Published: January 22nd 2009
November 10th 2008
Macchu Picchu, Peru
After crossing the border of Bolivia and entering Peru I passed the usual passport formalities without any hassle. I board a camioneta and head out towards the city of Puno. The area is dry and arid and there are low lying mountains spreading out towards the horizon. The air is cool and crisp and rather thin due to the extreme altitude almost reaching 4000 metres. I’m surprised that it has not affected me a great deal apart from feeling like I have smoked a pack of camel cigarettes after merely walking up a small hill. To my right spans the grand Lake Titicaca that glimmers a cool jewelled blue that strikes against the hot midday sun. As per usual the camioneta is over crammed with everything but the kitchen sink. I take a deep breath to try to quell the excitement of finally arriving to a country whose mystery and eerie beauty has intrigued me for many years.
I let out a big smile and a young girl in front reflects it back to me as she shyly hides under the seat. The bus terminal is accompanied by the usual chaos of mad sellers and people trying to get
Lake Titicaca, Peru
where they need to go. I hunt around for the closest cheap hotel to dump my things and take a look around. The lake is close by and im surprised to find the surrounding neighbourhood rather dodgy with dusty dirt roads, huge holes and rubbish scattered around, marked by the occasional whiff of old urine in the air. Closer to the centre is a different story, stone pebbled boulevards with a plethora of fine, overpriced restaurants and hotels. I quickly realised this was the tourist quarters seeing as most Peruvians could never afford to eat at such high prices.
The atmosphere that the lake exuded was reflected in the calmness of the city. The people were friendly and genuinely interested in me and my thoughts of Peru. It was a great change from Bolivia where I found most were very quiet, introverted types that kept to themselves and wanted nothing to do with outsiders. Walking along the shore of the lake was not very appealing and to get a much better vantage point it was necessary to get a quick boat ride out to the nearby floating islands. These islands are quite amazing to see as they are
Lake Titicaca, Peru
entirely made out of the Totora reeds and they are anchored with ropes connected to sticks that are attached to the bottom of the lake so the island doesn’t drift away. These reeds are also used for making their boats and even contain iodine so when the people eat them it prevents disease. The people also used to fish for a living but like so many other tourist hot spots these days the people have become dependant on selling their artisan weavings, carving and pottery which puts a dampener on the authenticity of the whole experience and I decided its not worth heading out to the other islands and headed back to the mainland.
Things started to take a turn for the worst, for the first time since arriving to South America I came down with a bad case of stomach sickness. Some days it would be a extremely bad case of gas and others it would be running to the bathroom a few times an hour, little was I to know this would be just a glimpse of what was awaiting me and that Peru was going to be one of THOSE countries that would literally break
be apart completely. After a few more days of milling around feeling sorry for myself I took a bus north to Cusco which due to its proximity to Machu Picchu is a breeding ground for hoards of tourists that is enough to make ones stomach churn without the help of bad quality street ratburgers.
The city of Cusco itself is a colonial masterpiece. Whilst taking a brief walk down the centre of town I am met with so many antique style buildings that tower over the Plaza de Armas and send me into a trance that takes me back hundred of years to a time where this city was a centre of amazing might and power which now is merely scraping by with its tacky tourist based economy. It was fantastic just to sit back and marvel at such a historic gem.
Naturally I, like all the other tourists, wanted to see this new seven wonder but as most people know doing the Inca trail involves three months of back planning and lots of dollars of which I had neither. Luckily there are at least three other hikes that can be done here and I took
a 4 day hike with seven other brave and intrepid souls. The first day was a bike ride mostly down hill toward a town called Santa Maria. I had one of those ingenious Peruvian bikes that you have to pedal hard even to go downhill. By the end of the 5 hours I already wanted to go back to Cusco. The scenery in the area is quite breathtaking with huge mountains of green tapered by dirt roads and carved by rich white flowing rivers. The accommodation was basic and included one of those typical electric showers with no ground that shocked you every time you touched the tap which was gladly free of charge with the hotel.
The second day I woke abruptly and had intense visitation with the toilet and was dreading about today’s hike awaiting me. However I pressed on and the even though some of the trek was quite steep it was not overwhelming, it also involved trekking partly on another Inca trail (Apparently there used be many Inca trails but were mostly destroyed to avoid the discovery of Machu Picchu by the Spaniards). Along the way we passed several coca plantations grown by the
locals who use the coca for tea and chewing, a popular past time of many Peruvians. Unfortunately, the government wants to stop this due to pressure from Western countries due to the belief these are used to produce cocaine. If these new laws come into place it would mean thousands of Peruvians without any money to eat and live. The next day incurred more walking but this time it was quite boring as it involved walking mostly on the railway line and at this point my energy levels due to my being sick was at an all time low, almost collapsing when getting to the final destination of Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu.
The next day meant waking at 4 am to walk from the base to the entry gate. It was a gruelling hour walk and step after step resulted in me being completely soaked with sweat and out of breath when reaching the entrance. For me the magic left in that moment of chaos from entering the turnstiles with hundreds of lazy others who took the train and bus up to the entrance and ran off to climb Huaynapichu, which is the mountain seen
in all the famous shots and only 200 are allowed to climb it. I decided to climb Machu Picchu itself about twice as big, as if I didn’t have enough energy already somehow I got the energy together to make it and was rewarded with fantastic 360 degree views of the entire area with only a handful of others to share it with. By the time I headed back to the ruins it was swarming with guides and tourists explaining the various areas of the site, for me I didn’t need an explanation, it is a magical place. I walked down all the way to the base passing loads of buses going up to shepherd the weak from the top of the mountain, it was then when I broke down in tears, tears of joy for having the strength to make it this far as well as tears for the ignorance of so many others. I had enough; I didn’t go to the sacred valley because even though Peru was my dream I left directly for the jungle for it was my calling.
There are more photos below