South America Blog Posts

Week 31 – New Year, New Drone!

A couple of months back, when I was cycling out of the Peruvian Amazon, towards Cusco. I had an accident with my drone. It hit a palm leaf while flying at around 5m high. The fall wasn’t enough to damage the drone itself. But the camera dislodged from its mounting and pulled on the cable that connects it to the rest of the drone. Unfortunately, this cable ripped in two.

Reviewing my options

I contacted DJI for a repair, as the drone is still covered by warranty. But the warranty is only valid in Europe. Which meant I would have to ship the drone to Europe for it to be repaired or replaced, then have it shipped back to South America. Shipping isn’t great here. It’s expensive and there are often long delays if the package arrives at all. So this wasn’t a good solution for me. Also, DJI don’t sell spare parts for you to repair a drone yourself. So I looked online and found a supplier for the part I needed. I ordered it and it never arrived, luckily I got a refund.

My solution

So I was faced with a problem. I could ship the drone back to the UK, get it repaired/replaced, but then I didn’t feel confident getting it back to South America. So I decided it was probably easier to buy a new drone here and then sell the old drone after it is repaired/replaced. But electronics are so expensive in Peru. I’m assuming it is because of the import taxes. But there is a big markup on things like mobile phones and drones. I managed to find an official DJI supplier, a shop called CoolBox who sell all kinds of gadgets. I ordered online and got the drone delivered the next day. I’m really excited to get it out and get some footage as I continue north. I shipped my old drone back to the UK from Lima. I figured it was better to send it while I’m in a big city.

Moving on

My Peruvian visa ends around the 19th of January. So I need to cross the border on or before that date. My plan is to take a bus most of the way up the coast, then cycle up around the coast for my final week in the country. There are still protests happening in Peru. In fact, they have become quite serious. But they are down in the south, so travelling up north should be easy. It should be nice to get back on the bike after a break.

South America Blog Posts

Week 30 – New Years Eve in Lima

Happy new year guys!

A quick trip to Lima

In my last blog post I talked about the protests in Peru and how they had stopped overland travel while in full swing. With an announced gap in the protests, I decided to take the opportunity to head up to Lima. As I only have a couple of weeks left until my Peruvian Visa expires, I need to cover a lot of kms in a short period of time. With that in mind, I took a bus from Urubamba to Cusco. I stayed one night in Cusco, with the family who own the hotel I was staying in while I was in Urubamba. They are a really kind family and it was nice to say goodbye to them before I headed north.

The bus from Cusco to Lima was really long, around 1,100km, which took around 22 hours. I was super tired when I arrived in Lima, but I needed to cycle through the city to get to my CouchSurfing host’s place. I was staying with a local family in the North of the city. I was so grateful to find a host, as it was New Years Eve. So I assumed that people wouldn’t want to have a stranger staying with them. Luckily I was wrong and I got to stay with Angie and her family.

New Years Eve in Lima

This New Years Eve was a little different than I have experienced before. Firstly, everyone was wearing some yellow clothing, as yellow is seen as good luck. The celebrations didn’t really start until midnight. We all went up to the roof of the house and watched the fireworks being set off all around the city. We stayed up there for 20 minutes or so then headed down into the house for a strange tradition. On the table were some bowls of different foods. Specifically, lentils, quinoa and some kind of corn. Each of us then ate 12 spoons of each of these foods. One spoon for each month of the coming year. This tradition is supposed to make sure you have a prosperous year ahead. Then it was time to eat fruit, drink champagne and dance. Around an hour later we sat down to eat a meal of roasted meat and potatoes. I was so tired after the night on the bus, that I struggled to stay up as long as the rest of the family. So I hit the hay at around 2:40am.

Looking ahead into 2023

My plan from here is to get myself sorted with a replacement drone while I am in the capital city. Then take another long distance bus up to the north of Peru. I want to spend the last week in the north, visiting a few beaches and then cross over into Ecuador. I’m really looking forward to getting further north. I have heard some great things about the beaches up there. Plus the weather should be nice up near the equator. One thing that I really want to do this year is get some sailing experience. I am hoping to crew on some boats in the Caribbean to see what the sailing life is like. If it works out, I might end up getting myself a small boat to liveaboard and travel by boat for a while. But I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens.

South America Blog Posts

Weeks 25 ~ 29 – Downtime in Urubamba and Protests around Peru

After spending so many months on the move, I was looking forward to having some downtime in Urubamba. So after taking a trip out to Machu Picchu, I stayed in a really beautiful hotel called Casa Mama. It is the low season, so the hotel was empty and the owners were spending most of their time in Cusco. So I stayed there looking after their cats and relaxing in their beautiful garden and took short trips to places close to town. This time was actually extended a little because of the protests that broke out around Peru recently.

The protests in Peru

It took me a little while to understand the situation surrounding the protests. Not only because it’s such an alien political situation for me, but also because the news that was available internationally wasn’t lining up with what I was hearing in Peru. But here is my understanding of the situation. Firstly, as a little bit of background, Peru has had 5 presidents in the last two years. So politically, this is quite a turbulent country recently.

Before the protests, the president was Pedro Castillo. He was voted into power because he was seen as an outsider candidate. He was from a poor background and seen as a man of the common people. But once in office, his performance wasn’t good. The problem is that most people in Peru not only didn’t like the president, but they also didn’t like the representatives in congress. There was a strong feeling that an election should take place to replace everyone. The congress had been trying to get rid of him for a while and they had organised a vote to have the president impeached. It was in this situation that, on the morning of the vote, Pedro Castillo made an announcement that he was planning to close congress and organise elections to replace all of the representatives. The congress had the president arrested on charges of sedition and high treason for attempting a coup. They then appointed the vice-president as president.

As I just mentioned, the congress aren’t very popular. So when they were making announcements about the new president and how this was all thanks to the actions of the congress. People were annoyed. They came out to protest and demanded new elections. To make things worse, the new president announced that they would agree to have new elections, but that they would be held in 2024. That is around 18 months from the time of the protests. People felt like this wasn’t good enough and the protests intensified.

In Urubamba, the protests didn’t feel so intense. There were a lot of road blocks set up, so we couldn’t move around. But it didn’t feel dangerous when we walked around the streets. Luckily, the protesters decided to stop their protests to allow everyone to enjoy their Christmas and new years holiday celebrations. But they announced that the protests would come back stronger than ever on the 4th of January.

The Maras salt mine

Just north of Urubamba there is a natural salt mine in a town called Maras. After a short ride into the mountains you arrive at the Salt mine valley. The whole place is carved into these small pits which are filled with natural salt water from a local spring. As the water evaporates in these pools, it leaves the salty sediment in and around the pools. You can buy a lot of different flavoured salts there. It’s super cheap to visit. Only 10 soles ($2.60 / ¬£2.20).

Urubamba

Urubamba is located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, north of Cusco. It’s actually the largest town in the Sacred Valley. As the town is surrounded by mountains, it’s a great spot to do some hiking. But for me, it has been a great spot just to hang out and relax. I stayed here to celebrate my birthday and Christmas. But my Peruvian visa ends in mid January. This, coupled with the risk of protests breaking out again, means that I’m planning a quick sprint up to the north of Peru to spend my last week or so cycling around the beautiful beaches that I have heard so much about. I’ll be taking a bus to Lima, trying to organise a replacement for my damaged drone. Then taking a bus up north to start cycling again. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to cycle all the way. But I am looking forward to seeing the north and crossing into Ecuador.

South America Blog Posts

Week 24 – Visiting Machu Picchu on a budget

This week I have spent some time relaxing in Urubamba, but I took one great trip. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I was planning to visit Machu Picchu. You may have noticed that I am travelling on a very limited budget, so doing a tourist trip like this needed to be done as cheaply as possible. Through taking this trip, I learned some useful information that could help other people to visit Machu Picchu without spending too much money.

Getting your tickets

There was a change to the ticketing system a few months ago. This resulted in a lot of protests and unhappy backpackers. Basically the numbers of visitors were limited and tickets now have to be bought directly from the government (https://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/) and most be booked with the name of the tourist. They cannot be transferred. There are four different tickets available.

  • Machu Pichu circuit 1,2,3,4 ($45)
  • Circuit 4 and Wayna Picchu mountain ($60)
  • Circuit 3 and Machu Pichu mountain ($60)
  • Circuit 4 and Huchuy Picchu mountain ($45)

In my opinion, the best ticket to get is the first one. The other 3 only allow limited access to Machu Picchu park and do not include the famous view looking down on Machu Picchu. However, they do include their own views looking down from their mountain spots. I would also recommend circuit 2 out of the four available circuits. You can see maps of the circuit routes on the government website if you would like to compare(https://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/).

Getting to Aguas Calientes

Machu Picchu is located right next to a small town called Aguas Calientes. The only difficulty is that there are no roads to that town. So to get there you have a few different options. There are trains that run there. But they are a bit pricey at $100 one-way from Cusco. You can save some money by taking a bus to Ollantaytambo ($6), then taking the train from there for only $50.

But there is an even cheaper option if you take a bus from Cusco. The ticket is only $30 return. So that’s just $15 each way. But as I mentioned before, there aren’t any roads to Aguas Calientes. So the closest you can get is a place called Hidroel√©ctrica. From there you have two choices. You can take a train, which will cost you $33. Or you can hike the 10km to Aguas Calientes. The route isn’t difficult and you will be there in two or three hours, depending how fast you walk.

Costs in Aguas Calientes

As we had a ticket for 7am, we arrived in Aguas Calientes the day before our Machu Picchu trip. This meant that we needed to sleep and eat in the town. Most of the restaurants are tourist restaurants, so the prices are a little high. But we managed to find a local restaurant which offered the typical Peruvian ‘menu’ meal for 10 soles ($3). That includes a starter of soup, then a second course which you choose from two or three different options. You also get some iced tea to wash it all down. Not a bad price at all.

Then there’s the hotel. I think there were cheaper options available, but we were happy with the standard of our hotel. We paid 100 soles for a double room with breakfast included. This works out to around $30 between two people. Not bad, but more expensive than the places I am used to staying when I’m on my bike.

Getting to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu itself is on top of a mountain next to Aguas Calientes. So you need to get there. There are buses for $12 one-way. But you can also just hike up to the park and back if you have the time and energy to do it. We took the bus there in the morning, because our entry time was so early. But we hiked back down to Aguas Calientes after we had finished our tour.

Machu Picchu

When you are actually inside the Machu Picchu park, you aren’t free to explore. The routes are clearly marked and there are park rangers watching everyone. If you go the wrong way or do anything wrong, they will blow their whistle and get you back on track. But they don’t rush you. You can take your time and enjoy the views. You just can’t backtrack once you have left a specific area. There are a lot of important UNESCO world heritage sites to visit around the world. Whether it’s the pyramids, the colosseum, the acropolis, Borobudur, Prambanan, Angkor Wat, The Great Wall of China or here in Machu Picchu. Personally, I find it really hard to visit a country and pass one of these places without going to see it for myself. I would definitely recommend that people take the chance to visit places like this. As you can see from my post, you don’t need to have a big budget to have these experiences.

South America Blog Posts

Week 22 – My first attempt at river crossings

After taking the boat ride from Boca Colorado to Boca Manu, I set off cycling to the south towards Cusco. The gravel road from Boca Manu to a town called Itahuania isn’t shown on maps, but is actually better than a few roads I have cycled before, which were shown on maps. It leads you out of the Peruvian Amazon back towards civilisation.

Disaster strikes!

It was a really nice day. The sun was shining through the trees and I always enjoy cycling on the forest roads. Unfortunately my good day wasn’t going to last long. I got out my drone and took some shots of me cycling along the gravel road. Everything was going well until the drone hit a branch. It wasn’t a bad crash, the drone was only around 5 meters high. I went over to check out the drone and nothing seemed to be broken. Only the gimble had popped out of the body of the drone. Then when I looked closer I saw that the gimble had tugged on the flex cable which connects it to the rest of the drone. Unfortunately this was enough to make the cable split on a corner. This isn’t an easy fix and would need a special cable specifically for the DJI Mini 2. I was gutted. It stuck in my mind for the rest of the day and made me irritable, so every small problem really annoyed me.

Clearing my head

The road was long and crossed a lot of small streams as it passed small farms and illegal logging camps. As I was in a bad mood, I got to one of these streams and there were hundreds, or thousands of butterflies drinking next to the road. I stopped and took a moment to relax and get things into perspective. I was in an amazingly beautiful place and there was nothing I could do about my broken drone yet. So I tried to put it out of my mind and continued on the gravel road to Itahuania. The last 20km or so was tarmac, but the stream crossings turned into river crossings. So I arrived in Itahuania tired, with wet feet. I stopped in a local shop to eat some snacks and drink a cold soda. It turned out that they had a spare room in their house, above the shop. We came to an agreement about the price and then they wanted to see my stove and see it boil some water. After a shower and change of clothes, I spent the evening chatting to the family and it really helped get my mind back on track.

The road to Salvacion

The next morning one of the children from the family wanted to know everything about my bike. He asked about all my equipment and bags. He wanted to try everything. The whole family were so friendly and I felt like I could have stayed there another day or so. But I wanted to get to a town with mobile phone signal so that I could start to process of fixing my drone. The only problem was that there had been a big storm in the night. The road from Itahuania to Salvacion has 8 river crossings, some of them quite big rivers. The mother of the family told me not to go because the rivers would be deep with the rain water from the night. But I had 20km to cycle before I would get to a river, so I figured I would be ok. I was the only person on the road and at points, the road was blocked with fallen trees. This wasn’t a good sign because it showed that nobody else had passed this way. Luckily, just as I got to the first river, a couple of trucks passed me, coming from the river. So I knew it was passable.

My first try at river crossings

This was the first time I had crossed a river with my bike. But as it turned out, I would have to cross around 12 rivers of varying sizes that day. It was pretty straight forward. First I would walk across the river crossing to find out how deep the water was. Then I’d decide whether I could just push the bike through. Or if it was a bit deeper, maybe just below my knees, I would just remove my front panniers and carry them across first. But if the water was really deep, balls deep as I say, then I would remove all my bags, carry them across first, then push the bike across. It was a really fun day and I got to Salvacion around sunset. I checked into a hostel which is in a parrot rescue center. I rested there a couple of days before continuing on to Cusco.

My plans for the next few weeks

I am planning to take some time to relax around Cusco over the next few weeks. There are a lot of cool places to visit here, including Machu Pichu. Huong is still in Cusco too after finishing her workaway farm stay, so we can visit some sites together. Aside from that, I can also have a stable address to get parts delivered to repair my drone. Hopefully it will be an easy fix. I really love the pictures and videos it gives me.