Published: December 23rd 2010
December 10th 2010
Firstly, I must apologise for the length of time it has taken me to update our travel blog. Internet access in South America is sooooooooo slow and loves to crash on me. Hence, the delay!
Arriving in Lima (Peru´s capital) from Miami was a bit of a culture shock. In the taxi on the way to our hotel, we could see why they say that half of Peruvians live below the poverty line and unemployment is so out of control that it cannot be measured. The excessive use of car horns, the begging children, the lack of toilet seats, cold showers and toilet roll bins all had to be embraced very quickly! We decided to explore the old town before we met up with our tour group and visited the San Francisco monastery. The underground catacombs are the site of an estimated 70,000 burials – we both found the bone-filled crypts unnerving.
Once we met up with our tour group, we realised that we were going to have a ball. Everybody was very friendly and we all hit it off from day one. We all bonded in Pisco over a tour of the winery at 11am (some of you
may remember Pisco from our wedding!) We went sand boarding in the afternoon and given the false sense of confidence we had as a result of the Pisco earlier that day, we were quite relieved to go home in one piece! One of Peru´s most enigmatic and mysterious achievements are the world famous Nazca lines. The best way to describe them are like scratches in the sand engraved on the desert floor like graffiti of giants carved with massive sticks. We were contemplating taking a flight over the Nazca lines until our guide told us how many people had died from plane crashes over the past couple of years! Eek! That evening, we assisted in the preparation of a “Pachamanca”, an ancient ceremonial meal where a variety of delicious treats are wrapped in banana leaves, buried in the ground and slow-cooked with pre-heated rocks. Ben and I, as the honeymooners, were chosen as the grandmother and grandfather which involved us blessing the food with the chef.
Our next stop was Arequipa which felt more laid back than Lima. It is known as “the white city” as a result of the very light coloured volcanic rock which is used for
building. In Arequipa, we went to see the frozen Inca Maiden who was sacrificed on the summit of a mountain over 500 years ago. The mummy itself was incredibly creepy as her skin and hair were still in tact! We also visited Colca Canyon, one of the world´s deepest canyons (3191m) and trekked down it. Whilst trekking, we spotted Andean condors gliding effortlessly on thermal air currents (see pics).
We spent the next few days exploring Cusco, whilst taking time to acclimatize to the higher altitude before our big trek. Cusco is a city steeped in history, tradition and legend and we thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the cobbled streets, in particular Gringo (the Peruvian word for ´tourists´) Alley. A highlight for us was a horse riding trek through the countryside and archaeological ruins. Ben´s horse (which he named ´donkey´) was very feisty and Ben enjoyed causing chaos by ramming into the back of everybody else’s horses!
We spent the night in a small town called Ollantaytambo the night before the Inca trail. It poured down all day and we were concerned that our four day trek would be a wet one. To our delight, we woke up the
next morning to sunshine. We began the Inca Trail with a spring in our step and great enthusiasm. The Inca trail is a 40km hike to Machu Picchu – although this does not seem particularly far, the ancient trail laid by the Incas winds its way up, down and around the mountains. The views of snowy peaks and cloud forest were stupendous. Our local crew of 2 guides, 2 cooks and 18 porters looked after us extremely well during our hike. Porters carried the majority of our gear for the hike and the cooks made us shockingly good food considering the circumstances. We even received ´tent service´ in the mornings whereby our guide delivered our morning pick-me-up of choice (coffee for me of course!) to our tent along with our wake up call.
The first day was relatively straightforward and Ben and I were proud to be leading the group up the trail (not being competitive at all of course!). The weather was glorious and we visited a couple of Inca ruins which served as opening acts for the main event. The second day involved a long and steep climb up to the highest point of the trek (Dead
Woman´s Pass). The views were amazing but Ben, not being satisfied that the views were incredible enough, decided to scramble up another peak called ´The Nipple´!! The third day was the most scenic as the trail passed through some beautiful cloud forest and we had wonderful views of the Urumbamba Valley. On the final day of the hike, we climbed the steps up to the Sun Gate overlooking the peaks that surround Machu Picchu. We were slightly concerned when we reached the Sun Gate as the mist was covering the mountain and Machu Picchu. However, the mist quickly rose and our first views of Machu Picchu were incredible (see pics). We had a few hours to explore the famous Inca ruins and take the postcard shots. It felt sad to leave such a beautiful spot but we were both very much looking forward to a hot shower when we returned to Cusco!
After a much needed rest and a shower, we travelled to Puno, on Lake Titicaca (the largest lake in the world above 2000m). After spending a night in Puno, we boarded a boat and headed to Taquile Island for lunch in a local restaurant. The Island was
placed in an idealistic setting with great views of the Lake. From there, we headed to another island (Amantani) where we stayed with a local family overnight. As soon as we stepped onto the island, we were dragged to their football pitch and enjoyed a few games of football against the locals. Ben was in his element of course! We were then dressed in typical Peruvian gear (Ben was not so keen) and enjoyed typical music of the area. We had dinner with our respective families that evening and Ben and I could not help but notice what simplistic lives they lead. We had no hot water and no luxuries. However, our family seemed very content with their lot - there is much to be said for the simple life!
The following morning, we visited one of the floating Islands (the Uros Islands) en route to Puno. The floating islands are made up of layers of reeds which did not feel the safest to walk on! The people of the island also lived a very simple life and relied upon selling their local handiwork to make a living. We felt slightly uncomfortable on the island as we felt under
incredible pressure to buy local produce and “help to build their future”. You are put under this kind of pressure every day in South America which is incredibly sad.
The final leg of our tour led us to La Paz in Bolivia where we join a new tour to Santiago in Chile. Our first impressions of La Paz are that it is a bit of a dump and we are looking forward to getting on the road and seeing the picturesque side of Bolivia.
We would both like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We miss you all heaps and wish that we were able to share a mince pie and a mulled wine with you. Let´s hope that the snow melts for all of you in the UK soon too!
Lots of love xxxx
There are more photos below