11/30/13 - 12/4/13: Koah & Undara Volcanic National Park, Queensland, Australia
The night was black as pitch but for our headlights beaming into the dark. Curves came at us like waves in the ocean, and Vik was just ahead of us taking each turn with the confidence of a local. Two living creatures forced us to swerve: a snake, with its body coiled and head raised; and a toad, which we believed to be of the infamous Cane toads that ravage Australia’s countryside – in which case we shouldn’t have swerved. Either way, no animals were harmed in the making of our way to Koah, Queensland, Australia.
11/30/13: Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia
When you hear the word Australia you think of kangaroos, the Outback, the Sydney Opera House, and the Great Barrier Reef. There was no way we were going down under without, you know, going down under. The surface, that is. The Great Barrier Reef was a must. One of the 7 natural wonders of the world? Who can resist that? Not us. And that’s why we did what every adventure-seeking tourist with no diving skills and limited funds does: we signed up for a tour.
11/26/13 - 11/29/13: Cairns, Queensland, Australia
We celebrated Thanksgiving in an igloo by the sea in 100 degree heat with crocodiles swimming off shore. This sounds like the ravings of a lunatic, but I can assure you that it’s all true.
After flying north to Cairns, Australia, we secured a rental car and checked into our airbnb on Trinity Beach. The place was called “igloo by the sea” because the small abode was shaped like an igloo, only this igloo was formed out of stucco instead of ice. Think "Flintstones" without the dinosaurs and foot-powered cars. The surrounding terrain reinforced the prehistoric motif, with the wild foliage, towering palm trees, and, like I said, crocodiles off shore. It’s not everyday you see warnings on the beach to watch out for saltwater crocodiles, but as we walked onto the sand we saw a big sign stating that just two days prior a crocodile had been sighted in the water. Katie was unnerved. I can’t say this news, or the “beware of jellies” alerts, made for romantic strolls on the beach...
11/21/13 - 11/26/13: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
I arrived in Sydney, Australia nursing a cold. It was my third of our RTW trip and I was getting mighty tired of being under the weather. The good news is my waning illness didn't stop us from seeing the sights. On the contrary, we managed to accomplish 4 action-packed days in Sydney enjoying our own self-guided "A&K Sydney Walking Tours"® (**see below for details)
**All rights reserved. Available for hire. Email for details. Tips appreciated.
***A&K Sydney Walking Tours is not responsible for backtracking, bad sense of direction, misinformation, boredom, or annoying head colds while on tour.
1/09/13 - 11/15/13: Buenos Aires, Argentina
The best way to know a city is to walk its streets. The sights, the smells, the sounds – all creating a rhythm that pounds against you like a beating heart. Its pace can be dangerous, timid, exciting, or even downright painful. Buenos Aires’ heart beats strong and passionate; you feel intensity with every step, your blood buzzing with excitement. Then again, maybe that’s just the 5th cup of coffee vibrating through your veins.
Our introduction to Buenos Aires was quite fitting. We happened to arrive on Gay Pride day, and our airbnb host, Veronica, encouraged us to go out and enjoy the celebrations. She said Buenos Aires’ Gay Pride was the biggest in all of South America. With that claim to fame, how could we resist? (And, of course, there was the other obvious reason for attending…)
11/04/13 - 11/08/13: Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
After five full days of hiking the W we decided it was time for…wait for it…more hiking. (There’s not much else to do in Patagonia). And, in the wake of our luxurious trek that included catered meals and refugios with warm beds, we figured why put a stop to our decadence in the mountains? So, when we caught our bus to El Chaltén to visit Los Glaciares National Park, we weren’t destined for some cheap hostel, we were bound for the best Bed & Breakfast in the entire world – El Pilar.
10/28/13 - 11/2/13: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
We arrived in Puerto Natales, Chile just in time to check into our hostel and hasten over to Erratic Rock. This company owns a hostel, a restaurant, rents outdoor gear, and lures you in with an ingenious marketing scheme: they offer a free seminar about the most popular activity in Patagonia – The W Trek. Two hours outside Puerto Natales lies Torres del Paine National Park and within its boundaries lay miles and miles of hiking trails running through some of the most beautiful terrain in Patagonia. We were ready for the W trek in a literal sense, as in we had everything booked, but both Katie and I felt it would be great to get a lowdown on what to expect before entering 5 days of solid tramping. It was eye-opening, to say the least.
10/01/13 - 10/05/13 ; 10/11/13 - 10/15/13 ; 10/21/13 - 10/25/13: Cusco, Peru
While in Peru, we spent many scattered days in Cusco: just prior to our Salkantay trek, before we left for Sacred Valley, and our final days leading up to departure. It's one of the most fascinating cities I've ever visited; culture and commerce immersed together in a landscape steeped in history. While walking around the center of Cusco, both Katie and I observed that it seems to be a city that thrives on tourism. You can't take five steps without seeing a storefront offering trips to Machu Picchu, tours of Sacred Valley, or a flight to the Peruvian Amazon. Restaurants, retail shops, spas and massage clinics - all of them depend on foreigners pouring in each and every day. Standing alongside the modern tourism trade are ancient stone walls and limestone churches. Cathedrals grace nearly every street corner and the roads date back to the time of the Incas. Cusco was the heart of the Inca empire and you see signs of their existence wherever you walk.
10/16/13 - 10/20/17: Urubamba, Peru
Recovery from the Salkantay trek was slow. Progress was stunted by an unfortunate incident where, on a rare excursion outside just two days after returning to Cusco, I tripped on the sidewalk and fell full force onto my knees. Yes, my aching, creaking knees hammered on stone like two bent nails. The pain was excruciating and I found myself on the ground screaming “Why, God? Why??!!” OK, that last part didn’t happen, but it could’ve happened if I didn’t have self respect. This little mishap forced me to hit the reboot button on the healing process. But you know what they say, the trip must go on…
10/10/13: Machu Picchu, Peru
I was broken when we reached Aguas Calientes. My knees revolted as I limped my way up the long stretch of road that led to our hostel, Kernos. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was taking a step every second; that’s how slow I was moving. That may sound fast in theory, but try it out. Stand up, look at a clock, and take a step for every second that ticks by and see if you don’t feel like a zombie would beat you in a foot race.
Katie was sore, as well, from the day’s exertions, so we hobbled up the hill together looking forward to a hot shower and warm bed. I knew that Machu Picchu peered down at us from above, invisible to our eyes but watching all the same. Tomorrow we’d finally achieve our goal and step through its gate for the first time. I feel ashamed to admit this, but the Salkantay Trek had taken such a toll, emotionally and physically, that I was nearly past the point of caring. All I wanted to do was collapse but stubbornness wasn’t about to let that happen. We’d come too far to give up now. There was no way in the world we weren’t going to see Machu Picchu, I just hoped it lived up to the hype and was worthy of our pain and suffering…
I’ll just cut to the chase: It was.