there is a little playground just across the road a good surfing beach and we are getting back into schoolwork.

Afternoon of school work

All in all things could be a lot worse and our thought go out to the people of Peru who are not as lucky as we are….

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