La Paz

We arrived into La Paz a day earlier than we had expected,  so we were feeling rather smug with ourselves about how terribly efficient we were with this whole travelling thing. We arrived at the hostel we had booked and we were given orange wristbands which basically are your tab for the week. These tend to be used at the larger hostels and the ones more focused on drinking rather than seeing the sights! The message on the wristband read “if you find me drunk or lost please return me to the below address”, this was helpfully written in English and Spanish. At this stage we were slightly concerned about what we had let ourselves in for!

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We decided to head out and explore of La Paz. Other than a few squares and the odd street la Paz is not a pretty place. However la Paz has a certain charm to it. We did a fantastic walking tour of the city which included hearing lots about the city, the government, visiting lots of amazing markets and seeing the infamous San Pedro prison (no visit inside though, fyi readers of Marching Powder!)

We had a brilliant day cycling down the world’s most dangerous road. The ride itself is through stunning scenery and its really quite amazing how quickly you forget about there being a 400m sheer drop next to uou at all times! The day is incredibly long, we spent 6hrs cycling and then with travel to and from,  we got back into la Paz pretty late. However, fiona and I decided that surviving the bike ride deserved some celebration. We had a quick shower and change and were in the hostel bar in no time, meeting a friend of mine from Peru. After a few drinks we started talking to the bar staff and this led to numerous shots being made specially for us. Fiona and I finished the night dancing on the bar, fairly ironic given that we were concerned about the hostel being a bit too much of a party hostel!

 

The following day was not our best. The combination of far too many shots and high altitude resulted in pretty epic hangovers for us both. However,  we managed to get some things to take back home from the markets. We finished the day getting onto a 10hr night bus heading south ready for our salt flats tour.

Lake Titicaca

On to country number 4 and now half way through my trip!

I arrived here on Saturday after a 12hr bus journey from Cusco, not a great experience but I made it and that is the most important thing. Fiona came to meet me here on Sunday having spent a night in la Paz recovering from her flight and getting used to life at high altitude.

Lake Titicaca sits at a rather head spinning 3700m, which makes it the highest lake in the world, but far more importantly means that the weather is fairly extreme. During the day it is very sunny, you will happily sit in a t shirt and soak up the rays. However,  at night it is cold. Extra layers are essential.  The lake itself is beautiful, the sheer scale of it is rather astonishing.

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The town of Copacabana seems to be entirely based around tourism on the lake, as there really is very little else here. The main attraction being visits to 2 islands in the middle of the lake. Fiona and I had both been told that a trip to the islands was unmissable, so once we had settled ourselves into life at 3700m we decided to get a boat across the lake to see what all the fuss was about.

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We took a boat across to the northern side of Isla de sol, the largest island in Lake Titicaca. We explored the area and managed to find some ruins just at sunset which made for a rather beautiful photo opportunity. We then managed to find one of the very few restaurants in the village for dinner. By this time we had met a fellow Brit called Anthony,  a disenchanted Accenture employee, and spent the evening with him. He obviously lived in Clapham Junction.

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The following day we walked from our hostel through to the southern part of the island. This was around 5 miles, with a climb up to 4000m, with the most stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains. We managed to make record time to get to the southern port and took an earlier boat back to Copacabana. From here we decided it was time to head to la Paz and we jumped on a bus ready for the 4hr journey away from peaceful Copacabana to bustling la Paz.

Cusco

Ali and I had 2 days in Cusco before our trek up to Machu Picchu and 5 days afterwards.  This meant that we felt pretty much at home in Cusco by the end! Cusco is a very beautiful city, with lots of impressive churches and cathedrals and, it seems like, a ruin or museum about something Inka related around every corner. However,  the thing that strikes you the most on arriving into Cusco is the tourists. There are a lot. This brings a very different dynamic to Cusco than to other places in Peru. English is sooken everywhere and you cannot turn a corner without someone trying to sell you something,  be it a tour, a massage, a painting or a pen with a llama on top of it!

We managed to fit in a lot of different things into our time in Cusco,  however I think Ali and I particularly enjoyed our times sat in the main plaza in the sunshine whilst watching the world go by,  there seemed to always be something going on!

Ali and I certainly invested a significant portion of our time in tasting what Cusco had to offer. This included trying Cuy (guinea pig), which tasted a lot like chicken only not as nice. We tried alpaca, a milder version of lamb which was pretty delicious actually. Our favourite by far was the Peruvian love of cakes and all things sweet. Im certain that having desert at lunch and dinner is excessive,  however we managed this on a number of occasions!

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Our love of the food here did not stop there. We decided to take a Peruvian cooking course, which had us whip up a delicious 3 course dinner along with the traditional Peruvian cocktail, the pisco sour. In terms of time spent cooking and time spent making our cocktails and of course tasting them, perhaps the balance could have been better. However,  we ate and drank until we were full and had a fantastic evening.

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We also managed to visit some of the nearby areas to Cusco. One being an old Inka intensive farming site, which looked like a very large stepped amphitheatre. The Inkas found that by using a type of granite that absorbed heat from the sun they could grow different varieties of crops and see what the optimum growing conditions were. Impressive stuff! We also visited some salt pans, which are all mined by local people and by hand. These salt pans consist of over 3000 shallow pools of salt water which dry in the sun and the salt is extracted at different levels. The sheer size of the site is amazing, especially as it seems to come from nowhere.

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A number of friends I have met along the way travelling had mentioned what a good night out Cusco is, so Ali and I dutifully tested the night scene in Cusco. We were not disappointed. As it turns out being blonde haired, blue eyed and female can have its benefits here in Peru. Ali and I managed to get free drinks as we entered each club we went to, even if it was for the second time. This proved excellent value as there were 2 ckubs adjacent to each other that we simply skipped between. Dance music from around 10yrs ago has never sounded so good, the most surprising part is how well you remember all the words.

Ali and I had a lovely final morning in Cusco today and then it was time again for a fond farewell. Ali flew back to the UK today and I am heading to Lake Titicaca and Bolivia. Onto country number 4 and my next guest, Miss Fiona Eccleston!

Machu Picchu

The Machu Picchu Inka Trail (4 day trek to the ancient ruins) is often spoken of as slightly passé. ‘Everyone has already done it, there are too many people on it, there are better treks up to MP’ seem to be the most frequently said phrases when I said I was doing the trek. Having completed it I would disagree.

Yes there are other groups on the trail, but it never felt crowded until we reached MP itself. MP currently has no limit to its daily capacity, so by 10am the ruins are VERY busy! The views on the trek are some of the most stunning I have ever seen and we stayed in basic camps where we would see perhaps another group on the site. All in all I would definitely say it was worth it!

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Part of what made our trek so brilliant was that we had a really great group to do it with. Ali and I were the only Brits, and everyone quickly became known as the country we were from rather than trying to remember names! We had a fantastic guide called Juan (virtually everyone in South America is called Juan), who was enthusiastic and motivational. The 4 days trekking varied hugely, day 2 involved 7hrs hiking uphill solidly meaning we climbed 1200m in total. Funnily enough the uphill parts were pretty easy, it was the downhill parts that turned your legs to jelly. Luckily Ali and I both have knees that are in good working order,  however if you don’t I would suggest never doing this trek!

We had 20 porter, for 12 of us tourists, and they carried our tents and all cooking equipment. Ali and I were expecting basic camping meals with lots of rice. When we arrived at our first camp and got called in for dinner,  into the dining tent with the table laid with napkins,  etc, we realised we are onto a good thing. We were given 3 courses every night, on the first night we even had appetisers. The meals were Peruvian food with lots of fresh salads and more carbs than anyone can humanly eat. It was amazing!

The final days trek was by far the hardest. Day 3 had been 10hrs of trekking with lots of downhill,  so we all woke up at 3.30am with very sore legs. The gate to MP opens at 5.30am so we hiked to there first thing. We then hiked for an hour to the sun gate where we saw sunrise over MP. This was the first time we all had realised that there were actually quite a lot of us doing the trail! We then hiked down to the ruins. The size and sheer scale of the ruins is incredibly impressive,  the Inkas really did know how to make an impressive city. What is most suprising is how much is still fully in tact, as very little has actually been restored.

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Our guide, Juan, gave a fantastic tour of the site, explaining how the site was built with these enormous carved stones which seem to fit together perfectly. I can imagine they would be difficult to recreate with todays tools let alone without any tools to speak of! By this time it was around 1om, which for someone who has been up since 3.30am feels pretty late. Ali and I decided that our time would be best spent soaking up the ambience of the site on a grassy spot, in the sunshine, with our eyes closed. Yes, we went to MP and had a nap!

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After our well earned rest we took a bus to a local town where we met up with our group once again and all ate an unhealthy amount of pizza. We had a couple of hours left before our train ride home and a few of us managed to find a great cake shop which soon became our home for a few hours. We finally got our train back at 6.45pm, which took us to a nearby town where we got a bus back to Cusco. We arrived into Cusco at 11pm. By this time we were all absolutely exhausted and were only fit for showers and a long awaited nights sleep in a real bed.

Lima

It has been a rather social time in Lima. I arrived at a very civilised 8am on Friday morning in Lima, stepping off the VIP bus service from Trujillo. Probably my best bus experience ever; seats that recline fully, blankets and pillows provided, dinner served. I even managed a few hours sleep! I stayed in one of the areas next to the coast called Miraflores, which is incredibly touristy, but very pretty and self sufficient with it.

I met up with Fiona, one of Jessica’s friends from university,  who had just arrived in the Peru. By the time it got around for dinner, we had fast become a group of 7 with a range of British,  Brazilian and Peruvian, so lots of different languages all evening. We all had a few of the local tipple, a very delicious cocktail called a pisco sour.

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I made it home long before the others, as I had the lovely Ali Gilbert arriving at the rather unsociable hour of 6.30am on Saturday morning.  Ali arrived safely and even managed to use her new found Spanish skills to get a taxi to the hostel. We had a lovely morning exploring the area and walking along the beach before joining with Fiona and Anna (a lovely Brazilian girl from our hostel). We hired bikes and explored more of Lima.

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Ali and I had another lovely day on sunday, witnessing the rather bizarre impromptu dance class in the middle of a street in the centre of Lima, doing a little culture and trying some of the local food delicacies. Ali has pretty much taken it all in her stride and seems to have fitted into life travelling very easily!

On Monday we headed to the airport and took a flight down south to Cusco. Ready for Macchu Picchu in a couple of days…