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A 2am arrival at the woolshed to have our blisters looked at.

How to get through the 100km Oxfam Challenge

Oxfam beach

My team and I walking the 19km leg along the beach.

For years I’d wanted to enter the Oxfam Challenge, not just for charity (because that in itself is a big motivator) but I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.  I’m not unfit, nor am I very fit.  However, 100 km’s is a long way and I didn’t have anyone to do it with until one of my friends had to pull out of the event and I happily signed up.  I had three great team members who were encouraging, considerate and they’d all done this before.  I was the newbie.

About 5 minutes before the siren went off at the start line.

About 5 minutes before the siren went off at the start line.

I didn’t get a lot of sleep before the race, I was too excited and I wanted to be sick. Knowing that your going to be walk for the next 30 hours is daunting.  I’d gone over the route so many times in my head.  I’d learnt every part of the track, the altitude and the different terrain.  I studied the weather and knew that it was going to be humid (uncomfortable) and possibly rain.  Rain I can handle, I live in Auckland.  I prepped my own vegetarian meals, I had the exact protein/carbs/fat portions to give to my support crew.  I read every blog I could find on ‘Oxfam trailwalkers experiences’, some were funny and some scared me.

Oxfam Trailwalker 100km Track

Oxfam Trailwalker 100km Track

The worst leg of the challenge was the 19 km’s of beach (flat).  It was hot, humid and I hated it.  Give me a hill any day.  The checkpoints are a welcome site, in theory 30-60 minutes is a long time to be at a checkpoint but in reality it goes too quick. We had to eat, rest, replenish stocks, change dressings and prep the mind for the next leg.

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Arriving at the halfway mark checkpoint, it felt good!

I really enjoyed the night walking.  It was cooler and exciting, I had no problem walking all night but after the 85 km mark I got blisters and they were painful.  I wanted to walk bare feet but the ground was too rough on my already delicate feet.  I’ve since found the best tape for blisters (see ‘blister’ tips below).

Woolshed

A 2am arrival at the woolshed to have our blisters looked at.

Our team expected to come in at 28 hours. We crossed the finish line in – 25 hours and 40 mins. Most of this challenge is in the head, and for me that was the last 15 km.  I had plenty of energy for the first 85 km even with the sun, sore knees and not enough rest I still had energy and I wanted to finish.

Oxfam finish line

Oxfam finish line 25 hours and 40 minutes.

I’m now going through the process of signing up for the 2018 Oxfam.  Here are some things that I’ve learnt from my very first Oxfam Trail Challenge.

(1) Support Crew

We didn’t organise our support crew until the last minute, don’t do this.  Our support team came from my team mates parents but hindsight we should have worked on this the moment we signed up for the challenge.  Their friends came along to help out too and they were great.  Your support team will be with your for the entire time, meaning they won’t sleep either (naps only).  They need to listen to your pain, they feed you and they support you.  Find your support crew and include them in everything including the training.  Please look after them.

(2) Training

Do not skimp on the training, start now and make sure you have different types of terrain. Mud, sand, gravel, grass, dirt, hills, streets etc.  The Oxfam page has loads of training guides to download.  Work out what you are capable of and pin it up on your wall.  I usually have 1-2 rest days a week, I find the light walking is gentle enough to call a rest day.

  • Monday – Walk 10km – fast walk different terrain, set your timer
  • Tuesday – Strength training at the gym (quads, hamstrings, calves)
  • Wednesday – light walk/Rest
  • Thursday – Walk 10km – big hills make sure your heart rate is elevated
  • Friday – Strength training at the gym (upper)
  • Saturday – Hiking 15km plus – find tracks and push yourself to the limit
  • Sunday – Yoga/Rest

Ease up on your training a month before the event or you will be too exhausted.  The last week before the event I did no training at all.  It was difficult to do this but I’m glad I did because by the time I got to the start line my body was ready.

(3) Nutrition – training

I’m a vegetarian, I eat really healthy and it helped.  The food I eat is non-processed and organic where I can.  Non-processed to me is anything natural or check the labels and it needs to have less than three ingredients.  I do go through stages of wanting junk food, which for me is usually cheese and crackers.  Cut the junk where you can and focus on nutritious food only.  Your body will thank you.

(4) Nutrition – 3 days before the event

I carb loaded 3 days before the event, I ate so much.  I drank loads of water too, and I mean loads of water.

(5) Nutrition – during the challenge 

I’d lost my appetite during the challenge, I’m not sure why.  Might have been adrenaline or maybe it had something to do with the large amounts of carbs I’d been eating the few days before.  At every checkpoint I did make sure I ate something.  I never ate while we were walking.

I didn’t go near sugar foods, I packed my own but our amazing support team made great protein and carb packed foods too.  We ate healthy sandwich bread with eggs and veges. Plenty of fruit and nuts.

(6) Blisters

Since walking the Oxfam 100km I’ve found a tape that is the bomb, its called Flixomull Stretch.  You can get it in supermarkets or chemist and in NZ its about $7-$11 a box.  It acts like another skin and doesn’t cause friction like other tapes.  I had to learn the hard way, after 85km I was down to raw skin.  This tape would have saved my skin and I spent about 2 months after the event fixing up my feet!

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(7) Correct Shoes and Toe Nails

Even if you clip your toe nails you will still have a problem if you have the wrong shoes.  I have really good hiking shoes but my problem was not clipping my nails enough.  I wasn’t ruthless and the result was my toenail lifted and pushed back into the bone.  I ended up with an infected toe and almost resulted in plastic surgery.  My advise would be to wrap your most prone toes with the Fixomull tape.

(8) Vision

Doubt will go through your mind but always visualise you crossing the finish line, read the details and listen to previous entrants.  Then work out what you are going to do and mentally see yourself on each section.  I hated the beach section and knew it was going to be the worst for me but I still visualised getting through this part.

(9) Listen to your team

This is something I’m working on.  There are three others in the team and all are at different stages throughout the event.  We all go through moments when we want to quit and some people show this differently.  I’m that person that won’t say anything and will deal with those feelings internally.  Some people don’t, they will tell you how they feel.  Listen and encourage.  As I say, I’m still working on this.  It’s my weakness.

 

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Feel free to add your experiences in the comments.

Annette

Foraging in the Waitakere Rainforest

I’m taking friends out on a guided hike today, they are keen to explore the Waitakere rainforest and I’m keen to show them how bountiful the bush can be if you know what you’re looking for.  We are hiking the Upper Huia Dam Track

Upper Huia Dam

Negotiating through the mud, branches and flora.

It’s been raining heavily the last few days, the track is rougher than usual.  We look like ballerina’s leaping through the bush, or maybe we look like monkeys swinging from branches trying not to get our boots stuck in the mud.   Above us we can hear the Tui singing and a Kereru watching us plot our way through the mud.  The Miromiro ahead of us darts back and forward guiding us along the track.

Upper Huia Dam

A sisters helping hand

It’s an advanced walk, even if you are fit it can still be challenging.  I met two groups of people turning back warning me that the track is too difficult and muddy.  This is true if you are unfamiliar with the Waitakere Ranges, some of these tracks will put many people off.  It’s not a track for sneakers, you need hiking boots, a rain coat, warm jacket and a change of clothes.  As one woman wrote in another blog, ‘this track is not for the faint-hearted’. We continue down the tack and I’m in search of some ‘tasty treats’.

Edible Kareao - Supplejack

Edible Kareao – Supplejack snack

I’m picking the Kareao (Supplejack) within arms reach of the track.  I watch my friends reaction as they eat these for the first time.  To their surprise, this brown furry stick is rather delicious. The taste is between a freshly picked cucumber and edamame beans.  A warning: I read an article about a guy who thought he was eating the young shoots of Supplejack but he was eating Tutu.  Tutu is deadly, he’s lucky to be telling the story today.  Only eat them if you can identify Supplejack.

Edible Supplejack Berry

Edible Kareao Berry

As we walk along the track I spot some Kareao berries on the ground, we look up and there’s a bountiful supply of red berries also in arms reach.  We each try the berries and I’m keen to hear what the judges think.  As expected, the presentation is enticing but unfortunately the looks don’t match the taste, they are very bland.  Recently I’ve been studying the benefits of plants in the bush and these do contain crude protein.  The seeds can also be eaten and contain fatty acid, which could be good in a survival situation.  I suspect you’d need to each large amounts of these to reach your protien and fat goals.

Upper Huia Dam Fungi

One of the many types of fungi on the track

I’ve never seen so many different fungi on a track.  How they manage to cling onto the log as people clamber over is outstanding, although I’m sure many are knocked to the ground accidentally. I’ve only identified one mushroom that I know is safe to eat in the bush, Ear Fungus. It looks worse than it sounds. This is my go to book when out hiking in NZ: A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand, Andrew Crowe. 

Upper Huia Dam Track

Track flattens off for a while

We are so busy foraging that it may have taken an hour to come down the hill. After crossing a couple of streams the track flattens off and the mud turns to solid ground.  On either side of the track the flora changes to fresh edible ferns.

Edible Hen and Chicken Fern

Edible Hen and Chicken Fern

I pick a few shoots of the Hen and Chicken fern. It has a fresh celery taste and you’d need to eat in large amounts to get your nutrition but for now, I add a few shoots to my sandwich.  Hounds Tongue is everywhere too, its stringy to eat raw but nicer steamed.

Upper Huia Dam Cave

A cave on the side of the track

To the left of the track there is a small cave, a great reprieve for the animals during the storm.  There are sleepers at the entrance suggesting the people who made the dam were using this cave.

Upper Huia Dam Stream Crossing

Stream crossing

There are a few streams to cross and one which takes a bit more to navigate if the water is up.  The rocks are slippery and worse if they are slightly under water.  A solid walking stick is good for keeping your balance.  In the summer the water flows clear and it’s a nice place to stop.

Upper Huia Dam

Upper Huia Dam

For nearly two hours we’re in the bush knowing that the dam is on our right.  Every now and then we could see glimpses of it.   Finally we reach the dam, its a welcome sight and a great place to rest up before we make our return.

Upper Huia Dam Track

The Details:

Download the route on my ViewRanger: http://my.viewranger.com/route/details/MTIyODc5

Distance: 11km Return

Time: 3-4 hours

Surface: Very Rough, Muddy

When people ask me to take them into the Waitakere Rainforest, I always choose this one.  If you know what to look for, it’s an edible forest within arms reach.

Happy Hiking

Annette 🙂

Tom Thumb Bluffs

Hiking around the Huia Bluffs.

It had rained heavily in the last 3 days making the tracks rough. Fletcher adds a bit more, it climbs up a step spur then onto a ridge following the bluffs to Don McLean Track.  I’m following Fletcher – Karamatura – Tom Thumb Tracks in Huia.

The start of Fletcher Track

The start of Fletcher Track

The first section is a steep climb, moving quickly towards the ridge.  The rain had washed debris down the hill, completely disguising the track. I followed the markers for a good part of this ascend.

Fletcher Track.

Following the ridge on Fletcher Track.

Its not a well worn track, maybe in the summer but I’m walking in winter and I don’t expect to see anyone.  I do know that there is one other person is on the track because I could see his tracks (I knew he was male because of his boot size, bush skills I learnt from my father finally come into play).  I did catch up with him later, he’s from the South Island and needed some time out in the bush.  I related to this very well.

The track skims along the other side of the bluffs

The track skims along the other side of the bluffs

I reached the ridge and it ascends gently up along the bluffs.  Every now and then you’ll see Huia and Manukau Habour.  Closer to the top of the bluffs the track leads to the left into thicker native bush, this is where I seen the Miromiro (Tom Tit).

Tomtit on log

Miromiro (Tomtit) photo by Department of Conservation NZ

No matter how many times I tried to take a photo, I couldn’t get a steady shot.  Thanks to DOC images I can show you what they look like.  I love them because they are like the fantail, darting in and out of the trees keeping a safe distance but enough to make me follow them.  This was a beautiful section, walking to the end of Fletcher and onto Don McLean.  All up this took about an hour and a half to reach the top.

Karamatura Forks

Karamatura Forks

Don McLean is an easy walk to the Karamatura Forks.  I’ve been at this intersection many times before coming from other directions.  Even though there are no views, its a great place to stop for the peaceful sounds of the local wild life.  I headed down Karamatura Track which is part of the Hillary Trail.  It starts of with a nice easy descend then drops steeply.

Karamatura Waterfall

Karamatura Waterfall

The Karamatura Track continues down towards Huia, take the 2 minute side track to see the waterfalls.  There are a few waterfalls along the track to admire.  The heavy rain hadn’t turned the waterfall into a raging torrent, it had dropped considerably.  I was the only person here for some time before I crossed the stream and moved on to Tom Thumb Track.

Tom Thumb Track

Tom Thumb Track

I really enjoyed this track, its another track that isn’t well worn and the flora and fauna is untouched.  I heard the pigs and could see where they’d been digging for grubs.  I’ve never come across a pig in the Waitakere’s Rangers but I do hear them.  To the top of this track it takes about 40 minutes on gentle ascend.

Tom Thumb Kauri

Tom Thumb Kauri

This is where I had lunch, under Tom Thumb’s Kaui.  Its a great place to stop and listen to the noises in the bush.   After lunch I returned to Karamatura track and out to the car park.  I really enjoyed this track for the challenge and the flora and fauna along the way.

Fletcher Karamatura Tom Thumb

Details:

Follow my ViewRanger app to download the track http://my.viewranger.com/route/details/MTMzMzcyMg==

Time: 4-5 hours (Winter)

Distance 9.7km

Difficulty: Medium/Hard

Surface: Rough, muddy, steep with one stream crossing

If you have any questions about this track, please let me know I’m happy to help.

 

Happy Hiking

Annette 🙂

 

 

 

Fresh water sharks and volcanoes – Nicaragua

Our plan was to enter through Panama and exit from Mexico travelling through Nicaragua, with $300USD.  You become very creative when on a tight budget, a $9 room, a $10 ride on a truck and a bag of rice will do just fine.  You become more adventurous too, meeting people at hostels who can tell you of the beautiful places they’ve been and your confidence builds to a level you’ve never experienced before.  If you are on a tight budget, don’t let it bother you, get out of your comfort zone and travel freely.  What you see and the people you meet will be with you forever. 

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By the time Amee and I arrived into Central America we were happy to do whatever came our way and that just happened to be Nicaragua.  Although its the second poorest country in the west – after Haiti, it should be on everyone’s list of places to go.  I’d like to return to Nicaragua and explore every part of it.

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Crossing the border from Costa Rica takes a while but once border control are satisfied  your not smuggling drugs/weapons or people they douse you in insecticide to protect their country from a Chikungunya infestation. (Chikungunya is a mosquito transmitted disease similar to Dengue – there is no cure.) 

Back on the bus and 30 mins later we get off at Rivas.  We meet a young guy who offers to take us to San Juan Del Sur in his taxi (his car), its another 30 mins away.  You should be able to get a ride for as little as $4USD each way especially if the driver has found other people to pick up.

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San Juan Del Sur is a well known surfing village not far from the Costa Rica border.  We’re not surfers but after travelling in the Andes, beach life was appealing. This is probably the first time in a while we are in an area that is predominantly western travellers; long haired surfers with perfect bodies and a number of sunburnt tourist on the beach.

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We met a guy called Rob as we were looking for directions to the Naked Tiger, he’s from New Zealand (Picton).  He’s also the only kiwi we’d come across in weeks.   Each Sunday in San Juan Del Sur there is a backpackers party at The Naked Tiger. This should be on your list of places to go, I’m not even going to say why just make sure its on your list.  All three of us jumped on the back of a ute and went to the Naked Tiger.  I like how business is conducted in these areas, if you have a ute you have a business.

The next day was rest day.

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Rob suggested we go to Ometepe Island… so we did.  Ometepe means two mountains,  (two volcanoes). On the main island, Volcán Concepción erupted in 2010, which was pretty violent but the inhabitants decided to stay.  The other island Maderas Volcano and is said to be dormant.  That is the where we went.

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Getting to the island wouldn’t pass any New Zealand health and safety approval.  As we walked onto the boat I said to the guy we’d stay on the top deck (where its at least safer), he pushed us all down to the lower deck… then he shut the door.  It only cost $2 NZD so no need to complain.

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This is what it looks like from the outside.

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Nicaragua lake is fresh water… and there are sharks?  The officials of the lake think all of the sharks have been fished out of the lake though.  They also thought the shark was a unique fresh water shark but when they started tracking them they realised they were in fact a salt water shark, swimming up the river to the lake.  A little disturbing but it didn’t stop me or the cows getting into the water to cool off.

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Ometepe is a step back in time, although vehicles are on the island people still use horses to cart their goods.

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Most of the locals on Ometepe Island don’t speak English, they smile a lot and are very friendly.

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We didn’t go to the capital Managua, instead we opted to head straight for Leon.  This is where I went hiking up to the volcanoes and again we just enjoyed the laid back lifestyle.  Nicaragua really is a country worth visiting, next time I’d travel further but as we were passing through we only stopped in three places.

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This horse was at the volcano, at first I was a little confused as to where his owner was… then I found him (the owner) later as the sun was going down.  He was sitting further around the mountain with a chilly bin selling beer… opportunist.

Tips:

  1. Check out the Naked Tiger Hostel on Sundays
  2. Taxi drivers are often people with cars – there is no sign.
  3. A lot of the volcano’s are still active but worth the hike for the views and to see the volcano in action, up close
  4. While at Ometepe Island we stayed at El Caballito Del Mar – no air con but its cheap! The opening picture to this blog is the view from this hostel.

I hope to be back in Nicaragua very soon!

 

Sailing the Amazon River – Peru to Columbia

The only reason we were sailing the Amazon river was because we missed our flight to Columbia then randomly met a Dutch man staying at our hostel who told us about the river.  I don’t even remember his name but I can see his face perfectly, he was an older man probably in his 60’s.  He was well travelled with many romantic stories about the women he’d encountered along the way.   He had lots of energy and was very white, its an odd comment I know.  If you’d seen the area we were staying in you’d see why it was strange to come across him.  I guess the universe wanted us to miss our flight, meet this one guy who insisted we sail up the Amazon river, cross the Columbian boarder and have a once in a lifetime experience… it was meant to be!

We said goodbye to our new Dutch friend and parted ways, we will probably never see him again.  Life is so bizarre sometimes.

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There are many travel agents near Lima’s airport so we booked a cheapish flight to Iquitos for $110USD ($167NZD).  Iquitos is a large city in the jungle and its hot, a huge contrast from Lima.

We arrived late at night and finding a place wasn’t easy, we had to settle for a hotel $25USD ($38NZD).  It was 3 stars, most of our places were either 1 or 2 star… or no star.  3 star gets you a decent shower with fresh soap, in the unopened pack.   For a short moment we felt upper class.

We’d become friends with our taxi driver, he helped us find a hammock and took us to the boat dock.  There were several boats docked and we forgot which boat our Dutch friend told us to get on.  So we had to trust that our taxi driver was putting us on the right boat, it was a little scary because we didn’t know if we were being set up for something more sinister.

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There are many things to consider while travelling, you have to quickly suss your surroundings and be decisive.   We were the only women at this stage and that was intimidating, there were no Gringos either.  But you can’t live in fear of the unknown so we agreed to board.  The Spanish men treated us well, the skipper and his crew looked after us.  Before the boat sailed more women arrived, and their children.  We were the only Gringos and loved it.

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We paid 100s ($29USD – $44NZD) for a 3 day boat ride to Leticia – the boarder to Columbia.  We later found out we paid 10S more than others but hey that’s only $2.9USD extra we paid.  Our boat was called La Gran Loretana – it transports goods and livestock to villages on the river.  There are two decks for passengers where you can hang your hammock, first in first served.  Our taxi driver said to take the top level because its open so the breeze comes through.  He was right plus the view was amazing.

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We were one of the first ones so we picked a good spot (two grey hammocks).  The skipper allowed us to put our backpacks in the crew cabin for safe keeping.  Food is supplied but the water is straight from the river so best you bring your own food.  Each port usually includes local opportunist selling their home cooked meals or chips etc.  There are toilets which were cleaned everyday.  You can’t flush paper down any toilet so it goes into a waste basket next to it, twice a day the cleaner throws this over board… into the river!

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By the time we were sailing both upper and lower deck were filled with passengers and their hammocks.  At night more would come on and hammocks were strung up all over the place.  It became very cosy with strangers but we made friends with our closest neighbours.  Our light was left on at night and it attracted all of the Amazon’s bugs.  It wasn’t until the next night I asked the boson if he could switch it off and it turns out the light switch was on the light… I could have turned it off myself.   I had a good sleep, as the boat steams up the river all of the hammocks gently sway… often swaying us to sleep during the day too.

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Its a slow journey, we stop many times and each time we experience life on the river.

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Many of the village homes are on stilts for the rainy season.

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Its disgusting how Coca Cola can distribute all of their sweets to these remote places and not be responsible for the pollution.   Fizzy and sweets being delivered to poorer communities.  They are uneducated about the destructive impact rubbish has on the planet.  I couldn’t believe how polluted the Amazon was, its filthy.  People throw anything into the river without knowing how much damage they are doing.  Big companies should take responsibilities.  The local governments should educate their people.  I could easily write about the impacts of western culture in remote Amazon areas.  This was the only downer on our journey, the rest of it was amazing

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I watched these guys for ages, its a fax machine, retro!  It was stuck on the deck for at least an hour.  Although I’ve just been going on about western influence in these remote areas I did think a crane would have been handy for unloading.  But team work proved to be just as effective.

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I envy the life style.  I’d like to build a sustainable home with waterfront views…. reality is, my house will look similar to this one.  I’d still be very happy.

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That is a house on the river and this picture shows just how wide some parts are.

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Its a huge river but in some places its so narrow only our boat could get through. We were fortunate enough to see the pink dolphins in this area, they don’t surface often but it was great to see them.

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Our last stop was Santa Rosa.  This is where you get your exit stamp before heading across the river to the border – Leticia, Columbia.

This was an amazing journey, if you miss a flight on your travels don’t be too concerned.  Its probably a sign you need to meet a Dutch man and sail the Amazon river!

TIPS

Flights and accommodation to Iquitos

  • We went to a travel agent close to the airport, $110USD ($200NZD) for our ticket.
  • Iquitos is a large city in the jungle, there are many hostels but it pays to book via Trip Advisor before getting there.  A lot of the hostels close to central were fully booked when we arrived in late.

The boat – La Gran Loretana

  • Get to the boat early, they sail at night.  Set your hammock up towards the bow on the top deck.  The views are grand from your hammock and the breeze is nice during the day.
  • Take your repellent, at night the bugs are busy.  If you are sleeping under a light turn it off as soon as you can – don’t attract more insects.
  • Talk to the skipper about leaving your backpack in his cabin, or he will give to the crew to put in their cabins.
  • You need to buy your hammock beforehand!! There was a guy who turned up selling them but you can get them anywhere in Iquitos before you leave.
  • The boats transport goods, livestock and pretty much anything they can get on board.
  • The boat is kept Peruvian clean, toilets usually have water thrown over them twice a day.  There are showers but we didn’t shower, the water is from the Amazon.

Crossing the border into Columbia

  • This port is heavily guarded due to drug trafficking but if you’re not guilty then you should be good.
  • Your last stop is Santa Rosa if heading over to Columbia.  Get your passport stamped in the little village of Santa Rosa, then jump on a boat taxi to Leticia.
  • Take a road taxi to the airport to get your entry stamp to Columbia… then you are good to stay in Columbia.

Safe travels 🙂

 

 

 

 

Omanawanui – Gibbons Track – Walker Ridge Tracks

This is one of my favourite loops in the Waitakere Ranges.  

Time: The times on the signs would suggest 7hrs.  If you are a faster walker you can do this in 3 – 5 hours of actual walking. Definitely allow more time for stops and time exploring the caves at Whatipu

Distance: 14.5km

Start & Finish: Mt Donald Mclean Road, Huia – Auckland

ViewRanger App Route: http://my.viewranger.com/route/details/NzczNzQ=

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Auckland city and head for Mt Donald Mclean Road – 50 minute drive.

Puriri Ridge Track – 2km.  This is a nice gentle start to an early morning, its mostly along the ridge and downhill. Once at the road cross over and head along Omanawanui Track.

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Omanawanui Track looking down to Whatipu

Omanawanui Track – 3km.  Walking along the cliffs to see some amazing views of Manukau harbour and Whatipu.  This was probably one of the most beautiful tracks I’ve been on in the Waitakere’s because of the views.  Stunning! Some of it is steep.

Omanawanui track - Manukau Harbour

Omanawanui track – Manukau Harbour

Manukau Heads

Manukau Heads

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Whatipu Camping Ground

Whatipu – Camping Ground.   This has all of the facilities needed and the scenery is magic. Handy to all of the walks.

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Gibbons Track looking out to the Tasman Sea.

Gibbons Track – 3.3km.  Gradual incline.  Great views are out to the Tasman Sea. Track is nice and easy.

Walker Ridge Track – 2.8km.  This track isn’t part of the Hillary trail so its not as worn but still maintained.  Winter gets muddy in some places.

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Donald McLean Track

Donald McLean Track – 2.2km.  Easy! This was a nice way to finish and to get out of Walker Ridge.  The tracks are wider and we knew we were close to the car.

altitude profile

Altitude profile

 

 

 

Stay safe 🙂

 

Lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu – Peru

“Machu Picchu is a trip to the serenity of the soul, to the eternal fusion with the cosmos; where we feel our fragility. It is one of the greatest marvels of South America. A resting place of butterflies in the epicentre of the great circle of life. One more miracle.” – Pablo Neruda

Machu Picchu has every right to be listed as one of the new seven wonders of the world.  The great Spanish poet Pablo Neruda summarises it to perfection.  I cry reading his words they are so beautiful and true. Spiritually I’m connected.  I do have mixed feelings about the journey but let me tell you about this marvellous ancient site first.

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The layout is intense, the Inca thought of everything.  They put many of today’s city planners to shame.  The building structures are made from gigantic stones cut perfectly to fit together without mortar, some still standing over 300 years later.  The sophisticated irrigation system running through the terraced fields.   Zoned areas for farming, residential neighbourhoods, a royal district and a sacred area.  The perfectly positioned temples that align with the stars.   Preserving food….  they were set for an apocalypse!!

I’d say, unless you were a sacrificial virgin or a lamb, life would have been great until the Spanish arrived.

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It has been said by the experts that the Spanish may not have invaded Machu Picchu in the late 1500’s because they didn’t see it.  It’s perched high up in the Andes (2340 meters amongst the sharp peaks).  Other experts believe it was Small Pox that killed everyone, brought in by travellers.  Some have said that it was a place for elites to escape the bigger cities, like a retreat – I do like that idea.  Some say the farmed terraces could not provide enough food for the entire city so they left.   What ever it was, I’m grateful it’s been found again for us to appreciate.

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Everywhere we walked there was something amazing.  Machu Picchu’s most distinct and famous structure is the Intihuatana stone, a sculpted granite rock that is believed to have functioned as a solar clock or calendar.  I wanted to learn more about this giant rock but I couldn’t hear our guide we were being shunted past very quickly by the next group wanting to see.   This is the downside to Machu Picchu and selfish me wanted everyone to disappear so I could have it to myself.

This is how the real Machu Picchu works on a daily basis, this is in no way a dig at the Peruvians (they are lovely kind hearted people), I’m just giving you a bit of a heads up on what to expect when travelling as a tourist.  It starts way back in Cusco at 3am when many of us have to catch the bus to Ollantaytambo.   They are small and cramped shuttles, from memory it was about 3-4 hours.  You heard me say 3am right? Everyone is trying to sleep but no one can apart from the guy that’s leaning against me.

Machu Picchu

From Ollantaytambo we boarded a train, there are several so make sure you know which one you are on.  This was about another hour on the train through the valley.  You’ll arrive to the local town called Aquas Calientes and this is where I started feeling like sheep being herded into the yards.

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Machu Picchu allow 2500 people daily, if you don’t have a ticket you can’t get in.  So theres pretty much 2500 people waiting to get on the shuttles to take us up the zig zaggy road to the site.  I have to say though, these drivers had the system under control.  There was not one empty seat on each of the shuttles, they would go through the line shouting uno or dos (1 or 2).  When we heard dos we knew we’d be next to get on (there were two of us), that’s how they ensure no empty seats.  The  driver drops us off, turns around and descends back down Aguas Cilientes to collect his next load of sheep.

At the entrance to the site there are swarms of tourist trying to push their way up the line, it was almost too much for me.  I really struggle with large crowds, if anything its probably the waiting I don’t like.

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Once we’ve all been herded in with our guide, they take us around giving the history of the site.  If you are going I do recomend hiring a guide, we learnt a lot from him.  However, they move you through so quick and because there were about 30 people in our group I could barely hear but its still good to take a guide.  There are other guided groups with us the whole time.

I didn’t get any photos of that entire process, I didn’t want to.

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When our guide finished at midday I walked off and up the hill to here, the Sun Gate.  It takes about 1 hour and because we are so high we still have to deal with altitude sickness.  Fortunately I’d been in the Andes a while now so had acclimatised.   Even the look on my face says it all.

I sat here for a while then found a nice little grassy terrace and went to sleep until 4pm.  Best sleep too.   When I woke up there were several other backpackers asleep, maybe we’d all been thinking the same thing.

I walked back down to Machu Picchu and thats when the spiritual connection happened.  Most people had gone.  It was quiet and beautiful.

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This is when I thought that the 200USD I’d spent on this day was worth more.  Wow its amazing.  If only I could stay here for ever.

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Many people say you must go to Machu Picchu and if you’d asked me before midday I’d say bugger off! But because I came back down to see it without the swarms of tourist I’m glad I was there and yes you should do it.  Just be prepared.

One last photo, I wanted to show you how the terraces were built high above the river.  You wouldn’t want to slip.

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Oh and the return back to Cusco was just as terrible as the morning.  We were exhausted, didn’t get back to the hostel until 11pm.

Highlights:

  • Spiritually enlightening
  • Learning about the history and seeing it up close was awesome

Things I didn’t like: 

  • To many tourist, go in the afternoon if possible or early morning to see the sunrise
  • expensive

Regrets: 

  • Wished I’d known that you can arrive earlier to see the sunrise, also allows you to get in without be crushed by the crowds

Cost:

  • We paid too much, 200USD – 300NZD.  too much when you convert to NZD.
  • All throughout Cusco their are operators selling tickets.  We brought ours and then seen tickets for 100USD.
  • Book in advance
  • You don’t have to take the train, some people walked.  Most of them were the hard out backpackers though.  Research online before you go and talk to other travellers.  It wasn’t until we got back that I realised we could have done this another way

Accommodation

  • Highly recommend staying at Hospedaje Familiar Jhuno, its a family run hostel situated in central Cusco.  Its cheap and our host Rosemary and Edson are really nice people.
  • Some people choose to stay in Aquas Calientes, town at the bottom of Machu Picchu.  We thought if we’d know we would have found a cheap backpackers and stayed there.  Its a beautiful area to explore

Happy travels 🙂

 

 

Pinnacles Walk and Billygoat Track, New Zealand

Usually when I go hiking I take my camera but this time, I took the GoPro.  If you want to skip the detail for now, here’s a summarised video of the track and hut.

YouTube Link to Video

Pinnacles Walk – Kauaeranga Kauri Trail

Difficulty: Medium/hard

Length: 17km

Hours: 

  • 3 hours to Pinnacles Hut
  • 90 minutes return to Pinnacles and back to the hut
  • 4 hours from Pinnacles hut to car park via Billygoat Track

Cost: 

The history of the area is very interesting. Kauri trees once covered this entire area but it was cut down by the first settlers in the 1870’s until 1920’s.  Today we only have a few Kauri left and unfortunately those trees are endangered due to a disease that is wiping them out.

Kudos to DOC rangers who look after the huts and tracks.

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The drive to the track start is about 2 hours from Auckland city, we left 7am Friday morning so missed the traffic.   We started on the Thames side, there are many hikes around this area but this is the most popular way to get to the hut.
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I use ViewRanger when ever I’m hiking, its an app to help me find my way around in the bush

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The route we took, Kauaeranga Kauri Trail – Pinnacles – Billy Goat Track.  The walk starts at Kauaeranga Road end and follows the road for 1km.  The first swing bridge crosses Webb Creek.  From there its uphill, leg day all the way.

Steps were cut into the hill by the loggers to make it easier for the packhorse’s.   Life wouldn’t have been easy for the horses but I’m happy someone thought of making steps to ease the pain a bit.

About 2 hours later we arrived at Hydro Camp.  There are remains of a skidded road.  Logs were pulled along the skids by teams of bullocks or steam haulers.  Shannon made us Somosas for lunch, vegetarian and delicious.  Check out her recipe: http://hakunamakitchen.com/2015/11/01/week-43-samosas/

After a nice hearty lunch we headed off, straight up again.  After an hour we reach the hut.

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I’ve stayed in many huts throughout New Zealand but this one by far is the largest.  It sleeps 80 and as you can see the kitchen is ample for hikers.  There were 30 people the night we stayed and I thought that was cosy enough.

After a well deserved rest and feed we headed up to the pinnacles.  The sign to the peak says 50 mins but we got to the top in 30.  It’s also 1km pretty much straight up too.  Some of it is rock climbing.  You can see it all on my video above.

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The terrain was caused by volcanic eruptions, I’m not sure where the volcano was.  The information boards along the track have faded so we couldn’t read the ending which is clearly a vital part we missed.   Once you have soaked in the views, it’s a quick run down to the hut.  Your legs will feel like jelly by the time you get back.

Shannon pulled out the cards we played spoons, awesome game.  We roped in an Auckland couple, an Australian and a Swede.  Great stories exchanged especially from the Australian girl who is hiking the length of New Zealand.  She walked 9 hrs in this rugged terrain, we walked 3 hours… we no longer complained after hearing her story.

Take warm clothes, the hut is at sub-alpine altitude so temperatures are 4-6 degrees lower.  I have a -10 sleeping bag but I still slept with my thermals, socks, beanie and gloves on.  I also woke up about 4am feeling like I was sleeping in an oven but the point is, be prepared.

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The next day we headed back down the track then turned off at Billygoat Track, which takes you up another hill and over the saddle.   From then on its good, the track is on the old tramway.  We follow the hill-side for a while and then the tramway/track drops straight over the edge.  100 years ago the ancient Kauri logs were transported on this tramway.  The logs weighed tonnes and to stop it would have been an engineers nightmare.  The loggers would also dam up the rivers then release the logs, destroying anything in their way.

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Not only was the tram an exciting part to see it was also the worst section of the entire track. Its step and when you have a full pack on your back its tough on the knees.

The last part of this hike is the river crossing, the swing bridge is no longer there so be careful when making the decision to come this way. Crossing is fine when the river is low.

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As you can see there was a bit of climbing on this hike but it was definitely worth it.

Have fun and stay safe 🙂

 

 

 

 

Surviving an invasion – Lake Titicaca, Peru

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It may have been the Spanish invasion that caused the Uru (reed) people to flee from slavery in the 16th century. Or maybe it was the Inca Empire who bullied them off the mainland to the water.  Either way, it is clear that the Uru people of Peru are survivors.  Their defence tactics would have left any foe envious.

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Today however, the only invasion is that of us tourist.   We arrived in droves, armed with camera’s and Peruvian Soles (dollars).  I’m embarrassed to be this tourist, but sometimes to learn about a culture you have to experience their way of life.  It is said that we give financial opportunities for natives.  I don’t entirely believe this, greed is everywhere.   To remove my suspicions of corporate greed I handed my money directly to the women on the islands, I’m keen to learn.

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The Uru people made islands from the Totora reed which is sourced on the lake.  Each island has a watch tower and if needed, the entire island can be shifted to another place.   Pigs and cows are fattened up on isolated islands, there is no escape they are surrounded by water.  Cormorants, water birds who catch fish, are kept tethered with wool tied to their feet, so that they can catch fish for human consumption.  The white ends of the reed is part of their staple diet, also used as medicine or to help with altitude sickness.  Life on the island is resourceful.

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At first, construction may have been hit and miss but they have definitely perfected the art of island making.   Here in the picture above a local man shows us how the reeds are layered to form the structure.  The roots from the Totora interweave to create a natural layer called Khili (about 1-2 meters thick).  This layer is anchored to the bottom of the lake.

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Like any organic matter under water, the reeds will eventually rot away.  New reeds are sourced nearby and added on the top of existing reeds every 2 months.  As the reeds dry on the top layers, moisture sets in and more are needed.  This is an unforgiving process, especially now that tourist are walking all over the top layer.   I really felt like we should be cutting some more reeds for them, that seems fair.

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Reed islands will last about 30 years before they need to be replaced altogether.  During that 30 years they have a perfectly functioning community, with an envious lifestyle.

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It was always going to be inevitable that the society would modernise.  They are surviors after all.

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TV on the Floating Reeds, Peru

 

Most Uru have moved to the mainland but those who remain still need to keep up with the haps.

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The handmade crafts are intricate and beautiful.  The negotiation skills of the women who make them have been perfected over the years, they drive a hard bargain.  I paid 100 Sole (30USD – 45NZD) for a beautiful red art piece made from local dye and materials.   I didn’t mind paying that much, its an art that was made on the island.  Currently I’m saving to have it framed back in NZ.

Map names

 

The Uros islands are still at high altitue, 3810 meters above sea level and just five kilometers west from Puno port.  The tour we went on was to Uros Island and then out to Taquile island. The entire day was 80 Soles (24USD – 36NZD).    You can stay overnight with a family for a deeper cultural experience and apparently talking to several people, it is well worth it.

I came away thinking that if an entire popluation can adapt to change, then so can I.  Stop buying things we think we need and make use of the resources around you.

Tips:

  • Not all guides are loving, some will take your money and the Uru people will never see it.  Take care in who you go with, most have stated on their policies where their money go.  But always double check with Trip Advisor or other blogs for recommendations.
  • Take at least 200 Soles, there is so much to buy and to know you are supporting local people is awesome.
  • Take your passport, they will stamp your passport which would have been cool if I’d taken mine.
  • When staying in Puno, pick a backpackers close to Lima Street

 

 

The worlds most dangerous road, Bolivia

200-300 people die each year on this road with an average of 26 vehicles plummeting over the 1000m cliff.  And since mountain biking began, 20 people have died.   So what made me decide to mountain bike down the most dangerous road in the world? I have no idea…. but I’m definitely petrified with my decision.

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I didn’t get much sleep the night before.  Amee (my cousin) wasn’t coming with me either, she was heading off to an eco resort where I’d meet her the next day.  I said goodbye and for a moment I wonder if I’ll see her tomorrow.

7am a group of us meet at the Irish pub in La Paz, not far from my hostel.  No one is saying much to each other, I’m not saying anything.  I don’t even take advantage of the cheap breakfast on offer.  Our guide Mo came in and he speaks English, thank goodness.  My Spanish is terrible.

Map

We start at La Cumbre (4,700m), still in the Andes.  Mo starts with the safety talk. I’m listening so hard I can hear conversations in the distance.  He goes over the brakes several times stressing the importance, this isn’t helping me to relax.  He tells us what to do if we come across a truck… wait, what?… a truck? Yes and if you come across one you have to give him right of way by letting him go hard up against the wall while I stand on the edge, the cliff edge.  Definitely not helping.

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He opens a bottle of 90% alcohol and takes a swig.  Alcohol, yes! This will help.  I take a sip (gulp), pour some on my wheel and a couple of drops on the ground to mother earth.  It’s a ritual to protect us.  I paid attention, I did EXACTLY what Mo told us to do.   I hope the two love birds beside me are listening.

We all jump on our bikes and follow Mo to the starting point.  The first segment is 24kms downhill, on a sealed road. He leads the way, I’m mid way in the pack.

sealed road in moutntains

 

Within moments  I’m up the front with Mo and a few others.  We are descending down the winding road at a rapid pace.  Cars are coming towards us as they pass uphill traffic, I lean forward and slip between them and the edge. I’m passing other bikers, I’m fearless.  I’m loving every single moment.

The fearless biker

The fearless biker

We reach the start of death road and its now raining so hard I can barely see.   This isn’t good. The road becomes slippery and the rocks loosen above.   But, I’m not phased at all.  I put my sunnies on to stop the rain and mud hitting my eyes and continue on.

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For the next few hours I’m racing down hill jumping over rocks, water, passing people, sliding around corners…I’m keeping up with Mo.

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We stop for a photo-op, you’ll see this very spot on every brochure. I never thought I’d be that person dangling my legs over the cliff.

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It didn’t bother me, I’m no longer afraid of heights.

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Mo liked to stop often, I enjoyed his history lessons.  The road was built in the 1930s during the Chaco War by the Paraguayan prisoners to connect Coroico and La Paz.  In 2006 a new sealed road opened connecting the two cities.   The North Yungas road (death road) became less popular for vehicles and more popular for adventure biking thrill seekers… like me.

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64kms of downhill biking we reach Yolosa (1100m).  It’s in the jungle and  its hot, a complete contrast from where we started.  The beers were on Mo and they went down a treat.  He then took us to La Senda Verde Animal Refuge where we got to know some of the rescued animals.

Time to go home.  I thought we would be taking the new main road home, which was built so no one had to drive up death road?

in van

 

No.  Straight back up death road in a bus!  The scariest bus ride I’ve ever had in my life (all of my scariest bus rides have been in Bolivia).

But, what an amazing experience this was.  I’d do it again over and over.  It cost me 750B (108USD or (168NZD).  It’s a full day of adventure and I the only company I’d recommend are Gravitybolivia.com

Tips:

  • Go with Gravitybolivia.com
  • Take a GoPro, I’d broken mine back in Brazil and I’ve never been so gutted before.  This would have been perfect.  Let the Gravity guys know when you book that you have a GoPro and they will give you a special helmet
  • You can stay in Coroico or head into the Bolivian Amazon Jungle, if I had time I would have loved to explore this area more
  • Do it!