One minute you’re clicking through Facebook, looking at pictures of weekends gone by and ruing the day you ever agreed to strike that pose.
The next, you get a phone call from STA Travel HQ, telling you that you’ve just won a trip to Peru, that includes return flights plus a 12 day tour that will take you via the Amazon rainforest to Machu Picchu, and the heights of the Inca Trail.
And the best thing about it? You get to take along a friend!
That’s what happened for Lauren Pegg who entereed our Like It & Land It competition and won a place for her and a lucky chosen one to on the Amazon to the Andes tour plus return flights for the two them.
Lauren and her friend are not what you would call camera shy! | Photo by Lauren
We caught up with Lauren recently, to ask her how her trip was and to see if there was anything she wanted to let people know about her journey through some of South America’s most enigmatic landscapes.
If there’s anything you’d like to know about Lauren’s journey, feel free to ask a question in the comment thread below this post.
Here’s our interview, with the lovely Lauren…
How did you hear about the competition?
I already liked STA Travel UK on Facebook, and always entered the Like It & Land It competition.
The journey along the incredible Inca Trail begins for Lauren & Co | Photo by Lauren
This was the competition round that I wanted to win above all the others! When I entered the thought, “Wouldn’t it be good if I won” entered my head for a split second; I can’t believe I actually won it!
Had you ever won anything before?
I’d never won anything worth having before! During Freshers’ Fair at University, I entered a competition and won a sandwich toaster, of all things. I am pretty sure a trip to Peru beats that hands-down! (Although it was a good toaster…!)
How did you feel when you won?
I was at work when I received the call to tell me I’d won. I missed the call and didn’t recognise the number, so I Googled it and saw that it was STA Travel in Kensington.
I couldn’t work out why on earth they were calling me, but I soon realised that the only time I’d given STA Travel my number was when I entered the Facebook competition, and that was when I called back straight away!
The first thing I asked when I was told I’d won Like It & Land It was, “which one?”! I was so happy to hear that it was the trip to Peru. I couldn’t believe my luck and the rest of my day at work went by in a bit of a blur.
Had you ever thought about going to the destination before?
I’d seen the Amazon rainforest on TV before, on nature programs, but had never thought of it as a holiday destination. I didn’t even know you could stay in the jungle!
Take a leaf out of Lauren's book, and immerse yourself in the amazing Amazon | Photo by Lauren
As I said before, I’d always wanted to trek the Inca Trail, but I never thought I’d have the opportunity to go for free!
Who did you take with you and how did you make that decision? Why them in particular?
Making the decision on who to take with me was pretty easy. I decided to take my sister as we get on so well, and that way I didn’t run the risk of upsetting any of my friends by picking just one. She hadn’t travelled before, and I had, so it seemed like a great option.
Where had you travelled to before, then?
I spent 3 months volunteering in India last year, which was incredible. I managed to squeeze in some hiking there, too, so I knew I would be ready to take on the Inca Trail.
Did you have any preconceptions about Peru?
I had a vague idea about what to expect from Peru before I went, as some of my friends had been this year, and I’d seen their photos on Facebook.
But experiencing a country for yourself is so different to seeing someone else’s photos on a screen. In the end, it was what I had expected, but so much better! Everywhere I looked the scenery was absolutely stunning; I couldn’t believe it. I would definitely go back, and recommend anyone else to go, too.
What were your first feelings when you arrived?
Mostly, I was tired! We’d had a pretty long flight, although we were still really excited. I looked up what taxi company to use to get from Lima airport into the city, so I felt really well prepared, and our lovely driver told us all about what we were driving past, and about the history and districts of the city. It was a great introduction.
The colourful nightlife in Lima | Photo by Lauren
So after a night or two in Lima, you met up with the rest of your group to begin your 12-day tour. What were they like?
We had an amazing group on our tour; they were all so nice! There were a few Brits, some Kiwis, Canadians, Russians and Americans — a great mix! Not only were we from a mixture of countries, but the age range was also quite broad. Despite this, or maybe because of this, we all got on incredibly well.
Tell us about the Inca Trail
Well, the trip was 4 days long — 3 long days of walking and one short morning of walking on the final day to reach Machu Picchu.
I was apprehensive before we started, as even though I had done a trek before, I had never been to altitude, and the track is really high. The walking was fairly strenuous; the higher up we went, the harder it became, and all of us would get out of breath every now and then and have to stop to breathe.
Times like that are nice, though, as it means you get a moment to look around and really take in the view.
I never felt that we were pressed for time or had to rush; the tour leader was so experienced in taking groups along the track that there was no need to worry about this.
Were you well looked after on the trek?
Absolutely! When I had trekked before in India, we had to carry all our own kit the whole day, and cook our dinner in the evening, so it came as a really pleasant surprise to find that we had porters to carry all our bags, and they even made our dinner for us and put our tents up when we arrived into camp in the evenings!
This made a huge difference and meant that we all enjoyed the trip so much more. At the end of a long day of hiking, we were able to sit down and enjoy each other’s company and talk about the day, rather than running around and trying to get our tents up before dark.
I have a huge amount of respect for the porters — they worked flat out to accommodate us and were so friendly and smiley. I could not thank them enough, as I wouldn’t have been able to do the walk without them!
Did anyone have any problems during the hike?
Unfortunately one girl on the trip had a really bad reaction to being at altitude. She couldn’t get enough oxygen in, and ended up coming down with pneumonia.
She was so well looked after by the porters and tour leader; they carried her along the track and got her to hospital, and even went to visit her in hospital while she was recovering. I felt terrible for her — she was so determined to get to Machu Picchu, and while she did get there, I don’t think it was exactly the experience she had envisaged!
Having such a strong reaction to altitude is quite rare, but I’m told that the best way to avoid this is to have at least a few days resting at altitude before beginning any physical exertion.
What was the accommodation and food like while you were on the Inca Trail?
It was all fairly luxurious, to be honest! We stayed in tents, and had a 3-man tent between two of us, so there was plenty of room. We had roll mats and sleeping bags, so we were pretty comfortable and never got cold, despite plummeting temperatures after dark.
The food was pretty basic, but it was really filling and exactly what we needed out on the track. We would have chicken, rice, potatoes, and sauce for dinner and it would give us plenty of energy for the next day’s walking.
The porters were incredible when it came to cooking — they somehow managed to make us popcorn, and even cake! They cooked it on a saucepan on a stove and iced “Inca Trail” on the top of it — delicious!
Do you have any tips for anyone who might be considering doing the Inca Trail?
I’d definitely recommend taking a really good quality set of waterproofs, as when it rains it can be really heavy, and I got soaked through my cheap rain jacket.
It’s also a really good idea to hire the walking poles that are offered on the tour, as they are a huge help when it comes to walking downhill, and take loads of pressure off the knees, meaning you can walk comfortably for much longer, even if you do look like a Grandma!
It’s a good idea to take plenty of medicine, including rehydration sachets with you, just in case. And don’t forget a head torch! You’ll be wearing this for the entire evening at camp, and it definitely makes going to the toilet much easier when you have a hand free!
On the final day, you made it to Machu Picchu. How did that feel?
It was such a memorable moment to finally reach what we had been walking to the whole way. It suddenly felt like the whole trip had been worth it!
We got up at 3:30am that day, as the park can get quite busy with day tourists, and we wanted to be one of the first groups in.
I’d seen photos of the site so many times, but it was so different to see Machu Picchu in person. We got the standard group photo at the top, and then our guide took us round and gave us loads of interesting information about the history of the site.
Although small sections are roped off, most of the site is accessible to tourists, so it was brilliant to walk around freely. At the end of that day, we got to Cuzco. Our guide had set us a 24-hour challenge: to try and stay up until 3:30am the next day! I tried my hardest, but only made it to 2:30am… still, not a bad effort!
What was the best/worst food/drink you had there?
Overall, the food we had was pretty good, although I did try some slightly strange things!
My friends ordered guinea pig one day, and it looked, and tasted, absolutely awful! It was really tough, with very tough skin, and tasted overwhelmingly of rosemary! It is apparently a local delicacy saved for special occasions. I’m happy I didn’t have my birthday while I was there!
This little (guinea) piggy went to Lima. This little… OK, you get the picture. | Photo from Lauren
The best food we had were the empanadas – little pasty-like pies – and the ceviche (raw fish in lime juice, almost like a soup). I tried to eat as much local food as possible.
Did you pick up any special souvenirs?
The souvenirs in Peru are really lovely. There’s lots of alpaca wool, so I bought an alpaca hat and rucksack, which are so cute. I also bought some gorgeous bright blue material, and a little llama for the Christmas tree, to add to my collection of decorations from around the world.
Will you keep in touch with anyone from the trip?
Funnily enough, my sister and I are meeting up with a guy from the trip next week! We are going to find a bar in London that serves Pisco Sour – the strong liquor we drank in Peru, and became slightly obsessed with!
Do you feel this trip has given you the travelling bug?
Well, I already had plans to go away next year, but this trip has definitely made me realise exactly how much I want to go away again. I have now been saving for a year, and have pretty big plans!
I want to see India, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and China on a 6 month trip. In fact, I’m going in to STA Travel this weekend to start discussing my plans! I wouldn’t go with anyone else.
What was the highlight of the whole experience?
The highlight was definitely reaching Machu Picchu on our final day – it was such an achievement!
It was also incredible to get to spend a couple of nights in the rainforest, sleeping in relatively luxurious accommodation, right amongst the wildlife. We had a 3 hour canoe ride down the river to get to our hotel, which I will never forget.
The other best bit was getting to meet some amazing people who I will hopefully keep in touch with for years to come.