We must admit we were a little nervous about the crossing into America - but we did it - safe and sound. Because our vehicle was not allowed initial entry into Mexico, our nerves were a little on edge. But in all honesty it was the easiest country crossing we had done to date. We were all happy to see the "Welcome to Texas" sign that greeted us when we entered. In actual fact, too easy! No one checked our vehicle papers or even bothered to check the status of our US insurance (we had none!)
We stopped to gather our wits, visit the toilet (rejoiced that we could finally flush toilet paper in over 4 years) and picked up a few chocolate bars. Then we continued on our way to Laredo.
It took us a couple of days to finally secure some insurance for our vehicle, but we eventually managed to get some through a local insurance company in Laredo. It was a little more than we wanted to pay, ($169 for the first month) but many companies turned us away leaving us no choice. The best way, we were told, was to sign up as unlicensed drivers because we did not fit all the boxes. We were happy enough with that as it meant we could continue on our way to San Antonio to visit The Alamo. Next stop Austin and then Dallas.
So far everyone is liking America a lot!
We planned one day in Mexico City due to limited time and managed to achieve what we set out to do.
We started with an early morning bus trip from Puebla.
We headed straight to Frida Kahlo's house aka The Blue House.
Then we went around the corner to Leon Trotsky's house.
We went to the centre of town and had a bite of lunch in a little sidewalk cafe.
We then took to the skies to get a bird's eye view of the city.
We did a spot of shopping at the anime centre.
And then we boarded the bus back to Puebla.
6 and a half hours in the city - not bad at all!
Day 1: Merida to Puebla (Merida to Campeche)
We made good time from Merida to Campeche, despite the rainy weather, and experienced no car issues whatsoever. A lovely relief as every trip up until now has been plagued with disaster after disaster. We checked into our hostel, toured the town, had lunch and enjoyed some down time. In the evening we took a night tram tour before having a late dinner.
Day 2: Merida to Puebla (Campeche)
Today we spent a fun day exploring the city. We visited the local market and toured part of the wall learning more about the pirate rich history of this fascinating city. We had an enjoyable lunch outdoors and wandered to the square in the evening to view the light and sound show.
Day 3: Merida to Puebla (Campeche to Escarcega)
We enjoyed the waterside scenery and after hitting Champoton, headed inland to Escarcega. So great to be able to see the diversity of the Mexican countryside after staying so long in the Yucatan. Can't wait to see more of it.
Day 4: Merida to Puebla (Escarcega to Palenque)
From Campeche to Tabasco to Chiapas - today we drove cross country from Escarcega to Palenque. We enjoyed dinner al fresco in a small cafe style restaurant. Looking forward to bed tonight in lieu of our BIG day tomorrow.
Day 5: Merida to Puebla (Palenque)
Today we explored the Palenque ruins and the eco parque to feed the manatees - what a busy day!
Day 6: Merida to Puebla (Palenque to San Cristobal de las Casas)
We experienced some mechanical difficulties today but eventually arrived in San Cristobal in the late evening. Poor Matthew felt a little car sick today on the windy roads.
Day 7: Merida to Puebla (San Cristobal de las Casas)
We decided we would stay in San Cristobal de las Casas to rest the vehicle and give us a chance to explore the city.
Day 8: Merida to Puebla (San Cristobal de las Casas to San Pedro Tapanatepec)
Not a good sign when the van won't start in the morning. However 3 hours and $20 later, we were on the road again. We crossed into Oaxaca and stopped at San Pedro Tapanatepec for the evening.
Day 9: Merida to Puebla (San Pedro Tapanatepec to Santa Domingo Tehuantepec)
We drove through an extremely windy patch of land in Oaxaca state today - perfect weather conditions for the 1500+ wind turbines located there.
Day 10: Merida to Puebla (Santa Domingo Tehuantepec to Oaxaca)
Despite the vehicle troubles and the fact it took 12 hours to travel approximately 240kms, I was reminded today why we do what we do. We were faced again with the kindness of strangers - kindness that comes simply from someone wanting to do something to help someone else. Matt even had a ride in a digger to the next town in search of a mechanic. Thank you Heleodora for escorting us all the way to Oaxaca.
Day 11: Merida to Puebla (Oaxaca)
Matt went in search of a fuel pump for the van and we took a wander downtown to explore Oaxaca.
Day 12: Merida to Puebla (Oaxaca to Tehuacan)
While the van was still showing signs of trouble, we made it to Tehuacan without issue. As we made it to good timing, we had a chance to pick up some necessities at the nearby mall and even grab a movie.
Day 13: Merida to Puebla (Tehuacan to Puebla)
We arrived at our destination city safe and sound - the toll roads meant our journey was relatively smooth. We checked into a hotel and have booked ourselves into an apartment for the next few weeks starting tomorrow. Thanks for following along on our journey.
Sometimes you visit a place that makes you feel like a child again. Today we found such a place in Boquete, Panama. We weren't sure what to make of this little whimsical garden called El Explorador at first, however, we can definitely say it grew on us. Here is our essay in pictures.
Leaving Puerto Cayo, we had a rough plan. We would drive to Quito and visit with another world schooling family for a few days while we regrouped and then head to Pereira in Colombia for our next Workaway. So that's what we did.
After a celebratory pizza and drink or two at Bamboo in Puerto Cayo, a beautiful sunset and a crazy caterpillar train ride, we set off bright and early to see what Quito had in store for us.
Day 1: Puerto Cayo, Ecuador to Quito, Ecuador
We enjoyed a leisurely drive to Quito, however encountered some difficulty with our vehicle. She decided that she was not liking any hills today and we took it very slowly, at some points not getting over 20km per hour. At our final destination we struggled with the hill to park our van but after a bit of a rest, she got us there in the end. We had the great pleasure of meeting up with Jessica, Will, Avalar and Largo from Goodie Goodie Gumdrop, fellow travellers and world schoolers.
Day 2: Quito, Ecuador
We left Emilia to get creative with Avalon while Matt, Matthew and I headed into Quito to see what we could find. Purchasing a couple of pairs of shoes were high on the list as Matthew's feet had grown since our last shop as was a haircut for Matt. We explored the old city and enjoyed a snack or two in the process.
Day 3: Quito, Ecuador
Did someone say bagels? We enjoyed an early breakfast of bagels (we had actually not eaten a bagel in over two years) and coffee and hung out with Jessica and Avalar to give Emilia and Avalar more time to work on their video. A beautiful day to sit and relax in the park.
Day 4: Quito, Ecuador to Pasto, Colombia
After some more bagels (how could we resist?), we visited the centre of the Earth and tried to make a smooth getaway from Quito. However it wasn't quite as simple as that. We made the executive decision to continue on with our journey despite the fact hills were a struggle. We made it to the border, waited approximately 5 hours to cross, got held up in traffic for an hour on the way to Pasto and finally collapsed in a heap at our hostel in the late evening. Better late than never, right?
Day 5: Pasto, Colombia to Popayan, Colombia
With a definite high soldier presence, we drove through the beautiful countryside of Colombia. Yes we broke down but we took it slow and steady so we did not do any long term damage to the van. She did us proud arriving in Popayan in the early afternoon. We enjoyed a lovely Mexican meal before retiring for the evening.
Day 6: Popayan, Colombia to Pereira, Colombia
Well what a day! The drive was beautiful, the scenery picturesque and we took it slow to give the van a rest. What we weren't prepared for however was the size of the hills in Pereira. It was easy to get in but not so easy to get out. The kindness of strangers really made itself known as strangers tried to help us out of the city to our end destination. While we didn't quite make it, some locals let us park our van in their driveway until we came up with a plan.
Day 7: Pereira, Colombia
We woke up to the beauty of the Colombia coffee district and took the time to settle into our new surroundings. For the next month we call Anukara home as we help owners Ivan and Angela and their two young boys, Manu and Gio, create their dream of an eco permaculture hostel and yoga retreat. And of course we will look to find a mechanic in the city and see if we can get the van repaired before we drive to La Pacha in mid-February.
Now that we are safely in Ecuador and thinking about all the wonderful things we want to explore here, it got me reminiscing about all the things we wanted to see in Peru before we left for our life changing trip.
Machu Picchu was always at the top of my bucket list and our whole family had the chance to see it. We got to explore Cusco, experience the culture, taste the delicious food and visit amazing places like Lake Titicaca and Nazca; however I can still recall the excitement before we left to go on our trip.
I remember counting down the days to our big adventure.
I remember doing Google searches with the kids to find pictures of parks in Peru so they could share in some of the excitement.
I remember looking at the pictures of the Nazca Lines, the historic city of Cusco and the Uros Islands, dreaming off what lie ahead in our future.
And the best part, all of this happened and much more besides.
But of course, it's not just me who generates a high level of anticipation before a big trip.
Chatting with Adonis from Always Wanderlust, he kindly shared his reasons for why he wants to visit Peru. And even more exciting, he is due to visit following his upcoming Argentina and Chile trip. You can join along in his adventures here.
I want to visit Peru because of rich history spanning thousands of years. I’ve always been fascinated by the ancient Inca ruins, the mysteries surrounding them, and the people that built them. There are some that are seemingly built by methods so advanced for its time that some consider the technology be extraterrestrial in origin! The Nazca lines, for example, they appear to be designed to be seen in the sky and airplanes wouldn’t even exist for another thousand years.
Aside from the sights, there’s the Peruvian cuisine I want to indulge in. I’m into spicy and heavy food. I’ve tried dishes like Peruvian Rotisserie chicken and Ceviche in restaurants, but I want to try other dishes that you can only find in Peru.
I also want to immerse in the culture. Many Peruvians have direct ties to their ancestors, the Inca. Seeing how they live and sharing experiences with them would make an awesome experience.
Simone from The Aussie Flashpacker had the chance to visit Peru and like me, Machu Picchu was also at the top of her bucket list. Here are here personal reasons for wanting to visit Peru (you can check out her Facebook page for more exciting adventures).
Hiking the Inca Trail and visiting Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I have memories of gazing in awe at pictures of the magnificent ruins in the jungle in Peru from when I was a child. Studying Incan and Mayan art and architecture in my High School Art classes only intensified this dream.
Health and fitness became a huge part of my life in the year or two leading up to my South American trip and despite being at my fittest I had ever been, it was still incredibly tough hiking at altitude along the Inca Trail. This made the reward at the end once we reached Machu Picchu even sweeter because we truly felt we had earned the right to be there (through plenty of blood, sweat & tears)!
The three months in spent in South America were some of the favourites from my travels, with the highlight being our time in Peru. It is such a beautiful, unique country with a wonderful culture and the friendliest of people. I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting.
Once we visit a destination, our focus immediately turns to the places we have been rather than the desire that took us there in the first place. It is this desire for adventure or our search for new experiences that is at the core of everything we do.
Whatever you do, keep on dreaming and most importantly, never stop trying to make all of those dreams come true. Keep travelling and learning, your best experiences may be just around the corner.
Just when we thought it couldn't get any worse - it did. We broke down multiple times in Peru, ended up spending every single $ we had, couldn't find a place to live, had to have emergency dental treatment not once but twice, faced enormous fees to finally get our vehicle back on the road...and on top of it all we had to find the money for our exit fees which ran to over US$2,000. Sounds like a very bad plot for a movie, right? This happened to our family recently and we contemplated quitting our long term travel plans more than once. But the sad fact was that while we didn't have the money to stay, we didn't have the money to leave either. Stranded in Arequipa, Peru was pretty much the size of it. And as I write this, we are still here - in Arequipa that is - but hopefully not for much longer.
And boy did we learn a lot from this experience.
1. You learn who you can count on. I am not too proud to admit that things got pretty rough there for a while but it was the ones who stood by us while we slowly kept sinking deeper and deeper into the hole and enabled us to laugh about it and keep our focus that maintained our trust. It was the ones who reached out to us, even if it was just a message or words of comfort, that taught us the true value of friendship and family. Believe me, we couldn't have gotten through this period without all of those kind words and messages of support.
2. You can't travel long term if your heart is not in it. Our heart was in it, then not, then in it, then not - for a period of many months we stopped enjoying our travel yet couldn't seem to find any way out of it. We got disheartened, sad, mad and frustrated. Then we regrouped again and again - every time something happened we went through the cycle. Hopefully we have come out the stronger for it. We love to travel and hated losing our passion for travel to a set of bad circumstances.
3. You can always change your plans. Our original plan was to go to Bolivia - we had arrangements made with friends, volunteer positions set up and ready to go, free accommodation en route. We were ready - except we couldn't afford to leave. So after toing and froing we decided to cut 5 countries off the itinerary - that was 5 border issues we didn't have to deal with, 5 countries we didn't have to source accommodation for - immediately our hearts felt lighter. It was never about seeing as many countries as we could, it was always about being able to provide a wonderful educational experience for our family as a whole. So we turned around and focused on Ecuador.
4. You are stronger than you think. While at times we didn't feel very strong, in reality we were. We faced being penniless and homeless in a foreign country with two kids - and you know what - we survived. We worked and worked hard to better our unfortunate position - we tried to stay strong and quite often we failed. But you know what we stuck it out - we made it through sanity (just) intact!
5. You are more resourceful than you think. We got to our last cent many times during this situation. As the van sucked our savings dry we had no backup. As a freelance writer, the money flows sporadically and when clients are slow to pay then I can't afford to eat. My husband got a job, I started working for a local travel company - every little bit helped.
6. Amazing opportunities can open up. We made some amazing new friends in Arequipa and visited some wonderful sights. I got a delicious gig reviewing some of the local restaurants in Arequipa on behalf of Peru This Week. Emilia and I even got to enjoy a cooking class together. None of this would have happened if it weren't for the problems we faced. I am not saying I am glad they happened - but I am thankful for the opportunities that arose as a result. Every cloud does indeed have a silver lining.
7. Things will get better. Yes they will, it may take 6 or 7 or even 8 months or even longer but they will. We knew that deep down but we faced seemingly insurmountable problems that at times despite all reasoning there was no way around. While our problems have not fully sorted themselves out, we are moving forward. It is just at a much slower pace than we would've liked.
8. No one has it all figured it. I am not one to put on a brave face when things go wrong but nor am I one to get down in the dumps or seriously depressed unless I have good cause to do so. No one person I know has a perfect life - everyone is faced with some kind of relationship issue, money problem, family drama, whatever it may be. The only way we got through it was by talking about it. No good comes of anything when you pretend things are rosy 24/7 and you never know that one person who may be listening might just be able to help.
9. Regret is wasted. So the mechanics we encountered along the way didn't really know what they were doing and took our money without properly servicing our vehicle. So we spent thousands of dollars on our vehicle which we have no way to recoup. So...so...so...what! We lived to tell the tale. We aren't focused on money per se - we are only focused on money at the moment so we have a way to leave the country and continue on our way to Ecuador. If we don't have the money at the border they won't let us leave. If we don't have money for gas we can't drive there. The rest will sort itself out.
10. There is no point in trying to control everything. We don't thankfully - but if we did our problems would've been a lot worse. We are go with the flow types naturally and usually things don't faze us. But of course when you have kids there has to be some sort of plan. We had no way of controlling this situation at all. I could earn more but I couldn't earn enough to make things better. Every day we stayed was costing us more in fines. We had to take a big leap of faith - one which we are still hanging onto as we speak.
11. Adventure is a lifestyle. So we got off track. So we cut 5 countries off of the program. Our experiences to date have not been too shabby. We are raising two wonderfully strong and independent children in a foreign country. We didn't even speak the language when we came (not that we can now mind you). But this foreignness is our version of normal - going to a supermarket in Peru does not seem weird to us. Our life is an adventure everyday and we choose to make the most of it.
12. A bad travel experience will not put you off travel. As much as we liked Arequipa, it was seriously sucking us dry, whichever way we turned. But you know what, we are excited to get back on the road and hang out in Ecuador for a couple of months. We feel like we have earned our own private beach retreat. Bring it on.
13. You can always help others. When things are low and you have no money you can still help others. We did not one, but two, GlobeDrops for non-profit organisations in need due to the support and kindness of others. Gratitude is a big part of what we do and we are truly grateful for every day we get to travel and live life on our own terms. So we do what we can and give what we can - even when we are experiencing massive problems of our own. There is always something you can do for others.
14. You learn to cherish the little things. Not that we really needed it - but we got a reminder like no other. We made do with the basics - we had our gas stove and that was all that we needed. Who needs a fridge or a microwave or a TV? We appreciate when we have hot water because sometimes we have no water. We appreciate when we have electricity because for mysterious reasons that can go off too. And we appreciate our ability to plug into wifi whenever we can - that is truly a lifeline to the rest of the world. We appreciated a roof over our head (sleeping in the van is not easy or comfortable) and we cherished our friends more than ever.
15. The world really is a beautiful place. Yes we were stranded and verging on the homeless. Rent was so much more than we had prepared for. Dental bills were overdue. But there was no better place to be than right where we were. The weather in Arequipa was gorgeous and sunny, the views of the nearby volcanoes were spectacular. And we had each other.
Machu Picchu is a must-visit destination for those visiting Peru, without a doubt.
Unless you live under a rock or are not a fan of travelling, then you will have surely heard of Machu Picchu, the 15th century Inca site, named one of the new 7 wonders of the world in an Internet poll and designated a UNESCO world heritage site.
Set amongst an amazing mountainous backdrop, Machu Picchu is indeed a sight to behold. Built in around 1450 and abandoned during the Spanish conquest, the estate was hidden from the outside world until its discovery by Hiram Bingham, an American historian in 1911.
Fast forward to 2015 and it is one of the biggest tourist attractions in South America and the most visited attraction in the whole of Peru.
What is amazing about Machu Picchu is that it sits so neatly in amongst its surroundings. It seems so serene, yet surreal, at the same time and certainly needs a few hours of exploration to appreciate.
Machu Picchu is open every day, all year-round, however peak season is generally somewhere between June and September, with July and August being the busiest. Note that the rainy season is from October to April however Machu Picchu is always a popular tourist destination regardless of the weather.
Please note that tickets to Machu Picchu must be booked in advance - they are not sold at the gate. Entry is also limited to 2,000 visitors a day, so once sold out, you have no choice but to wait until another day.
How To Get There
To get to Machu Picchu you have a variety of options.
Train from Ollantaytambo
You can catch a bus, collectivo (a minibus) or taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and then one of the trains to Machu Picchu Pueblo (or Aguas Calientes), the town nearest to the site itself. This was our preferred method and we really enjoyed the scenic train ride along the Urubamba River both to and from the ruins. If you know your dates make sure to book a little way in advance as the trains can sell out during the busy season. The train takes approximately 2 hours to get to Machu Picchu Pueblo. Both Peru Rail (www.perurail.com) and Inka Rail (www.inkarail.com) service this line.
Train from Cusco
Peru Rail does offer the option of a train direct from Cusco in three classes: Expedition, Vistadome, Hiram Bingham all at varying prices. You can book online direct at www.perurail.com. This journey will take approximately three and a half hours.
If you choose to hike you have a number of options.
The Inca Trail is the most popular of hikes and takes a few days of your time. It must be booked through a reputative tour agency and the hike is limited to only 800 vistors per day. It often sells out months in advance although if it is sold out, dont panic as there are other hiking options.
This 5 day, 4 night hike is the second most popular trek to Machu Picchu. It connects Mollepata to Machu Picchu and will take you through snowcapped mountains and tropical rain forests. It is not currently limited in numbers like the Inca Trail.
These seem to range from 4-8 days and take you through the ruins of the same name. It is still rated from moderate to difficult in terms of fitness, so be prepared for some strenuous activity whichever trek you opt for.
The Lares trek takes 3-5 days and passes through the hot springs of Lares providing welcome respite. You also pass by many high altitude lakes and mountains ending near the ruins of Ollantaytambo where you will need to board the train for the final stretch.
Whichever way you choose to get to Machu Picchu Pueblo, be prepared for an early morning rise. You can opt to walk up the mountain (about a 90 minute hike) or take the bus (a 20 minute ride), but either way you will want to depart early so you have plenty of time to explore. The buses start leaving for Machu Picchu at 5.30am and there will be long queues to board. Do not expect to jump on a bus immediately, you will be extremely disappointed.
If it is your intention to climb Huayna Picchu, you will need to book your ticket in advance as there is only a limited number of tickets available each day (400 at the time of publication). The views I am told are worth it but the climb is quite strenuous. If heights are not your strong point, then it is best you leave this one to those who like a bit more of an adreneline rush.
Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes)
The town of Machu Picchu Pueblo is only small however you can choose to visit the thermal springs located on the edge of town or visit the handicraft market. There are also plenty of accommodation and dining options ranging from the excellent to the dire, so read reviews accordingly.
Visiting Machu Picchu is definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity and it is well worth the effort of getting there. Despite the large number of tourists who visit you can still appreciate the vast ruins relatively interrupted.
Have you been to Machu Picchu?
When you travel on a long term basis and world school at the same time, you are bound to get asked a lot of questions. While we do try to answer these frequently asked questions, when they arise, we have decided for ease to list some of them here.
How long have you been travelling as a family?
I guess the simple answer to that is as long as we have been a family. My husband and I travelled extensively before we met and when our daughter and son came along, we just never found a place that felt like home so travelling became the norm for us. We are currently coming up to over 10 years of travelling.
How do you afford to keep travelling?
That is a tricky one to answer. We partake in what we term slow travel – we generally spend a long period of time at each destination so we have the ability and capacity to earn money as we go. I am an online ghostwriter and e-book publisher and my husband is an experienced hotel manager and English teacher. We manage to make it work for the most part.
Do your kids go to school?
While world schooling is a big part of what we do – facilitating learning from the world around us, we dip in out of online programs such as Time4Learning, Minecraft Homeschool and Reading Eggs. History is brought to life with excursions to such interesting places as Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines. Emilia has been to school in Australia, Canada and Peru and has participated in dancing classes, singing classes and writing groups. When in Cusco we joined up with a hiking group for regular outings – we believe that a solid education is found from all parts of life and not just in the classroom.
Where have you travelled to?
For us it is not so much the number of countries we have visited but the experience we get from each destination. We have lived in China, Canada and Australia on a long term basis and have travelled to the United States and Thailand as well. We aim to add many more destinations as we head home to Canada in our VW Kombi.
Where is home?
While Michelle is originally from Australia and Matt from Canada, at the moment we don’t have a permanent base but that may change in the future. We are hoping to settle in Canada for a while once our South America to North America journey ends to regroup however we may find another more suitable alternative along the way. For the most part we don’t tend to plan too far ahead.
A book in the making