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!

IMG_1164

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.

IMG_1182

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.

IMG_1234

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!

Advertisements

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!

IMG_1133

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.

IMG_1153

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!

IMG_1115

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.

IMG_1039

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.

IMG_1043

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…

Chiclayo and Trujillo

Before I even begin this post it is worth noting that northern Peru, other than Mancora, is much less visited than places south of Lima. In Chiclayo I was one of very few western tourists, which made it pretty tough to meet other travellers since there simply are very few and meant that the men of Chiclayo found me of great interest. Chiclayo is not a pretty place and I suspect it is a much better reflection of what the ‘real’ Peru looks like.  In a country where over half the population sits below the poverty line there is some expectation of cities which do not have any polish to them.

Having said that Chiclayo is not without it’s assets. Located nearby are some beautiful and incredibly important sites of early civilisations,  pre dating the Incas. I visited the beautifully curated Labayaque museum which is based in a pyramid shaped building. The whole museum is in darkness except for spotlights on each exhibit. Much of the exhibits on display are jewellry from the excavated king of Sipan’s tomb. I don’t think I have ever seen so much gold in my life! The pyramids of Tucame also handily located nearby were a phenomenal site, nearly 200 hectares of pyramids dotted around the area with the furthest ones away now surrounded by green farmland.

IMG_0984

After a couple of days in Chiclayo I took a bus a few hours south to a city called Trujillo. This could not have been more different to Chiclayo. The city is beautiful with brighly coloured and well maintained old colonial buildings and churches. As soon as I arrived I saw other tourists and realised I was back into the different side of Peru. Trujillo is also surrounded by a number of different archaeological sites which I also visited. My assessment of these is that most of them look like incredibly large, and very intricately decorated, sandcastles.  I certainly don’t mean this in a diminutive way, I have spent time building sandcastles so I can imagine the work that went into ones that have lasted hundreds of years.

IMG_1003

I found people in Trujillo to be incredibly welcoming and friendly. I went on a tour of one of the sites and one family as soon as they realised I was on my own basically adopted me, to the point of the Mum insisting she pay for my entrance ticket! The other great breakthrough I have had is realising that Peru is a place to have deserts. Everything is covered in condensed milk and lemon meringue pie is very big here. Luckily I won’t be hitting the beach any time soon so I’m happily indulging! However, my absolute highlight so far was walking along the street today to be met on the pavement by 2 grown men ‘herding’ a number of ducks and ducklings along the street. I have no idea why, however I did have the foresight to get a photo.

IMG_0994

Mancora

Onto country number 3, Peru. My arrival into Peru wasn’t quite as I had hoped,  but the sunshine here has more than made up for it now. I arrived here on a bus from Ecuador which was due to arrive at 7am. The bus arrived here at 4am. I was the only person getting off and was soon stood in the dark on a street in a town I didn’t know, in a country I didn’t know with no local currency. Not an ideal situation. As it turned out the worst thing that happened was being heavily over charged from a taxi driver to my hostel, which luckily had lovely hammocks I could nap in until morning!

IMG_0927 I stayed in a bamboo hut, which surrounded a swimming pool and garden with hammocks, with the sea about 20m away. As near to perfect as it gets! I had originally planned on staying in Mancora for 3 days before heading further into Peru. However, this quickly changed to 5 days as the beach and glorious sunshine kept me there.

I spent a lot of time sunbathing, i had hoped to have a surf lesson or 2 but this was not to be as the sea resembled a mill pond for the whole time i was there. The other amazing thing about Mancora is the sea food. I had fish everyday, in fact for most meals. It was fresh and delicious and incredibly cheap! I met some lovely people in Mancora, not especially difficult since the place is overrun by travellers, in particular a lovely Austrian girl called Eva.

IMG_0924

Following my time in Mancora i took a bus south to a city called Chiclayo. A day bus this time. The drive to Chiclayo was really interesting. We drove through the Sechura desert, which is an incredibly barren place except for oockets of intense farming in particular paddy fields. This looks bizarre against the back drop of the desert!

IMG_0936

The other entertainment for the bus journey was my realisation that Peruvian men are very different to Ecuadorian men. Since i have blonde hair and blue eyes i had expected unwanted attention in South America. In Columbia and Ecuador I got a fair bit of attention but nothing significant. In Peru it is very different. I have taken to wearing sunglasses even when its not sunny so that i dont have men harassing me about my eye colour! The other issue is the hissing. Peruvian men seem to think this is an acceptable way to show a girl they think she is pretty. I do not. However, it does seem that hissing and unwanted comments are as far as things go. My response of Ignoring said men seems to be sufficient in deterring them, thank god as my spanish is not up to giving quick put downs just yet!