Published: May 14th 2012May 6th 2012
Having left La Paz unable to remember what a good nights sleep felt like, I spent a blissful few days recharging my batteries in Lake Titicaca. I started on the Bolivian side, in Copacabana. I decided to splurge and spend the shocking 25 quid for the nicest hotel in town, which was right on the lake. Tucking into trout (local speciality) and a glass of wine over dinner, I then headed to bed at 9, for a well earned rest! The rest was well needed, as the next morning I was up early for my boat to the isla del sol, and the 5 hour hike from the south to the north island. Unfortunately the island did not live up to its name, and when we arrived it was pissing it down with rain. My guide seemed pretty surprised when I still wanted to go ahead with the hike, the only explanation I offered being "I´m english".
It was definitely worth it as the rain stopped after an hour, and the scenery was unbelievable. It was also a very good warm up for the inca trail as Lake Titicaca is actually higher than machu picchu (I did not know this before - my concept of research being pretty minimal), at 3,811m above sea level. There were also several important inca sites on the island - the incas believed it was the birthplace of the sun god, and as such it was sacred. I´m not sure where the sun god was that morning, apparently he doesn´t like english people. The other sights of the island included some llama mating, which was as disturbing as it sounds. I also ran into the barman from loki in la paz - proof that you cannot go anywhere in the world without bumping into someone you know!
Heading out from copacabana, I took the bus through to puno, the main town on the peruvian side of the lake (peru owns the majority of the lake, continuing the theme of other countries stealing land from poor old bolivia). Having stopped for a loo break at immigration, I lost the rest of my bus, and spying them in the distance I ran up the hill and through a large archway to catch them up. Surprised by why they were all laughing and pointing at me, I was then informed that the ´large archway´was actually the border crossing, and I had literally just run from bolivia to peru. Woops!
In Puno I met up with mark and vic from the salt flats tour, and we headed for some ´trout ravioli´, which was amazing. The next day I was up early again (I do not like this theme) for my day trip to the floating islands. The floating islands are man made islands on the peruvian side of the lake. We had a demonstration of how they were made - they tie massive clods of earth together, anchor these into the shallow ground of the lake, stack piles of reeds on top, and then build their houses. This was pretty intruiging stuff, however I couldn´t get rid of the thought, "but WHY?", given that they were in spitting distance of the actual land, seems like a lot of effort for nothing to me!!! Signs of moving with the times were apparent - the huts on the islands now have solar panels, so they all have cable - I tried to ask whether or not they have ´Floating islands have got talent´, but unfortunately either this was lost in translation or they were too intent on selling me about 500 llama embroidered rugs. They then broke into some traditional bolivian music, followed by a terrible rendition of ´row row row your boat´(I think this cost me an extra 10 soles), before we embarked on a 2 hour boat ride to a very underwhelming ´natural island´(I think our guides´brother might have run the restaurant). We were treated to some more local history - apparently single male inhabitants of the island have red and white hats, and married ones red hats - my life has been enriched by this piece of information.
Heading back to puno, I was looking forward to another early night (my second in 2 months - yes!), however a rep from the bus company was waiting for me to let me know that there was a bus drivers strike, so instead of the scenic, sociably timed bus to cusco the next day, I was now being shoved on a night bus. Fantastic.
Despite the uncivilised start, it is a substantial reflection on Bolivia, rather than Peru, that comparitively I felt like I´d landed in the most civilised place on earth when I reached Cusco. Cusco feels a little bit like Florence - small, very beautiful, great food and scenery. And they even have a starbucks. It is also pretty small - meaning that in the 5 days I spent there before and after my hike, I ran into just about every person I´ve met so far on my travels.
The launch pad for my week's tour of the sacred valley, lares trek (not the original inca trail as this was sold out, but a 3 day trek with amazing scenery), and machu picchu trip, I headed off the next day to meet my fellow trekkers. The group being myself, an english girl (kate), american (jamie, although our guide couldn't pronounce her name so she was unfortunately known as 'jimmy' for the duration of the trip), canadian (ruthie), an unfortunate irish man with a severe case of both the inca quickstep and altitude sickness, called tom, 3 aussies (brett, reece and tully), 3 english blokes (laurence, justin and ron), an english couple (nick and caroline) and a relatively silent polish couple. We also had our slightly creepy guide jose whose grasp of english was leaning towards tenuous, and co guide roxy, a lady gaga loving peruvienne who was unfathomably cheerful at the 5am starts.
The trek was brilliant fun, if challenging, from numerous games of ´shithead´, brilliant food (pancakes and omlettes for breakfast - all cooked in tents at high altitude!), great company, beautiful scenery. Oh and there were some tents (the less said about the camping the better - although I will point out that I had to snap back the frozen door of my tent one morning to get to the natural toilet - everyone avoiding the toilet tent after tom spent slightly too long in there).
Maccu Picchu was absolutely breathtaking. I'd been slightly worried I'd be underwhelmed having seen a million photos, but they really can't do justice to the city inexplicably perched on the top of an enormous mountain, surrounded by misty clouds and treetopped mountainsides. Brilliant. Jose's tour, sadly, was less than brilliant (he had the habit of starting sentences with 'maybe you are wondering....' before rambling off on a tangent from whatever we were hypothetically, but not actually, wondering). The lowlight being when the diahrretic tom made a miraculous recovery to (slightly unfairly) interrogate Jose on his shaky grasp of dates (he did set himself up for a fall by claiming that the incas started building MP in the 12th century, only to stop 75 years later in the, er, 16th century, do to the spanish arrival in the 15th century - this in the context of a 200 year inca empire). Oh well, there's always wikipedia.
We made the most of our 3 hours free time by settling down on the verge to admire the view (a rest needed after sleepless tent nights and a 4.30am start). I was jolted from my reverie by a loud noise - I quickly embarassingly realised this was my own snoring (I was very tired!). Ah well, not many people can say they've snored at Machu Picchu!
We headed back to Cusco for a few days chilling post trek. This included post trek celebrations where we decided to visit every club in Cusco. Fortunately there are only about 4, and they're all within a 1 minute radius. We also headed for a chocolate making tour, where we were taught how to make chocolate from bean to bar - roasting, grinding etc. Sadly, the chocolate aromas were too much for me and I kept getting told off for not paying attention. Mmmmm. I then met up with Allie, who I'd met in Sucre, and deciding we'd exhausted the sights of Cusco, we headed down to Arequipa, a colonial town in the mountains.
In an attempt to wake ourselves up after the nightbus, we decided to head for a quiet drink in town. Unfortunately, at the mere mention of 'happy hour', there were suddenly 7 of us leaving the hostel. Numerous pisco sours later, we ended up in the worst club I've ever been to in my life, with a playlist alternating the pussycat dolls, shaggy and peruvian folk music. Eeesh.
On day 2 in Arequipa, feeling rather worse for wear, Allie and I met up with Jamie and Ruthie from the Machu Picchu trek, and headed to the main attraction of the town - the monastry. Having heard that the site was open twice a week at night, lit with candles to recreat the experience of living there in colonial times, we decided to go at sunset and explore by candelight. This was absolutely fantastic. The monastry itself is like a small town - some of the richer nuns (I´m still to work out why this place insists on calling itself a monastry, despite being filled by nuns) had 4-5 servants/ slaves living there with them, and apparently the parties were renound, with reports of pregnant nuns (until Pope Pius IX got wind of this and sent Sister Josefa Cadena, a rather scary strict dominican nun to sort them all out). It was also rather terrifying poking your head into various gloomy quarters lit only by a candle - definitely glad I didn´t go by myself!!! Having thoroughly spooked ourselves out, we headed for dinner with Nick and Caroline. I have now ticked the éat guinea pig in peru´box - having sampled some rather intruiging hoisin guinea pig pancakes!
Having planned to stop at Huacachina, a natural oasis, on the way from Arequipa to Lima, Allie and I were pretty horrified when we arrived back at our hostel after dinner ready to take the night bus, to hear that this plan was to be foiled by a peruvian miners´strike, which had blockaded the entire coastline between arequipa and lima. Panicking slightly about making my flight from lima on saturday, I waited 12 hours to hear that the bus the next day wouldn´t be going either, and booked a less than cheap flight from arequipa to lima. This, it transpired, was a good call, as not only did all the flights go up at least 50 quid in the next 5 hours, but 5 days later the road was still not open, and there were reports of the miners throwing rocks at buses and overturning them, and apparently someone has died. We´re not in Europe now Toto.
The result was an extra day in Arequipa - during which I visited the museum of the sacrificed child (it is not actually called this, but this is essentially what it is). This is an entire museum dedicated to the body of an inca girl sacrificed 500 years ago, which was found frozen and thus entirely preserved at a staggering 6,288m summit in the 90s. The poor mite was made to walk up the entire summit with local priests and nobles, before being smacked on the head with rock and burried with some offerings to the mountain gods (generally in order to beg the gods to stop the local volcano errupting, or to ask them to save a local sick noble). The local guide kept insisting that she would have been ´honoured and happy to be chosen and deified´, however we concluded she was probably cold, scared shitless and generally pissed off by the whole affair. Comparitively, I felt pretty bad about complaining about my 3 day hike at 4,800, complete with porters and pancakes for breakfast :Z !!!!
Having thus exhausted the sights of Arequipa, I headed off for my flight to Lima.
Having been told Lima was, for want of a better word, an enormous dump, I have actually been pleasantly surprised. Although aesthetically it makes Sao Paulo look like the Paris of the south, I think my joy at getting there at all affected the way I saw it! Having missed out on sand buggying in huacachina, I was determined to do the one activity lima is known for - paragliding! Arriving at midday on thursday, I jumped in the shower, after which the hostel owner ran up to me excitedly announcing ´Hay viento!!!´(there´s wind!), so I jumped in the next taxi and headed down to the cliffside at Milaflores. Paragliding was, in a word, UNBELIEVABLE. I actually felt like I was flying! The route is up and down the coast line, which bizarrely takes you rather close to an exclusive shopping centre - I think I gave a few shoppers the frights of their lives!
I spent the rest of the time enjoying limas brilliant gastronomic scene, bars and museums, before heading off for my flight to guatemala. Although sad to leave south america, I was excited for warmer climes and carribean vibes!!! So long SA, its been brilliant!