Published: November 9th 2011November 8th 2011
photos for Peru
photos for The Galapagos Islands
It was time for Cuzco. I was travelling with a couple of other guys up from Bolivia, and we checked into our second Loki Hostel. I took a free walking tour round Cuzco, where amongst other places we ventured into the food market. It started well, delicious fruit smoothies for virtually nothing, and then we turned the corner to where a woman sat with a bowl of frogs in front of her. The guide explained that she sold a type of soup, which was essentially made by picking frogs out of the bowl, striping them of the wetsuit, popping them in the blender and then into her vat. One of the guys bought a bowl and we all had a taste. Not bad, it was similar to Japanese miso soup. The woman grinning that we liked it, lifted the ladle out of the pot, and round it was what I could only hope was a chicken neck. Apparently not, instead formerly it was part of a bull's anatomy. I don't really remember what happened, but she ended up chopping bits off for two Kiwi guys, and not wanting to let the northern hemisphere
down (along with peer pressure from the girls in the group) meant that I ended up having a chunk. It wasn't great, but down it went (just about).
Machu Picchu is the single most famous thing in South America, accessed usually by taking some sort of 4/5 day trek. We took the "Jungle trek". It was a less of a trek and more of a mix of outdoor activities. We cycled, white water rafted, ziplined, and walked our way to base of the mountain, to the town of Aguas Calientes. We got up at 4:00 for a 4:30 start, where we climbed, by torchlight at first, the 1700 odd steps up. Of course, this could not be done without it turning into a silent, unstated competition between myself and Nick for who could walk up the fastest, whilst trying to appear completely unconcerned as we sweated vast amounts. We arrived in time to be some of the first in line to enter at the opening time of 6:00, and so, after breakfast in the queue, in we went. There is very little known about the site, and it was interesting to walk around catching in on different guides' facts:
"500 people lived in Machu Picchu", "around 2000 Incans lived on site" and so on.
Nick and I had booked to climb Huyana Picchu, the mountain which overlooks Machu Picchu and on a clear day gives you great views of the surroundings. Climbing up, everything was obscured by cloud but as we waited at the summit we were rewarded by the clouds parting for a fantastic view from above of the whole site. Descending down, utterly exhausted, you marvelled at the audacity of this civilisation. Building cities at the top of steep mountains is not even something we consider today, yet it was done, around 1400AD at the will of the Incan emperor.
After too many late nights in Cuzco, we went west to Arequipa, near the site of the Colca Canyon, promoted as the deepest in the world (twice the Grand Canyon). The highlight here (on the two day trek up and down) was the condors that would occasionally soar into view riding the thermals. After doing some severely needed washing back in Arequipa, we ran into some guys we had met at Machu Picchu, and had a great few days lazing in the sun by the
pool - keeping ourselves very hydrated of course.
As a stop off on the way to Lima, I went to the Oasis town of Huacachina. For the 8 hours there I sandboarded, went on a high-adrenaline dune buggy ride and had probably the best breakfast in South America. The breakfast was a pancake with banana, strawberries, chocolate sauce, fresh juice and fantastic coffee. Sadly however, despite the fun of the buggy ride, my camera disagreed strongly with the sand, and I replaced it a few weeks later.
After spending a few days in Lima, I made it up to Huaraz, a great mountaineering base for the nearby Corderilla Blanca. My aim was to climb the highest mountain in Peru - Huascarán. I did a couple of beautiful acclimatisation walks amongst Andean villages, far enough away from civilisation that Spanish is a poorly spoken second language after Quecha. However, after speaking to some of the mountain guides, I learnt that the weather was bad for the 6000m+ mountains and it would be a "high risk" attempt that most guides would not do. In the end I left disappointed, although I managed to get a free ride from another would
be mountain climber heading north.
The next stop was Mancora, an infamous surfing resort town in the far north of Peru. We stayed in another Loki: where everyone had a bar tab associated with a wristband, there was a pool, table tennis table and beach out the back. The best tactic was to go for a run in the late afternoon, which would generate enough endorphins to throw of the remnants of the hangover, so you would be fresh enough to do yourself justice in the beer pong tournaments.
After moving on north, with Nick again, we split at the next stop of Guayaquil. Trusting my Lonely Planet's advice on how to get the best possible deal, I caught a flight 1000km west to the Galapagos. As luck would have it, it turned out a budget cruise was leaving the same day, so I got the last minute deal, and set sail for 8 days round the southern islands.
For 8 days, we would land at a spot, walk close up to wildlife who would look at us curiously, then go snorkeling, more exploring of islands and more snorkeling, punctuated by fantastic meals. The highlights were the
underwater sessions, where curious seals and penguins would come up to you, and dance through the water in a spectacular display of aqua-acrobatics. When you saw giant tortoises, it was like looking back through billenia at the colleagues of dinosaurs and their struggle to compete with modern invaders like rats or pigs makes this even more apparent. The Galapagos are my highlight of the trip so far and I would really recommend them as an incredible view into a distorted world of evolution and natural beauty.
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