Escape • Explore • Enjoy

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

Tag: Travel (page 1 of 17)

Colca Canyon – The Flight of the Condors

Our pick up time was anywhere between 2.45 and 3.00 am.

We were also changing hostels on our return therefore, it was a 2am get up, showered, dressed and pack in readiness.  We were the first pick up by the mini-coach and was fortunate to get the seats right behind the driver.  By the time we exited Arequipa bound for Chivay, the van was full with different nationalities – Polish; Russian; Welsh; and Italian.

Everyone dozed, except the driver.  Other tour company’s shared the road at this hour too, all heading for the same destination.  It’s was a 3.5 hour drive and as the dawn broke to gain traction, the terrain was that as if we were on the moon – undulating and baron.  Not ugly but a funky attractive.

It was the first time that we had seen an active volcano in the distance bellowing cloud to form a haze on the horizon.  Stopping at a viewing point, it was still below zero because we had ascended to just under 5,000 metres.  Arequipa lies at 2,330 metres.

We have never seen an active volcano before.

Could be the moon landscape.

A sharper view of the Volcano smoking.

As we browed over another extinct volcano rim, we got our first glimpse of Colca Valley, the deepest gorge on the planet – twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.  At the very bottom slicing a path, the Colca River and, one of the sources of the Amazon.  The valley and its summits attracts adventurists whether it be hiking, mountain climbing, river rafting, or mountain biking.  We too left our scream after the reason we had made the journey to it.

To experience a viewing of the Condors.

Colca Valley, the deepest on the planet.

We still had some ways to lose height; pay the entrance permit fee and stop off at Yanque, one of the Colonial-era villages dating back to the 16 century, for the all included breakfast.  Communities here are pre-Inca descendants and still preserve ancient customs and distinctive traditional dress.  Solar heating systems on roof tops certainly a modern day improvement.

As we steadily climbed some more to where we again disembarked the coach, we were joining the hordes of others at the Cruz del Condor.  The man-made terraces far below made the landscape have a ripple effect.  It wasn’t too long, and then there they were, gracefully flying the thermals of Colca Valley.

The valley of the ripples.

They are the second largest bird in the world, to the New Zealand Albatross to give you an indication of their wing span.  They hugged the cliff soaring without as much of a flap, criss-crossing backwards and forwards.  For the numbers of people sharing the experience, there was bugger all volume coming from the crowd.  Only when a couple flew close over head did everyone in unison mutter the ‘owwwwwww’ sound.

The show went on for a good fifty or so minutes before the earth had warmed enough to have them climb higher up into the sky, making the photo opportunity more technical with our point and shoot.  Didn’t phase us, we were just happy to have watched them do their thing.  We got our bang for our 2am rise and shine.

The flight of the Condors.

Re-tracing back down the mountain, the next stop was some hot pools to have a soak before lunch and then our return ride home.  The question was posed by the tour guide, “Anyone up to try zip lining across the valley?”  Total zip line distance, 1,050 metres.

As the shackle was hooked onto the line, the go-pro was activated.  There was no count down, just a push and then the “whaaaaaahooooooeeeeeee.”  It was an adrenalin rush.  Claire followed after some encouraging motivation by the tour guide when she went to get back into the coach deciding not too.  The expression on her face when she pulled up after crossing the openness was priceless.  She had enjoyed it more than she thought she would.

The 2nd part of the Zip Line and Thermal hot pools below.

During 1995, on Peru’s second highest peak Mount Ampato (6,310m), a sacrificed Inca maiden, known to the world as Juanita, was discovered frozen – mummified.  It was one of the most important archaeological finds of the last few decades in the Americas.  You can google her story.

But don’t just google the Condors.  Come and experience them in the flesh.

A sacrifice out of anyone’s life agenda worth taking.

Whilst the bodies still can and, we still have our marbles.

The long road driven.

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.

Ground Shake

The shaking lasted for about two minutes.

It was just after 4am and we both came too simultaneously.  Naya came down from her upper level. We were already five floors up.

And we were spooked not having a damn clue whether it was a pre-cursor to a larger one or whether it was the major one and that there would be following after shocks.  It would be fair to write that we panicked and got dressed, stuffed stuff into backpacks and were happy to vacate the building.

A simple message on face back about it being a bit of a ground shake and we were able to learn from friends back in NZ that the quake epi-center was near the northeastern border between Peru and Brazil – 248 kms to the north of Puerto Maldonado.  Thank goodness the 7.1 magnitude was deep.

Shallower and it would have been a different blog narrative, if any at all!

The building codes here are – well, there aren’t any.  And by the many types of exposed construction sites on the go, it isn’t hard to imagine the consequences if the later had occurred.

The building we are staying at – on level 5

We wondered how the overhang was costructed!

Fear and anxiety don’t just abate because the sun comes up.  It stayed with us for the remainder of the day.  Getting out for a walk helped somewhat.  So too did cooking tea for Naya, Bronte and the two new airbnb arrivals Ejler and his mate Juan.  As did the bottle of red (Brent) and Russian Vodkas (everyone else) and, the karaoke and dancing around the apartment until they (Naya, Bronte, Ejler and Juan) decided to go out.

The San Sebastian Condor monument

The San Sebastian Condor monument is massive

Dinner with Claire, Bronte, Juan, Ejler and Naya

Not us oldies.  We had a cup of tea, watched some YouTube music to settle the nerves before hitting the fart sack.  But do the nerves ever settle?  Over time perhaps.  Perhaps not.  Holding a tarantula was enough to give the heart extra palpitations!  Add the fact that we are going to Puerto Maldonado to do it after Machu Picchu skips one or two now we have had the ground shake.

Life has to go on.

Notwithstanding, cheers to all those who sent “stay safe” and thinking of us messages.

They were comforting and, certainly helped.

Sexy Woman

Naya’s relations turning up was the alarm clock we needed to rise and shine after hitting the sack at some ungodly hour of the morning.

Surprisingly, we awoke with no hangover considering all the abuse we had given our bodies over the past 60 hours – jet lag, altitude, coca tea, forgetting undies, pisco sour, Alpaca and dancing like no one was watching!

It was Naya’s actual birthday and they had turned up with a Pineapple cake to share and, cooked us another local dish of chicken, stuffed chilli,  and yuka (a potatoe root from the jungle).

A couple of young Canadians rocked up for the airbnb hospitality in-time and “happy birthday” was sung again.

The remainder of the day was spent recovering, napping and, mapping out the next days activity – exploring Cusco.

The next day, Bronty escorted us to her favourite eating place for our second breakfast.  We didn’t give it a second thought as the day of exploration involved a bit of ground under the boot soles.

Sidewalks and roads are cobbled and rubbed smooth from the centuries of wear.  We happened upon the spot where thousands of pics have been snapped, the Inca stone with twelve sides.  The craft of yesteryear at how the Inca people mastered the art of construction is mind boggling considering how old the architecture is.

Care was taken as we navigated the narrow sidewalks.  Size of midriff does matter as to who gives way.  Being mindful of the traffic is also important as a wing mirror can easily bruise a butt cheek or groin.  Depending on the direction of the vehicle.  Smaller steps were taken so as to ascend the step upward direction we were stepping.  Breathing became rapid.

Cusco is just an unbelievable crisscross maze of streets and alleys.  As is the wiring to electricity and the many different establishments standing shoulder to shoulder.  Signage dangled from above.  Hawkers peddling their wares for a sol or two were temperamental compared to Thailand – they weren’t in your face.

We wandered through the old quarter of Cusco, San Blas with colonial houses built with walls of Incan stone.  Up up up we went.  The orange half round shaped roof tiles became more prominent and widespread, as far as the eye could see.  Bronty’s escort transitioned into accompanying us as it wasn’t her intent to have joined us on our little meander.  She was quickly becoming familiar with what a ‘Ruru’ meander was, inspiring her with “one more set of steps”.  We reached a point where she said “stuff it, we might as well go to the Sexy Woman” … it was always our intent, we just hadn’t communicated such.

They refer to the site near the big Jesus statue with arms extended overlooking Cusco (a smaller version of the one in Brazil) as the Sexy Woman.   It’s real title is Sacsaywaman.  And, the view standing under the big J of Cusco was just spectacular.  Just a sea of orange.

Returning back down, we descended down steps with a larger gradient than on the way up.  Some of the residences certainly were shanty type abodes.  Walls made of mud; roofs held down with blocks; washing hanging from anything as long as the sun’s rays could be absorbed.  Being grateful for what we have at home wasn’t hard to swallow.

We were soon back in the Cuzco city centre, the Plaza de Armas of Cusco.  It used to be the Inca Empire capital before the Spanish conquest.  They basically decimated any remnant of the empire to re-construct the circumference with temples, churches and mansions.

Today, tourist restaurants, jewelry shops and travel agencies occupy the lower buildings. Cafés and bar the upper.

We rested the legs rehydrating above the multi-cultural crowds.  Children in school uniform dotted the plaza and we made the decision to walk home.  Bronty continued to accompany us, versus taking a taxi.  Still holding confidence in my ability even after my map reading had us back track a couple of streets a couple of times!

We arrived home having explored.

But it didn’t stop there.  We ended up going out for a cheap and cheerful dinner with Naya, Bronty and the Canadian lads Adam and Nick.  Then Naya drove us up to the Big Jesus again to view the city at night.  The colour of orange glowed from the city light noise.  And it was just as spectacular as the day light view.

Cusco is a city to be placed on your list of destinations to visit if thinking about pointing your nose towards South America.

Whether to holiday or … to live!

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.

Remember the Carefree Days of Youth?

Playtime is not only for children.

What Will Be Your Life’s Items To Be Placed on Your Casket?

If you ain’t going dream it – design it and go do it, then what items will you place on your casket to represent your life’s passions? Some words shared after conducting a funeral earlier in the day …

ANZAC Day, New Zealand – We Commemorate Those Who Fought For Our Freedom

Today here in New Zealand, we commemorate those fallen soldiers who fought for our freedom in global conflicts throughout history. Called ANZAC Day, it stemmed from the campaign during WW1 on the shores of Gallipoli, Turkey. Brings back memories of us walking the 370kms to Gallipoli from Istanbul to attend a dawn service there back in 2011.

Today though, it was one here in our home city of Christchurch.

The sound of the bugle being renditioned always has the hairs on the back of the neck stand to attention.

Then, making the most of the autumn day, it was a walk along the beach, a little adventure that is free.

Perhaps because of those that fought for our freedom.

So, lest we forget.

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