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Published: November 8th 2009
So we left country number 9 (Bolivia) for Peru, as always were a little nervous about the border crossing (would we have to pay a 'fine' for anything, would we be allowed to cross at all?). It turned out to be another easy (and free!) crossing, followed by a minibus to Puno. Once in Puno, we changed to a comfy double decker bus to continue our journey to Cusco - the starting point for trips to Machu Picchu.
As we neared Cusco, the bus pulled over and we began to smell smoke inside the bus, so we all piled off onto the side of the road. There didn't seem to be much hope of a replacement bus as it was 9pm and we were so close to Cusco, so everyone took their bags and started to climb into the local minibuses that zoom around the roads of Cusco. We decided to do the same, as there didn't seem to be an alternative, and were assured by the conductor of the minibus that we could get to the main square in town. Sure enough, after about half an hour, the conductor told us it was time to get off and pointed
us in the direction of the square. Just as we were squeezing off the bus and trying to keep an eye on our big rucksacks, someone decided to help themselves to the contents of Dave's pocket (his wallet). We don't usually have much money on us, but as we had to pay for our trek the following day, we had decided to get some extra cash out and stupidly stuck it all in the wallet together... it's safe to say we won't be doing that again! Thankfully we don't keep all our credit cards together, so we weren't destitute but it was a real pain getting it sorted for the insurance.
As usual there were many hoops to jump through - we had to do a report at the police station that night, go to the bank the following day to pay and get a receipt for about $1.50 then take the receipt back to the police station to collect our report, only to discover that they couldn't find it. The next day we returned to the police station, to be asked all the same questions again, then finally receive our report which was produced as a Word document
and probably could have been done in an internet cafe! Up to now we have had the most amazingly wonderful time in South America and loved every minute of it, so we were very much put off Peru, and spent the next few days trying to not to be.
Cusco is the most touristy place we have been, and it reminded us why we try to avoid these towns! There are hundreds of people trying to sell anything and everything from treks to hats to massages. Having said that, people here are still intrinsically very friendly and when we mentioned to a waiter that his beers were very expensive, he pointed us in the direction of what turned out to be a student bar with very cheap beer!
When in Cusco, there are only a few things to do, and they all involve Machu Picchu at some point. There are 3 day treks right up to the gates of the most famous Incan city (the traditional Inca Trail), or there are now quite a few alternative treks that don't involve camping with hundreds of other people and being marched up a touristy trail. We looked into a few
treks and decided that the one involving walking through the Lares area, which visited many rural communities was for us. We had been recommended Peru Treks by Gayle's sister, so decided to go with them - and we weren't disappointed!
We had booked our Lares trek a month in advance as the company we had been recommended seemed to be getting booked up, and this was the last trek they did this year. It turns out until the Friday before, we were the only two trekkers, then to Dave's delight another Northerner (from the wrong side of the Pennines!) booked to come so there were three of us. We all met up for a team brief on the Saturday night, after a fraught few hours spent trying to get money out of Gayle's Co-op bank account. They may be an ethical bank but they don't seem to like giving you your money when you are out of the country!
We spent Sunday relaxing in Cusco, it is a very pretty city as a lot of it dates back to Incan times (there are lots of guest houses boasting 'Incan walls' in their buildings!). Narrow cobbled streets leading in
all directions from the main square, with tiny alleys packed with people selling all manner of tourist tat (and the odd bargain). Its quite difficult to get photos as there are lots of Peruvians in traditional dress standing in the way, then asking for money as you just photographed them!
Early Monday morning, we got picked up from our hostel, in a huge bus just for the three of us! A couple of hours up the road we stopped at the local market of a small town to get breakfast and found quite possibly the nicest breakfast in the World - warm rice pudding and jam! After breakfast, it was another hour or so to the start of the trek, then we had to say goodbye to our luxury bus and hello to the horses that would be carrying our main packs for the next three days. As soon as we set off, it was straight up a big hill, but thankfully our guide (Marcello) seemed to know that we hadn't done any exercise in the last six months (and neither had Ash, the third trekker), so took it very slow with lots of breaks. Even having spent a
month at altitude in Bolivia (2500-5000 metres), we were still puffing and panting all the way to the top. But what a view when we got there! A beautiful valley on one side, with a mountain lake on the other. We had lunch by the lake, then up another hill for more fantastic views and down to a village to camp for the night. Just as we were discussing what a wonderful (if tiring) day we'd had, a group of local ladies turned up with cold beer and lots of products for sale! We sunk a couple of refreshing Cusqueñas, did a bit of shopping, then retired very early to our tents.
The next day was another early start after a cold night, with another day of hills, valleys, lakes and tired legs, but it was so worth it to see how people in this region are still farming potatoes at over 13,000 feet above sea level! Their practices have changed little in the last few centuries, as this area has no electricity or running water, and few roads (similar to farming in North Yorkshire!!). Their potatoes, however, are allegedly the best as they are organic and only fertilized
with llama droppings!
Day three was a relative breeze as we were done by late morning, and had enough time to sit on a hillside for half an hour admiring the view. Then a wander down to a village for more shopping - buying from the people who have sheared the llamas, spun the wool, dyed it, then weaved the fabric is so much nicer than from a shop in a big town! After lunch of guinea pig (that made Dave very ill!), we got the train to Aguas Calientes for a night in a hotel with a proper bed and hot shower... bliss!
Another early start (that didn't feel too bad after all the other early starts we'd just done!), and we got the bus up to Machu Picchu before too many of the crowds. Our guide, Marcello, gave us a tour for a couple of hours, which was fascinating as he had clearly learned a lot about the site and had formed a few opinions on all the different theories about what the town was used for. The town was very interesting to wander around, however we both felt that the trek in the Lares valley
area really made the trip worthwhile. As if we hadn't had enough of big hills, we decided to climb Wayna Picchu too (its the big peak in the background of the famous Machu Picchu photos), to get a different perspective of the site. We got the train and bus back to Cusco that evening, and spent the next day recovering!
Once we had recovered, we decided that as time was pressing on towards our going home date, we didn't have enough time to spend 20 hours on a bus to Lima, so decided to fly instead. When we arrived in Lima, we collected our bags then got ambushed by the taxi drivers as we tried to leave the airport. It was quite possibly the most fun we've had catching a taxi as we just stood there whilst they all tried to outdo each other with prices to get our custom - all in a very fun and good natured way! The best price was from a guy who had a friend who had parked outside the airport so as not to pay the entrance fees - hence cheap taxi price. Although it did worry us a little when we'd
All dug by hand and fertilsed with llama poo!
agreed the price and he started pushing our trolley - had we just paid for someone to walk us to our hostel?!! Turned out fine, though, he sisn't even try and tell us the hostel was full/burned down etc to take us to one that would pay him commission.
After a couple of days in Lima (just another big city), we got the bus back into the Andean hills to a town called Huaraz - in a valley and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Dave was poorly for a few days so we just enjoyed the friendly hostel with en-suite and cable TV in the room. Now we're feeling well rested, we're going to venture a bit further up the road to Caraz, then down to the beach to top up our tans - we don't want to look all pasty white when we get home or no-one will believe we've been away!
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