The Gappies

So, that´s the end of our year around the world. By way of celebration, please don your black tie / party dress for the announcement of the Gap Year Awards “Gappies”.

Best Outdoor Activity

In 3rd place:  Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos

In 2nd place:  White water rafting in Buller Gorge, New Zealand

And the Gappy goes to…kayaking in the Abel Tasman Sea, New Zealand

Best Hike

In 3rd place: The Pinnacles in Mulu National Park, Malaysia was technically the toughest hike.  So steep, that you have to climb virtually vertically

In 2nd place: The Inca Trail

and the Gappy goes to… The Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah.

Best Educational Activity

In 3rd place: Cooking class in Hoi An, Vietnam

In 2nd place: Batik class in Chiang Mai, Thailand

And the Gappy goes to…Star-gazing in New Zealand

Best Cultural Event

In 3rd place: Chinese New Year, Malaysia

In 2nd place: El Gran Poder Festival, La Paz, Bolivia

And the Gappy goes to…O-bon Festival in Nara, Japan

Best Historical Monument

In 3rd place: The Great Wall

In 2nd place: Machu Picchu

And the Gappy goes to… Angkor Wat

Best Beach

In 3rd place: Hot Water Beach, New Zealand

In 2nd place: Varkala Beach, Kerala

And the Gappy goes to… Nam Cat Island, Ha Long Bay

Best Hostel

In 3rd place: Giggling Tree, Yangshuo, China

In 2nd place: Treetop Lodge, Ban Lung, Cambodia

And the Gappy goes to …El Tesoro, Elqui, Chile

Best Mode of Transport

In 3rd place: Sea Plane, Taupo, New Zealand

In 2nd place: Bamboo boat, Li River, China

And the Gappy goes to…Bamboo train, Battambang, Cambodia

Best Food

In 3rd place: Shaved ice with adzuki beans, Japan

In 2nd place: Tim tams, Australia

And the Gappy goes to…Pho, Vietnam

Best Museum

In 3rd place: Natural History Museum in New York

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In 2nd place: Buddha Park, Laos

And the Gappy goes to…Pinang Peranakan House, Penang, Malaysia

Best Animal Encounter

In 3rd place: In a strong category, third place goes to Madidi National Park in the Amazon.  As we were fishing for piranha, we turned around to see a mother and baby tapir (usually nocturnal) crossing the river.  Our guide was even more excited than we were.

In 2nd place: A dusk hike in the Malaysian island of Langkawi.  Langkawi is more of a beach resort / duty free haven so expectations for wildlife spotting were low.  We got about two feet away from a buzzard pinning a lizard to the ground.  Then we saw flying lemurs (with tiny babies clinging to their bellies), flying squirrels and flying lizards.  All either inside or about ten minutes walk from a big hotel complex – unbelievable.

Flying Lemur & Baby, Bohol

And the Gappy goes to…snorkelling in the Celebes Sea off Mabul Island, Borneo.

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Best City

In 3rd Place: Singapore. Many people find Singapore too sterile, too controlled, too boring. It probably wouldn´t have made my top three if it had been the first place we went to, but it makes the list for two reasons: (1) after a month in India, sterility, order and a bit of luxury really hits the spot and (2) it had Elephant Parade! Plus it has great museums, a nice waterfront and all the home comforts you could want.

2nd Place: Hoi An – beach, mini Angkor Wat, amazing food and everyone there tells you that you’re beautiful.

And the Gappy goes to…Tokyo, big, full, colourful, insane.

Best Country

In 3rd place: Bolivia, salt flats, street parties, amazing wildlife in the Amazon and the picture-perfect Isla del Sol.

In 2nd Place: Japan the craziest place in the world.

And the Gappy goes to… Malaysia, which takes the crown because whereas we only spent two weeks in Japan and Bolivia, Malaysia kept us entertained for six whole weeks and was fabulous throughout. Apart from the time we nearly died on Mt Kinabalu. And the mosquitos in Kinabatangan. And Kuala Lumpur’s town planning department. But apart from that, amazing.

So that’s it from my fantastic year off. Back home now, job-hunting and and that. All subscribers to this blog please feel free to unsubscribe now, because it’s going to get a lot duller from now on.

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The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

Our first day on the Inca Trail starts at 4.30 am; we get picked up in Cuzco and driven to the start point. At this altitude, it is pretty chilly first thing in the morning. Everyone is in hats and coats. Everyone except Alastair that is.

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In our group there are seven Americans, a couple of Aussies, us plus one other Brit and a Russian. Then there are two guides, two cooks and fifteen porters.

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We set off walking at 10.30am. As well as the beautiful valley with the snowy mountains in the distance, there are lots of Inca sites en route to Machu Picchu to explore.

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The porters carry all the food, cooking equipment and tents. They run ahead of us with their huge packs so that they have everything set up for lunch before we arrive at the rest spot. The food is incredible; delicious, plenty of it and everyone’s dietary requirements are met. There’s one girl who can’t eat meat, fruit, rice, pasta, bread or potatoes. The cook takes all this in his stride. Our guide Ruben teaches us the correct pronounciation of Machu Picchu; Matchoo Pick-choo is correct, meaning “Old Mountain”. Matchoo Peachoo means “Old Penis”.

After lunch it starts to get steep and this is where Mr Beet’s and my decision to hire a porter to carry some of our stuff starts to pay off. Al is carrying all his gear and starts to really struggle with it, but is too much of a gentleman to let me take any of the weight. By the time we arrive at camp for the night (the porters having packed up everything after lunch, overtaken us on the trail and set up all the tents and our camp – they are amazing) Al is pooped and we persuade him to pay for a porter for tomorrow, because day two is apparently the killer day! After another great meal, we are in our sleeping bags by 8pm.

Day two is the toughie and in the morning we head staight uphill to the highest point on the trail – Dead Woman’s Pass at 4,200m. It’s a tough climb, but over and done with by mid-morning. Relieved of his backpack, Al practically skips up.

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After lunch, there’s a second pass to go up and over, but it doesn’t take as long and there are Inca sites on the way up and the way down to break up the walking.

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After a long, tiring day, I thought I’d sleep well but Camp 2 is quite high up and noticeably chillier so I don’t sleep too well. Never mind, because day three is an easy day. We hike a bit of the trail that is completely original (only about 30% hasn’t needed restoration at some point.)

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By noon we reach an Inca site with great views across the valley.

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Our campsite is just ten minutes walk from here, so we get the afternoon off to enjoy a shower (cold, but still a luxury) and a nap. Then we do a short trip at dusk to another site.

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On day one we had a big “getting to know you” session with the porters, where we all had to say our name, age and where we were from. I said I was nearly thirty and that it would be my birthday on the day we arrived at Machu Picchu. The cook had remembered this and, in the middle of the trail, managed to produce a fantastic birthday cake.

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Day four had the earliest start; we were up at 3am to get in the queue to enter the Machu Picchu site itself. Once through, it’s a short but crowded walk up to the Sun Gate to see the sun rise over the main site.

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Then we head down into the site itself. Although we’ve seen a lot of Inca sites along the way, some of them pretty impressive, Machu Picchu is definitely The Daddy.

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Mr Beet arranged months ago for everyone to send my birthday cards to him poste restante, so I even have lots of lovely cards to open. What a memorable birthday!

More pictures of the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu on Mr Beet’s flickr page.