March 21st, 2009 @ 12:17 am by Kev · No Comments
Tired and exhausted after the amazing Inca trail we found ourselves back where the adventure started in the ancient Inca city of Cuzco. It was on the return bus journey from Ollantaytambo when we heard from the bus driver that that we were all going to face some travel difficulties getting to Bolivia. The farmers in Peru were not happy! Apparently their governments decided to build a hydro-electric power plant…to provide electricity for foreign lands.
So they decided to mount a protest. Now I haven’t been studying my protest handbook for a while, but I’m pretty sure that barricading a road, throwing rocks at tourist buses, bribing drivers to continue safe passage are not commonplace in Europe. Yet this is what the future held for the Goonies. Sadly all buses out of Cuzco were suspended indefinitely for fear of rock damage!
We had to think fast and we teamed up with other Inca trailer’s Ravi and Kirsty and almost booked ourselves on a expensive private charter minibus, which “apparently” took the back roads to avoid the unfolding chaos. We decided to leave the decision a while and booked ourselves into our hostel. Upon consulting the owner he old us the harsh truths of the situation.
Protest started 2 days ago, no sign of ending, there is only one road out towards Bolivia (the lying bus operator) plus cowboy buses will make you bribe your way through each blockade as well as making you prime targets for kidnappings! Luckily we didn’t fall for the bus operators tricks and we decided to sit it out in Cuzco for a few days before making a contingency plan.
It was the next day after a meal out with our Inca trail compatriots we decided to take the plunge and do as 4 others already had, book ourselves onto one of the only planes which left Cuzco for Bolivia. Of course this did mean we sacrificed a visit to Puno and the floating islands upon Lake Titikaka, but we could not afford to stay here forever either.
These days of decision were putting it bluntly, very boring. The town is Cuzco is pretty but also rammed with hoards of tourists heading to Machu Picchu. We did do a few things however… we went shopping for handicrafts and alpaca wool accessories, had more than a few beers while checking out some local Peruvian bands (the second of which were pretty good and sounded like the Killers if they were born in the Andes).
The most fun we had was to come after we had enjoyed our first Curry for 3 months (it was great too!). As we were returning to our hostel we stopped in the main square, the Plaza D’Armas, where firework shenanigans were in full swing. This was so refreshing to see, there was no men in high vis clothing keeping you behind barriers…being honest it was a true free for all. The display consisted of about twenty or so 15 ft structures fashioned out of Bamboo, to which hundreds of Catherine wheels (again made out of bamboo) were attached and set off in a progressive sequences.
Giving the Peruvians credit, the dispay was very impressive given the materials used and the fun everyone was having in the square dancing along to bands and running headlong through the firework sparks was brilliant to be a part of. Although you did have to mind your heads every so often when the “Catherine wheels” flew from their structure into the gathered crowd. Also some of the bigger fireworks lacked some power and were exploding less that 20 metres from the ground sending greens and reds flying around the plaza to the Peruvians approval.
It was after this night we headed to the airport only to be greeted by nearly every other departing backpacker in Cuzco who like us were out of travel options. As we flew we admired the great lake of Titikaka wondering…what if? what if?
Tags: Peru · South America
March 20th, 2009 @ 11:25 pm by Kev · 4 Comments
The Lost city of the Incas beckoned, through the thick morning cloud! As we descended from the sun (cloud) gate we caught glimpses of the ruins with the weather ever clearing. It wasn’t until we had returned from getting our Machu Picchu passport stamps s handing over our trusty walking poles that we finally got to see the full scale of the vast Inca treasure trove which lay carved into the wilderness of the Peruvian Andes.
The first sight is awe inspiring. The scale and beauty of the site is hard to describe with the ancient ruins lying in front of the mountain of Wayna Picchu looming high up behind. Here we had a very thorough tour by our amazing guide Aly before being given free roam of the ruins. This was the culmination of days of hiking and it truly was spectacular to behold, something everyone should do!
The bus down was windy and a relief from the walking as we headed to a small pizza place in the (conveniently located) town of Aguas Caliente at the base of Machu Picchu. From here we headed back to Cuzco on the train knowing that we had a fantastic time and had seen some of the best that Pachamama has to offer.
The whole experience was amazing and the group of people who we trekked with were equally great which made for an excellent 4 days of fun, hiking, laughs and natural wonders! Last but not least our local guide Aly whose passion for the history and culture of the Peruvian people plus the nature of his native lands was unrivalled by any other guide on the trail! we were very lucky to have him as our guide and I thank GAP adventures for a great tour!
Btw: Aly is starting a new company which offers trails in and around Cuzco…they are called Mother Earth tours… Book now!! you wont be disappointed!
Tags: Peru · South America
March 12th, 2009 @ 7:09 am by Kev · 1 Comment
After a short drive from Ollantaytambo the Goonies arrived at the Kilometer 82 post… the offical starting point of the Inca Trail at Piskakucho where we got a cool passport stamp before crossing the opening rope bridge to start the historic trail.
Our guide, the ever reliable Aly, was very much in touch with nature as frequent stops were made to point out specific flowers (mainly orchids) and fauna of the valley. The valley we were hiking through was spectacular in terms of size and aesthetics. It really gave you a sense of wandering through a scene of one of the Lord of the Rings movies, as you trundle along with your head in the clouds and jaws on the floor. We hiked for about 2/3 hours following the river before turning away from its course towards our first lunch spot.
As the ‘Possies’ arrived we were greeted by our faithful hidden companions on the trail…our Porters. These guys carry all of the equipment for us on the trail leaving us to shoulder a small day pack. Porters are legally allowed to carry a maximum of 30 Kgs on their backs as they race ahead on the trail faster than you can imagine, just so they can have the tent village set up with next meal prepared ready for you. It really is astonishing how fast these guys plough up the trail given how much is on their backs, puts us Gringos to shame! So sitting pretty on our lunch tent we sat down to an amazing peruvian meal of fresh trout given the limitations of being in the middle of nowhere!
Setting off again we had a slightly more strenous second half of the day, with an uphill trek through a small valley to our campground for the night after a swift stop at the worlds smallest Shopping centre…hehe!
Upon arrival we were once again greeted by the trusty troupe of porters clapping us home. I’m not entirely sure if this was driven out of sarcasm or not, not being British I dont think they understood the irony of them (with their huge bags and advanced years) appluading the arrival of the hardly weighed down young gringos nearly 2 hours later! Ironic indeed!
It was here at the first nights camping ground where we were introduced to each porter. Most of them were local farmers who needed the extra cash for their families and the others were young guys making a good living. This was a nice gesture as we got to know a little about each of the 19 porters, putting a story behind the faces of who we would be tipping come the final day.
Dinner was spectacular and before we plodded off to sleep Ally took us spider hunting where we caught glimpes of some small and colourful tarantula’s nesting in the banks behind our tents! The knowledge they were there didn’t make for an easy sleep let me tell you! But sleep we did ready for day 2.
An early rise was needed today for this was the most strenous of the 3 day trail. We had a long and steep climb to overcome as we walked up towards dead womans pass at 3600m, a 1200m elevation change. The path up was pretty steep in parts but the regular stops and snack breaks helped to make this a pleasent climb. Once the Dead Womans pass was conquorerd we sat down for lunch over looking the stunning valley we had just mounted.
As the saying goes, whatever goes up must come down was never more true then today. The other side of the pass was a straight decline which took about an hour to descend. Me not being a big fan of going downhill make slow progress while the rest of the gang flew down at a rapid pace. Arriving at our next campsite early we sat down for tea and biscuits (yipee) before playing a quick game of how many people can play cards in a 2 man tent. The answer was 9! After some Cheat! action we had dinner and settled down for another well earned rest. My rest wasn’t so good however with a roll mat the thickness of a doormat, an Andean Pillow (aka a huge rock under my head) and an uneven camber, (which meant i woke up at the bottom of the tent each time) meant I strangely did not manage to get such a great kip.
Day 3 brought with it some more challenging weathers than the glorious sunshine of the previous 2. Waking in the drizzle and with fog rolling in fast we headed up to see some small inca ruins and temples as we made our way to the top of the first hill of the day. The ruins themselves were weathered and rustic but their locations perched over valleys were stunning. After the first incline of the day we had a stroll through a very different environment, a cloud forest. This place was pretty damp and murky place, but the wonderfully coloured orchids and the enchanting fauna made up for the lack of visibility.
Wet and weary we settled into our lunch spot high in the clouds. A welcome shelter from the rain and some more hearty peruvian nosh was just the ticket as we had finally arrived at a notorious section of the trail. The Gringo Killer steps! A 3 hours of descent down nearly 3000 steps which has seen many an slip and fall in it’s long legendary history. Thankfully today we did not become a gringo killer steps casualty! I for one am very thankful towards my trusty walking pole (Only 5 Soles) which saved me on more than one occasion on the slippy stone walkways.
I not being greatly trusting of my surroundings, dececended the steps slower than my counterpart Goonies. It was about 2 hours in when a encouraging message written in the mud from our guide was spotted by the trailside. Smiling we continued around the next few corners where we spyed some more scrawlings on the floor. This time the reaction ws part disgust, part disbelief and altogether hilarious! There on the floor was this
“Mike Shat Here”
Apparently he just could not hold it in any longer and used mother nature as his wc, poor guy (Poor mother nature)! Another hour past and we arrived at our final resting place. Here was practically luxury given the last few days of washing in a bowl of hot water and waking up to the porters sticking hot cups of Coca tea through the tent door at 5am. There was a bar with BEER!! and hot showers, food to buy. Things we took for granted before heading into the middle of nowhere. The last Inca ruins which we saw here on the trail itself were the most impressive. a large argricultural stepped area with a small village laying at it’s heart. The views over the valley below and the mountains all around was nothing short of sensational!
Dinner again was awesome and we organised our tips before settled down for our nights rest for we had a very very very early start. For some reason we thought we would be firsst to hit the gate to the ancient city of machu piccu. this however meant we had to rise at 3! OUCH!
Being at the gate first means nothing in hindsight. Because people Will run/barge past in an attempt to be the first to the cloud/sun gate (Intipunku) which infact was another 45 minutes down the trail. As soon as the gates opened at 5.30am, dozens of trekkers took flight including mike john and chris at top speed. I took the restrained option and walked for a while before taking off after the dust clouds of the rest of the Goonies.
They had opened quite a substantial lead … however toward the end of the trail i walked (very quickly) passed each of them as they tired. Apparently they got caught up in the competitive moment and started running! Arriving at the sun gate we were thorougly disappointed by the view we had of the lost city of the incas… CLOUD! Oh well, after regaining our breaths and the remainder of the group (Possies were first group up no less) we headeed down to the spectacle of Machu Picchu.
Tags: Peru · South America
March 12th, 2009 @ 6:51 am by Chris · No Comments
We landed in Cuzco where we were met by minibus and a crazy guy taking our pictures as we walked across the tarmac with our bags. We headed to our hotel, the Hotel Marina where we was introduced to Ally, our guide for the trip.
After our introduction to the group and a brief walkaround Cuzco taking in the sprawling plaza’s and the inca sun temple at Coricancha . We spent the evening carefully packing our duffel bags to be within the 6kg allowed, so not to overload our porters who would be carrying them along the trail.
We left the luxury of the hotel to jump on the mini bus where we met our second tour guide Enrique (kekay) and to head for a our first stop. We arrived in an Andean Mountain town to be greeted by some friendly llama and to see how various goods are woven and to compare the thread used including wool from sheep, llama and alpaca.
One of the group, Nina, got to try her hand at weaving one of the local products after first being dressed up to look like a local. Upon leaving the town Ally told us that G.A.P. help support the village by employing people as porters and by bringing us to see them.
Our next stop was Pisac a peruvian village which is still used today for markets. Whilst there we were given some history of The Temple of the Sun, an example of the Inca brickwork where all the stones are fitted very tightly interlocking with one another and to lean inwards in such a way that no fixing material was required, it is was because of this construction the walls have survived earthquakes in the past. The Temple of the Sun was used by the Incas during solstice which could be observed from key windows in the temple. We also saw all the terraces (steps) in the valley formed by the Incas, they were used for agricultural purposes on flat land instead of on the steep sides of the valley.
After Pisac, we stopped for a view of Sacsayhuaman from a distance to see the size of the area, unfortunately due to the restricted time we had on the tour we didn’t get to go up and close to see the ruins and we head off for our next stop.
After an exhausting morning we stopped at a local spot for a buffet lunch, music to the Goonies ears, we certainly like our buffets however we had to refrain from getting `buffet full` as we had a hike to do later that afternoon.
On the way to the next set of ruins it was decided unanmously to leave walking around the ruins until the next morning leaving us time for the buffet to settle down and to avoid the crowds.
We arrived in Ollantaytambo, a small local town with cobble roads and lots of small local shops. Which Mike later made us of to purchase himself a conservative new hat. Later in the evening our group had to keep with tradition and give ourselves a name, Ally left us with a decision on what our group should be called, after extensive discussions and negotations Pozzie’s seemed like a good choice as we were a mixture of Pomms and Ozzies.
The following day before we left for Kilometre 82 we visited the ruins in Ollantaytambo we missed the day before, it was very wise decision of Ally’s as we were the only ones there that morning which made the views that little bit more spectacular.
From there we left for Kilometer 82, the start of the Inca Trail.
Tags: Peru · South America
March 3rd, 2009 @ 9:56 pm by John · No Comments
We left Cuenca on a 6 hour bus ride to the border. From there we found a guy who showed us where to walk to cross to border to Peru. We arrive in a place called Huaquillas where a guy in a cab helps us out by driving us to immigration to get our exit stamp for Ecuador and entry stamp for Peru. This guy called Roberto helps us to do everything, which is fortunate as we didn’t have a clue what we needed to do. He took us to Tumbes where we could catch a Bus to Lima. It wasn’t until we arrived in Tumbes that we found the catch in his top quality service. He wanted to charge 80 US dollars per person for the whole service which is extortionate. He didn’t seem to budge, but we held our ground and got it for 10 dollars per person which wasn’t so bad.So from Tumbes we caught a 18 hour bus with a company called Flores to Lima which had food and films provided as part of the service. It was really good and we slept surprisingly well.
Once we arrived in Lima got a cab to a hostel called the Stop and Drop. Once there the cab driver started to say that this place was expensive. We went in and got asked for the prices and proceeded outside to discuss where to stay, when suddenly another guy off the street turns up with a leaflet describing a new cheap place to stay. The cab driver and this other guy were pestering us saying their place is good and cheap. Then suddenly, the hostel owner from the Stop and Drop comes out and argues with the guy off the street and taxi driver for taking away their business. At this point, there was a lot of commotion. All we wanted was somewhere to stay and didn’t really need this hassle at a 8 in the morning having just come off a 18 hour bus journey. It was hectic, but in the end we just went with our original decision and go with the Stop and Drop hostel. Quite frankly, we was glad the hassle was over and that we could get more sleep. We never did a huge amount on the day we arrived apart from sleep and eat and a quick look around Miraflores which was the city where we was staying at just outside Lima city centre.
The next day we had more thorough look around Miraflores. We strolled around the parks, eating ice cream. Miraflores is pretty much the rich area of Lima and consisted of mainly expensive high street stores and restaurants. We moved away from the centre of Miraflores to the beach which was long and full of surfers. Quite a contrast seeing the beach so close to a busy city. The beach was busy and full of people paragliding. After the beach we had time to visit an old ruin called Huaca Pucllana maintained by independent local companies. We thought we would get a taste of the ruins we will be like on the Inca Trail but there was a vast amount of ruins to be seen. It was more like one mound of steps and a few walls. We finished off the day with a very nice chinese buffet. The food here was very nice with to my surprise, a lot of more traditional chinese dishes.
Having taken a look around the local area we were staying, we moved on to see Lima City itself on the following day. The was much more busier that Miraflores. It definitely felt less safer and more dirtier. But there was more interesting sights to see here. We first visited the Presidential Palace where we got to see the changing of the guards which involved lots of guards playing music and marching. It didn’t look too professional and well rehearsed as I thought it would be. It was free so I can’t complain too much. We visited a few of the many cathedrals there. More interestingly, we visited a bull ring, but unfortunately, it was closed so we couldn’t see any shows. We strolled around the rest of the city seeing many statues and monuments before we grabbed a taxi back to Miraflores. The roads in Lima are crazy. We got stuck in a sea of cars which must had involved about 10 lanes of cars when the road was only supposed to have about 4 lanes. All you could hear was honking everywhere. It seems so much more chilled on the roads back home in England.
We got back from the hustle and bustle of Lima City and had the urge to try out Ceviche which is a local dish here that consists of raw fish cooked in lemon juice. There is a well know street in Miraflores called Pizza Alley which is a street that only contains restaurants. We walked down this many times in the last few days and you get constantly nagged by workers of the restaurants to go in their place to eat even though you are not hungry! They try to entice you in with free stuff which influenced our decision to at down this street. We simply walk down the street and try to get as much freebies as we could. In the end, we choose a restaurant that provided a free beer and a pisco sour each. These went down quite well with the Cerviche we ordered.
The last day in Lima, we simply relaxed in the hostel’s lounge area watching DVDs until we moved to a luxurious hotel called the Mariel where we would meet with a GAP representative and group of people who would be travelling with us to the Sacred Valley, along the Inca Trail and to Machu Pichu. I think the day’s relaxing activities was a good call as I think we needed a break from sightseeing and I think we would need to rest our legs for the big hike along the Inca Trail.
All in all, Lima city was a nice place to visit, but for me 3 to 4 days was enough for me. I look forward to leaving the city to move on to something new. So back to nature for us all and we can look forward to camping again on our next adventure on the Inca trail.
Tags: Peru · South America