Peruvian Highs and Lows


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South America » Peru
November 11th 2009
Published: November 15th 2009
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Our border crossing into Peru was notable only for our, now customary, confusion regarding changing time zones. In our defence, it seems inherently illogical to change your watch when travelling on a North-South axis. Although that said, thinking about it, we don’t give it a second thought when visiting France. Our arrival in Peru was also significant due to it being our final new country on this trip. Fear not though, taking full advantage of not needing to worry about visas in South America, we’ll be revisiting a few old favourites.

Once in Peru our first stop was Arequipa. Although it has the reputation for being a beautiful city, we only spent the night and headed straight for the small town of Cabanaconde. Our reason for visiting Cabanaconde was its location at the top of the Colca Canyon. The Colca Canyon is the second deepest in the world and is impressively over twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. From the town we hiked in and out of the canyon to visit an oasis located at its base. We also hired a guide and took a two day hike to Lake Mocurca, located high above the town at 4800m above sea level.

Although far from unpleasant, this trip was something of a disappointment, as the hundreds of flamingos we had been promised, seemed reluctant to put in an appearance. However, we certainly managed to escape the crowds and saw no other tourists for the two days. Also camping above the lake, in what appeared to be a llama pen, we achieved sleeping higher than we ever had before. Despite the bitterly cold temperatures our trusty new tent kept us warm, which made us feel a little guilty as our guide slept outside under some llama skins. Sadly, and unbeknown to us, it was to be the last time we would use the tent.

If nothing else, we are realists. Therefore, before travelling the world for a year, we accepted that at some point we were likely to be the victims of theft of some description. However, accepting something and being prepared for it are two very different things. Before boarding the bus from Arequipa to Cusco, we entrusted our bags to the bus company, as we have done probably hundreds of times this year, and thought little of it. Unfortunately, unlike every other time, when we alighted from the bus, Alex’s bag was nowhere to be seen. Either it had never got on the bus, or it got off before we did.

A considerable amount of remonstrating and waving of our luggage receipt, yielded little in the way of joy from the disinterested bus company staff. Naturally we then involved the police. Having been told by the National Police, that this came under the jurisdiction of the Tourist Police, we had high expectations. Surely, the Tourist Police would be a slick operation, highly adept at dealing with cases like ours and happy to bend over backwards to panda to the needs of the people who pay their wages and almost entirely support the economy of Cusco. We couldn’t have been more wrong, as we encountered some of the most unhelpful and obnoxious people in the world.

We were first told to, “come to an agreement” with the bus company, which, of course, was never likely to happen. We were then told that we would have to wait a month for our insurance report, unless we paid for copy of it to be sent to Arequipa. Having paid this presumably fictitious and exorbitant “fee”, on our fourth
Alex about to Tuck into a Guinea Pig - CuzcoAlex about to Tuck into a Guinea Pig - CuzcoAlex about to Tuck into a Guinea Pig - Cuzco

A surprisingly tasty local speciality!
visit to police station we were finally given the report we needed and left feeling more like criminals than victims. All in all, our dealings with the police were far more traumatic than being robbed in the first place.

In times of crisis one needs comfort and nothing is more comforting than home. The nearest we could find to home on the streets of Cusco was an Irish Pub. Although ostensibly Irish, it could easily have been British and afforded Sarah the opportunity to utter the little used phrase, “Cuanto es el Old Speckled Hen?”. The reply was extortionate, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Our sorrows sufficiently drowned in real ale, we set about trying to replace Alex’s bag and its contents. Fortunately, in terms of availability of products, Cusco is almost as good a place as any to do this. Providing of course that is, that the ubiquitous North Fake clothing is avoided. Having replaced the majority of Alex’s possessions, it was back to sightseeing and as with all visitors to Cusco, we had one goal in mind, Machu Picchu.

The first question anyone asks if you say you’ve been to Machu Picchu is, “Did you do the Inca Trail?” As we learnt, the Incas had some 30,000km of trails, so no we definitely didn’t do all of it. Nor for that matter did we hike the famous section which leads to Machu Picchu. Permits for this trail are limited to five hundred per day and it is necessary to book something like four months in advance to get one.

Needless to say, the majority of this trip has barely been planned four days in advance, let alone four months, therefore, we took an alternative trek. We opted to take what is referred to as the Salkantay Trek, which is billed as being longer and more challenging than the traditional Inca Trail. It also has the added advantage of being able to be booked a couple of days before departure. The trek passes through high altitude mountain scenery, cloud forest and jungle, before arriving at the town of Aguas Calientes, gateway to Machu Picchu.

If you are planning a short holiday to Peru then we couldn’t recommend this trek enough, as it provides an excellent cross-section of this diverse country. However, to us it felt maybe a little low key, providing neither the best mountains nor the best jungle we have seen. Despite this, we had a great time, with a great bunch of people.

Having heard horror stories about some of Cusco’s tour operators, we went with a reputable agency that had been recommended to us. Consequently every aspect of the trek was organised to perfection. The eight of us trekkers had quite an entourage, consisting of two guides, two cooks and a mule handler. It was also far more luxurious trekking than we are used to, and featured comforts such as a dining tent and a toilet tent. Sadly the one aspect of the trek that escaped the impeccable organisation was the weather. Any chance of viewing Salkantay mountain was scuppered by cloud. It also rained on and off for the four days we trekked and on our final approach to Aguas Calientes the rain was heavier than we’ve seen all year. We were certainly glad to be able to dry out in a hostel rather than be camping that night. However, four days of miserable weather was a small price to pay for the fortuitously perfect day we had at Mach Picchu.

A must for the more adventurous
View of Machu Picchu from Huayna PicchuView of Machu Picchu from Huayna PicchuView of Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

Apparently the shape of the city looks like a condor. Vivid imagination these Incas!
visitor to Machu Picchu, is climbing the nearby mountain of Huayna Picchu, which is steep enough to provide near aerial views if the site. Unfortunately tickets to do this are limited to four hundred per day. Most people take the bus from Aguas Calientes to entrance gate, but in order to guarantee ourselves a place sufficiently close to the front of the queue to get tickets, we needed to arrive before the first bus. Therefore we had no choice but to take the steep walk up and left at 4am. Walking in the dark not only afforded us the opportunity to get our hands on the sought after tickets, but also to photograph the site in the best light and with the bare minimum of tourists crawling over it.

Our trekking guide also doubled up as our guide for the site and gave us a interesting couple of hours of explanation. The ruins are certainly impressive and from an engineers’ point of view the highlight is the ingenious Inca masonry, which has survived the test of time and numerous of earthquakes. This being despite no mortar being used and it relying entirely on every stone being cut to perfectly interlock with the next.

Once back down in Aguas Calientes we took the train to Cusco, for a couple of days of post-trek relaxation. From here we headed south to Puno, situated on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We opted to pass through the Peruvian gateway to the lake and went straight on to Copacabana on the Bolivian side. Although nowhere near as glamorous as its Brazilian namesake, it is a pleasant enough lakeside town.

At 3800m above sea level, Lake Titicaca is famed as being the worlds highest navigable lake. It is an indisputably beautiful place, with deep blue water reminiscent of the Mediterranean. From Copacabana we took advantage of the lake’s navigability and went by boat to one of the islands on the lake, Isla del Sol. Here we spent the night in a small village before hiking across the island to see some Inca ruins and then taking the boat back to Copacabana.


Additional photos below
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Flowers - Salkantay TrekFlowers - Salkantay Trek
Flowers - Salkantay Trek

Beautiful and apparently hallucinogenic.


24th November 2010
Corralling Alpacas at Dawn - Lake Mocurca

Wow, such an amazing picture!

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