Published: February 20th 2012February 19th 2012
When life gives you Lima...
From the border with Ecuador, our bus took the long route to Piura, dropping people in several towns along the road. The largest was Mancora, a seaside resort town becoming increasingly popular with surfers. Our border crossing posse pretty much all departed the bus there, so it was back down to Áine and I again. We got in to Piura shortly after 19:00, and jumped in a cab to a hostel we had read about on wikitravel.org. Los Cocos is a bit rough and ready, but the staff are really friendly. We only had to crash the one night, so we took a room. Coming down from altitude, it felt like a really hot night, so we went out to catch the breeze and get something to eat. Just down the road from us, on the corner, was Mr. Chiken. They may have been missing a 'c', but their food wasn't missing anything. Ah-ha-ha. In the morning, we strolled a little further afield for breakfast - all the way around the corner this time! We found a breakfast joint near a small bridge, and sat down for some very simple eggs, bread, juice
and coffee. It cost 4 soles - just over a euro. Haven't had such a cheap breakfast since India. In fact, the area quite reminded me of India. It was hectic, noisy, full of taxis trying to get our business, looked like a construction zone and there was a lot of rubbish about. Loved it!
After breakfast, we went to the bus office of Transportes Linea. Private companies do the longer routes in South America, and they run the gamut from con artists to companies that put European lines to shame. Linea is one of the best. It was a short 3 hours down to Chiclayo, thanks to the bus not stopping everywhere to pick up more people. It was also nice not to worry about the bags; most stops on long bus journeys are punctuated by backpackers staring out the window to watch for someone carrying off their stuff. On Linea, they locked the compartment and gave us numbered tickets for reclaiming the bags at journeys end. The best bit of this journey was the landscape. I had no idea that Peru had so much desert. We crossed an empty expanse, rocky and barren. I always
find deserts oddly attractive, and I really enjoyed the prospect of being back in one. Chiclayo was large enough to conceal the fact that we were in the desert, however, and we were staying near the centre. We checked in at San Lucas hostel, a small place barely noticeable from the street. We had read some mixed reviews online, but it was ok. They had a few dogs, including the adorable Mocha; the dogs have a habit of pooing on the stairs and barking during the night, though, which was annoying. San Lucas was actually our second choice; we had thoroughly researched the Royal Hotel across the square. What they neglected to mention about the Royal online was that it has been closed for 2 years, and turned into a shopping complex. The worst bit is that they ripped out the grand staircase, which we had heard was beautiful.
We only spent the one night in Chiclayo; the first day we had a look around the immediate area, taking in the usual Plaza de Armas and the busy streets. Chiclayo has been experiencing a real boom thanks to an attraction we visited on the second day. In
the late 70's, some grave robbers came to the attention of police in the area. They were caught with golden objects, which were clearly very old. The police checked out the area the robbers indicated when questioned as to the origin of the objects...and probably pocketed plenty of stuff themselves before reporting what they found. Archaeologists investigated the area. The grave robbers had left behind tons of stuff, discounting it because it was not gold. There was silver, copper and bronze, and a multitude of seashells, not to mention some gold items that the robbers (and the police) missed. Further investigation revealed a pair of extraordinary tombs. The first belonged to a person they dubbed Lord of Sipan. His grave was a marvel. He was buried with a huge variety of rich grave goods: over 1,000 ceramic pots, many conatining seeds; 3 ornate necklaces made of tiny, tiny shells (the effort to create these alone must have been serious, and he had 3 of them); golden, silver and bronze necklaces, including one in the shape of peanuts, a sign of fertility; gold sceptres; gold, silver and bronze armour; gigantic head-dresses made of, yep, gold; 3 pairs of the most extraordinary
earrings, intricate and delicate, with such fine filaments of gold it's difficult to believe how they shaped them; silver sandals; a large number of rugs, cloths, weaves and clothes of high quality; a llama and a dog; and much more stuff.
The tomb was large and deep, and the lord was also buried with 7 other people. A watchman, a warrior, his wife, two concubines, a young boy and priest. It is thought that these people drank poison, and were buried to accompany the lord in the next life. The warrior had a foot cut off, presumably so he might never abandon the lord. The amount of stuff put into the ground with this guy means they must have thought quite a lot of him. Archaeologists believe he was a leader, and for some reason - never revealed in the displayed information - they believe he died as little as 3 months into his reign. It would also seem that power was hereditary in their society, as - hold onto your socks - another lavish and extraordinary tomb was found in the area, and DNA testing revealed the occupant to be related to the Lord of Sipan.
The imaginatively named 'Old' Lord of Sipan was buried around 300 years earlier than the Lord of Sipan, about 1,700 years ago. His grave was not quite so large as the later one; the old lord was only buried with a single warrior. His grave goods were also slightly less intricate, the exception being an amazing spider necklace, with fine wires for legs and human faces on the spiders backs. Despite the lesser detail, more of what the old lord was buried with was made of gold. His sandals were made of gold too, not common silver like those of the young pup.
The work put into restoring these grave goods for display is staggering. The tiny shells of the necklaces had long since fallen from their rotted strings, and they had to be put back matching the orignal pattern. Everything is spotlessly clean, and the museum is really well designed and laid out. The invesment is going to pay off, as tourism is increasing in Chiclayo. The actual tombs are in another area, a short drive away from the museum, and you can visit them as well. They are filled with replicas, so you can see
how they looked when found. Another great draw for the area is Tumbes, where 26 pyramids surround a small mountain (or large hill, depending on your view). We got to visit this on our journey with Moche tours, a great comany in Chiclayo. The guide, Orlando, had good English and seemed to actually care about the subject. The pyramids are very decayed, having been built using mud and wood. El Nino rains take their toll. It is just possible to discern the seperate levels, and the wooden beams where the walls have receded. The walls are still tall, and obviously not natural as they are linear. If you climb the small mountain/large hill, it all becomes clearer. For one thing, some of the pyramids are massive. One in particular is the largest in South America, 720m long and 280m wide. Having missed Tutankamun's treasures in Melbourne, and not being able to visit Egypt due to the violence there, it was great to be in the South American valley of kings.
Between Chiclayo and Lima, there is Trujillo. By all accounts, it is a pleasant place, but without a lot to do. We decided to go straight to
Lima. This time, as the trip was overnight, we decided to go with a famed Peruvian transport institution: Cruz del Sur. Their prices are a little high, but this is one extraordinary bus company. They have comfy, 160 degree reclining seats, meals included, pillows and blankets. You hand over your bags and get tags for them, and all the passengers faces are recorded on camcorder in case anything does go missing. Your carry on is searched, and the name on the ticket is checked against your passport. It's quite like boarding a flight, actually. On board, the motif continues: there is a safety video, detailing the emergency exits and demonstrating the use of seatbelts! They also inform you that they alternate drivers every 4 hours. The drivers are breathalised before journeys. Like I said - this company puts European buses to shame. The TVs on board show a Cruz del Sur travel program, which is actually not bad, especially when you consider that the young, female spokesmodel presenter seems to always end up in ever skimpier clothing. They then show movies all night, but you need to plug in headphones to listen, so you can sleep if preferred.
We pulled into Lima, very fresh for having taken an overnight bus. We shared a cab with an American couple that had been on the bus with us, out of the centre and to the Miraflores suburb. Miraflores is a nice enough area, with cliffs at one end overlooking the beach, and a large park at the other end. The park is named Kennedy park, after JFK, and there is a bust of the assassinated president erected on the grounds. Like most other Peruvian parks, this one is lush, covered in trees and flowers, with benches in the shade. It would be a great place to have your lunch if you worked in the area. Further, the whole Miraflores suburb is patrolled by private security day and night, so it is totally safe to stroll around. The centre of Lima is a little less so, though hardly dangerous either. For all that...it's a bit dull. We walked around on our first day in Lima, and found nothing especially interesting in Miraflores. It was pleasant, but...meh. On the plus side, we found a lovely restaurant doing menu del dia for 10 soles (under 3 euro).
second day, Áine was feeling a little unwell (it wasn't the restaurant, we both ate some of each others meals), so I decided to seek out a doctor. My ear had been troubling me since the Galapagos, when I dived too deep to look at a ray. There was a public clinic one block up from the hostel, and I brought a note that I translated on google to describe my problem. My Spanish had improved a little since coming to South America, but not that much. At the clinic, I was charged 2 soles to register, and 2 soles to see the doctor. That's about a euro. The doctor had some English, and with my note, we soon figured out the issue. She examined my ear, discovering that it was plugged with discharge from a small tear. I had to go and buy some syringes out the front of the clinic, then came back in to get my ears washed out - the other one was a bit blocked too. The plug that came out was epic. Ears cleaned, the doc had another look. The inside was inflamed. I got a prescription for clarythromycin, and for desloratadine - I
also had an allergic reaction in my throat; still no idea what caused that. The whole point of this story is that the entire visit cost me 9 soles, well under 3 euro, for examination, materials, prescription and procedure. We get so ripped off at home.
We spent the evening relaxing, and retired early. On our third morning, we ventured into the historic centre. A company called Lucid Lima offers free walking tours. Only problem was, the guide elected not to show up. We seemed to be the only ones waiting for them, so maybe they have shut down. Luckily, there was plenty happening. Loud music, dancing and colourful costumes - very South American. There was a parade on, with a series of bands and dancing groups. It was named the Juliaca parade; Juliaca is a city in Peru, though I'm not sure what exactly the parade is about. The dancing men and kids were very energetic and entertaining. The dancing ladies would probably have been more energetic if they hadn't been teetering around on gigantic heels at the end of thigh high boots. Their costumes were somewhat more revealing, too, so in their own way they
were also an entertaining group. When the parade had passed us by, we ambled around the square. The grand presidential palace, archbishops palace and cathedral make up two sides; more modern strucures containing shops and restaurants occupy the other side. Diagonal to the square is another small one, Plaza Peru, with a large Peruvian flag flying over a nice fountain. We walked up from the square to San Francisco cathedral, a large church and monastic quarters.
There is a guided tour at San Francisco, and the inside is like one large piece of art. Some of the roofing is made of wood, held together solely by pressure, and in extremely intricate patterns. One large dome of that construction was just breathtaking in its complexity. Unfortunately, a lot of the roof has been damaged by the numerous earthquakes in the area. The furniture is also like artwork: made from imported Panama cedar, most pieces are intricately carved with the arms of the Franciscan order. The most interesting part of the Cathedral, however, is underneath it. The catacombs were Lima's first cemetary. A study revealed that around 25,000 were interred there. There were individual pits, where the body was
laid whole; later, when it had decayed, the bones were carried to one of the 10m deep ossaries, were bones were deposited together. The ossaries were constructed to have damping properties, lessening the threat of damage from earthquakes. The ceilings are low, it's a bit dark, and there are skulls and femurs all over the place. Nice spot for a picnic. Photos are forbidden, but I managed to sneak one of an ossary with artfully arranged bones.
We took another Cruz Del Sur bus, a daytime one this time. They showed the same travel video, and some god-awful chick flicks starring that pointless daughter of Goldie Hawn. What's her name, generic blond American actress no. 187 or something. Our next destination was Nazca, famed for its desert lines - patterns of extraordinary scale and accuracy made in the sand by natives between 1,400 and 2,200 years ago. Nazca is a true desert town, dry and dusty, though a little larger than it first appears. The Plaza de Armas (every city has one) is really nice, with the animal designs from the lines tiled on the ground. It is certainly a tourist town, with as many travel companies
as normal shops, and overpriced hotels and restaurants. You can still get a bargain if you look, though, and we got a double room for 10 euro, and found a few nice places to eat. Pollo a la brasa is especially popular here, rotissary chicken cooked over hot coals. It is moist and delicious, and pretty cheap to boot. We stayed at Brabant hostel, owned by a Dutch-Peruvian couple, though pretty much run by Jesús, a friendly and laid back young fellow.
Being a desert town, it was pretty hot, so we just took a lazy stroll around town. We walked around the plaza and the markets, taking in the large variety of pastry and cakes on offer. I'm sure we saw other stuff too, but wow there was a lot of sugar on the streets. For once, that is not a drug euphemism. We headed to bed to rest for a longer day of gawking around, contemplating taking a tour in the desert. Before long, the earth moved. By which I mean, of course, there was an earthquake. Ah-ha-ha. It was the first time we had been in a quake, but I think we reacted well.
We jumped to the doorway, standing under it as the strongest point in the room. You should never run from the building in a quake, unless you are directly beside an exit to an open space. Fortunately, though, the worst was over quickly, and only a small rattle persisted for a couple of minutes. It wasn't a big quake, really, but we went downstairs to see what Jesús though. He said it was short and violent, so there could be more, and larger. We sat outside in the relative cool, chatting with other guests, then retired after an hour passed quake-free. In the morning, the news showed scenes from Ica, 2.5 hours away. We had passed through there on the way to Nazca. The epicentre was close to Ica, so the quake there was a 6.3; 60 people were injured. Given the frequency of quakes in the area, we were lucky it wasn't under us.
Having been kept up, we woke late the next day. We did a little more exploring, nothing too hectic. In the evening, we elected to go to the planetarium at the Nazca Lines hotel. The story begins with a German lady named
Maria Reische, who came to research the Nazca lines. She ended up staying for 40 years, dying aged 92, and lived at the Nazca Lines hotel itself for 25 years. Her room is preserved, and they built the small planetarium in her memory. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a disappointment. The telescope they have is smaller than mine at home. Local light pollution is high, so really all we could see was the moon. Venus just looked like a wavy lightbulb. When the sky clouded over, we went inside for a projection show about the lines and Maria Reische. The lines were first properly appreciated after the early commercial pilots flew over the region in the 50's, reporting odd lines and shapes in the sand. It took Maria a long time to map them and clear the lines; they were created by removing the dark, top layer of rocky sand, revealing whiter sand beneath. Maria, and others, worked to clear dust and larger rocks from the lines, piling them at the sides. There is almost no rainfall in the area, which helps to preserve the lines; also, dust storms aid in keeping them clear. Maria mapped many of the
lines using surveying equipment. There are many theories as to the purpose of the lines. Maria preferred to think of them as representing constellations; 30% of the lines point at water sources, so some think they were used to pray for ample water supplies. Some of them align with where important, bright stars like Sirius rise, and others point to where the sun rises at summer or winter solstice. Whatever the purpose, the lines are a remarkeable achievment. Multi-generational, created over about 800 years, they represent a significant social investment.
The next morning was the 31st of January, a very important day: the anniversary of my leaving Ireland. 12 months before, I boarded a ferry to England, beginning the odyssey. It was a great day to do a cool activity, so I went on a flight over the Nazca lines. Áine had done the flight when last in Peru, about 2 years ago, and felt a little ill while doing it (plastic bag, face down, no pictures taken kind of ill), so she decided not to go this time. The flight was pretty cool, in a little 6 passenger Cessna plane. We banked hard over the patterns,
so the view was spectacular. It was a clear day, so I got some good pictures. The abundance of lines was unexpected; they were everywhere, much more than just patterns and a few spirals. We passed the best preserved and best known 12 designs, including the monkey (my favourite), the hummingbird, Nazca man (a waving, humanoid figure), the pelican, the spider, the hands, etc. It is only possible to truly appreciate the lines from the air, leading some wacky people to theorise that their creation was guided or inspired by aliens, or that the people making them had hot air balloons. Sigh. Really, it's down to good geometry and surveying techniques.
Now, the problem in Nazca after seeing the lines is that there isn't a whole pile to do. There are dune buggy desert tours, and you can go sandboarding, or visit an ancient cemetary complete with mummies. The activities are overpriced, however. We had booked a bus for the next evening, so we had another day to kill. We pretty much did nothing, hanging out on the roof terrace in the breeze, blogging and writing journal entries, and catching up on some reading. We did venture
out to have a Chifa, Chinese food brought in by immigrants. It was a little different from Chinese food in Ireland, and different again from Chinese food in China, but lovely all the same. Eventually, night rolled around, and we boarded another overnight Cruz del Sur bus, this time to Arequipa.
Arequipa is a nice city. There are plenty of nice restaurants, nice old buildings, a nice Plaza de Armas, a nice new bus station. Yup, nice. And dull. The best thing to do in Arequipa is to leave, and go trekking in Colca Canyon. As we were planning to do a trek in Cuzco to Machu Picchu, we elected not to go trekking here. From what we heard, Colca Canyon is beautiful, a long, narrow valley with many small villages and great views. There is a place called Condor Point, where you can watch the great birds catching prey in the early morning. Well, maybe next time...
Anyway, the overnight bus to Arequipa was fine again, but for some reason I didn't sleep at all. We took the second hostel we found, Koala hostel, and had a snooze. It was kind of an
odd place; the cleaning boy let us in, and we didn't see a member of staff until our last day there. We didn't fill in any register, so we could have walked out of the place without paying, had that been our wont. Just laid back, I suppose. The first day was a bit of a write-off, between snoozing and feeling ill - the stomach bug that had affected Áine finally got to me in my tired state. The following day was better; we took the obligatory amble about town and photo session, then visited the Museo Santuaria Andinas. The museum features information about, and artifacts and bodies from, the top of El Misti volcano. The indigenous people made sacrifices to the gods, whom they believed inhabited the top of the mountains. As such, the highest peaks were only for the holy priests, leaders and, of course, the sacrificial children. To appease the gods, i.e. to attempt to prevent volcanoes erupting, young, attractive virgins, both male and female, were sacrificed. For sacrificed, read murdered needlessly. They would walk to the top of the hill in the company of holy men; the cold and exhaustion going to 5,000 or 6,000m would
have them half dead. They drank a strong alcoholic drink, and would probably have died of exposure. To make sure, the holy men smashed their heads in. They were buried in sitting positions, along with ceremonial clothing, silver and gold dolls and some ceramics. Archaeologists would have you believe this was a great honour, and the children went happily, believing they would meet their gods. I think being dragged up a hill to have your brains dashed out was probably not a fun day trip. The first body, "Juanita", was discovered by accident, when a team ascended the mountain to study the volcanic activity. Seismic events had dislodged her, and she rolled 100m down a hill, where they found her. The bodies were well preserved by the freezing temperatures; only Juanita's face, which was exposed to the sun after tumbling from her tomb, was dried out. The skin on her body and her organs were in good shape. The bodies were studied and preserved; two of them now alternate on display in the museum.
Our third day in Arequipa was another waste. I was truly sick of cities by this point, aching to get into the countryside
or at least a small village. I had seen enough of impossibly richly decorated churches, monasteries and convents to last a lifetime; it's offensive to have the whole place lined in gold when there are people on the steps who can't afford a hot meal. To top it off,
it was fairly bad weather, blustery and rainy. All we really accomplished was to take a long walk during a break in the rain to the other side of town, where an iron bridge was constructed by Eiffel, of Parisian tower fame. We browsed some markets, but purchased nothing - most of it is identical, likely produced in a sweatshop somewhere. Genuine, handmade, traditional crafts are hard to come by. We collected our bags, and took yet another overnight bus, to Cuzco.
And again a poor sleep! On the plus side, Cuzco was really lovely. I had kind of forseen Cuzco as a tourist trap, built solely to accomodate people on the way to Machu Picchu. There is no shortage of tour agencies and touts in the street trying to reel you into a crap trek, but Cuzco is much more than that. It was a major
Inca city itself, and there are a number of ruins inside the town that you may visit. Unfortunately, many of the old Inca walls were simply built on by the Spanish, so you frequently pass Inca masonry with newer, European style buildings plonked on top. The old temple of the sun, for example, is squashed beneath a large church. At 3,400m, Cuzco is cool, so we were lucky to have sunshine most of the time. The Plaza de Armas is beautiful, and you can see mountains all around, which dissipates the "trapped in a city" feeling. When we first arrived at the hostel, Turistico Recoleta on Pumacahua street, we were given breakfast even though we hadn't spent a night yet. The place is a classy joint, spotlessly clean and well run. And warm, too - the nights are chilly. We went into town to research getting to Machu Picchu; there are a few ways to do it, see the seperate Machu Picchu blog for info. The bad news was that the trek we wanted to do, Lares Valley, was not leaving for almost a week with our preferred company. We had some planning to do. We got lunch at a
place named Aldea Yanapay; Áine had eaten there on her last visit to Cuzco, so we sought it out on Ruinas street. For 15 soles, we got a starter, main, dessert and a Pisco Sour, a famed Peruvian liquer. The food was great, and to top it off all their profits go to funding a school established by the same people. The school is for street kids, who could not get any education otherwise. Many of the children have to balance their lessons with time spent working, cleaning shoes or selling trinkets.
We left a message on the Thorntree forum, looking for trekmates - if we got two more people, we could leave sooner. We asked around at the hostel, to see if anyone there wanted to go. No luck at the hostel; while we awaited replies on Thorntree, we went to San Pedro market to seek out baby alpaca wool for Áine to send home as a gift. The market at San Pedro is a little touristy, with cheap souvenirs and plastic goods replacing what would once have been local produce stalls and suppliers of wool. Some of these remain towards the back of the market,
but it is mostly useless. There are very, very cheap restaurants, preparing dishes from the food sold inside the market - fresh as can be - but after a few days of upset stomachs, we felt unready to face the slightly questionable hygiene. I love trying these places, and have never gotten sick from one, but no point taking the risk when already affected. We located no wool in the market, and tried instead the haberdashers along the Avenida del Sol. We found the wool a little pricey, and decided to try elsewhere. In the evening, there were no replies on Thorntree. Our options were:
1. Pay to go on a private trek; 500 euro each.
2. Tour the sacred valley towns for a few days, then return on the 12th for the Lares Trek.
3. Take a trek with an unknown, possibly dodgy company. Even if our trek was ok, they might underpay the porters, etc.
4. Go by bus to Ollantaytambo, spend the night, take a train and bus to Machu Picchu, then return to Cuzco.
In the end, we elected to go
with option 4. We missed out on trekking, but it would mean saving money for a later trek, possibly into the Amazon. The weather was pretty bad, so we might have been pissed on for 4 days; landslides are a factor in that weather. Also, we would have more time in La Paz, which was turning out to sound like a fantastic destination. With the plan laid down, we were set to depart the following day. Our last pre-Machu Picchu day in Cuzco was productive; Áine got the wool to send home, and we went to visit the Sacsayhuaman ruins over the town. Yes, that is pretty much pronounced "sexy woman". In Cuzco, there are 4 major sets of ruins; to visit, you need to buy a 70 soles ticket which allows you to see all of them. There is no individual ticket, which makes visiting just one site a bit of a rip off. We negotiated for a bit, and managed to get the two of us in for one ticket. It works out at 10 euro each, still a little steep; considering the quality of the ruins though, well worth it. Sacsayhuaman is set over two adjacent hills,
themselves at the top of a larger hill. To the left as you approach from the road, there is a fort. These stones are some of the largest ever used by the Inca; the largest weighs between 180 and 200 tonnes. They are exceptionally well shaped, and fit together without mortar. The joins are so narrow, you can't get a knife between them. The fort is tall, with about 4 levels. At the bottom, pointed protrusions are spaced so as to give defenders the ability to make enfillade - that is, to fire on the enemy from both flanks at once. From the top of the fort, almost the entire town of Cuzco is laid out before you, filling the valley. Opposite the fort is a rocky hill, with steps and seats carved into the stone. This hill was likely used for cermonies. The rocks are unusual, looking quite like the backs of whales emerging from a sea of grass and plunging down again. The shape and weathering meant that some of the steeper rocks made for excellent slides; not sure if the Inca got up to this, but it was a lot of fun. Behind this second hill was
a terraced agricultural area, the largest I have seen, with a huge open space in the middle. The space was possibly used to graze alpaca or llama. Upon walking across the space, we found several cramped tunnels, hewn from stone. We explored the damp, dark spaces as much as bravery allowed, following voices or traces of daylight to the other side. The last tunnel took us out near to where we entered. We decided to walk down into town. The road going up for cars is a windy, windy (first one "eye" sound, second one "ind" sound...isn't English great?) dusty dirt road. The walking route, however, is more direct, and is a restored Inca trail, complete with aquaducts. There is a river flowing alongside much of it, and it is a really nice way to get back down to town.
The next day, we departed for Ollantaytambo, known locally as Ollanta. Ollanta is the starting point for trains to Machu Picchu (you can also go from Poroy, but not in rainy season). The first step is to take a collectivo, or minivan, from Cuzco. It cost 15 soles, about 4 euro, and took an hour and a
half. The scenery, again, is just amazing, through high passes and along plateaus. We picked a new looking van, and it was comfy and warm - and the driver was remarkeably sane. We had decided to spend a couple of nights in Ollanta, and visit some ruins there, so we went to check out the hostels. They were mostly a little overpriced for the quality, so in the end we stayed in a more expensive but great place called Casa de Wow, run by Winnie. Winnie is an American lady, very friendly and helpful, and a little bit different. She was very much into spirit energy, etc., and had tried ayahuasca medicine. Basically, that's where you ingest quantities of a toxic hallucinogen, and spend several days tripping and vomiting. If you don't see the spirit realm then, I suppose you never will. Casa de Wow was warm and clean, and they did a mean egg breakfast. Highly recommend halting there if you find yourself in Ollanta. And, highly recommend Ollanta: set in a narrow valley between high rocky peaks, with Inca ruins all around. The ruins to the west are the major attraction; again, you need a ticket to visit
them and some others nearby, and you can't get a ticket for just one - 70 soles. We opted to admire them from afar, and walk to the free ruins to the east. The most spectacular thing about the western ruin is the terraces, which are visible from town anyway. The stonework is top quality, and it is thought that these terraces were experimental - the Inca were trying to see which crops grew best where. The eastern ruins are old grain stores. By building the stores high on a hill, and having large gaps in the walls to the front and rear, the Inca could preserve the grain by means of the natural cool and wind.
Ollanta itself is a pleasant place to amble around, with relatively clean air and the gurgle of the river and waterways making the soundtrack. It's a very compact town; you can see the whole thing in about an hour. Despite the concentration of souvenir shops, overpriced restaurants and hostels, it somehow has a relaxed pace, and you can find good value there. On our first night, we went out and had dinner - alpaca steak for me. It was lovely,
tasted a bit like liver. We finished the evening with Peruvian chocolate and Blackadder series 4 - great DVD selection at the hostel! In the morning, we walked up to the grain store ruins, named Pinkulluna. The view over the town and valley was pretty special, and we wandered around the stores and watchtowers. We got around half way up the steep hill before it began to rain; headed down for lunch after that. We had heard from Winnie that there was a party on up in the hills. A festival, known as Compadres, celebrates ties between country and city folk. We rode with Winnie, her boyfriend and his sons in a collectivo up to Pumamarca. There were a lot of people heading that way, so the collectivos were loaded. 45 minutes up into the mountains, we arrived. It was amazingly colourful - everyone out in their Sunday best, reds and oranges very alien in the dull, rainy landscape. The kids were playing, the women were gossiping and the men were extremely drunk, mostly. There were cheap plastic toys for the kids, and a few restaurant stalls set up. We ate fresh, fried trout, and tried chica rum; it is
made with corn, and on special occasions, strawberries, and is very, very potent. Half a glass and I was tipsy. We settled in on a stone wall nearby to watch the main event: the bullfight.
Now, I would normally never watch a bullfight. However, I was assured that the bulls come to no harm, for the simple reason that the villagers can't afford to replace them. There are no spears, just red blankets. The bulls were very young, and not all that well muscled or aggressive. They made a few half hearted charges before retreating to the open pen. That said, the second bull - the black - was a bit more spirited, and a few volunteers from the crowd got laughed out for dropping their cloaks and running away from him. We had a long wait for the bullfight, and took in some of the details of the town. The entire thing was constructed in adobe, the dwellings and the rather cute church. The bullfighting ring was marked out by stacked stones, clearly constantly changing shape, and quite uneven - where we were sitting was at bull-horn height. After the show, we crowded into another collectivo
to go back to Ollanta. This collectivo had the added charm of an excessively drunk man, who couldn't seem to understand that we didn't speak Quechua - the local language. Everyone was in high spirits; some girls on the bus ambushed everyone we passed, spraying them with silly string. It was fantastic to be at a genuine, local event. Tourists were very welcome, but the party was not for them. So much of what you get brought to see abroad is put on as a show, so to be a guest at something real is a bit special. It was also kind of nostalgic; reminds me of going to horse shows as a young buck.
In the morning, we departed early for Machu Picchu - see the seperate MP blog...
We returned to Cuzco around 22:30, and settled in for a long sleep. We had breakfast, made some calls home, and went to organise our onward travel. We booked bus tickets to Puno, home of Lake Titicaca. By chance, we discovered a rather cool market near the bus station, and browsed some of the local products. I happened upon a lady sewing fakes -
clearly this market is not meant to be seen by foreigners - and paid her to do a repair on my bag with her machine. After a bit, we headed back to the centre of town, and into the Chocolate Museum. It's a great place, with information on the history of chocolate, loads of statistics (Ireland is the 5th greatest consumer of chocolate per head, with 9kg a year) and also good information on cacao growing and the ethics of the market. You can take a chocolate making lesson, but it was a little pricey and kind of took too long for us. Instead, we had a hot chocolate - molten chocolate with hot milk, cloves and cinnamon sticks to mix as you please - and a few samples of chocolates they make, including one with coca leaves inside. Very delicious. We spent the evening relaxing at the hostel, and chatted with an English couple who had recently been in La Paz; good advice swap.
We boarded a bus to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the next morning. It wasn't an especally long ride, in South American terms; when the bus stopped for a bathroom
break, we declined to emerge. Of course, later, we discovered that the bathroom on the bus was broken. As we approached Puno, we were sitting very cross legged, and dying to discover the quality of the bus station jacks. And so began the folly of Puno. I rarely have to say that I don't enjoy a place, but Puno is, simply, a shithole. The whole place is built with dodgy, crooked red brick construction, so it's ugly as all hell. Every taxi in Peru will overcharge you; here, it is simply stupid, 4 or 5 times the norm. The streets are deep, rutted gutters, close to innavigable. And it seems to be inhabited largely by complete idiots. When we entered Puno, busting for the loo, the bus had to stop for 40 minutes to allow a parade to pass by. They were advancing down the street at a rate of about the length of a gnats eyelash per hour. The cacophany created by 4 brass bands playing different songs in close proximity was incredibly irritating. How hard can it be to set up a diversion in a small town? The traffic was chaos, all because nobody could be bothered to
get the thumb out and organise a bit. Not only that, but the ignorance was staggering. They could very easily have narrowed the column and gone past the bus; instead each one walked right up to the front of the bus before passing, immobilising us. People were even banging on the bus, as if to challenge the fact that it was attempting to drive on a public street. These festivals involve a lot of drinking, so perhaps lapses in intelligence are to be expected. We finally pulled in, got to the bathroom, and found a crusty old taxi driver who gave us an honest price. We checked in at the hostel, Puma, and collapsed for a rest. Puno, at 3,800m, is significantly harder physically than even Cuzco, 3,400m.
Lake Titicaca is beautiful, though not much of it is visible from town. The best aspect of the area, and it is hidden from view. On top of everything else, it was pissing rain in Puno. The town would be a shithole even in sunshine, but this prevented us from even taking a decent walk. We went down the very steep hill into the centre, finding most places closed
due to the festival. The parades were still going on; we later discovered that they run from 7am until 7pm, with a short break or two. All day, groups of hundreds march around, blaring terrible music, not sticking to the stadium and main street where the "competition" is hosted, but wandering around everywhere, creating total chaos for anyone trying to get anywhere. We found a supermarket, and picked up a few supplies, then headed to the fresh market for vegetables to make soup. In the market, I had my first altitude episode. The noise, the heat from my layers, the rain and the low oxygen contrived to make me very light headed. I had to sit quietly for a minute until it passed, then moved on, taking it slowly. We retreated to the hostel and made a hearty carrot and spud soup (one of the best things about South America - you can get a decent spud, almost as good as home). Being out of the middle of town, the noise of the drunken party below only disturbed us a little bit.
On our second morning, we booked our ticket to La Paz, Bolivia. No intention of
lingering in Puno. The rain was torrential, but we decided to get something out of the town, and booked a tour for later to visit Los Islas Uros, some pretty special islands on Lake Titicaca. The rain let up shortly after noon, so we decided to amble the streets, if only to say that we had seen enough of Puno to dislike it. And the opinion was not improved by our visit. We tried to get down to the lakeshore for a few pictures, and discovered that for over 2km along the streets parallel to the shore, the seats for watching the parade blockaded the entire place. To cross a street 2m wide, you would need to walk all the way around the seating. Absolutely stupid. We had lunch at a good local spot, then attempted to watch the parade. Of course, the streets were crowded with drunken people who got aggravated when we stood somewhere obscuring a few degrees of their view. Never mind the locals obscuring almost all of their view; it was the gringos causing all the trouble. We finally stood inside a chemist to watch a bit, and I lost it with the staff who asked
us to move. There were people sitting in the doorway, people standing all across the front of the place, but we would apparently block customers. They backed down, but I was so sick of this mentality that we moved on, back to the hostel.
By the time the tour came around, 15:30, the rain was back with a vengeance. The pickup came late - traffic, again. We slowly made our way to the boat, arriving an hour late. One particular traffic jam was simply incredible for its very existence. Three cars sat side by side in a one car lane; they faced three cars coming on in a one car lane from the other side - these on the wrong side of the road due to impatience with the queue of traffic. Other cars jammed in to the sides of these 6, inches from them, so that nobody could move to the side. Further, more cars piled in behind all of the above, so that nobody could reverse. Long story short, there was around 16 cars sitting at all angles in a junction, totally unable to move, beeping their horns constantly. The jam only cleared when someone
got out of their car further back, and pointed and shouted until cars further back reversed. Incredible ignorance and idiocy.
When we finally got to the docks, we puttered out onto the lake on a boat which looked very home-made, with bus seats and a steering wheel, and arrived at Tetsuwintuyo, the first Uros island we would visit (Tetsuwintuyo was also the name the "Inca" used for their empire). The Uros Islands are unique; chunks of soil 2-3m square are floated on the lake, then another 2-3m of reeds are layed on top in criss-cross pattern. These artificial island are constantly repaired, and last up to 80 years. The houses on the islands are built from reeds; the watchtowers are made of wood, tied together with reeds; the cookfires are lit with reeds; and reeds are a tasty snack. People have lived on these artificial island for thousands of years, a special people in between mountain dweller and sea dweller. They fish, and grow crops on soil brought to the island; there was a potato patch on Tetsuwintuyo. The islands are inhabitied by a single family; Tetsuwintuyo had 19 people, all blood relatives or wives. Each island
has its own 'president', usually the eldest son of the last president. They are sort of in charge of their island, but mainly they are responsible for welcoming guests, and they can usually speak Spanish. The islanders speak Ayawara, an old native language.
We visited a second island, where people have built a bar, café, restaurant and hotel, to further encourage tourism. It looked like a cool place to stay for a night, though not in the weather we had. The guest rooms had wooden floors and solar powered lighting. It was great to have gotten out on the lake; it was a cool tour, and the islands were pretty special. It also meant that Puno wasn't a total waste of time. There was one more experience to add to the evening: I ate my first guinea pig. Guinea pigs are not pigs, and they are not from Guinea. They orginated in the Andes, and have been a special occasion food for a long time in Peru. I had a fried one; as is traditional, it was served whole, with only the internal organs removed. I can understand why some people would be put off, seeing the
head and eyes and ears and paws, but I am not squeamish, or a hypocritical carnivore. What's more, it was really tasty! It had the consistency of chicken, tender and a little greasy, but the flavour was much more gamey. Would happily eat it again.
So, that was Peru. Aside from Puno, it was one of the best countries I've visited. Prices are low, transport is high quality, there is accommodation of every kind available, food is varied and delicious. There is a ton of stuff to see, from all eras, stone age to Inca. This is a country with a unique identity, proud of its native heritage while not dismissive of the Spanish descendants. Independance is for Peruvians, regardless of genetics. The natural beauty outside the cities, added to the charm of many of the towns and villages, makes this a relaxed and calming place - mostly. It does have the hectic pace of a South American nation, the noise and colour and traffic, and the almost wilful stupidity of some people can be infuriating. The best thing to do is to take your time, breath deeply, and hope there is a bathroom nearby. Of all
the places I've been, I would highly reccomend Peru for a 2 or 3 week holiday. You could easily fill every day, and see some really amazing and historic spots.
There are more photos below