A Travellerspoint blog

Punta Cana

The Dream Finale

sunny 38 °C

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Can you believe it! The final post... the dream finale. My apologies people for taking so long to complete this one but from the moment we've touched Canadian soil reality struck back with a vengeance and we've been busy, busy, busy with moving, bureaucracy and job hunting. But we are all settled in now, back working again and ready to update you with our final post (#107) on Punta Cana of the Dominican Republic. At this point in our long journey (21st country) we were both pretty exhausted and after 365 days of being away from our friends and family, we were beyond excited about the impending reunion!

After saying our goodbyes to Cassandra and John in Cusco we boarded a plane shortly after destined for Peru's capital Lima. Not much to report on our dealings there, as we basically just stayed in a dive hotel close to the airport since our flight to the Dominican left early the next morning. Of course that next morning our excitement was boiling over but we didn't really want to jinx anything since we were bumped on flights before lol. But our plane was on time and we did in fact land in Santo Domingo (the Dominican capital) in the late afternoon. From the airport we caught a taxi into the old downtown (Santo Domingo is actually the oldest city in the Americas and was founded by Christopher Columbus' brother Bratholomew) where we immediately checked into the final hostel of our journey... which at that time, we were both very thankful for lol (no A/C at 40 C, no bathroom and a rock hard lumpy mattress). I could hardly sleep that night due to the heat, bed and excitement but I kept thinking 'only one more night Blair' lol.

The following morning was a bit of a crapshoot because we were a little unsure of how to cross the country and reach our resort (a big concern for most people lol) but we knew that we could at least jump on a bus that would get us close. Well long story short we managed to board a bus that got us only have way and we wound up being stranded in the middle of the country (still not really sure where lol). Thankfully the Dominican Republic is not all that large and we managed to find ourselves a mini bus that promised to shuttle us right to the gates of our resort, Dreams Punta Cana. Talk about good luck and perfect timing! When we did finally arrive to the resort gates the security guard took one look at us and immediately called the front desk, "Your getting married here?" (insert condescending look lol). After what seemed like an eternity we were eventually admitted into the resort, greeted with Champagne and properly welcomed to paradise!

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Like I said, paradise... and those beds weren't too bad either (by far the best we've slept on all year!). Thanks to the wedding package and our magnificent sister-in-law Dene, we were upgraded to a Premium Honeymoon suite. Pretty fantastic.

Because of flights and scheduling among other things, we were actually not the first ones out of our group to arrive at the resort. My big brother Bryce and his family beat us to the punch along with our good friends from our home town Jordan and Janelle. I had actually planned to meet Bryce at a certain time in the afternoon (because we assumed we would be hitchhiking to the resort) but we arrived quite early and therefore were forced to scout this massive resort in search of our family and friends. On our way to the beach we had our first reunion... and slushy drink.

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We ran into Jordan and Janelle first who had actually been at the resort already for a week (not quite but you'll have to ask them about that one for yourself lol). I found it quite fitting that we reunited with them first because the two of them are backpacking the world as we speak and actually started their world tour right after our wedding. What a cool feeling to pass the torch (backpack) on to somebody else... we love you two and wish you all the best!! (they also have a travellerspoint blog called "ApolloandAthena")

Rather than continuing to scour the resort for my brother we instead decided to just relax, have a few drinks and surprise him in the lobby at the time we had previously planned to meet. Well luckily that did go to according to plan and was an entertaining and emotional reunion to say the least. I hadn't seen this guy, my best friend, in over a year! And while I was gone he became a father! Needless to say we were both pretty excited to finally get to meet our little niece Sadie who had already just celebrated her first birthday.

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She was fast asleep for her afternoon nap lol. So we decided to sneak up on my sister-in-law Lindsay and her parents Sharon and Lorie...

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Pretty emotional stuff... and this wasn't even the BIG reunion. Look who's got the baby fever lol...

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The proud new parents with our new lovely little niece who's actually much cuter in person then on Skype lol...

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That night it was time to get our celebration one! We had made it around the world and were finally in the company of both family and old friends. Cheers!

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One thing eventually did lead to another and we somehow managed to single handedly shut down every bar in the hotel until they turned the lights off on us. For whatever reason during our shenanigans Bryce turned into Mitt Romney, Jordan into Roy Romanow and me... well I was just loser drunk lol.

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The next day we enjoyed ourselves on the beach and at the pool. Dreams was massive and featured one of the largest pools in the Caribbean. It pretty much took a good whole day to just explore everything. What a shock on the senses it was to finally stay somewhere this nice!

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And finally... the big moment we had both been waiting for... the grand reunion with the rest of our family and friends. Stacey was so excited and emotional that the mere mention of reunion would set her off crying lol. No joke... cause I counted... she cried at least 12 times before anyone even set foot off the airport bus. We got to the lobby early, hid behind a column, and waited... until...

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What a great feeling it was to finally be united with our parents! But that was just the beginning cause there was a whole busload of people behind them!

Stacey and her best friend Laura...

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Me with my best men and amazing friends Justin and Mike... shirts off and ready to party!

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Stacey with our new nephew Zack who is Stacey's brother Cam and his wife Dene's first child. This was also our first time meeting him... such a handsome little guy.

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Stacey with her younger sister CJ and her Fort McMurray "besties" (left to right - Sunny, Stephanie, Heidi and Shauna).

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I must say it was an extremely overwhelming afternoon seeing everyone again... not to mention in paradise... once again this calls for a celebration!!

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Here's a familiar character that you might remember from way back in Thailand... Stacey's big sister Jana! And look what she brought for us all the way from Canada!

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Yep the first night with everyone at the resort was terrific... we all had a lot of catching up to do.

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Well here it is folks... the moment every man dreams of since puberty! That's right... the elusive stag party lol! To be honest I was slightly nervous about my outfit that had been prepared for me by my very responsible and very kind hearted three groomsmen... but since I did make my brother dress as "Party Boy" from the Jackass series (worth Googling if your unfamiliar) I knew that anything was fair game... and I was just gonna have to take it like a man cause it only happens once.

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Yaaaa.... so about my outfit lol. Still not really sure what I was supposed to be. My interpretation is: Ex-Stripper Hobo Cowboy with a Mom-jean fetish. And who's that cute white little bundle of joy that I'm so ever gently embracing you might ask? ... well that would be Bo-Bo my very sexual barn yard friend. Great teamwork on putting this one together guys: Justin how you managed to find jeans with a 14" inch fly is beyond me, and Mike... I don't even want to know how the heck you found Bo-Bo!

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Check out my sweet jeans... SEXY lol.

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My Dad must have been SO proud lol. Don't worry folks cause I got some payback in the form of a Thai bracelets I smuggled to the Dominican which I made all the hooligans wear. Lesser offensive titles included: "Dr. Cock", "Baby Dick", and one of my favourites "I Love Ladyboys"... the rest are just too harsh to publish. Thanks for being good sports though guys! So the plan for the day was to visit a Zip Line tour about 45 minutes away from the resort. Lets just say that shit got out of hand early and our guide Wilson tried to contain us... but we all know that didn't last very long.

We did end up making it to the Zip Line however and it was a blast...

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But after those festivities... shit got real lol.

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Because the guys had already seen my sweet stripper drawers I was incessantly being egged on to do a strip dance for everyone at the Zip Line. Being the good sport that I am I willingly obliged... but also kicked it up a notch.

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That's me with our guide Wilson who was a terrific sport (he quite possibly had a crush on me lol). After finishing up zip lining the guys also thought that it would be a genius idea to have me do a little bit of hiking (apparently because I'm this big experienced hiker now lol) in the Dominican. Wilson, being the great guy that he was, decided to join me just in case any locals decided to take offence to my delicious attire lol. Yeee Haaa!

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Things got slightly more normal for us after that.... the girls on the other hand were just warming up!

Here the ladies are all sporting there "hippie beach" head-bands Stacey bought for them in Bolivia. Looking good girls!

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The Bride with her three beautiful sisters...

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The motley crew...

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What the heck were you girls doing with those plantains? Dene!

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And we're supposed to be the saucy ones... what the hell was this game? Naughty naughty girls... Work it Mel!!

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I'm gonna end off the stagette with this one of CJ and Stace being retards (you ladies could have cut Bo-Bo in on that action!)...

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Although crude, trust me the rest after this moment get a lot worse lol. You girls definitely know how to have a good time and if you like email me and I'll forward you the pictures. You can thank me later for not posting any lol.

So it goes: party, party, censored and then...

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Lol sorry babe but I love this pic. All tuckered out in her fabulous wedding dress she had made in Hoi An, Vietnam (which I wasn't allowed to post pictures of at the time lol).

Let's just say that the following day begun with a few hang-overs lol. But in such a beautiful place like Dreams you just suck it up and hit the pool.

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One of the kids favourite spots on the resort was by the giant inflatable iceberg.

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Stacey's big brother Cam trying to dump the kids off the top lol...

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Here he is with his boy Zach in his cool little pool floaty... I do believe this doubled as Cam's floaty after one or two beverages poolside lol...

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The lunch buffet at the World Cafe was always fantastic! To be honest the food throughout our stay at Dreams was terrific.

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Our nieces and nephews posing at lunch...

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Missing from this picture unfortunately is one special little girl who I haven't been able to introduce yet because up until this point I didn't have any good pictures. While we were away this past year, Stacey's big sister Kara and her husband Mike had their four child and third daughter (the teen years will be fun in the Mountney home lol) and we were so elated to finally meet her! Meet Jordyn everyone!

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The resort also featured quite an array of wildlife. Not quite safari calibre but pretty cool nonetheless. There were always a few crazy peacocks around cleaning up room service plates on the balconies.

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There were also crazy huge tarantulas everywhere! No one managed to snap a pic but I did see one of those peacocks attacking one and eating it. It made the nastiest crunch noise! Pretty gross. The resort also had a flamingo pond with coy fish and turtles.

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The night before the wedding things were fairly tame... for the most part anyways lol. That didn't stop me from busting out my impressive Japanese cooking skills though.

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And finally the moment we've all been waiting for. The proverbial 'Big Day' lol. It almost felt surreal to have finally reached this point in our long journey but I guess that's why they say time is relative... this whole year now feels like at was mere days. Early that morning Stacey and I parted ways and the girls went to get all dolled up at the salon and spa.

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We actually both had quite busy mornings because not only did we have to get ready but we both also had to write our vows. Talk about leaving it till last minute lol. But that's okay because I know they came from the heart... awwwghhhh lol.

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Getting ready was a lot of fun and I don't imagine we could have surrounded ourselves with a better group of people that day.

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On another note... what the heck's with wedding jitters? Lol I rarely get nervous in my life and for some reason that day I could hardly bare it. Sick butterflies all day. Thank God for my Groomsmen!

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Lol... that photo was staged but that's honestly what I felt like. I guess it's a pretty normal thing because after the ceremony Stacey said she felt the same way all morning.

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The weather in the Dominican was gorgeous and hot all week. The perfect weather for a great holiday... but NOT great at all for donning a suit. I didn't even want to get dressed until the last minute because I knew my shirt would become drenched. Once again thank God for my Groomsmen!

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Thanks for taking care of my sweat stains Justin! Your the best lol. And honestly how lucky were we to have a photographer in the family! Cam brought all his equipment along and shot the most amazing pictures all day. Most of what you see on this post was shot by him, specifically the wedding stuff so if your in need of a stellar wedding photographer just shoot me an email for his contact info. For more wedding photos scroll down to the end of the blog... they look so good that I couldn't resist (this post was around 150 photos... hope I don't crash the site lol).

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The setting...

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The groom... looking quite suave I might add in his custom Vietnamese suit straight outta Hoi An.

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My last walk as a free man lol. Don't my parents look fabulous! My Dad wore a do-rag cause he was having a bad hair day lol.

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My best friend Mike big pimpin' down the aisle with Stacey's two beautiful sisters Kara and Jana (I still can't believe they even let this guy get on the plane outta Canada lol).

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My best friend Justin with Laura...

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My big brother Romney pitchin' tax cuts to Stacey's baby sister Courtney...

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And who could forget the two adorable little flower girls Sadie and Brooklyn.

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And here was my first view of the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes on...

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Escorted down the aisle by proud parents Randy and Carolyn.

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I'd lying if I didn't say it was quite an emotional moment lol, but a perfect moment nonetheless.

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Exchanging our vows...

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And sealing it all with a big smooch!

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Ladies and Gentlemen... I present to you Mr. & Mrs. Warren!

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Just a perfect little ceremony... thankfully it wasn't too long because that suit was HOT! After only 30 minutes outside my shirt went from white to transluscent lol. Immediately after the ceremony we geared into picture mode because there wasn't a lot of time until our dinner. *More Wedding pictures will be down at the bottom of the blog*

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After a terrific photo shoot the 'real' wedding began. I say this because I know the cast of characters we chose to speak at our dinner... in saying that I mean that there was never a dull moment. Right from the get go a dynamic unstoppable duo formed with my brother-in-law Mike as Mc and my best bro Jordan laying the beats.

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I nearly pissed myself when Jordan played the Cheers theme song after Stacey did a toast to her sister Kara because we got married on her birthday lol. Mike telling his story about how we became friends...

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I believe at this point Mike (oh by the way our wedding had 3 Mikes... Crazy Mike, Brown Mike, and well, just Mike... he works at a jail so maybe it should be something bad-ass like Jailhouse Mike lol... I'm sure he'd love that) was doing his introduction of the wedding party, or better known as 'The Roast Of The Wedding Party' minus his wife Jana of course lol.

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Grandma Braaten with the two new grand-babies...

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Cam and Jannelle having a good time...

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My favourite Fort Mac people. Cheers guys!

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Stacey's God Mother Wanda, her sister Gail and Stacey's uncle Barry and aunty Vicky...

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Don't you just love the girls matching dresses Grandma picked out...

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Now as memory serves me I probably delivered one of the most epic best man speeches of all time at my brothers wedding two years ago. Needless to say I knew his speech was going to be sweet redemption... just like my stag outfit...

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Kudos Bryce cause you pulled it off. There's no need to go into details because it would be impossible to explain, but you nailed the key ingredients: 1) I was truly embarrassed 2) Everyone was laughing hysterically including myself 3) And you managed to croon a verse of Rod Stewart lol

The toasts from the parents...

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Stacey and I saying our 'thank you's'...

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Time to cut the cake...

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Mmmm... cake...

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Our first dance...

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Let the dancing begin!

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All the resort staff said they have never seen a wedding party that pumpin'. Everyone was having such a blast that we extended the dance as long as we possibly could. We rocked it until they basically had to shut us down because it was too late lol.

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Well now that all that wedding jazz is over with let's get back to the pool and celebrating.

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Heidi and Mel making us laugh!

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Water balloon fight anyone??

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Lol look at Steph's facial expression. My guess is she smoked a little kid lol. Nice shootin'!

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There was honestly never a dull moment the entire week at the resort... especially for us. When day dreaming about this week while travelling we always kind of thought that it would be overwhelming seeing everyone at once. But looking back at it now, it actually wasn't overwhelming at all. In fact it was just what we needed. Words can't explain how great it was to finally be sharing stories with old friends, or having dinner with our family, to just being silly with our nieces and nephews down on the beach.

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Other people such as my folks Lyle & Darleen chose to embrace the premium beach beds overlooking the Caribbean.

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As did baby Zach...

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While some like my niece Caitlin stuck to suntanning...

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I believe the resort featured five different al la carte restaurants which were all really good but because of our wedding package on our finally night in the Dominican we were treated to a romantic dinner on the beach.

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And that concludes our time in Dreams Punta Cana! After indulging in one final breakfast we set off to catch our plane back home to Canada. I suppose this spelt the end of the vacation and back to reality for some people, but for us this would be our first time setting foot on Canadian soil in 372 days.

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Let's finally head home...

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Well it pains me to say it but that's it guys. This will be our final blog post and I must say it has been fantastic having people follow us on our storybook journey. We initially wanted to do this as a way to stay connected with our families and to maybe give them a better idea of what we were seeing and experiencing, but ultimately it turned into so much more. I still can't believe that some of our posts have received well over 2000 hits! I can't even name 100 people I know who read it. On numerous occasions I was asked questions from random readers and additionally the positive feedback has been overwhelming. Probably one of the more touching moments for me was learning that my aunty Marlene has turned it into a book that she constantly updates and brings to my Grandma so she can follow our exploits as well. Four volumes worth I believe lol! We've had to say a lot of good byes this past year: to good friends we met while travelling (you know who you are and we will forever feel blessed for getting to share in those beautiful adventurous moments with you). To all the amazing countries and regions we visited... and more importantly to the backpacker lifestyle. Yes there were times that we were tested and pushed to our limits and now after being home it would be hard for me to again give up my pillow-top, bed-bug free mattress lol. But I must say, in this last year I have never felt more free in my entire life and I think a part of that feeling will remain with us forever. And finally good bye to this blog. Make of it what you will but it has been my job for this past year even though I only had to show up to work every 3.4 days lol. I hope that it has been as entertaining to read as it was to live (except for maybe getting robbed in Thailand or having surgery in Kenya lol). I can still remember setting up this page and getting to the part where you need to come up with a caption to go underneath the heading and I remember thinking, 'write something that relates to our goals for this trip'. "Expanding Our Minds & Our Outlooks On Life"... I remember thinking 'God that sounds corny', but it grew on me because it was honest and that was exactly what we set out to do on this trip. Both Stacey and myself are nothing but humble for getting to live this life and thank you all for being such a big part of it. We love you...

Blair & Stacey Warren

As promised here are a few more wedding pictures...

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Posted by ttbwarren 30.10.2012 18:59 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

Machu Picchu

The Last Big Ticket Of Our Epic Journey

sunny 18 °C

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My apologies guys that this one has taken so long to fire off but it has been an extremely eventful and exciting couple off weeks. We successfully made it to our final destination of the Dominican Republic where we were reunited with family and friends and finally after knowing each other for 11+ years got married! Mr. & Mrs. Warren are proud to announce that the wedding was indeed a smashing success and I can't wait to share our final blog post with you. I am merely waiting on the arrival of some pictures from different sources to better help capture our overall experience.

As you know when we last left off we were in Cusco, Peru and on our way to visit one of the New Seven Wonders Of The World (our 4th and final one of our trip... + the Pyramids, but they technically count it as an Ancient Wonder Of The World - the only one left standing). Believe it or not the journey to Machu Picchu from Cusco is actually quite complicated. Below Machu Picchu lays the town of Aguas Calientes (a town built solely for the purpose of tourism to the "Wonder") which is only reachable by train, so you can probably already guess that the train companies just hose tourists to get there. From Cusco it roughly costs tourists $300 (round trip) depending on availability, BUT if you take a bus to Ollantaytambo (1 hour away from Cusco by bus) you can buy a round trip backpacker ticket for $80. Guess which option we chose lol?

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Of course to get there you drove through the Scared Valley. My first time seeing it (above picture). Once in town we checked in at the train station and waited for the next leg of our journey.

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Still can't believe the size of my cousin Cassandra's pack lol. Size/Capacity - Canadian: 90 litres Peru: 3 Alpacas

The train was pretty fantastic and since our travel agent butchered our booking we were upgraded above basic tourist class and received a few extra perks.

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For whatever reason Aguas Calientes receives quite a bad wrap in both travel literature and within backpacker circles... yes there are WAY too many pizza joints and flycatchers on the street but it's pretty hard to beat the scenery since your completely surrounded and dwarfed by mountain peaks. To be honest the surrounding mountains reminded me a lot of China's Li River area.

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That night we were all pretty tired and I'd be lying if I didn't say slightly hungover, so we indulged in pizza early (damn fly catchers) and got some much needed rest.... yep you gotta be up at 4:15 sharp if you want to catch the first bus up to Mach Picchu!

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Us in the bus line up at roughly 5:00am. Now I know what some of you are thinking "with all that grand hiking experience why didn't you climb to the top?" Do you remember several posts back? We made a pledge after the Colca Canyon to never hike again lol. We could of and should of but to hop a bus to the top for $4 and not arrive all sweaty and exhausted was more important to us (trust me... we arrived at the top the same time as other people that had hiked it and they were steaming in the cold air dripping in sweat.... and don't even get me started on this one guys swass stains.... PLEASE PEOPLE NEVER HIKE IN WHITE PANTS... nasty).

The road going up/down...

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After hopping off the bus it was just a short climb to the ultimate lookout point - The Guard House.

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Views of the surrounding mountains... check out our Li River post and judge for yourselves the similarities.

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Here it is... our first view of Machu Picchu. Words could never explain what an awe inspiring moment that was for us. Truly amazing.

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I often wondered after looking at the pictures how the grass got cut...

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The alpaca's just roam around freely minding their own business while constantly being harassed by tourists... yes I was one of them lol. On that note I truly thought that the amount on people at Machu Picchu would be out of control. At times it did seem a bit much (mainly when it opens) but the site itself is huge and by mid-day you can feel as though you have the view all to yourself. And besides it is one of the New Seven Wonders Of The World... it's not like they're gonna be fighting to sell entrance tickets.

A view from a bit higher up...

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Machu Picchu is literally built on the top of a mountain (2430m) and although it is widely debated as to 'why' it was built, it is generally accepted that it was built around 1438-72 by the Inca emperor Pachacuti.

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After the view from the top we hightailed it over to another close by sight - the Inca Bridge.

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The bridge itself is barricaded off to tourists but we did see one guy cross it... pretty risky cause it would be one heck of a fall. Somehow we managed to convince Stacey to pose for this next picture... less then one foot behind us was a 2430m drop down.

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Backtracking to the Guard House... up this high the weather can change in an instant.

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The actual Guard House where you get the best views...

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I think one of the main reasons why Machu Picchu is so beloved and famous is because you can take it all in (almost) at one spot. Of course all ancient ruins around the world are amazing but Machu Picchu is built atop a mountain and again, to add to it's magnificence you can see the whole city from your very own perch at the Guard House. The other thing that both impressed and astonished me were the many terraces carved into the mountainside.

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That's the Guard House above and when we arrived we all decided to park ourselves out on one of the terraces pictured above and just relax and take in the view... we may have had a little nap too. It was hard to escape the peaceful energy surrounding the site.

I'm King of the world!

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After spending several hours of basically just gawking at the ruins we decided to finally venture down and explore them. You could tell that quite a lot of work has gone into restoring and preserving the site, but I really liked that some of the buildings were thatched while others were not and left in the state that they were "re-discovered" in.

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As with most ruin sights the size of the stones used is mind boggling... it would take a hell of a lot of alpaca power to hoist those blocks lol.

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Here are a few more views of the many terraces (one of the theories as to why Machu Picchu was built is that it was an agricultural experiment).

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The terraces run down the mountain pretty much all around the city...

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As always Stacey found some pretty flowers (she's gonna be one hell of a little gardener soon :) )

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What archeologists think was a temple inside the city (can't remember the name... to many names this year... and languages lol)).

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The inner part of the city... looking at these pictures makes me honestly think that everyone in Canadian suburbia should just recycle their lawnmowers and buy an alpaca. Cut/Fertilize/Family Pet... and if he does a bad job... dinner lol. What? Alpaca steak tastes pretty good.

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Posing inside the city...

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Here's a picture of a fairly typical building within the city. Obviously it would have had a thatched roof.

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Of course being on top of a mountain there were plenty of stairs to contend with.

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My research on Machu Picchu was lacking during our visit and I asked the question 'why was the site built here?', to which our travelling historian John replied 'because there is a natural spring on top of the mountain'. Damn... someone did there homework lol. And we found examples of the spring and water system throughout the city. Although we never could locate the source of the spring itself (it was roped off to tourists).

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Another view of the city...

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You know the mountain you see in the background in all my pictures? Well that's called Huayna Picchu and there are actually ruins located on top of it... and terraces. They only allow a certain number of people a day to climb it, it's expensive and obviously fairly strenuous to climb. Using our zoom lens you get a pretty good picture of it from afar. Can believe that the Incas were farming the terraces way up there?

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We ended up spending nearly 12 hours on top of Machu Picchu and by 4pm were exhausted. The 4:15am wake up combined with all the walking and altitude had wiped us out and we made our way back down to Aguas Calientes to partake in a much deserved beer and game of Jenga (what a great game lol).

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That night after dinner we caught our train back to Ollantaytambo where, long story short, we were stranded for several hours due to taxi shortages (oh the joys of backpacking). We did eventually manage to wrangle one up however after several hours of patiently waiting and finally make it back to Cusco. Lesson learned... always travel light lol... I still can't believe the size of that pack Cass!

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And that concludes our travels in Peru and South America. The following day Stacey and I flew to Lima, spent one night near the airport and then flew onward to the Dominican Republic, whereas Cassandra and John spent one more day in Cusco and then flew the following day to San Jose Costa Rica. Can't wait to see the pics guys!

So before I sign off here's a map of our journey throughout Peru:

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Once again a lot of km's covered but well worth it. We were sad to leave our new travel companions behind in Cusco after having such a blast and at this point I think it really began to sink in that our epic journey was coming to an end. It's really hard for me to explain what was going through our heads cause on one hand we were both super excited to be reunited with our family and friends while on the other hand we were both kind of mourning the loss of this past year. We knew that time would inevitably fly by but here we were... mere days away from our reunion and marriage. What an amazing year... we both feel so lucky and blesses and I'm so glad I got to share it with you. One post left... the grand final... Ciao.

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Posted by ttbwarren 07.10.2012 08:25 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Cusco

A Week In The Inca Heartland With Our New Travel Companions

semi-overcast 18 °C

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I am extremely excited to announce that I am writing this post to you from the Dominican Republic... OUR FINAL DESTINATION!! Yep our last country of the trip and only days away from the big reunion and less then a week away from the 'big day'. Crazy... we talked about it a lot during our flight today from Lima and it's pretty hard to wrap our brains around... but enough about that... I don't have a North American plug for my Macbook and I only got 68% of my battery left so I gotta get this one finished quick (lost our charger in South Africa so now we have a Europe one).

From Nazca we took a night bus and arrived in Peru's tourist capital early in the morning. We were both pretty excited to relax and explore the town in preparation for the arrival of our new guests. We found ourselves a hostel close to the heart of Cusco which is the Plaza De Armas. No shortage of churches here...

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Quite the picturesque city set in the valley. Cusco sits pretty high up too (3400m) but thankfully by this point we were quite used to the altitude (unless your faced with stairs lol... cause those still kick you in the ass!)

But finally after two days of killing time (mainly in markets and coffee shops... I can't get enough of good coffee after all the Nescafe I've ingested lol) our guests arrived early in the morning (6:30am) and we're pretty damn exhausted after their long flights (awake for 30 hours plus... yep that sucks!). But they were both troopers and came out with us for breakfast and to explore the town.

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My cousin Cassandra and her husband John. We both can't stress enough how great it is to have travel companions. Yeah!!! We have other people to talk too lol. Trust me it is so exciting to have other people join us on our travels and have them see and experience what we are backpacker style.

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Some of our first views out and about... we even got to watch some type of parade/ceremony.

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The most scared rock in Cusco... can't remember exactly why but one reason was because it has 16 sides... the rest I forget lol.

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John trying coca leaves for the first time... you gotta get a pretty big wad in your mouth for it to go numb.

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I know... lets make John do everything cliche in his first few hours lol. Coca leaves... check. Alpaca hat...

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They are soft and warm but I'm pretty sure he won't be wearing one of those out to the lease anytime soon lol. So we booked into a hostel that is pretty notorious for it's party scene but which also has some amazing views of Cusco. Stacey and I went to check it out a few days earlier and the manager showed us around and booked us a deluxe suite for Cass and John... the downside... a big ass hill...

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The picture doesn't capture it all but trust me, at that altitude it was a bitch! The hostel was a pretty cool building in of itself also. 300 year old mansion...

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Cass and John's room that had a 300 year old mural on the wall...

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And the epic view from their bathroom...

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After a good first night of partying (Loki Hostel was pumping and the LaGreca's are troopers lol) we took Cass and John to a local market to do a little shopping and to see all the classic market sights.

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In that last picture notice the green bags of leaves in the right corner? Those are coca leaves and they sell those bags for about 1 sole. Remember kids (this is from my trip to the Coca Museum in Bolivia) it takes 18kg of leaves to make 4kg of base (crack) and 4kg of base to make 1kg of cocaine. That's a lot of little green bags lol. The market also featured a butcher or several butchers... this always makes for some fun pics lol...

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Yum... this is what we were served in Bolivia during a bus ride... is it stomach or intestine? I'm still not sure...

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Trust me it smells as bad as it looks... but tastes neutral lol. Peru does however really have some amazing food and dishes. One of the national specialities and my personal favourite is called Ceviche. Raw trout cured in lime, garlic and onions. Delicious!

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Another Peruvian specialty (and one we're learning to make when we go home) is a type of potato cake (you'll see in the pic what I mean) but I can't remember the name...

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All it is is layers of potato with chicken and avocado salad in the centre, garnished with olives, avocado and mayonnaise. Devine. Another simple but tasty dish that is often placed on your table before the appetizers is just roasted corn kernels...

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And finally how could you travel to Peru without trying it's most popular specialty... Coy... or in english the guinea pig lol... Bon appetite.

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Your probably thinking what I'm still thinking... where's the meat? Ya well there isn't much but it was pretty tasty. We were even treated to live music throughout dinner. Those guys had the ladies just dancing away with their pan flutin' beats...

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Time for some excursions... Stacey and I have just been dying on this trip to do some rafting and unfortunately due to some bad weather amongst other things, we were unable to up to this point. Luckily Cusco has several nearby rivers and a few reputable rafting companies, so we booked in for a days trip of white water rafting.

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Here's a picture of our starting off point...

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This was both Cassandra and John's first time rafting so we were both pretty excited for them to get a taste. We both just love it and always recommend and rave about our experiences on the Kicking Horse River in B.C. The river near Cusco featured a bunch of class 3 rapids and loads of great scenery. Our team...

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Let the rapids begin...

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The river was a lot of fun as was our guide. At one point he even maneuvered the raft so we could sit in this rapid and surf it with the nose of the raft. A lot of fun but my God that water was cold!!

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Our guide definitely made the trip cause he was always moving the raft this way and that to get us wet and scared...

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At one point we even got to stop and all the guys did a cliff jump into the river.

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There were quite a fair share of rapids the entire stretch of our run which lasted around 2 hours.

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Our end point where we stopped and had lunch.

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Okay so what kind of a trip would it be without a little drama? Unfortunately Cassandra and John had to experience it but hey it did all work out. What happened was because the only way to reach Machu Picchu is by train and because said train is extremely busy in high season (our summer), I had to book both our entrance tickets and train tickets in advance in Arequipa to secure our spot on the exact day we wanted. Well... the travel agent I used seemed pretty reputable (office in the heart of downtown with loads of foreigners popping in and out) and booked us both bus tickets and our Colca Canyon trekking but he had promised to deliver us our train tickets to Cusco... this was the problem. He initially promised to have them delivered the day Cass and John arrived and they didn't come. I emailed him. He responded saying they'd be two days late. We went rafting. They didn't arrive. By this point we basically had one days leeway to receive the tickets or find other options. Other options were not an option for me since I already paid the loser $640! Ya... cause for concern and I wasn't about to screw up Cass and John's trip either. So unfortunately I had to bite the bullet and skip out of the following days festivities to deal with deuche bag travel agencies. Basically what happened was that I kept sending this guy emails and he would either reply 'don't worry' or wouldn't reply at all, and then I would call him demanding the tickets or at least an address where I could pick them up in Cusco. To this he would again just say don't worry, and 'I have no office in Cusco', and 'they arrive the night before'. Needless to say I got worried and ended up going to every train office in town (3) and checking if there were tickets registered to my name (I had to send him copies of all our passports weeks before so he could book us the tickets). Well guess what? No tickets!!! Yep... very worried that we just got robbed. The only reason I bought tickets ahead of time in the first place was because they can sell out... a point he kept reminding me about when I paid him weeks ago!!! So the day before we're slated to leave I ended up going to the iPeru office (a government agency that acts as a mediator between travel agents and clients) and got the lady to call him and tell him I'm going to the police unless I get my tickets now. Well all of the sudden yes he does have an office in Cusco and I can pick the tickets up right now. And I did... when all I wanted to do was go back to Arequipa and strangle that cock sucker (pardon my language but I'm still upset). Why I'm so upset... because I had to miss out on an entire day of sightseeing in the Scared Valley to deal with bullshit. Oh well Machu Picchu was WELL WORTH IT! But these next pictures will lack a lot of insight because I wasn't there :(

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Views of the valley from the bus tour...

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Before lunch the gang had a stop at a local market...

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Apparently the house they eat lunch at was quite beautiful. The buggers actually tried to down play the lunch and say I didn't miss out on much... Awwgh they love me.

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I guess there was quite a lot of wildlife there too...

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Cassandra trying to pet a sweater... I mean alpaca lol.

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Parrots...

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The tour also included a stop at a local corn brewery. The three amigos got to try corn beer and strawberry corn beer...

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Next was a stop at a guinea pig farm... ya these guinea pigs aren't sold as pets... the look tasty lol.

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Stacey's favourite... flowers...

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I guess the gang also met an Austrian couple on the bus who brought along their own home-made brew... Yummy!

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The day tour also featured a stop in Ollytaytambo which is the starting point of the Inca Trail (the main tourist one anyways) and features several Inca ruins as well as some very famous terraces. I did get to see the town the following day on our way to Machu Picchu and it was gorgeous.

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Views from up on the terraces...

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You see this not just at Ollytaytambo but at all of the Inca terraces... stairs.

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The last stop of the day trip was at a different ruin site which was actually torn down by the Spanish (you damn Spaniards and your plundering lol) and was used to build churches... like this one.

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Remnants of the ruins (not sure of the name... wasn't there :( lol)

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That's all I got for Cusco and the Scared Valley. Up next our second last blog post... can you believe it!! But we're saving the best for last... Machu Picchu! Trust me you don't want to miss this one cause it didn't disappoint one bit! I'm still amazed by those views! But first I got to make it to our resort. One last bus ride tomorrow and possibly a little hitchhiking and BAM... travels are finito. BUT we are finally reunited with my brother and his family and we both finally get to meet our new little niece Sadie who just celebrated her first birthday! This is going to be one very exciting week!

Posted by ttbwarren 22.09.2012 15:58 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Nazca

Our Flight Over The Mysterious Lines

sunny 22 °C

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Back again after a fantastic week in Cusco with Cassandra and John! It felt so great to once again have travel companions joining us on the other side of the world. What a riot! Before Cassandra and John arrived in Cusco Stacey and I made a pitstop in Nazca to take a flight over the very mysterious Nazca Lines. It was no small detour (15 hour night bus from Arequipa) but we both thought that it would be a must see. Like many other people I'm sure, the lines have always intrigued me and I have often wondered why they were made in the Peruvian desert.

We arrived in Nazca early in the morning (which is supposed to be the best time to fly) and quickly headed to the airport, found a company ($90 each) to fly us over the lines and then headed back into town to catch a few Zzzz before the flight (it was kind of hazy in the early morning so our flight was delayed 2-3 hours). After a hour nap we were picked back up at the hotel and driven back to the airport for our flight.

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Realization quickly set in that we were flying in a small 6 seater prop plane... by far the smallest plane either of us had ever flown in! Hope they got barf bags!

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Our pilots...

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Take off!

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Our first views of the area surrounding Nazca... was pretty lush at first.

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But shortly after take off we flew over the near by desert and the view of the many lines started to take shape. The first shape we saw in our 30 minute flight was of a whale...

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Pretty cool huh. The desert that contains the lines is immense and probably the most under rated thing about the lines is in fact just the regular lines and triangles. They're size completely dwarfs the other pictures. Hard to imagine people slaving away in that heat to make a bunch of pictures and things that they can't even see. Oh how they were made? By removing the top layer of red rock to expose a bottom layer of white rock. How they mapped out the pictures and shapes and why? Your guess is as good as mine.

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By far the trippiest one of them all... the man/astronaut/alien... very creepy.

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The whole flight is pretty calculated and fast so it consists of a lot of banking left and then right. The pilots obviously gotta make sure that each side of the aircraft gets to see each different line... this leads to almost everyone getting sick lol. No puking for us though... the other couple with us... not so lucky lol. Here's a pic of the flight path...

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After the alien (that's what I think it is lol) was the monkey... one of the bigger ones.

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...followed by the dog...

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Then the hummingbird. Each of these gets pointed out to you by the co-pilot over the radio. These pictures were shot with a zoom lens so they look pretty big. It would have been hard to pick out a few of these shapes if it hadn't been for the co-pilot pointing them out. Your up there pretty high. And without a decent zoom lens your pictures would be pretty crappy and minuscule.

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I believe this next one is of the condor.

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And here's a view of the albatross. It was hard to get him in one shot because of his long neck. See how many other shapes and lines are scattered about! It's amazing...

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Next up was the famous spider... because of the curved lines I would have to assume that this would have been a harder one to make.

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Here's an example of a less popular image or at least one that I never knew about... hands.

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'Hands' posed a lot of questions for me, like the obvious 'why does one hand have five fingers and the other four?' And 'what's with the weird thing/guy they're connected to?' Very odd...

Also another great underrated one was the tree...

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And the last one of the flight was of a parrot... hard to see much resemblance there but if that's what the professionals say then it's a parrot lol...

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Here are a few shots of a highway below running through the desert just to give you some added perspective.

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Our dinky little wheel on our dinky little plane... I'm still amazed at how small the plane was and that it's size didn't even bother us. I thought it was a pretty smooth ride. Okay... by the end I was getting a little bit queazy lol.

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Views heading back over Nazca...

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After touching back down at the airport we headed back into town to purchase our bus tickets for the evening. YES!!! ANOTHER NIGHT BUS! MY FAVOURITE!! The reality of this one wasn't so bad... It was the last bus of our trip (the one in the Dominican doesn't count because it only 4 hours lol... that's our reality). But because it was a night bus we had to kill the day at our hotel.

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Not a terrible looking place and good price too.... except for the fact that the lobby couch was covered in bed bugs lol. I know disgusting lol. Stacey was sitting on it using the computer and felt something crawling on her lol. Serenity now, serenity now... almost home lol. At least the bus didn't completely disappoint even though they promised meals and WIFI and of course it had neither... classic tourist flycatchers lying to you...

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Sunset in Peru from the bus window...

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And that's it for Nazca. Took a lot of busing to get there but looking back it was well worth it. We were both pretty happy that we got to see such an ancient mystery. And how could you forget that plane ride! All and all it was an incredibly unique experience and worth all the hassle to do it. Next up I'm gonna share with you our time in Cusco. And don't forget I got one big ticket sight left to share... Machu Picchu baby!!

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Posted by ttbwarren 21.09.2012 12:50 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Colca Canyon

The Hike From Hell...

sunny 22 °C

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The Colca Canyon... I know I've been hyping this one up a bit but trust me that what I tell you is no exaggeration. The Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world (averages around 3400m deep) and depending on the information source it is often cited as the deepest. It is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon although its cliffs are not as steep, and it is the third most popular tourist destination in Peru. So, what the heck did we think we were signing up for?

We left Arequipa at 3am to start the drive 3 hours north west to the small town of Chivay where we had breakfast before continuing on towards the Cruz del Condor - a popular tourist stopping spot to get a glimpse of the Andean Condor.

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Yep... that is one big ass canyon! At this point we both felt completely up for the challenge (even looking down towards the bottom and knowing we would eventually have to ascend)... we're experienced hikers right? We've conquered some decent climbs/hikes. We were about to meet our maker lol.

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Our first hour or so of descent down to the canyon floor was breathtaking (both from the altitude and views lol). The size of the canyon is mind-blowing and there was a pretty diverse flora and fauna (desert, crazy rock formations and oasis' at the bottom of the canyon).

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The weather started out perfect in the morning but then it got really hot due to the blistering sun. We dressed according to cool conditions and the sun beating down on our backs made the steep walk down pretty painful at times. What also didn't help matters was the dust (the trail was bone dry and beaten to hell from all the donkeys that transport supplies on it) and because of these conditions we were quickly running low on water. The other thing we were clearly not prepared for was starting off hiking at a decline since all of our previous hiking expeditions have been incline first. The Colca Canyon's steep, dusty decline just beats the hell out of your calves and knees and after about 2 hours of it we wanted nothing more then to reach the bottom and cool off in the river.

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Some more views of the hike down...

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The view after around 3 hours... this shows you just how steep it was...

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So close to the bottom... we could see the bridge and water.

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Finally the bottom! We both quickly darted to the river, cooled down and soaked our feet. After only 4 hours of hiking we were tired and our feet were completely blistered (all the downward pressure was on our big toes so they rubbed pretty hard in our shoes).

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This best thing to do in that situation is to keep going... lol like we had any other choice... couldn't exactly set up camp at the bottom. And besides, we had another 5 hours of hell to go until we reached our hostel.

Our guide showing us how they use the red dye from the cactus plants to make paint...

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Probably the hardest thing about hiking the Colca Canyon were the constant ascents and descents. Example: Once we reached the bottom we had to climb up the other side to reach a village where we stopped for lunch. Then we descended down again to the river and followed it for a while. Then we climbed again to reach another village. Repeat, repeat, repeat lol.

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Stopping for a water break at roughly our 3-4 ascent. By this point we were all exhausted. The interesting thing about the villages in the Colca Canyon is there are NO ROADS. This means no vehicles of course... so how the heck do the people get all their supplies and goods in the villages? The answer: they either use donkeys or walk... just like us. This meant that a bottle of water was 3 times the price. Can't imagine building a house... how many donkey trips would that take?

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A church in a different village... we told everyone in our group about our up and coming nuptials and they all thought we should practice lol.

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Another ascent...

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Finally!! We had reached a point where we could view the oasis that held our hostel (and it's magical swimming pool).

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But to reach it we had to descend to the river and then climb back up to the oasis... do you see what I'm getting at here? Even when we seemed close to the end we were still hours of calf burning hiking away... it was one hell of a mind game. I kept trying to distract myself with the views but it was just so exhausting.

Down to the final bridge...

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And don't forget the other psychological factor we had to contend with... the hike back up!! Oh yes... and it was in plain view to see above the oasis.

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No chairlift, bus, car or plane to bail us outta this one... just two feet and heartbeat.

At last we reached the oasis and checked into our room. It was basically a thatched shack but it had a queen sized bed that my body was just aching for.

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And probably one of the coolest swimming pools I've ever seen...

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The hotel grounds were pretty refreshing after the long dusty hike...

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We both jumped in bed after our swim to warm up and as you can imagine were out cold in a matter of minutes. Thankfully we woke up in just the nick of time to catch dinner and then go right back to bed lol. It's a pretty sobering thought knowing that we had to be up again at 5am to start climbing out of the hell we had just climbed into with little rest and no breakfast (ya no breakfast... it was at the top of the canyon!!). Not a great thought to have in the back of your mind while going to bed... didn't matter much I guess... we were so dead tired we were out the second we hit the pillow.

The next morning we started the hike just as I said... 5 am and on an empty stomach. Not to be a hater but two people in our group from Spain totally pussed out and rented donkeys to make the trek back out. I really wanted to throw rocks at them as they rode by on their sweat drenched donkeys smiling away lol... bastards.

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The hike back out looked the same as the hike down and we were both too cranky to stop and take pictures. My God... what a great relationship team building exercise lol. We both had a few breaking points where we cursed travelling, hiking, mountains etc and whined about wanting to be home lol. It was the hardest thing either of us has had to do in our lifetime... no joke. We were so sore from the day before and tired (3am wake up followed by a 5am)... not to mention hungry. We both knew that when we eventually did reach the top we would be elated and rewarded with a vast feeling of accomplishment. BUT IT TOOK FOREVER lol. Four hours of pure incline later and we arrived!!

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Group photo at the top... the donkey pussies were NOT included lol.

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I couldn't resist this photo op...

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Two little Peruvian girls all dressed up with their llama. I gave them a few soles and snapped away.

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Donkeys geared up in town ready to make the long journey down to the villages...

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Our tourist bus in town...

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After the mornings gruelling hike we still had a long day ahead of us. We made quite a few stops along the way back to Arequipa, the first of which was at a view point to see the vast expanse of terraces inside the canyon.

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Our second stop was my favourite... the Chivay hot springs where we were given a hour to soak and relax our throbbing leg muscles.

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The last pit-stop of the trip was at a tremendous volcano viewing point... 6000m peaks in every direction.

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And that concludes the hiking segment of Blair & Stacey's World Tour... for good lol. We actually laughed afterwards that we would never hike again. Even Machu Picchu we vowed to take the bus lol. But in all seriousness the Colca Canyon was just a super difficult hike and one I would have a hard time convincing myself to undertake again. I think we both again found another new appreciation for the Canadian prairies lol. Don't get me wrong the canyon itself was nothing but spectacular and absolutely worth seeing with your own eyes. Just do yourself a favour and give yourself at least one more day to relax by the pool in the oasis... or cop out and rent a donkey... your choice.

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Posted by ttbwarren 18.09.2012 11:36 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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