Days 337-342: Peru (Cuzco, Machu Picchu & Lima)

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South America » Peru
December 28th 2007
Published: January 3rd 2008
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Well our first night in Peru was really exciting…… ahem….. it consisted of a late flight from Quito to Lima (after paying US$80 bucks at Quito for an unexpected departure tax ouch!), a 10 min taxi ride to a hotel near Lima airport for a whole 3 hours sleep, an argument with the hotel over free transfers as we were told they were free - then they tried to charge for them - solved after Kristi threatened to write a bad review of them on their hotel website, which actually worked! - Then a trip back to the airport for our 5am flight to Cuzco! Sheesh!

On arrival at Cuzco, our transfer was a taxi ride through a maze of some of the narrowest streets we’ve ever seen - mostly cobblestone, about 3 metres wide at their largest, and hemmed in by old buildings on all sides. We were kept very amused every time we got to a corner facing 3 or 4 other cars and all the cars had to do 10 point turns around each other to turn into the relevant street they needed! On arrival at Samay Wasi, it was tempting to just crash straight out, it was 9am and we were exhausted! However we hauled ourselves out of the room to have a look around. Cuzco is larger than we expected and sits in a valley surrounded by mountains on all sides. Houses creep up most of the mountain slopes. The place we were staying, in the San Blas area, is on one such slope, with amazing panoramic views over most of the city, the views really were great! We could see Plaza De Armas and the main churches, and the cobbled streets maze-like below us. We headed out into the streets to have a look around and were quite charmed by the magic of Cuzco! Now, originally as most of you know, we were going to hike the Inca Trail, the famous 4 day walk up to Machu Picchu. However, after taking a realistic look at ourselves and our general blobbiness, we realized that we sadly would not be able to do the Inca Trail to it’s full advantage. ….. and so off we went to the train station and picked up tickets for the Vistadome train to Machu Picchu! (Martin was very surprised that beer drinking was not actually good training?!) After a rather tedious tour of Cuzco train stations we found the correct one and had tickets for the next day. After that we headed up one of the main roads in Cuzco, Av El Sol. After getting cash out of an ATM, which is kindly delivered to you in 50 and 100 Sole notes, we soon realized this cash was virtually useless. While not as ridiculously cheap as Ecuador, Cuzco was still cheap - we’re talking taxi rides across town for 2 soles (less than a $1nzd), and cokes for the same and therefore no locals wanted to give change from 100 soles (considering 100 soles are some local people’s weekly wage!). So after spotting a huge line of currency exchange places on Av El Sol, we spent an amusing half an hour going from exchange place to exchange place swapping our notes one by one into 10 and 20 sole notes! We then had a great set lunch in an alley just off the main plaza, a small street nick-named Gringo Alley, where Martin tried famous Peruvian Cuy (Guinea pig!) He wasn’t that impressed actually. Finally we had sufficiently exhausted ourselves and headed back to our room for a siesta. That night we found another cool little restaurant called ‘2 Nations’ - half Aussie / half Peruvian owned. A great range of food - all stored and cooked to western hygiene standards - no mean feat in Peru!!

The next day we were up at 5.30am for a taxi down to the San Pedro train station for our trip to Aguas Calientes. The train was pretty cool, huge windows and sky-light type windows as well. The train exited Cuzco via slow switchbacks up a mountain and then headed up through the mountains. The trip took about 4 hours and was an incredibly scenic journey where we viewed everything from the locals and their traditional mud huts to rivers, old Inca ruins, lush jungle and snow capped mountains. It’s amazing that 4hrs on a train can pass so quickly - it was just stunning. On arriving at Aguas Calientes, we bought our Machu Picchu entrance tickets, and bus tickets for the 25 minute crazy zig zag ride up the mountain to the ruins. Machu Picchu is absolutely amazing! There are no words to quite describe it. It is so surreal to be there, surrounded by the ancient buildings of the Incas. We were pleasantly surprised that it also wasn’t too crowded with tourists, being the “off” season, or as off season as these ruins get!
The place is an amazing feat, and situated right on the top of a mountain surrounded by other mountains, the scenery surrounding the ancient place is both beautiful and mystical with the clouds often drifting lower than the ruins themselves. There is also a definite mysticism to it, in the fact that there is virtually nothing known for sure about Machu Picchu, it’s virtually all conjecture. So many estimations and guesses have been made based on the area and other ruins, but there are no written documents to support these ideas so it’s easy to spend ages just sitting in amongst the ruins and trying to imagine the people that once lived there. We spent several hours there just wandering the different areas and taking photos of both the ruins and the llamas living within its walls!! The 3900m altitude didn’t worry us in the slightest; we’d obviously adjusted during our stay in Ecuador which was all at high levels. As luck would have it, it began to rain (or rather spit, if you’re a kiwi) and droves of tourists immediately bailed to the exit, it was actually really funny to watch - lines of tourists all dressed in their dorky multi-coloured ponchos charging out of one of wonders of the world because of a brief spittle of rain!! Eventually we headed back down to Aguas Calientes, all the while watching an amusing little local boy who was dressed in ancient Peruvian style and who raced the bus down the entire mountain side! He would take short cuts through the bush and always beat us to every curve the road made! When we finally reached the bottom, he jumped onto the bus and bowed (streaming with sweat!) amidst the entire bus full of passenger’s applause. I swear that must be the most lucrative (and hard-working) begging ever! ;-) We had a great set lunch in Aguas Calientes (which is the only way to go because most mains at restaurants cost more than that particular restaurant’s 4 course “set menu”!) It started to pour down after leaving there so we ducked into a bar conveniently offering “4 for 1” cocktails! They were sufficiently awful-tasting but pretty strong! (Bonus!) Then it was back on to the train to Cuzco where we arrived about 8.30pm that night. We tried to go back to “2 Nations” but they said they were too busy to do their set menu…… ha! Convenient! So we went back to Gringo alley for another great dinner.

The next day (31st December) we ended up just wandering more about the city, exploring all the different alley-ways and streets. Having already vowed to return and actually hike the Inca Trail, we knew we’d be back to Cuzco in the future and decided to save visiting the nearby Sacred Valley until then also. We found a market set up in a main street selling candles, gigantic bottles of wine, confetti, piles and piles of every kind of firework you can imagine, dorky 2008 plastic glasses and (we’re yet to figure out why….) stalls selling massive piles of yellow (only) underwear - all for the New Year’s celebrations that evening. The streets were bustling and there was a pretty cool vibe about the place. We did a little shopping elsewhere, had lunch (This time Martin tried Alpaca - a type of Llama - yummy!) and just milled around most of the day! As soon as it got dark that night the fireworks started up - interestingly, a large percentage of which made extremely loud explosive noises but didn’t put out any sort of visual display! (All talk and no action!!) We’d been advised that Plaza De Armas on New Year’s was chaotically busy and that the huge deck where we were staying was the premium viewing position! The fireworks were loud all night and then just on midnight as the clock tower started chiming, the epic town fireworks began at the Plaza De Armas. They were really sensational; it was one of the biggest and longest fireworks displays we’d seen! It just went on and on and was awesome to watch. Smaller fireworks then started going off all over the city and so from our deck it was indeed a sensational viewing spot for the whole city. Cuzco was literally covered in fireworks, more than we’ve ever seen in one place before, so we were quite in awe! There were so many, the whole city was eventually covered in a haze of gunpowder smoke! Crazy!! It was the first time either of us had not been in New Zealand for New Year’s and it was really magical to welcome in the New Year - 2008!! - in Cuzco, Peru.

The 1st of January of the New Year found us heading off to Cuzco airport and standing among many bleary-eyed tourists for our flight to Lima. The city was still layered in dense firework smoke and people were still setting off crackers! Unfortunately (we think due to mist/smoke - there were no announcements) our flight was constantly delayed until it finally took off, 3 hours late. We arrived in Lima just after 1pm and grabbed a taxi out to where we were staying, in the up-market district of Barranco, right next to the beach  It was nice and warm, much warmer than cool Cuzco and being situated on a cliff, we had great views of the beach from our room. Our trip to South America has sure been crazy in that we are constantly changing from hot to cool weather and from mountains to jungles to sea level! We spent the afternoon wandering around the local area, much of which was shut up due to being the 1st of January. The Plaza de Barranco is right near us and quite a pleasant place, especially in the sunshine. The next day we had a lovely and much-overdue sleep in and then headed off to Miraflores for the day, it’s about 4km from Barranco and a cheap taxi ride. We went first to LarcoMar, a completely modern and western style mall set right into the cliffs overlooking the coast, with awesome views all round. We contemplated going to a movie as they were only about $4 but there was nothing we hadn’t seen or wanted too as they were all quite old movies. (Martin was keen on ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’ - but I talked him out of it… thank God!) We wandered down a few roads and found some large markets where we had a look around but they were quite ‘modern’ markets - we’re talking floors and walls! - so prices reflected this a bit! (There was only touristy stuff available there, we have seen better at roadside stalls to be honest and at least it’s authentic and not mass produced in China!) We wandered around the landmark ‘Ovalo’ and down the main streets of Miraflores, like Parque Kennedy and Diagonal with their clusters of open air restaurants. This whole area is very modern and safe, with a cool bustling vibe to it.

We tried to book a full day tour the next day since we had a late flight out again, but the tour got back a bit too late so we decided on a half day trip of Lima city for the next day. The tour was fairly good, a brief tour of ancestoral, colonial and contemporary Lima. The funniest part about the tour was that the tour guide would pronounce his "y's" as "j's"!!! Took us a while to figure out what he was talking about when he was trying to point out some "Jello Buildings" and "Jello taxis". For the life of us we couldn't figure out why he kept talking about jelly!!! ;-) Anyway.... The first stop was at Huaca Pucllana (an Inca Holy place over a thousand years old, smack bang in the middle of Miraflores!), then a walk around the Main Square with the stylish Government, Military and Church buildings. After this we went to the monumental Convento de San Francisco and visited the church and the catacombs. So far they estimate 25,000 bodies were put in the Catacombs, though there are an unknown amount of undiscovered levels below this. It was quite freaky to see all the real human bones spread out in piles of the same type! Martin took a good photo to show one such part! (mmmm naughty Martin!) We left the tour at LarcoMar and then went for another stroll around Miraflores and picked up lunch before heading back to the hostel to check our emails before our late flight out.

We can't wait for Bolivia! ;-)

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