The End of the Adventure

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Three weeks ago today we dropped Ricky in Sidmouth and headed for Heathrow for the night before catching a plane to South America. Those three weeks have felt like three months, and they’ve been an epic three months at that.

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I have to say that this trip, when compared to the others that we have done has been an endurance battle, Mark describes it as like being on “I’m a celebrity” and having to undertake a different task each day. It’s certainly put us through the mill; Salmonella and other food related oddities, alcohol abstention, hotels with no water, breathlessness, insomnia, dizziness…
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I never realised quite how significant altitude sickness would be and how impairing its effect, it’s made me feel like I’ve had the plague for two weeks. The sleeplessness and breathlessness have been the things I’ve really struggled with, and I think for two weeks I’ve had little more than three hours continuous sleep each night, with the remainder being little naps interrupted by panicked jumps as I startle myself awake with a desperate need to breath. I’ve tried it with and without a bedtime diamox, with and without Mate de Coca, chamomile tea and alcohol, with my feet higher than my head and alternately sitting up and all have had no affect. The key issue as well is that I’ve simply been two tired to get up and do something else so I’ve just lay there fretting and not sleeping.
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The breathlessness scares me- I think of myself as a fit person, when we’ve been checked here my oxygen levels have always been fine, around 92% even when we were at 4000m but my body is desperately trying to catch a breath- and I suspect it probably has succeeded given the oxygen percentage- but it feels horrible, and that need to take a great gulp of air every couple of minutes is a feeling that I will happily not miss when we return to sea-level.
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In a way the altitude experience has added to the trip as a whole though, made it all the more of an adventure as its highlights more the achievements when they’ve arrived. We’ve seen some great things and experienced some fantastic places. Finally getting to and seeing Machu Picchu was amazing, being able to walk around a city built in the mountains 600 years ago by a civilisation that we know little about is truly inspirational.
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Machu Picchu really has been the carrot at the end of the journey, causing us to fight on against the various trials and tribulations that South America has tried to fling at us- and we’ve got there! It’s odd now to think that only one week ago we sat in bed on the Isla del Sol considering turning back and giving up as we both felt so sick. We persevered and I’m glad we did as we’d have missed some of the real highlights of the trip if we’d turned round then- the gorgeous bed at Lake Titikaka, the amazing train from Puno and the city of Cusco.
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On the whole South America has been nothing like what I expected it would be, and that in part has been the cultural shock that has made this such an experience. On our previous trips we’ve sort of known what to expect. Even though we were illiterate in China we had an idea what it would be like, in India the poverty really did surprise us but we sort of new before we went that that would be the case and were half ready for it. Here, I expected Spain on another continent, in the same way as the US, Canada and Australia are all variations of good old England, familiar and understandable but with their own oddities and idiosyncrasies.
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South America is not like that, Spanish (or Portuguese in Brazil) is spoken but that’s about it. There are very clear and different cultural backgrounds- especially as we moved into Bolivia and Peru. The pre-colonial Kichwa and Ayamara having much more impact on the appearance of the people, their way of life and traditions.
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This hasn’t been about beautiful Spanish Colonial buildings, first world food and drink and wealth and a simple tour of an amazing and comprehendible history. One of our guides described the Incas as a first world civilisation at the time compared to the the third world Kichwa that they were conquering and then made the comparison that it was like the US and UK today compared to Peru. When he said it I didn’t really think that true but on reflection I see that it is. In my head both Bolivia and Peru are the same as Spain, developed European style nations, but in reality they are broken, underdeveloped struggling places with a significant poor population. The journey from La Paz  to Copacabana through the slums of El Alto really brings that home. And it hasn’t just been those countries that have illustrated this- Buenos Aires, that I thought would be a fantastic Spanish Colonial masterpiece, turned out to be a crumbling down at heel city no longer even able to basque in its once former glory with only the occasional highlight in its struggling fabric.
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And it’s all of this that has made this trip seem so long, so interesting and enlightening. I come away from Machu Picchu and the bits of the continent that I have seen with my preconceptions thrown on their head. I depart a little wiser and a little more knowledgeable and happily surprised that no matter what I expect and where we go there are still so many things out there that will continue to impress and enlighten me as we continue our explorations.
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Liam, Cusco Airport, Peru, 27 January 2017.
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