25.02.2012 - 09.03.2012
The bus trip up to Lima was not great for Sian as she had been up all night with a stomach bug but we made it and got a taxi to our Blue House hostel in Miraflores. We were eventually let in after trying to convince the workman who answered the door that we actually did have a reservation, it was the owner's day off, a rustic place but the Kitchen was in serious need of a deep clean! It did have a TV ready for the match against the old foe though! The weather in Lima was nice and sunny but not too hot which meant we were able to walk around and explore the area around the nice Park Kennedy surounded by McD, KFC, StarB's etc . Miraflores is one of many lively suburbs of the city, and close to the cliffy coast, and has a lively tourist vibe whilst still being a centre point with the locals. But as capitol cities goes there didn’t seem to be much here to do, so a bit of chill out time in amongst a bit of exploring. So after a day of doing little we awoke, had breakfast and watched the big game. Great individual try by Scot and never a try by Strettle, and for the first time in our life time we played badly, and England played well and we still won!!! So joyfully we wandered through Miraflores to find the pre Inkan temple of Huaca Pucllana nestled in the suburbs, from the sky it's said to outline the shape of a frog but there was little evidence of that from the ground as we walked round it to find the entrance. This majority restored adobe mud brick step temple is pretty big and dates from the 400AD several civilisations before Inka, so pretty old. It would seem that after every conquest the new culture would literally stamp their superiority over the last by building a new layer on top of this mud step pyramid and raid the internal tombs of the previous nobility, so it was at least 20m high. But obviously it's hard to guarantee the authenticity of the restoration work as it was a pile of mud, but it is more impressive now then it was as the years of wind, earthquakes, dirt bikes and a little rain had taken its toll. Interestingly although the building material was dry mud they did actually build their walls in matrix’s of large V shapes along the wall, allowing movement during earthquakes, something the new builders restoring the structure have failed to continue, with evidence from the recent earthquake which the guide was very proud to point out!!? Good luck with the rest of the work then!!!
In Miraflores there is wealth of old coffee shops which I definitely indulged in from time to time, pages of different coffee's on the menu, everything from espresso to BonBon (made with condenced milk for the sweetness) to Irish. Shop front displays included massive quadruple plate size sandwiches with everything inside including a whole avocado's (which ain’t small here) and a boiled egg in the centre (Meurig regrets not having one now, definitely a sharer though) along with cakes, pies, slices and piles of Churos, long and thin sprinkled with sugar, some filled with dulche leche and vanilla, related some what to the doughnut and great with a coffee.
On the third day we made out way to the city centre, once the Spanish colonial Capital of South America so a little wealth around once upon a time, via the city's new and first public transport system, bus lanes, segregated bus lanes to be fair, down the centre of roads with some tunnels and underground stations, bit like a tram but just a bus, probably cheaper a lot cheaper though. We found our barrings amongst the grand buildings and made our way to Plaza San Martin, (this man got around, he liberated one country and just carried on) where we chilled out in the shade with the locals then headed down the shopping street to Plaza de Armas (classic) the oldest part of town including the bronze fountain (with whistling guards denying access to children) surrounded on all sides by grand buildings some mock and others original including the guarded Palace, Cathedral and the “exquisitely balconied” Archbishop's Palace (nice to see the clergy living a modest life in the new world). After wondering around we headed down to the river where we could see the shacks of the outer town spreading up the hills in the background just below the massive painted sings and lines on the hill tops above, obviously still a popular art to this day. After a good portion of grand buildings and dirty fumes we head back to Miraflores where we find the biggest and best stocked supermarket in south America so far and veg out before the move the next day. The move the next day wasn’t far just up the road to the Pirwa Hostel just a bit nicer as Nia Boyd was landing in town to join us for a three week trip. So after a wonder down to the cliffy coast during the day we found her in reception early evening trying to ask for Meurig and Sian which in south America aren’t easy names to communicate...!! First things first PINT so off we go and get ushered in to a pub/club and have some drinks and eventually a bite to eat. The next day we had our Cruz del Sur Bus booked for the afternoon so we had just enough time to take her on a quick tour around, check out a coffee shop and then head off to the very posh bus terminal to catch our Cama Suite bus for the 22hour journey to Cusco.
The journey was pretty comfortable but at one point during the night we all woke up because the bus was going round continuously tight corners with quite a drop on the other side!!! As it became light the scenery had dramatically changed from the desert-like scene along the coast to green hilly countryside plus the temperature had dropped considerably! Cusco is 3300 meters above sea level so we had to make sure we spent enough time in the area to acclimatise before doing anything strenuous. We had booked into the Pariwana hostel which was centred around an old courtyard and we had potentially the comfiest beds we'd experienced in South America. So what to do in Cusco for a few days before our Inka Trek? Firstly we sampled the various eateries around, with the coffee and cake shops not disappointing. The main plaza in Cusco is impressive with the huge cathedral being the focal point but the plaza is so big that there is a second church and they have even managed to hide the mcdonalds and kfc in some very tasteful buildings.
Cusco also has it's own Iesu Grist statue on the hilltop (I hope the one in Rio will be better) which is also next to some Inka ruins called sachsayhuman. We decided to get a taxi up and then walkk down the hill as the rain had stopped for a while and passed some photogenic lamas on the way. Another pastime in Cusco is shopping........ there are loads of markets, stalls & shops selling some very nice indigenous goods and some warm alpaca clothing which is a god send when the temperatures plummet at night. We also visited the Museo Inka and grabbed ourselves a guide who explained a huge amount about all things Inka from their dress, pottery, culture, Machu Picchu and the reasoning behind the human sacrifices. A fact we didn't know before was that early Cusco was built in the shape of a puma their sacred earth animal, well that was before the Spanish arrived, plundered, pillaged and destroyed all important Inka sites and build catholic churches over them, nice eh! So after a few days getting used to 3300m we were ready to start our Inka trek where we would have to climb just a little higher!!
We did the standard 4 day 3 night Inka trek with Wayki trek company because they are owned by actual local Peruvians and not companies in the US or Australia!!! They plough some of their profits back into their indigenous village community which we got to see first hand in the porters' village where they have built a school and a library and the next bit of funding will go towards filling the library full of books. Our guide was Jose (Meurig kept calling him Juan!) and we were a group of 8, us 3, a father and daughter from Finland and 3 ladies from the US, so a nice mixed bunch of sexes and ages. It would have been kind of cruel if Meurig had been stuck with all girls again! Day 1 started at 5am when we were driven to the porters village then on to Ollyantaytambo to buy supplies like the essential plastic poncho. We were fed breakfast around 9am next to the first checkpoint of the trail head. Then after checking our tickets and getting our passports stamped we officially set foot on the Inka trail. In general day 1 is not too gruelling, the start of the path is fairly flat with some short uphill sections to the first Inka site. Afterwards is a nice mix of ups and downs to where we stopped for our first lunch. We were amazed by the food, starter, soup, main, desert and tea and coffee to finish, all this cooked in a tent by the chef all dressed up in his proper chef whites, unbelievable! Another couple of hours trekking and we reached the first campsite. The tents were all set up, with really warm sleeping bags & comfy mats and food was not long after, again there was more than enough.
We needed a good night's sleep because day 2 was a killer we had to climb 1200m from 3000m to 4200m where the air was a lot thinner and we had to breathe nice and deep to get enough oxygen! Still at least we didn't have to do it in 3 hours like the Colca Canyon! After making it to the top, getting our breath back we had to descend 600m to where camp was set up and lunch was waiting for us and as a bonus we got in just before the heavy rain started! We had a couple of hours spare before snacks and supper were served so predictably everyone opted to go for a siesta! To keep our spirits up after such a gruelling day the chef had made us an amazing sponge cake!!!! Unfortunately 2 of the American ladies did not get into camp until 6pm and had to walk through the torrential downpour with Jose at hand making sure they were ok, we didn't fancy swapping places with them.
Day 3 was a hard start with a steep uphill for about an hour, followed by varying gradients through the cloud forest and it was unfortunately our wettest day so a couple of the Inka sites on the way were only a short pit stop. Just before we got to camp for lunch again the heavens opened but we weren't too far away and dried off mostly whilst having lunch. Then it was all downhill, steep downhill in some bits to camp with a short detour to another Inka site shrouded in thick mist. Our last night camping and the best meal in Sian's opinion because we had Peruvian recoto relleneo (stuffed spicy pepper).
So here we were day 4 and getting up ridiculously early at 3am to have breakfast and set off on the hours trek to the sungate of Machu Picchu as soon as the park opened at 5am. By the time we got through the check point and started walking the sun had come up enough so that we did not need our head torches and could walk fairly easily. It was a nice view following the valley around from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu mountain and finally up some devilish steps to the sungate and our first view of Machu Picchu itself!! There was some early morning cloud rising up the valley but we were able to glimpse the sacred city before the cloud got too high and hide everything! We waited about 20 minutes for it to rise higher but it was taking it's time so Jose led the way down the path to Machu Picchu. About halfway down we had got underneath the cloud and the place was there for all of us to see, amazing. To top it off by the time we got to the city walls the sun came out and stayed until early afternoon. As you would expect it was time for photos and everyone was trying to get that classic shot of Machu Picchu! We had to check in at the main gate with enough time for a strong coffee to keep us going then Jose started his tour of the city.
The three of us had opted for the additional hike to the top of Hunanpicchu (the mountain overlooking the city) and had to leave the tour earlier as our ticket was valid until 11am. Huananpicchu looked incredibly steep and we had been told that it involves some climbing in parts. Somehow we all found the energy to get up to the summit pretty fast and it probably helped that Machu Picchu is only 2400m high, a lot lower than we had been used to. The view was incredible not just of Machu Picchu but the 3 valleys that converged around and the sun was still shining bright. Sian and Nia got a little lost trying to find the way down as we had actually come up the wrong way but we got down fine. Jose was waiting for us in Machu Picchu so that he could finish off the tour. Unfortunately the Inkas didn't get to finish that place but what they had built in 100 years using the primitive tools was amazing. One fact that we learnt left us gobsmacked, apparently in the 70's the Spanish royal family visited Machu Picchu and in order for their helicopter to be able to land right in the middle of the city a carved stone column was chopped down especially!!! I think the Spanish had done enough chopping, looting and destroying during their colonial time but this was just the icing on the cake, shameful!!! After our tour we got the bus down to Aguas Calientes with Jose to meet Mari and her dad (Finish guys) in a restaurant for some food and beer before our train ride back to Ollyantaytambo. Beer and pizza never tasted so good. The train ride was very picturesque and we were given some free snacks and they served beer so we couldn't say no. We arrived back in Cusco about 9pm tired and ready for a long hot shower, but the hard work was well and truly worth it, amazing experience.
Next morning after breakfast it was off to the bus terminal and jump on the next bus for Puno, a city high up in the Andes and on the shore of the highest navigable lake in the world and largest in south America. The water level on Lake Titicaca is 3,811m with the level at it lowest for 50 years due to recent shortened rainy season and declining glaciers attributes. Although not the highest lake in the world it has won the title highest navigable lake by the importation of a British steam boat in the last century which used to navigate the water and still floats to this day. During the rainy season it gets quite wet but when we turned up that evening the roads were literally overflowing, which gave us little choice after arriving at Marlons House other than to stay in and order delivery pizza. The next day we set out on a ½ day trip to the local floating islands just of the coast. The man made floating islands are the home to some ancestors of indigenous people who to fled the invading Spanish forces by living on the water. After living initially on double reed boats they developed a design of floating islands based on cutting 1m square chunks of reed bed roots pinning and tying the together and tethering to rocks on the base to the shallow lake area. The base degrades, so over the 10year life span of the island every month the family lay fresh cut reeds over the base and under the wooden frame buildings. The ground is definitely still squelchy under foot but every family has their own area with a few huts for them and their animals, but the tourists seems to be their best method of income these days with tours, crafts and rides on the big reed boats. During the sunny periods it was nice but before we knew it the showers and blustery wind had appeared and proceeded to blow us round on the reed boat until we got wedged on some reeds and the family got their motor boat out to push us back to safety. As fast as the showers arrived they disappeared again, and the ride back to shore past the stranded pigs and converted prison hotel was great. With our last night in Peru upon us we set out on a mission to find cuy (guinea pig) and sample the traditional plate, we found a little recommended restaurant and order three chef specials and a bottle of Inka cola. The little buggers are a bit bony but taste like game/chicken and went really well with the mash and some sort of vegetable compote. As we still felt heavy legged after the mamouth trek it was back to the new posh room with cake, beer and wine to pack in preparation for the trip next door to Bolivia!!!