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Published: September 27th 2010
Ancient Messini, Greece
(M & N) After leaving South Africa we had an awesome month catching up with family and friends in Munich, Greece and London. One amazing excursion worth mentioning was our visit to ancient Messini on the Peloponnese in Greece. Having spent the last few weeks marveling at the Inca ruins, which are in the region of 500 years old, it really puts the pristinely preserved Messini in perspective, dating back a cool 4000-5000 years. Walking around the column-lined gymnaseum and marvelling at the amphitheatre in the mid-day heat, one couldn’t help getting lost in thought about what daily life in ancient Greece was like so long ago. Quite a magical experience and for anyone heading down that way soon, it’s definitely worth a visit. Round it off (as we did) with a lunch of Feta Saganaki, lamb, Greek salad and lashings of Mythos (excellent local beer) and you’ve got yourself the perfect day out. But after a month of being back in Europe we were itching to get back into the third world and unchartered territory. So after an awesome weekend in London (thanks everyone for making the effort to come and see us and to Gwen, Karen, Carl & Bonnie
for your amazing hospitality) we were very excited to get on the plane bound for Lima. Peru
(N) “Que?” was our first thought upon landing in Lima, our first South American destination. We arrived knackered, and with my ego slightly battered as an attempt to have a conversation in Spanish with a girl on the plane failed miserably - despite having dedicated a good few hours to an audio course in preparation. “Que?” we also thought when we woke up the next morning and took a stroll from Barranco into Miraflores, the city drab and covered by a thick layer of fog that hangs over the city for eight months of every year. We had been told by everyone not to spend much time in Lima, but hey, we needed to make up our own minds. Our conclusion: yawn.
We were staying in The Point hostel, which we booked ahead as we knew we’d arrive late - part of an overpriced chain of party hostels, frequented by 19 year-old Brits on their gap year and Aussies who can’t afford to leave the hostel but miraculously have enough money for eight beers a day. We both felt a
Stretching out in Huacachina
tad old, the jet lag didn’t help, and began plotting our way out of there. As we had done no research on Peru at all, largely due to the fact that in the whole of Gatwick airport, not a single travel guide for South America was to be found. Thus we popped into the in house travel agent for advice on places to go and things to do - our first, and so far only, rookie mistake. We ended up walking out having booked two tours that lightened our pockets considerably - sandboarding in Huacachina and a one-day tour of the Colca Canyon “near” Arequipa. Of course once we got to both places we realised we paid way too much.
Huacachina, a 5 hour bus journey south of Lima, was awesome. It’s a proper oasis nestled between gigantic sand dunes that stretch as wide as you can see. We experienced this strapped tightly into a sandbuggy that was flying up and down the steepest dunes, seriously worrying we were going to overturn - Matt loved it, I was a little traumatised. However the scenery was spectacular. Matt attempted sandboarding (foiled by useless boards though) and once I had recovered
The height of romance!
from the initial shock of the crazy buggy driver, we watched a beautiful sunset over the desert.
The Colca Canyon tour, in contrast, was a disaster. To begin with, the place is 5 driving hours away from Arequipa, which nobody had mentioned to us when we booked the tour. Knowing this, nobody in their right mind would attempt to do this in one day. We nearly escaped what was to become a hellish day when the tour operator failed to pick us up between 2.30am and 3.00am and was nowhere to be reached, so we had to try and find alternative transport there in the middle of the night. Unfortunately we found a company that had 2 spare seats and came to pick us up - very late however, so late in fact that everything was rushed and we missed out on quite a few things - all in all, we spent about 12 hours in the car, and 3 hours out of it. For 30 minutes we stopped to see the flying Condors, which were amazing, but we only caught their tail end because we had arrived so late. The other 2 ½ hrs we were having pre-organised
buffet meals in the same restaurant and stopped for 3-minute poxy tourist photo ops before being rushed back on the bus. It was an exhausting day, and after finding out that some people on our bus had paid the same amount of money for a three day hike including accommodation, our tour operator got a juicy email from me - and against all odds, they actually refunded us half of our money... Result! First lesson in travelling South America learnt - never book anything in advance and prices for pretty much everything are negotiable...
Arequipa itself was gorgeous, with a very grand Plaza de Armas, stunning churches, an ancient monastery and whitewashed houses against the backdrop of the mighty El Misti - Arequipa’s front lawn volcano. We wished we had spent more time there, but we had to make our way to Cusco to acclimatise for the Inka Trail.
We arrived in Cusco at the ungodly hour of 5 in the morning. The bus journey had been amazing - Cruz del Sur buses have seats that recline almost flat, so we could actually sleep, but upon arrival there were no cafes or hostels open. We somehow passed the
time, and after a lot of searching, found a little hostel called Kishkashta, which had a double room with private bathroom (a novelty!) at far less than half the average hostel prices, as well as a magnificant view over the whole of Cusco. It was lovely, and a great place to prepare for, and chill out before, the big trek. We wandered around and ate good food with the exception of the “fake alpaca” we bought one evening on the street. A guy that worked in our hostel informed us later that alpaca is expensive (more 40 than the 3 soles we paid) and reckoned it was either street dog or cow’s liver. It didn’t taste like liver. Urgh.
However survive we did, and the daunting 4 day trek to Machu Picchu, which includes the 4200 metre high “Dead Woman’s Pass”, was approaching fast. The Inka Trail
(M) This was undoubtedly one one of the highlights of our trip so far. The company we went with was called Peru Treks, who we selected because of their contribution to the community and the way they treat their porters and other staff. Judging by the always-friendly demeanour of the
porters for the whole 46km journey, I’d judge that to be true. Honestly, these guys were amazing. Even though you think you’re going at a pretty decent pace, they would charge past you on the uphills and skip past you on the downhills as if it were a Sunday afternoon stroll, wearing straw-lined sandals and carrying 25kg duffle bags - often as tall as they were - tied around their shoulders. They have a highly prestigious Inka Trail race once a year, and we were led to believe that the record time held by one of the porters is 3 hours and 37 minutes for the 46km journey that took us all of four days.... Pretty incredible stuff.
What really impressed us about Peru Treks though was the make up of the groups. The people we were with was what really made it such a great experience, all of whom we hope to cross paths with again some day on our travels. Two Swiss girls in their early 20’s were constantly setting the pace, while bringing up the rear were two amazing couples from the US in their mid sixties, constantly putting the rest of us struggling 30-somethings to
shame... Actually our fitness level was something Nina and I were a little concerned about going into the trek. We approached our training in slightly different ways - I did some pretty strenuous running up and down the hills of Koroni in Greece in the morning heat, while Nina smoked half a pack a day. We had also just recovered from our first altitude hangover (ouch) after being lured into the salsa clubs of Cusco on our first night there, with the offer of free drinks and salsa lessons - a no brainer for any backpacker but another rookie error a couple of days before a four day trek. But I can tell you at 4,200 meters above sea level, all men are made equal... Nina did an amazing job, acclimatising really easily and reaching the summit third out of a group of 16. Perhaps she’s on to something...
Over the four days we saw several awesome Inca ruins that the high priests, astrologers and others of prestigious background used as rest stations and places of worship along the way. The scenery varied massively as we moved closer towards the jungle and the views from the mountain passes were
incredible. But nothing could prepare you for Machu Picchu, which we reached in the early hours of the last day. After four days of strenuous hiking, you can’t imagine the disappointment when we finally arrived to find it completely covered in cloud, with hoardes of tourists in brand new trainers and reaking of perfume coming streaming past, fresh off the bus. We may as well have been in London. But thankfully the cloud lifted to reveal the ruins in all their splendour. None of the postcards do it any kind of justice, and having lived the journey over the past four days we were completely taken in by the magic of the place. It’s no wonder that so many of the Peruvian people still so passionately begrudge the Spanish for destroying what was truly one of the greatest civilisations of the ancient world. Simply breathtaking.
Unfortunately having only got back to Cusco at midnight on day 4, it was all a bit much and I was in bed for the next couple of days with a serious case of man flu... however we did still make time to improve our Spanish with some great Spanish lessons at a nearby
View of Cusco
from our bedroom in Kishkashta hostel
language school and a few impromptu arguments with our local laundry service. We’re still finding items of clothing missing or random bleach stains from time to time...
From Cusco we made our way overnight to Puno and did a trip to the floating Uros islands on Lake Titicaca, before spending a pretty dreadful night with one of the local families on an island further into the lake. While the floating islands were impressive, it was all far too touristy for our liking. In fact we weren’t really prepared for just how beaten the track is in Peru. While the people were mostly great and very hospitable and the country has some amazing sights to offer, we were keen to move on to pastures new and perhaps a little more off the ‘Gringo Trail’, so got on a bus bound for Bolivia straight away - next stop Copacabana.
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