A Travellerspoint blog

Lost Cities and the Inca Trail

Peru

overcast 16 °C

Cusco, 16th January

My flight from sydney to Lima passed pretty much without incident, except for a brief stop in Auckland, a mind-numbingly boring 8-hour wait in Santiago, and having two January 7ths!

Crossing the international dateline somewhere over the pacific meant i had the same day twice, like my own 'Groundhog Day', and I can imagine its' even weirder going the other way when for one day in your life you never even existed!

Now, I understand that one day has to stop somewhere, and another has to start somewhere else, but there really is no way that I could get my head around the fact that I arrived on the same day that I left after a 12-hour overnight flight. Trying to figure this one out was giving me a headache, so I decided to get some sleep on the plane instead.

I arrived into Lima late on the 7th of January (the second one, of course), and only managed to get a few hours' sleep before we left early the next morning to catch our flight to Cusco. I met my group that morning, which consisted of three South Africans, three Americans, myself and another British guy, and five Aussies (they really do get everywhere these days!). It turned out to be a fantastic group, with everyone aged between 22 and 28 years old, and having very similar attitudes to life (which was lucky because most groups have at least one person over 50- the recrod being 82!).

As soon as we arrived in Cusco we noticed the effects being at altitude has on you- just carrying our bags to the bus turned out to be a real effort! It's hard to explain, but the lack of oxygen makes you constantly short of breath for the first few days, turning simple things like climbing stairs into a real expedition.

Thankfully, no one got really sick, and that evening we had our tour briefing, which covered good stuff, like describing where we would be going, and boring stuff like what to take with us.

The next morning we left early for a tour of the Inca civilisation's 'Sacred Valley', a deep gorge carved over many millenia by the Urubamba River. Our first stop on the trip was a remote hilltop village that part of our tour fee helped to support, where we stopped to stock up on warm, locally made socks, scarves and hats.

Then, we moved onto Pisaq- a hill-side settlement of terraces, temples and abandoned houses. This was our first look at some Inca Ruins, and it turned out to be a perfectly typical Inca site: built up high in the hills where the clouds often shroud the ruins, with spectacular panoramas of the surrounding valleys and gorges, and buildings of incredible magnitude given the harshness of the environment.

We drove right up to the top of the ruins, and took a couple of hours to take in the sights and sounds before hiking down to the bottom of the valley and modern-day Pisaq. Here we had half an hour to peruse the markets, but I slinked off to find a quiet spot and take it all in. I came across a corn field on the edge of town that seemed to stretch on forever before towering hills emerged from it way off in the distance.

Then, a small boy came up and tapped me on the shoulder trying to sell me something I think, but since neither of us could speak the other's language we simply smiled at each other and gave a series of high fives (I don't think he quite got the "up high...down below...too slow" routine though!), and went our seperate ways.

There's a lot to be said for travelling in groups, but it tends to be the really personal moments like that, that seem to stand out as the best memories of all. Turning your back on the group and wandering off and doing your own thing every now and then really is the best way to enjoy the parts of a country you otherwise wouldn't get to see.

We left Pisaq and headed off for some lunch at a fantastic open-air buffet. Then we headed for Ollantaytambo, a bustling town full of more Inca ruins, and also our beds for the night. After a brief rest to get checked-in, we hiked up to the Ollantaytambo ruins to get a better perspective on the town. The site was fascinating, with Cesar our guide explaining the history of the Inca Civilisation and pointing out just how hard it would have been to build this city.

There are numerous places in Ollantaytambo where the stones used to construct the buildings and especially the religious sites are simply enormous- I've been to Stonehenge a few times and each was probably two-to-three times as big. What was even more remarkable, was that these stones slotted into each other like a jigsaw, and had come from a quarry 5 kilometres away, from a hill on the other side of the valley.

Inca experts still have no idea how they got those stones up there. Even if they had been rolled down the hill, the Incas still had to get these massive rocks across a surging river and back up the other side (at least a 500 metre VERTICAL climb), before they were cut, polished, and somehow lifted into place! Even today, its' an un-repeatable feat of engineering without modern machinery, leading some to conclude that the only 'valid' explanation is that it is the work of aliens!

Tired, and totally baffled, we came back down the mountain to prepare for our early start the next morning on the Inca Trail proper.

The Inca s were at their most powerful between the 9th and 16 centuries, until the Spanish invaded and set-about erasing all proof of their existence. The Inca trail was effectively their main highway through the Peruvian Andes, and today stretches for about 150km connecting Cusco and Machu Picchu via former Inca settlements and numerous mountain pathways.

The trail we trekked is only 45km (slightly more than a marathon), but still consists of a lot of original Inca pathways and takes in perhaps a dozen ruin sites along the way. Although the trail is relatively short, it s always at altitude on difficult pathways, and as such it can be a solid 3-day hike if the weather's bad, arriving to the spectacular Machu Picchu early on the fourth morning.

We set off early on our first day, not quite appreciating just how punishing a day it would turn out to be. The hike started gently, getting our passports stamped and learing the ancient Inca tradition of chewing Coca leaves for energy- all I got was a cheek-full of soggy mush!

We made good time on a relatively flat section so that we arrive to lunch a little early. We were all shocked to find that our lunch camp had already been set-up by our army of 20 porters, and lunch was already on the go thanks to our two chefs and many helpers. Throughout the trip the food was superb, and no-one can quite explain the luxury that is arriving to camp to find your tent already pitched and a hot meal ready for you after you've just hiked up a mountain in the rain for hours!

And it was after lunch where we did exactly that- went straight up for nearly 4 hours. Needless to say we all had to stop every 5-10 minutes to catch our breath through the thinning air. I can honestly say that that day was easily the hardest I've pushed myself physically in a very, very long time.

We eventually arrived to our camp, which had some spectacular mountain views, totally exhausted. Eight hours after we had set off, we were at 3,700 metres above sea level, and 1,000 higher than when we had started, so we promptly collapsed. There's nothing quite as good as arriving to your tent to find a hot cup of tea and a nice warm sleeping bag waiting for you, just so you can rest for a couple of hours- Especially when you're at nearly four thousand metres!

The next morning we had a further climb of 500 metres in driving rain straight after leaving camp, which took the fastest of us the best part of two hours to complete. We reached "Dead Woman's Pass"- the first of three major passes and the highest point of the trail at 4215 metres- and took a few minutes to catch our breath before taking in the mountain views and posing for group photos. Then, when we had all recovered, we went down the other side of the mountain to our lunch stop.

That afternoon, we stopped briefly at the ruins of RunKuraqay before a torrential storm moved us on further up the mountain to the second pass (4000 metres), and then back down to the hill-top forst and religious ruins at Sayamarca. Here we rested to take in the 360 degree panormas and admire ingenuity of the Inca engineers once again, before settling in to our stunning camp nearby.

We all managed to get a much better night's sleep than we had the night before thanks to the lower altitude, and awoke to a clear horizon and some stunning views of the Chakiqocha valley and the 6500 metre snow-capped mountains away in the distance.

We took an alfresco breakfast that morning in order to take in the breath-taking panorama, before leaving camp fully recharged for the Day 3 hike. As it turned out, we only had about 8 kilometres left to go to our final camp, and it was all downhill after we had summited the Phuyupatamarea pass, which was a lot easy to climb than it was to pronounce!

We arrived into our day 3 camp just after midday, having stopped to look at the Intipata ruins and their jaw-dropping views of the Urubamba valley. After lunch, we had time to relax and explore the campsite before a late-afternoon expedition to nearby Winaywayna ("win-yea-wine-ya").

Winaywayna definately turned out to be the unexpected highlitght of the entire trip for most of us: better even than the more famous Machu Picchu. The place was simply breathtaking.

When we emerged from the deeply forested trail, it just hit us: a smallish town cut into an impossibly-steep crevice in the mountains which looks out over an unbelievably rich valley, towering hills and snow-capped mountains away in the distance. The place is impossible to adequately put into words, and I'm sure even the pictures won't do it justice.

The settlement is thought to have been an experimental agricultural site, servicing nearby Machu Picchu during its' pomp through an incredible network of terracces, irrigation, and drainage. There must be at least 120 terraces, each roughly 1 metre tall and deep, cut into land which (judging by the surroundings) was previously inhospitable to even the most tenacious of weeds.

The Incas must have used these terraces to experiment and domesticate their crops at varying altitudes, as well as to feed nearby settlements. It was here that our guide, Ceasr came into his own, emphasising the importance of looking beyond the natural beauty and stunning views, and appreciating the work that went into what we were looking at.

For starters, the place is built on bedrock which means it must have taken years to cut away the craggy edges and level the sheer clifffaces before they could even think about foundations. As with the huge stones at Ollantaytambo, it made us wonder how on earth the Incas did it.

When you add to this the Inca's knowledge of astrology and genetic manipulation of their crops, you begin to get an idea as to why they are regarded as a civilisation before their time. Most of their building, for example, contain features that can only be seen on certain days of the year, particularly the winter solstice where the sun's runs take a unique path. Also, the use of those imposing, colosseum-like terraces to naturally alter their crops' genes so that they could grow at higher altitudes is something we struggle with today, even with the "wonders" of modern science.

It was at Winaywayna that we realised what the Inca Trail was all about: not just Machu Picchu and the stunning scenery, but also the hidden feats of intellect and engineering that today we take for granted, but 500 years ago would have been unfathomable to the casual observer.

Add to this that same, impossibly precise stonework where it can often be hard to even find the join, and you begin to see how far ahead of thier time the Incas were (bear in mind of course, that London and its' wooden houses burnt down in the Great Fire- over 100 years after the Incas had been conquered!).

After taking nearly an hour to take this all in in the peace and tranquility of our private reflection, we headed back to camp to have dinner, and to prepare ourselves for our 4.30 alarm call the following day. That night we had an enormous storm that was still raging when we peered out of our tents through bleary eyes. Even a storm of biblical proportions wasn't enough to keep us from the magic and mystery of Machu Picchu, so we quickly rushed to get ready and complete the final five kilometres of the Trail vefore the train loads of tourists arrived (I know, I was a tourist too, but we were, well... different!).

After sitting around until 5.30 waiting for the checkpoitn to open, we rushed along the final stretches of the trail in heavy rain like hyoper-active schoolkids who'd forgotten to take their ritalin! About halfway along was the Sun Gate, which on clear days offers magnificent views and is the traditional spot to watch the sunrise over the mysterious Machu Picchu valley. unfortunately for us, it was still teeming down and the clouds meant we couldn't see anything, so we continued down the mountain to the main prize.

We were slightly disappointed to arrive at Machu Picchu to find more clouds and even fewer photo oppourtunities, but we took the obligatory group photos anyway before setting off to explore the ruins.

Machu Picchu was officially re-discovered by the American archaeologist Hiran Bingham in 1911, who was the once who first called it the "Lost City of the Incas". The city is thought to have been abandoned during the Spanish invasion (there are still sections only partially finished), and it is believed to have been, amongst other things, a sanctuary for Inca royals and intellectuals alike.

After a quick breakfast, the clouds began to lift and we got our first view of the iconic Machu Picchu, set against the famous backdrop of Waynapicchu mountain.

Cesar gave us a passionate and intriguing guided tour of the city and its' landmarks, including the 16 cascading fountains, the "Temple of the 3 Windows", The Royal Tomb, the Observatory and Sundial, The "Temple of the Condor", the main square. and Sacred Rock. Each had their own unique story and purpose within the historic city.

Then it was time for us to explore on our own: some of the group climbed up Waynapicchu mountain, but I chose to get away from the crows by sitting on one of the terraces and trying to take it all in. No matter what anyone tells you, nothing can quite prepare you for that first sight of Machu Picchu.

It's strangely familiar in the same way as the Sydney Opera House- you've seen so many photos you think you'll know it backwards, until you get there and realise that no amount of pictures can do it all justice.

From the observatory, for example, there are 360 degree views of the deep canyon that surrounds Machu Picchu, and the imposing mountains that shelter it.

From the terraces, you get an impression of just how big everything is and just how difficullt it must have been to build arguably the greatest city of its' time on a rocky outcrop that is practically inaccessbile.

And from the guardhouse high above, you appreciate the stunning beauty of the city and the sheer audacity of the Inca city planners. It is the sort of place that shouldn't have been possible 500 years ago.

On the down side, you never get the same tranquility to reflect on Machu Picchu as you do at some of the less well-know sites thanks to the hoardes of tour groups, but then that is to be expected. All in all I would find it hard to decide over Machu Picchu and the less well-known Winyawayna, but for different reasons.

The first rightly has the iconic status as one of the world's top attractions, but the second really grabs you once you delve past the natural beauty and sit in peace contemplating the ingenuity and intellect that went into its' construction. Both, however, leave you totally breathless.

Tired and aching, we retired to the nearby hot springs to reflect on the four days that had just been. We all agreed we had unbelieveable luck with the weather- cool and damp on the long hikes and warm and clear on the final two days. We also agreed on how glad we were to have done the Inca Trail now before the threat of future commercialism may ruin in forever. Even now, there are so many visitors to Machu Picchu each day that scientists are worried the whole MOUNTAIN is sinking- thats hows busy it gets.

Now I'm back in Cusco, a place full of churches, narrow, cobbled streets and plenty of steps! Having got the train and bus back from Machu Picchu we had just enough time to get out of our sweaty clothes before our group farewell dinner.

Cesar took us to a very funky restaurant that did one of the best steaks I've ever had (with a 'Port Jam and Balsamic Vinegar' sauce), and then we went and crashed a group of kids' street football game (more of a chase the water-bottle round really). As we left the cheeky buggers tried to charge us 10 Soles (2 pounds) EACH for the priviledge of playing in their game. Obviously we told told them where to stick it!

Then we went on to Cesar's brothers bar which was rammed to the rafters and so sweaty, which naturally meant we had a great time. Plenty of beers later we discovered they hit you harder at altitude, and we stumbled out of the club realising we should probably go home seeing as we'd been up for nearly 24 straight!

In the last couple of days people have started to drift off slowly, and I've been trying to find cheap ways to waste time before I go home. The day after the tour I went out for lunch, and Andrew, Joe, and Matt decided to try the local speciality- roasted Guinea Pig. I can safely say that (unsuprisingly) it both looked and tasted bloody awful!

I've also managed to fill time by looking around the local markets, visiting Cusco's museums, and wandering around the Sacsayhuman ("Sexy-Woman") ruins up on the surrounding hills. They were good, but nothing compared to whats I'd seen earlier in the week. There was also the 'Blanco Christo', a mini-'Christ The Redeemer' who looks out over from the city, which was good for about 5 minutes.

And so now I'm counting down until I go home to join the real world, with a new job and real responsibilities. I must say that I've loved Peru, even if I have only seena small part of it.

It has been another welcome break from the developed world, where travelling is too easy for my liking. the sense of never being quite sure whats going to happen next, despite the fantastic efforts of our guides and porters, has meant I've always had to be on my toes, much like in Africa.

But while there have been many similarities with my time in africa, such as the remoteness and the way people live, particularly outside the cities, I would have to say that with few exceptions the Peruvians have been less friendly. Maybe it's the language barrier, or a different culture, but often you get the impression that literally everyone is trying to rip you off. Not to say that everyone has been unwelcoming- our porters for example, were the proudest and most dedicated people I have ever met.

All in all, I have loved Peru, as I have all the countries I've visited on this trip. However, being away for a while, and always being on the move, has brought back a familiar feeling I haven't felt since I returned home from my last major travels...

...that there really isn't anywhere quite like home.

Posted by gilchrs 04:48 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Christmas and Cricket

sunny 32 °C

January 4th, Glebe, Sydney

The overnight bus took me to melbourne, Australia's most Southerly city, and as a result its' coldest. When I think back now to Cairns' nagging heat and sapping humidity, it's almost impossible to believe I'm in the same country.

Melbourne is easily the most European city I've been to here- the buildings are Victorian, the trams are oddly quaint, and the climate is most definately British, even during summer.

Luckily, I was able to stay with Morty and Kirsten, friends I had met on the African leg of my trip, who lived just a short tram ride from the city centre. This also meant i had much more money to spend on partying, which was lucky because it wasn't long before I met up with Dave, Will, and Ed from Uni.

Melbourne has a lot to offer- one night we went to the Moonlight Cinema, an open-air movie in the beautiful Botanical Gardens, to see "Ferries Bueller's big Day Off". A big, goon-fuelled party ensued back at the boys' hostel bar, in which I promptly broke my camera by dropping it, only to fix it by dropping it again! It was great fun catching up with everyone again, recounting stories from our travels and the good old days back in Nottingham.

Christmas Day turned out to be one of the unexpected highlights of my trip to Australia. I had the house to myself, and seeing as all travellers become orphans at Christmas I invited Will, Ed, and Dave and their roomates at their hostel Jamie, Miriam, Al, Chris, and Rica over for a backpackers Christmas Dinner.

Miriam did an incredible job by putting on a huge spread- we had salmon and prawns to start, followed by roast chicken AND beef with all the trimmings, and we all over-ate to extremes you only seem to manage at Christmas.

We also had a Secret Santa, which included some classic presents (I got a traditional aussie hat complete with dangling corks), and sat around digesting the epic dinner with a beer watching movies. I d have to say that, because we all expected very little from our Christmas day for a change, it turned out to be one of the best Christmasses ever.

Boxing Day is particularly important in Australia because its the start of the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG or simply, The G). Although we had already lost the Ashes, everyone still hoped we could bring out a performance against the rampant Aussies. Unfortunately,it wasnt to be, and we lost within 3 days!

Nevertheless, we went to both the second and thrid days, and hd a great time. From the way the Barmy Army sang, you would have though we were 3-0 up not 3-0 down. On day 2, we managed to get some great seats right in the middle of the Army, probable only 3 rows away from Jimmy Saville (the Armys unofficial leader), and right next to an aussie making a documentary on life in the greatest supporters club in the world.

Even though we were losing, we had a great couple of days singing the songs, taunting the far-too-quiet Aussies, and generally enjoying being on holiday. When the game had finished towards the end of Day 3, Will and I stayed behind with the Army to chant the songs, including a 30 minute rendition of:

We are the army, the barmy army,
We are mental, we are mad,
We are the loyalest cricket supporters,
That the World has ever had.

Over, and over, and over again! We stayed behind for at least an hour after everyone else had gone home.

The MCG itself was epic- with a capacity of one-man-and-his-dog shy of 100,000, the atmosphere was just incredible. Its not your traditional cricket ground (its infact more like a Colosseum), but the noise levels out in the middle must make it a deafening cauldron. On top of this its clean and theres no queues- certainly the best sports stadium I ve been to.

We then met up with Paul Reynolds and his brother Jack, and took the overnight bus back up to Sydney. Arriving at 6am with no accomodation booked over the busiest time of the year, with both the famous New Years Eve celebrations and the Final Test in Town, it was an experience to say the least! Admittedly at one stage we did have two dorm beds between 6 of us, but hey, it all sorted itself out in the end- another case of the Australian Motto "No Worries" ringing true.

We then headed over to Darling Point to welcome in 2007, which gave us some spectacular views of Sydney Harbour, the Bridge, the Opera House,and the best New Years Eve fireworks display in the world. There were between 1 and 2 million EXTRA people in Sydney that night, so we counted oursleves lucky to stumble accross at great vantage point where you could picnic and drink on the harbourside.

After a wonderful fireworks display, many a drink, and New Years Resolutions that had been broken ten minutes into 2007 (Dave claimed he was going to quit smoking!), we had to walk back into the city centre to find another party, but everyone seemed to be heading home. So, by 5.30, with everyone drifting off to sleep in Hyde Park, we trudged to our hostel in Kings Cross with all our luggage, to crash on the sofas there before our 11am check-in.

The first day of 2007 was largely a non-event, recovering from the night before through the best hangover cure of all- sleep. The next day we got up early, to get to the first day of the final test at the SCG. Again, we had a great time, made better by the fact that England were actually playing better in this match.

I should explain, that going to the SCG fulfilled a boyhood dream of mine- ever since Nick Brothers pointed out that they are also my initials when we were 7 have I wanted to go. The groung is much smaller than the MCG, but still holds nearly 45,000, and is much more like a traditional English ground with its Victorian pavillion.

But it was at tea on the when I realised just how much fun I was having- sat reading the paper with a beer in your hand, the sun beating down, and England on-top at the Sydney Cricket Ground really does take some beating.

This feeling was made evn sweeter when I realised that this time last year I was cramming in the Hallward Library in Nottingham for the first half of my finals. I can now report that it was all worth it... every bloody minute... just to be sat here! Looking back at the hard times really does make you appreciate the good ones all the more.

So I m now sat at my hostel in Glebe, Sydney, with England looking like they re going down 5-0 and only 3 nights to go before I leave Australia. I m going up the Sydney Tower later today, before preparing myseld for the final leg of my trip, to Peru.

Australia really has been good fun. While it lacks the jaw-dropping scenery and challenges of Africa, it is fun in different ways. The backpacking culture really is something else- people are friendly because they genuinely want to be, and take life at their own, laid-back pace.

I ve had some great times here, seen some wonderful places and made some good friends, but still havent seen a fraction of the country. I m sure I ll be back- I d love to do the West Coast and the Outback- and the country is so diverse there is no way you can take it all in at once.

I m leaving behind a lovely country, but moving on an equally intriguing one in Peru. As long as I can get there ok after on my 30- hour journey, I can t wait to finish this 5 months in style with one final treat- seeing the lost Inca city of Macchu Picchu at sunrise. Can there be anything more awe-inspiring?

Posted by gilchrs 17:32 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sydney

semi-overcast 24 °C

Friday December 15th, Sydney.

What a wonderful week in a wonderful city! I've loved every minute of Sydney- a city littered with history, national icons, and of course, thousands of backpackers.

My hostel was friendly and vibrant, and proved to be a great base from which to explore the city. Even on a relatively quiet first night, we tucked into some infamous 'Goon' (dirt-cheap box wine) while getting to know each other a little better!

Then there was a big, debauched night out on the town before a day of recovery and an evening listening to Christmas Carols on the picturesque Darling Harbour. despite it being nearly 30 degrees and feeling absolutely nothing like the cold, dark Christmasses I'm used to, it certainly made me realise just how lucky I was simply to be there.

Finish this off with a walk around the shoreline of the famous Sydney Harbour, with a first (albeit gloomy) look at the iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House by night, and it was fair to say that I'd had an unforgettable start to my time in Sydney.

The next day was spent seeing Sydney on foot with an epic walk around the city centre- taking in Hyde Park with its' ANZAC war memorial and Captain Cook monument, Sydney Cathedral, the Royal Botanical Gardens and Macquire's Point, Circular Quay, a walk accross the Harbour Bridge, and Sydney Aquarium. I finished feeling exhausted but rewarded as I looked back on a mammoth day around one of the world's great cities.

Later in the week, I took a ferry to Manly and its' beach, which afforded some stunning photo oppourtunities of the harbour, and also took a day out to visit the famous Bondi Beach.

My week-long stay in Sydney ended with another crazy night out, before it was once again time to say my goodbyes and move on, this time to Melbourne. Christmas and cricket are just around the corner, and I can't wait!

Posted by gilchrs 16:29 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

New South Wales- What does it even mean?!

sunny 29 °C

Friday December 8th, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia

After a short bus trip down from Brisbane, I arrived in Byron Bay- the self-proclaimed haven of both surfers and washed-up hippies alike. Byron's a small place with a unique atmosphere- beautiful beaches and a laid-back attitude- which all proved ideal for a few days of chill-out.

On my second day in byron, I took a day trip inland to Nimbin- Australia's infamous hippy capital. The tour took us 100 km inland for a tour of the town, its shops, museums and a couple of other local attractions. The town itself was small and quaint, just full of people trying to sell you all manner of substances (both legal and illegal). In short, for anyone reading this who I went to Uni with, it was probably Bhavo's idea of hell and Jim's idea of heaven!

Apparently it all started with some new-age festival back in the 60s, and I guess the hippies just never left! The result is a fantastic little town, who's residents' sole aim in life seems to be to get cannabis legalised and then just chill out... man!

Our tour then went to an estate owned by what can only be decribed as a crazy man, who must of done too many hallucinagens way back when, and ended up buying 100 acres of bare land, and planted trees with the help of an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and turned his home into a national park!

Then it was on to Minyon Falls, before a short drive back to Byron on the tour bus that can only be described as a rollercoaster ride set to music! Bizzarre but cleverly done and highly recommended.

That night we had a huge thunderstorm (the first rain I had seen in well over a month!), and the next day I took a bike up to the Byron Bay lighthouse- the most Easterly point in Australia- for some spectacular views of Byron and the surrounds.

Once again it was time to move on far too quickly, so I left Byron for my next destination, the decidedly un-touristy Coffs Harbour. It was slightly larger than most of the places I have visited so far, with pleasent beaches, and small harbour and pier. Although I only stayed one night, it was great fun exploring Coffs' sandy beaches and harbour on foot, before catching the overnight bus to Sydney and then a morning train on to Bathurst, a small farming community 2 hours West of Sydney.

I was there to visit Simon hall (a gap-student at Wycliffe when I was in my final year), to celebrate my 23rd birthday, see the Blue mountains, and frankly to get away from the coast and all those beaches that were all starting to look the same!

I spent three days with Simon and his Uni mates, mostly drinking and trying out his housmeates' new Nintendo 'Wii'. We also met up with Alice Hardy, another of the Wycliffe Gaps who's now a Tv reporter, and went for a drive around the famous Bathurst racing circuit- home of Australia's biggest V8 motor race (much more popular even than F1 out here) and an associated week of madness during race week in October. The circuit itself takes up a fair part of the town's roads, and climbs up naerby 'Mount Panorama' for some spectacular views before plunging back down into town via some hair-raising chicanes.

And now, I'm on the train back to Sydney, to spend a week there before I head on to Melbourne for Christmas and the 4th Ashes Test. I've just realised that I've managed to leave my wallet in Bathurst, but apart from the fact that I now have no money, no ID, and no bank cards, everything's fantastic and I can't wait to take in the sights of one of the world's most beautiful cities!

Posted by gilchrs 20:42 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Ashes

overcast 13 °C

29th October, Brisbane, Queensland (Just after the first Test!)

Wow how time flies! Only now do I realise its almost december, that 2006 is nearly over already, and therefore so is my travelling. I say, what a ghastly thought!

Anyway, the last ten days have been great fun. I started with a night in sleepy town of Hervey Bay, relaxing on the cosy beach and eating local fish and chips on the seafront- all a bit... English really.

Then, I made it down to coast to Noosa, a more commercial town thats about an hour north of Brisbane, but no less picturesque. the town is set on a fabulous beachfront, with miles of golden sand and a nice holiday atmosphere. The surrounds are forested, with the Noosa Heads National Park providing a good few hours entertainment strolling along the rugged coast and lush forests (despite having to share the path with some massive lizards!).

Added to this, I trekked up to the spectacular lookout point, from where you could see the whole lagoon upon which Noosa is built and a spectacular sunset. All in all an unexpectedly idyllic spot, which reminded me of Knysna in South africa (for anyone who's been).

All too soon, it was time to move on, but it didn't take much to get me moving seeing as I was off for a week in Brisbane during the first Ashes Test.

Brisbane gave a great first impression- there's so much to do and its was so good to be settled in one place for more than one or two nights. i spent a couple of days on the beach/swimming pool by the river, watching the cricket in despair, being interviewed by channel 5 news, and taking in the stunning backdrop of the Brisbane River and city skyline.

Another two days were spent watching the game from the comfort of the hostel, swapping banter with my aussie roommates and watching the world go by.

But by far the best day was day 5 of the Test (even though we lost). I got a ticket to the 'Gabba, and even though play only lasted for a couple of hours the experience was unforgettable. The Barmy army sang non-stop, taking the piss out of anything Aussie that moved, most especially Shane Warne- Two hours of fun that has certainly whet my appetite for the Melbourne and Sydney Tests (lets just hope the series is still alive!).

And yesterday, since there was no cricket to watch, I travelled to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to get in touch with the local wildlife. The sanctuary had over 130 koalas of all shapes and sizes as well as kangaroos that you could touch and feed, wombats, snakes, crocs, and even a sheep dog show! I took the ferry cruise along the river back to Brisbane, which was also pretty cool to get a different perspective on the city.

So now I'm on the bus, travelling down to Byron Bay, which I've heard is a brilliant place to be. I've skipped the tourist-trap of Surfer's Paradise because it's been invaded by all of the East Coast school kids on their end of school week of drunkeness. To be honest I'm quite glad- Surfer's is all high rise apartments and tacky neon signs anyway.

So its onwards to Byron, and into new South wales. I'm leaving Queensland behind me with a hint of sadness- NSW is a lot more built-up and commercial. I'm going to miss the laid-back lifestyle, tropical weather, and friendly rural communities of Queensland. But you know what they say... Onwards and Upwards!

Posted by gilchrs 18:50 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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