Escape • Explore • Enjoy

While the bodies still can and we still have our marbles!

Category: Experiences (page 2 of 30)

Sandoval Lake, Puerto Maldonado – Into The Jungle We Went – Part 2, The Caiman

The little shack was cute.  It was equipped with coca cola and water and the local Inka cola which tastes so much like the creaming soda we used to get as a treat growing up as kids, for special occasions like birthdays or Christmas.  Bags of nuts and chip were also on offer.  We weren’t tempted – just more weight to have to carry if consumed!  Instead, consuming water from our own supply was smarter weight apportionment.

A lizard scurried across our pathway we had trodden; too fast to capture a picture.

It was also the swampy spot where we climbed into a long canoe.  Alex centered us in the middle and he took a position at the back.  Stability balance was critical to stay upright and dry, especially when he gave a couple of back paddles to become afloat.  There were no life jackets nor safety brief neither – just the great Trip Advisor write ups about Alex being an excellent guide to the many who have gone before!  It was enough to be trusted.

Canoe dock.

Up the canal we go.

The small canal was no more than two canoes widths as Alex paddled softly.  Palm trees towered overhead and foliage skirted the lower waters edge.  He stopped suddenly to say, “Caiman, to the right”.  Both our heads swiveled in unison with eyes staring.  We had no idea what the hell we were looking at, expecting to see one bathing on the muddy swamp shore except, we couldn’t see anything all whilst Alex swung to point the canoe in it’s direction.  Crap, I was on the right side of the canoe and still, couldn’t see what he was seeing.  I moved closer to Claire that made the canoe wobble!

Alex slowed and then said “there, the two eyes are poking just out of the water”.  With focus, we too saw it.  Jeez Alex had sharp vision to spot the thing from the middle of the canal.  The canoe was pushed a little closer.   There was a stare off.  It was a small one but it’s body was under the water for us to tell.  Alex back paddled and we were moving again up the canal.

Alex has spotted a Caiman.

A little closer, now can you see the eyes?

Look closely, now can you see the eyes?

A second one was sighted and glared at before we reached the main water expanse of Lake Sandoval.  Wow, it was just beautiful.  The heat was up but we didn’t mind with the awe, as Alex shouldered us around the shore.  We ducked through a second canal way before some distance was made to reach a small jetty.  Ripples ringed the water continuously as fish jumped.  Smaller ones probably trying to escape the bigger ones because it was dog eat dog in the jungle.

Just about to exit the canal onto Lake Sandoval itself.

Turtles sunbathing.

Open water.

Lushness right down to the waters edge.

Tall palm trees ringed the entire lake.

Sleeping bats.

We disembarked and clambered up a pathway to thatched roof buildings.  One was an open dining area, bar and kitchen at the back, and bunk rooms along side; the second one was a fully enclosed room and, our bedroom for the next two nights.  Entering, instant look upwards to the roof exposing the weaving wondering if the fly spray being carried was going to be enough!  Mosquito nets over the beds, sweet.  It had it’s own toilet and shower meaning no traipsing across the landscape to the toilet once the electricity was turned off.  Shit, I would have adopted peeng immediately outside the door like the gals back on the first night of the intrepid trek if that was the case.

Lunch was served up in a banana leaf – chicken and rice with an olive and whole egg, it was yummy.

Our accommodation.

The view of the lake from our room.

Our bed with mossie net safety.

Lunch served in banana leaf.

Enjoying our lunch.

Day trippers frequent the place for their lunch as well so we had some opportunity to chat.  All the hammocks hanging from the trees were full as people escaped the mid-day sun.  Alex gave us some time to chill before we were head back down to the canoe for another paddle around the lake to watch the sun go down and then go Caiman spotting some more.

For the parents of the babies we saw earlier!

How does one rest up with those thoughts playing silly buggers with your mind?

Afternoon siesta, not graceful but off the ground!

Puerto Maldonado

Getting food poisoning on an adventure is always an adventure within itself.

And that is just what happened the day after we arrived back at Cusco after Machu.  Within four hours of eating at a local food market … a vegetarian dish; we both simultaneously started the many steps to the toilet.  Claire with simultaneous pukes and squirts; me with just the squirts.

Biggest concern, running out of loo paper!

We let nature takes it’s place (within the toilet bowel) and we timed it to start taking the ‘Ciproflax’ medicine to knock the bastard on the head.  It meant the next day sleeping it off and, postponing our overnight bus to Puerto Maldonado to the following evening so as to allow the health to improve.

A better view of Cusco versus a toilet bowl.

The bus station was absolute madness and chaotic with people everywhere.  Counter staff from competing bus companies shouted out the destinations for waiting passengers to hear the call and then there was bedlam as everyone hustled towards the gate to board buses.  It was like froth from soapy water going down a plug hole.   We joined in the fracas.  Extra shit paper in our carry on – for that just in case back burp mistake.

It was a ten hour trip and there were lots of swaying as we rounded corners to descend from the altitude.  Felt more so in the seats of the bus because they sit a fair way from the ground. We managed to doze until a lady a couple of rows back puked.  A child sharing a seat cried.  We didn’t need our toilet paper, amen.

When sunrise appeared, there was lush of green everywhere.  We had entered the fringes of Amazonia.  Hanging a left off the main road tar seal, we were on a dirt road.  Could this be right?

Sure enough, it was.  They still have dirt roads in Puerto Maldonado.  We pulled into the back of the bus station, collected our belongings and exited into a large area that was similar to the one we left.  Except all the companies were silent because no buses depart at the hour we arrived.

We had booked another airbnb for two nights and the host was going to meet us.  We had arrived early and so we sat and patiently waited, hoping we had got it right.  A lady approached the desk of the company we had used and so we stood.  She turned and then held up a sign.  Arrr, relief to read the words ‘Brent Ruru’.  There was a greeting in both pigeon English and pigeon Spanish as the hosts spoke just as much English as we did Spanish.

The bridge over the Madre de Dios River.

A mural respecting the McCaw Parrot.

Only the motorbike driver needs to wear a helmet by law!

Wearing jandals on a motorbike just fascinated us!

Back at the host’s place, we had wifi to use the ‘tradactor’ app that allowed us to write and be translated.  It’s how we communicated for the whole time we spent at Salvit and Cesar’s.  And although a little older than us, they welcomed us as if we were their adopted kids coming home from a holiday.

Cesar’s face appears on billboards all over Puerto Maldonado as he is standing for local elections that are being held in October.  It wasn’t until after the jungle and booking an extra nights stay that we learnt how serious it can be to try to fight against corruption.

Salvit helped us source a local tour company to take us into the Amazon jungle.

Sharing a tuk tuk in Puerto Maldonado – on the way to book a jungle tour with Salvit, our airbnb host.

Yes, we all squeezed in the back!

Brazil is only 325 kms away in that direction … and the billboard features our airbnb host Cesar.

Cesar to the left of pic.

Three days and two nights with 80% deet repellent and a can of fly spray.

Did you know Caimen’s don’t give a damn about stuff like that.

Again, we carried extra shit paper. For us!

No words necessary!

The Mighty Inca of Machu Picchu

The Incas hid Machu Picchu so high in the clouds that it escaped destruction by the empire-building Spaniards, who never found it.  It was rediscovered in 1911 by Yale archaeologist and historian Hiram Bingham with the aid of a local farmer who knew of it’s existence.

Our excitement escalated as we joined the stream of others about to board a bus to be driven the winding switch-back road to it’s entrance.  The drivers must have done a heap of kilometres in both up and down directions because they drove the coach like being on a race track, throwing the rectangle box around the corners, adding to the adrenalin.  Sometimes there were guard rails on the outer road edge.  Sometimes not.  Up towards the last remnants of morning mist we went.

Joining the stream of people in the que started the excitement feeling.

Looking towards the valley peaks from Machu.

Waiting for the toilet because once inside the ruins, you have to squeeze your cheeks together until you exit.

Once through the entrance formalities, there it was … the mighty Incas Machu Picchu.

It’s unequaled aura of mystery, magic and wonder was right there before our eyes.  It left us way more awe struck than anything else we have ever experienced.

The throngs of people that were there also, didn’t phase us.  Everyone was respectful to give way when photos were being taken.  The place is tightly monitored with control wardens so as to minimise deviating off the path to follow and, it was only one way traffic.

Frank our tour leader, found our group a spot to just sit and find fulfillment overlooking the rows of granite stone ruins.  As the ball of yellow rose higher, it methodically illuminated aspects of what remained of a remarkable civilization landmark.

Overlooking Machu Picchu.

Looking back at Machu from the another angle.

After taking a short walk to an Inca bridge that was hugging the side of a cliff face, we left the group to explore Machu Picchu on our own.  Words are hard to find to describe the feeling.  Perhaps best summed up that we have adventured to some spectacular places on this planet … journey and destinations.  Sometimes it was the journey that was the memory.  Other times, it was the destination.

Walking the to Inca Bridge.

The Inca Bridge.

Today, we can say that the Machu Picchu journey and destination went hand in hand.  Or one step in-front of the other.  An emotional place on the planet that will make you cry.  And that, is what it should do.

We did.

We re-grouped with the intrepid’s to board the coach for the drive down.  Sometimes silence was stronger than the combined chit chat of what was just experienced.  It allowed for folk to be at peace and perhaps pay homage to the lost ghosts from the mountain top.

Exploring Machu Picchu.

Looking back up the mountainside to our initial viewing spot overlooking Machu.

How the grass stays trimmed.

We re-traced our travel back to Cusco by train and coach, arriving into the city under the cover of darkness.  A splash of water, some fresh clothes and a little lippy before going out for a departing meal with people who were total strangers only a few days before.  It was like we had known each other for a life time.

Who knows if we will cross paths again in the future.

What matters more was that we got to share the Quarry Trail Trek, a snippet of the Incas and Machu, with fellow beings.  Perhaps they too have rediscovered a new liking for wanting more of what they experienced for the first time.

Escaping, exploring and enjoying.

The jungle now beckons, where the monsters live!  And a different kind of emotion … eeeeeeeeeeek!

Just taking it in … with a tear.

Choquetacarpo to Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes

Early morning sun on the top.

Taking a stroll before breakfast, looking towards Waqay Wilki.

It was the same routine as the day before with the wake up call, pack up and breakfast.  There was more dampness on the inside of the tent from condensation.  It makes the getting clothed even more faster so as no moisture touches skin so as to send a silver down the spine.  Nor make a whimpish noise!

We said our ‘gracias’ to the horsemen and cooks as we bid them farewell.  Their roles had come to an end. As we started our way down, one of the newer younger horsemen was sent running down the hillside in the same direction, trying to round up and corral the said horses back to the camp base.  They roam free after they do their job and one couldn’t but smile at how they were taking the mickey out of the runner by teasing him at going in all sorts of scattered directions!  How he manages to do it is share skill, technique, expertise or the fact, that’s what he gets paid to do it.  Poor bastard.

We have never seen horse meat on any menu neither!

The Quarry Trail is named for the quarry that was used to source the rocks to construct Ollayantambo Inca back in the 15th century.  They were just clever people who used stone age tools to manufacture the block sizes they did, and then methodologies to haul the chunks down the mountainside, across the river and then position them into the structures of the ruins we are just spell bound by, today.

Quarry Trail quarry where the rocks originated for the Ollantaytambo Inca contruction.

And those who perished on the quarry terrain were sent off into the after-life with respect as we deviated off the trail to enter a tomb and see skeletal remains.  We acknowledge the sacred place by blowing three times on some cocoa leaves and placing them beside the bones.  There was some spiritual being at peace with sharing in the ritual and made the trek very grounding.

Even if we had to get the altitude part out of the way first, we wouldn’t change the trekking route.

A Quarry Trail tomb.

As the valley floor patchwork became larger, so too did the heat of the temperature increase.  Insect repellent was added to sweat and trail grime to layer up protection from the beasties that like the blood vino.  It worked.  There was also more varieties of cacti too.  We often stopped at old buildings abandoned to ponder it’s history.  There was no rush.

More tombs.

The varieties of cacti got more.

The valley floor patchwork gets larger.

Back in Ollantaytambo, we raised our glasses with a celebratory beer as we ate our boxed lunch, prepared by the cooks way back up the mountain.  We also met up with Marty the Irish trekker who started out with our party and separated to do the true Inca Trail.  A bout of food poisoning meant returning back to Ollantaytambo to wait out the condition.  The Inca Trail would have to wait for another time and he had recovered enough to join us for the last part of the trek where it was meander down to catch our train to the last stop Aguas Calientes and, the base of Machu Picchu.

The hour and a half of clickety-click snaking alongside the Urubamba river wasn’t without fascination.  The terraced landscape held us again in awe.  How did they do it?  Eucalyptus trees were introduced here from Australia during the 1900’s and have now taken to the parched lands like a weed.  Except, they were welcomed shade spots during the trek up and down.  Now they too shouldered the banks of the river.

Urubamba River towards Machu Picchu.

Terraces along the Urubamba River.

Condensed and surrounded by sheer walls of vegetation cliffs, the town was alive with life.  Half a soccer field being used for football; the other half with dances practicing to beating drums.  The thud’s echoed.  But not enough to drown out the buzz of the people.

And, it was just buzzing.

The train station at Aguas Calientes.

In the middle of Aguas Calientes is a soccer field.

How is this for scaffolding to repaira bridge?

Intrepid Day 4 – Rayan to Choquetacarpo

Sunrise on the Quarry Trail Trek

At 5am came the “Senor Ruru, Senorita Ruru” wake up call.  With it, a cup of cocoa tea each.

Appearing on the eastern horizon, a streak of crimson orange and, the start of a new day.

We had 30 minutes to dress and pack.  Another hearty breakfast before water bottles were topped up.  It was a little coolish however, care needed to be taken so as not to layer up too much because you had to carry what you wore when the sun shrunk the shadows and you shed apparel.  Another lesson taken for the newbies.

The ascent was again straight up.  It was tough going, even with more stoppages to suck the air to oxygenate the lungs.  Accompanying us this part, was an emergency horse for that just in case moment someone needs the four legged ambulance.  One of the US ladies was hoisted up into the saddle.  There are no heroes on this type of trek and putting your health first is definitely paramount.

On the way …

Danielle making use of the emergency horse.

Here comes the horse troupe.

Soon, the horse troupe passed us again.

There was more climbing, stopping to rest, and more climbing.

Then at 10am, we stood on top of the first pass Pucapujaccasa at 4,400 metres.  The view of the snow-capped mountain range was breath taking … on top of the being breathless!  The mountain that was prominent (5,570metres) is called in Spanish – Veronica. Or it’s traditional name, ‘Waqay Wilki’ and means ‘Sacred Tears’.

One of the ladies from the Bronx, New York burst into tears.  These moments are the ones that are the priceless enriching ones.  To share the moment with someone who has embarked on an adventure that was way beyond their everyday life paradigm.  We hugged as we steered at the Waqay together.

Pucapujaccasa Pass at 4,400 metres. Waqay Wilki in the background at 5,750 m.

We trekked a little further to our lunch stop where the tent was set up and a cooked meal served.  They were just remarkable fellow beings making it as easy and enjoyable for us travelling beings as they could.  Especially when they had to de-camp and get down to our next camp site at pace to set up before our arrival, like the day before.

Lunch spot ahoy!

But before we started our decent, we summited a second Pass – Kuychicassa at 4,450 metres and the highest point of our trek.  Again, just spectacular 360 degree views with red iron mineral laden peaks; wild horses every now and again raising their heads to stop and gawk; fauna accustomed to the baron cliffs; and Waqay Wilki from a different angle.  We could see the yellow line of where the campsite was … but the steepness and rocky terrain meant a further two hours of trekking to reach, stopping at the Intipunko sun gate on the descent down.

Look guys, more trekkers!

The colour of iron sands.

Walking down off the 2nd Pass.

Down some, then traverse the next ridgeline to the sungate, then it’s down to the yellow tent line.

The cliff face of the 2nd Pass.

Looking back up to the 2nd Pass.

The campsite, looking down to Ollyantaytambo.

This was the longest day walking and certainly stretched the mental states of most.  We could see Ollantaytambo below.  It lit up as daylight faded.  Dinner was served and gobbled.  Bed beckoned quickly after.

Cripes, we hadn’t even gotten into our sleeping bags before the person in the next tent to the left was snoring.

Yep, remember Bronte who purchased the chocolate condoms!

Intrepid Day 3 – Ollantaytambo to Rayan

Driving to the starting point had us maneuver up an undulating road under repair.  The drop off was significant however, the driver was gentle to ensure nerves were calm.  Not too sure if the padded roll bars would have made any difference tumbling down a mountain side, should we have gone over!

As we unloaded the mini-coach, the horse troupe, horsemen and a couple of cooks approached.  On the Quarry Trail trek, we only carry a daypack.  All the other equipment was carried by man’s best friend.  A couple of foals accompanying to get their education and training for when they become of age.

Some of the equipment to be carried – kitchen and dining tents … and chairs to sit on

As they were getting loaded up, we started our walking, upwards.  We learnt when we climbed Kilimanjaru that when ascending at altitude, you need to take smaller steps than usual versus what one is used to taking at sea level.  They called it ‘pole pole’ (or pronounced ‘polee polee’).  We weren’t concerned that we were at the back of the pack.  Newbies would soon learn to adjust or, exhaustion tiredness and catching the breath would eventually present itself.  It didn’t take long.

A farmer was preparing his field using oxen towing a wooden plough.  There is no machinery at this height.  Ironically, two school children overtook us going to school.  Now their voices were amongst the ones heard in session repeating what was being taught aloud as we arrived at the school to take a break.

It wasn’t long after we started again that the horse train also overtook us.  With all that they were carrying, they made it look so easy.  The odd call from the horsemen keeping their momentum going forward.

Farmers readying the land for planting.

Rest break at the school … the childrens play equipment

Here comes the horse train carrying the equiment.

And their goes the horse train.

Ruins higher up came into focus as we neared.  Before that though, we got to feel the spray of Pilcobamba – a water fall that cascaded out of a crevasse of rock.  A little further up, an earth viewing platform allowed us to sit on it’s edge and ponder at what had been trekked.  Another couple of farmers and Ox we passed were now in a field way below making plough lines.  Jeez, they just get on with life without fuss or complaint here.

The view up to the Q’orimarca ruins, the waterfall below.

Onward we go …

Pilcobamba waterfall.

A rest stop at the earth viewing platform.

We reached the Q’orimarca ruins at 3,600 metres and spent some time here to hear about it’s history.  We welcomed time off the soles of the boots to rest the bodies.  The newbies to this type of trekking were doing extremely well – they had left their comfort zones way back at the mini-coach.  And now the farmers looked even tinier dots.

Just about at the Q’orimarca Ruins.

Checking our the ruins.

I started to get a headache.  Arriving at our campsite, I popped half a diamox tablet which is for altitude sickness prevention (and cure).  It abated.  The horsemen had set up camp with a separate dining and kitchen tent and our tents, where it was our first night to be experienced under canvas.

We made the most of the remaining sun, exposing skin to the sun’s rays.  But as it disappeared behind the mountain top, layers of clothing were applied in preparation for the drop in the thermometer mercury.  We ate an amazing three course dinner before heading to the sleeping bags and shut eye.

When taking diamox, you have to increase the water intake by double.  Getting up every two hours to pee is what you do.  It was a clear night and I got to see the moon cross the night sky.

One of the ladies from the States further along the tent line, also had to get up during the night to relieve herself.  Except she squatted immediately outside her tent entrance versus a metre to the front or side.  Can you imagine the ruckus from her fellow American tent buddy having to also get up and pee, only to stand bare feet in the map of Michagan pee stain on the ground getting out of and into their tent!

But not finding out she had done so until the next morning!

Hahahahahah, the lessons we take when we step outside our comfort zone.  Or tent!

1st Campsite at 3,750 metres.

Intrepid Day 2 – Cusco to Ollantaytambo

This tiny frail looking lady who was well weathered and wearing traditional Peruvian dress greeted us off the mini-coach.

Strewth, for someone who was 90 years of age, her vice grip was strong as she walked us into a fenced off community compound area.  We danced to the beat of the beating of drums and tune from a flute.  We were dressed up in traditional woven wears as well, before we introduced ourselves – name, country of origin, age, married or single.

The grip on this 90 year old was strong.

The community compound at Chinchero.

Wearing Peruvian dress attire.

It was a great opportunity for Claire and I to practice our Mihi in our native tongue, Maori.  We translated it into English, before it was translated into Spanish.  Our group was taken to a field to help with the pulling of weeds.  Who would’ve imagined getting dirt under the finger nails?

Back within the confines of the compound, we had a fantastic demonstration on the wool fibre from the Alpaca and traditional methods used to colour the different spools.  As we were served lunch (potato soup and rice), the grass we danced upon was set up like a flea market in the hope we would depart with some of our ‘tourist dollars’.  Perhaps a hat; cardigan; bracelet or socks.  Don’t worry, if you didn’t have cash – credit card was accepted.  You just had to climb a flight of stairs up onto the roof top to get the mobile eftpos machine signal.  This was, halarious.

Demonstration on how to colour the wool.

The different coloued spools of Alpaca wool.

They took visa, just had to find the signal.

Back on the mini-coach and the next stop had us excited at the awe of the mountain range in the distance.  Cautiously shuffling towards the edge of the flat ground we had parked up on, we could make out the township Urubamba deep below.  We were at 3,705 metres in altitude.  Referred to as ‘The Sacred Valley, it looked mystical and enchanted.  We were nearing some of the finest Inca ruins in all of the Americas where the Incas built several of the empire’s greatest estates, temples, and royal palaces.

Urubamba township, down there

At 3,705 metres

We arrived into the tongue twisting town of Ollantaytambo.  Temple ruins rose up with dozens of rows of stunning steep stone terraces carved into the hillside.  The architecture was both forbidding and admirably perfect.  It is thought that the complex was more a citadel to the Incas versus it being a temple and was successfully defended in 1537, against the Spanish.

We did do a walkabout, but not up onto the ruins themselves.  The water way construction and some doorway features fronting residences were also remnants of a by-gone era.

The ruins at Ollantaytambo

An Inca doorway

The Incas were smart with how to construct water races

Grass growing from electrical lines.

One in the group kept another cuisine delicacy alive and ordered up guinea pig for her dinner.  There were mixed emotions about it being presented whole – head, ears and, charcoaled feet!

No, it wasn’t Claire.

But apparently, it tasted like chicken.

Cuy or, guinea pig.

The Kiwi Backpackers Whose Travels Have Inspired Them To Downsize Their Lives

The below editorial featured in The Press ‘Escape’ section on the 12 July 2018, written by Lorna Thornber.

Cantabrian couple Brent and Claire Ruru had been living in Dubai for two years when they decided they had too little time left on the planet to waste it wearing themselves out in the corporate rat race.

They had moved to the United Arab Emirate after raising their children and building a successful childcare business in Christchurch, but their new lives amid the shiny new skyscrapers of the desert city felt about as authentic as the snow on the ski slopes in Dubai Mall.

Brent, 52, says of his senior management role developing policies and procedures for a global logistics company: “I was driving to work in a square box, looking at a square box to generate square boxes for a bunch of squares.”

A year in, Brent was sure this wasn’t the way he wanted the rest of his life to unfold. Claire, 48, who had initially struggled to find work and had finally secured a role with the New Zealand Consulate, felt they should stick it out a bit longer.

Brent and Claire enjoy multi-day tramps in New Zealand in between overseas trips.

A year later, in 2011, they’d sold the furniture in their apartment to their landlord, shipped their sentimental possessions back to New Zealand and left for Turkey with just a couple of backpacks.

The plan was to hike from Istanbul to Gallipoli (their travel style is probably best described as free-spirited, shoestring-budgeted and slow-paced), walk famous Spanish pilgrimage trail the Camino de Santiago and trek to see critically endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda before returning to New Zealand. When a friend joked that they may as well climb Mt Kilimanjaro as well, they decided to take him up on it.

The couple hope to walk the Camino de Santiago trail again in their eighties after being inspired by a couple of Australian “grey nomads”.

“It was very impromptu and before we had researched any facts about it being at altitude. All we could imagine was standing on the rooftop of Africa,” Brent says.

Friends told them they were mad for choosing to walk from Istanbul to Gallipoli, where Brent’s poua (grandfather) may have fought in 1915, when it was just a five-hour bus ride. But the couple saw it as a good way to transition from life in the fast lane to a more comfortable, contemplative plod.

The intention was to walk up the motorway toward Gallipoli and hang a left when they could to follow the Marama Sea coastline the rest of the way. They’d only taken about a dozen steps when Brent says they began cursing, “asking each other who’s bleeping idea it was and saying “jeez our packs are heavy”. I was carrying 19 kilograms on my back and six on the front; Claire had 17kg on her back”.

Arriving in Silivri – a city on the Marmara just outside metropolitan Istanbul – three days later, the pain in their upper thighs was so acute they believed it was no longer purely muscular, but skeletal.

At the end of the cycle portion of their journey along the Camino de Santiago.

“I couldn’t walk for the next two days and honestly believed our trip was over before we had barely started,” Brent says.

They laid out all their worldly possessions on the bed at the hotel that had fortunately found room for them and threw out everything but the barest essentials. It was, Brent says, the beginning of an ongoing mission to live simpler, less materialistic lives.

They walked through raw countryside dotted with villages where men sat outside drinking coffee and smoking while the women worked the fields, staying in cheap digs they came across along the way.

“Every now and then wild dogs would approach. The walking stick became our only defence, wobbling it around like a taiaha. And screaming loudly to scare them off. It did.”

In Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls.

There were a couple of incidents that riled them (they discovered they were staying in a brothel one night and Claire narrowly avoided a snake bite on her nether regions after venturing into the bush to pee) but they arrived in Gallipoli certain they had made the right life choice.

They did as all Kiwis do in Gallipoli, sleeping at Anzac Cove and attending the dawn service.

Brent’s journal entry that day was a poetic tribute to his poua:

“Although we never met, I know who you are,

My grandfather who went to Gallipoli, a land of distance far.

We came to see for ourselves, where you spent some fighting time,

To expose ourselves to history, and imagined how you shined.

The walk was hard and challenging but we made it all the same,

It was the least one could do, to honour the family name.

Anzacs are spoke of highly, so we commemorate and remember you.

From all the Ruru whānau, as they stand proud too.”

At the end of their reverse journey along the Camino de Santiago.

They had expected the Camino to be more of a physical adventure than a sentimental or spiritual one but Brent says the centuries-old trail seems to exude a “spiritual ambience”.

Walking from the village of Roncesvalles to Pamplona, of Running of the Bulls fame, they were surprised by how little their fellow “pilgrims” knew of New Zealand – and how quick they were to claim their countries did things better.

“Territorial banter is quick to assert world dominance status,” Brent says. “People from above the equator think we live upside down below and a number think we are a state of Australia and have no cars and ride horses. But it became more bull… banter after a day or two, taking the p… out of each other with smiles and laughter..”

In this way, he says, they became firm friends.

Off to see the critically endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda.

In Pamplona, the couple switched their hiking boots for bikes, arriving in Santiago de Compostela, where biblical apostle St James is said to be buried, after 16 days. Still having “ages” before they needed to be in East Africa, they decided to head back the way they had come on foot so they could run with the famous bulls.

By this stage, their backpacks weighed 7kg each (although Brent carried an extra 3kg on his front) and they were feeling lighter in more ways than one.

“This became foundational to us embracing the minimalism culture and led us to mapping out living in a tent on our eventual return home,” he says.

One day, they came across a young American woman who was dreading returning to her routine existence as a hairdresser. As they walked, Brent inspired and persuaded her to quit her job and start up her own business in Spain.

Seeing how humans had encroached on the gorillas’ habitat in Rwanda inspired the Rurus to volunteer at an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo.

“She went to the nearest town, purchased some scissors and for five months walked up and down the Camino trimming pilgrims’ hair. All because we had that one conversation… We just never know how [a conversation while travelling] might turn out.”

It is conversations with strangers that give Brent the greatest pleasure while travelling.

Chatting to the porters, clad in jeans and business shoes, while climbing Kilimanjaro, the couple discovered they were fascinated by the All Blacks and held ex-player Jonah Lomu in particularly high regard.

“When they found out I could do the haka, I was asked to perform it every day after dinner,” Brent says.

Brent was asked to perform a haka on Africa’s highest peak.

His final performance took place at the summit and, once they were back down, he says the porters, whom he’d been teaching the moves, “performed a native song and haka in response.

“Those are the experiences that bring a tear to the eye when you reflect on them, long after the goodbyes are said.”

Their eventual return to New Zealand brought mixed emotions, including renewed gratitude for their homeland.

“We have a paradise in the left-hand corner of the Pacific”, he says, which allows you to lose yourself in its “playground topography”.

Brent and Claire prefer to live cheaply so they can spend longer on the road.

However, he says they experienced a kind of “reverse culture shock”, feeling that they had changed fundamentally on their travels whereas some they knew had simply aged. Things they had once deemed important, and others still did, no longer seemed to matter.

Determined to continue living more simply, they secured a permanent site at Christchurch’s Spencer Beach Holiday Park, pitched a family-sized tent and furnished it with a leather couch and TV set. Worried the water that pooled inside the tent during heavy rain would wreak havoc with the electrics, they soon upgraded to campervan, which became their home for the next four years.

“Our backyard had a beach, our lawns got mown for us; it felt like we were on holiday and we made friends with other permanents and outsiders who camped at the park,” Brent says.

An illustration by Brent of the couple’s caravan setup at Spencer Beach.

While some told them they were crazy for giving up their life in Dubai to live in a caravan, Brent says “the number of people who have communicated that we have got life sorted has grown markedly. Crazily in fact.”

These days, the couple live in an 80-square-metre “over 60’s unit” that’s so cost effective they’re able travel overseas regularly. Brent has retrained as a celebrant and does freelance illustration work, while Claire has become a contract bookkeeper – jobs that enable them to pack up and leave whenever they like.

Since moving back to New Zealand in 2012, they have volunteered in an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo, trekked up to Mt Everest Base Camp, ridden cross Canada on a tandem bicycle, staged a mutiny on a Cambodian cycle tour when the organisers asked the “impossible”, watched the sunset over the Temples of Bagan in Myanmar, released baby turtles into the surf in Sri Lanka and followed the Te Araroa Trail around the North Island.

Wearing New Zealand-branded tops while cycling through Canada scored them multiple impromptu homestays, Brent says.

“We are just a couple of baby boomers who have worked out what matters most and are chasing it,” Brent says. “While the bodies still can and we still have our marbles.”

His advice to others considering a similar lifestyle: “Commit to going for it, cost it out travelling budget style, save hard, go do it and repeat. The rest will fall into place.” That and “bugger the Joneses”.

Chew It, Chew It, Chew It

CHEW IT, CHEW IT, CHEW IT

Cycling the length of New Zealand to raise money for a stranger on a hospital waiting list.

Written and illustrated by Brent Ruru.

 

Finished the manuscript to the next book, illustrations in progress. Thought I would give you a glimpse as to the story captured, weaved and hopefully, not to long before ready to share.

INTRODUCTION

“Bite off more than you can chew and then, chew it”

There were two details I remember.

Cameron our son stating the sentence and, what was said.

“Wouldn’t it be cool to cycle the length of New Zealand.”

It was 2004. He was fourteen at the time.

I had just finished reading No Opportunity Wasted written by Phil Keoghan and was working on identifying my eight steps to getting the most out of life, as challenged by Phil. Thanks to Cameron, the Test Your Limits step now had a purpose. And meaning.

Cycle the length of New Zealand to raise money for a stranger on a hospital waiting list.

That’s it.

Decided.

Writing it down made it official. It gave it substance. More so, a focus.

Naturally, the voice on one of the shoulders was having a great time playing on the thoughts that we were biting off more than we could chew.

However, the other voice on the other shoulder was equally whispering, “chew it, chew it, chew it!”

When instinct pushes us to explore, we push boundaries outside ourselves; when we test personal limits, we push boundaries within us.

And so, we did.

Chew it.

All the other details are captured as follows.

Whatever your boundary, push beyond it.

The chew is worth it.

 

Beyond Vision Loss

Claire and I recently signed up to volunteer for the Foundation for the Blind and, take visually impaired members out for a ride on the back of a tandem.

Our first ride had us pedal a ‘stoker’ (that’s what they call the pillion passenger) from Lincoln to Little River, on a dis-used converted railway line connection, now a cycle rail trail.

My member had never ridden a tandem before, let alone the distance being approx. 44 kms one way, and so was absolutely thrilled to make it the whole way.  A grin of achievement – a grimace of a sore bum however, it was worth it.

Claire’s member rode both to and from Little River meaning over 80 kms on the bike seat.  So did Claire actually making up the tandem numbers!  Her member was as equally euphoric.

I rode the tandem bike back without passenger for moral support.

This would have to have been one of the best micro-adventures we have ever involved ourselves with.

To enrich.  To be enriched.

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