November 2005


Cuzco, the central gringo hub of Peru, and I have fallen into the groove every backpacker does and spent way too long here.   Originally intent on heading from here to Ariquipa the day after my trek I decided i needed a couple of days of R&R to get over the nasty cough i developed along the trail.  Naturally this R&R has involved alcohol, dancing, sleeping, alcohol and a nice Welsh girl.

   I have had a great time in my recouperation and have also read a lot of my book, seen a few good dvd´s and done some christmas shopping.  But like all good things, Cuzco too must come to an end.  Infact, tonight I am bound for Copacabana which sits ashore Lake Titicaca and is the gateway to the beautiful ´Isla Del Sol´.   It is sad in a way, my 2 weeks here in Peru has felt like 2 months with everything I have squeezed in and everyone I have met.  It is a sad thing to close the pages on a countries chapter, but exciting to start reading the next.

Bring on Bolivia!!

Nowhere in the world can one find a path better trodden than the Inca Trail. 500 years ago Incan kings fled the Spanish invasion to their jungle hideaway known as Machu Picchu nestled deep inside the Cuscan mountains. Accessable (then) only by the challenging 4 day trek, today severeal hundred gringos set off daily to replicate this pilgramage.

Picked up droopy eyed and cold at 6am from our Hostel our trek began on the 19th of November. We were driven from our respective Hostels to a point on the map simply known as kilometre 82, from here our walk began, tho the inca trail officially did not. After a quick stop in which we all stocked up on ponchos and walking sticks (best 4 soles 50 centimos ever spent) we had our passports stamped and were on our way. Excited and surprisingly energetic the 13 trekkers (including 4 poms, 3 Irish, 3 Americans, 2 Australians and a South African) and our two guides Washington and Herbert (not really Incan names) set off for the four day adventure. From here Im going to break it into four different descriptions, one for each day. Its easier this way…..

p.s – each day has the description we were given by the tour company in our briefing.

DAY ONE: EASY

After the passport checkpoint we walked for approximately 12 kilometres over varying landscapes and passed a couple of Incan ruins. Tho stopping for photographs the pace was maintained and we made good time. The easy walking made for an undoubted appreciation for the trail we were following as well as the beautiful landscpae in which it was framed. Stopping for lunch (we ate like kings) the group chatted as we got to know each other a little better, before packing back up and walking the remaining several hours until we reached the campsite of our first night. Within 30 minutes of arriving at the campsite Nathan, Andrew and myself had ventured accross to the local ¨soccer field¨ and were incue for a game with our guide, cook and head porter. Overseen by the police (who were also the time keepers carrying machine guns) the entire community was out to watch the afternoons kick-about. After 10 minutes I selflessly (ha) subbed myself off to allow another guy to play (but really it was cos I would not breath whilst running around at the altitude). Tho we lost 3-1, I attribute this to my leaving the game, it was great fun and really emphasised the lack of oxygen at 2800 meters. It was only after dinner (3 courses, of course) that we were informed that we hadnt actually started the Inca Trail, so far we had only ventured to the beginning of the path. Tomorrow the pilgramage began.

DAY TWO: CHALLANGING

Tho I had been informed day 2 was like 5 hours on the stairmaster nothing in my mind could have prepared me for the challenge at hand. In some instances it certianly is true that ignorance is bliss. We began our day at 5.30 and I can say I had just woken from the best sleep of my trip. Fresh fruit and pancakes brought smiles to all our faces, least of all our Irish contingent. Once we´d eaten we began our walk, tho it is more accurately desribed as a climb. From the first step we began our steep incline which did not stop for a further 3 hours. Climbing and climbing we attempted conversation eventually deciding to save our breath for breathing until we reached our midway point where we were to have ¨elevensis¨ or morning tea. It was at this point for me that my respect grew immensly for the porters who were carrying twice as much as any gringo at well over three times the speed. Anyone that does this for a job had my undying respect. Popcorn, cheeserolls and hot milo saw us refueled and ready to start the climb and after we had waited out the rain we began whats known as ´dead womans pass.´ Two more hours of the steepest steps EVER and we were at the top. Another two hours down (which I must say leaves you feeling like you could have just gone around or straight through) and we were at our campsite for the second night. As I walked into our camp tired, wet and hungry I saw it fully set up with tents, washbasins and porters running around preparing our lunch. At that moment thier stock went up even further in my book. That night I nearly froze to death.

DAY THREE: UNFORGETTABLE

Convinced the majority of climbing was behind I awoke day three with a bit of a cough resulting from the chest infection I was still getting over (not helped of course by the -5 night we had just had). With only 2 hours sleep under my belt my temper was quick and my fuse short. Never-the-less I was ready in the designated 40 minutes, breakfasted after an hour and at 6.30 we set off for the longest day of walking in the 4 days. 15 kilometers began with another 2 hour climb (not a good start to the day) where we passed an incan ruin took photos, and had more history explained to us.

By this phase of the trek the pace had definately slowed for a number of us. Though continuing at normal pace (gringo normal pace that is) there was a select group of us whom all seemed to rest in equal portions to the amount of walking we were doing, atleast for the first couple of hours that day. It is easy in hindsight to put my finger on the most annoying factor of our trek. For every mountain we walked up, we seemed to walk straight back down the other side. At the end of the initial 2 hour climb I was convinced we had completed the uphill section of the trek. I was wrong, we walked straight down the other side and then up another mountain all over again.

Passing another two Incan ruins and having the history and mystique of the trail outlined for us more we walked through Incan tunnels where rock had been bored through to continue the path.  A final two hours of climbing at a gradual rise with a panoramic view of the expansive mountainrange around was walked with quiet Dave (nicknamed  such because of his tendancy to tell stories and express his opinion on anything) and lifted my spirits (helped by the 2 nurofen Sylvia had given me for my headache) before we breaked for lunch. A good meal, and we began the 4000 step descent (yep, back down the otherside) knicknamed The Gringo Killer, to our camp for the last night.

Warm showers, cold beers, a bad cough and the promise of medications upon return to Cuzco from our trekking doctors saw me in bed that night stright from dinner. I fell asleep that night wondering how the day before was challenging and this day had been unforgettable, then I remebered; today had involved actually seeing stuff and busting balls.

DAY FOUR: UNIQUE

3.30am is an hour no one should ever be awake unless of course they have not yet been to bed. Never-the-less it was at this hour that our final day began and I cant say I wasnt excited, even if I was tired. Today we see Machu Picchu. Ready in time we set off from camp at 4.50am only to wait 40 minutes in the rain until the checkpoint opened. An hours walk and we were at the Sun Gate, the actual gate the Incan royal families walked through in thier first entrances to Machu Picchu. Nicknamed the cloud gate by us, due to the fact we couldnt see anything but clouds from this altitude we descended the hours worth of stairs down into the actual Machu Picchu complex.

Oh my god!

My eyes had been trained with Anchor Wat to appreciate the complexities and mysteries of ancient ruins but as I descended those steps and caught my first view of Machu Picchu from a good height I was in awe. This is what I had walked up 15000 steps and back down another 12000 for, this was what the sweat and tears were for. Instantly forgetting my aches, pains, fatigue and coldness I could finally see Machu Picchu, and what a sight it was.

It is hard to describe Machu Picchu with words. If you know Incan architecture then across a mountain top lies housing, temples, guardtowers, a sporting arena, and agricultural landscaping. The sight is amazing and the stonework is perfectionist to say the least. Troubled by the Spanish, it is obvious the site was never completed as the Incans were forced to return to Cuzco for a last ditched battle in the 16th century. However the legacy they have left behind is amazing. We had our guide walk us around Machu Picchu for two hours identifying and explaining the history behind The temple of the Sun, the guards quarters, The Sun Dial, Hyuanapichu (a massive mountin in the background), the Kings Quarters, the sporting arena, crop gardens, the ancient stone quarry (where all the rocks used to build came from) and the Temple of the Condor. All was steep in tradition and all was flawlessly constuctred and completed with meticulous detail.

After the tour my fatigue got the better of me and I snoozed in the guards quarters whilst fat americans walked all sides of me panting at the steps and complaining of the climbing they had to do in thier tours of Machu Picchu. I took in a final moment of where I was and a bus and a train later and the 13 tired and accomplished trekkers were back in Cuzco.

Sylvia, Emma and me (all staying at the same hostel) simply dropped our bags, showered and changed without even looking at our beds through fear of sleep. We met  another 8 trekkers at the Irish pub before we went for a final dinner together. After the dinner they all went out, but my cough had the better of me and I thought bed was the best option at the time. That night I slept like a bear through winter.

 just before trek

 

resting half way up BIG climb, day 3

 

 

 

Machu Picchu

 

 

Machu Picchu, Hyuanapichu background

THE GANG, waiting at train station to go back to Cuzco

This country is amazing….  Diversity would be a drastic understatement should one endeavour by bus through the varying backdrops viewed from a bus window. 

   Lima was cool, but still a city.  Almost immediately outside of Lima is endless desert.  Miles and miles of sand and nothing else.  Huacachina is an oasis nestled inside enormous surrounding sand dunes.   there are two reasons people go to Huacachina.. sandboarding and sandbuggying, and needless to say I did both.  Picking the more youthful of the buggy drivers our maniac was well equipped for tourist excitement.   I took a buggy trip, organised through my hostel through the surroudning desert and sanddunes as we flew through the sandy plains and mountains.  Though i totally sucked at sandboarding, it was a really good time, and i even managed to stand up long enough to have a proper wipeout.  And I mean proper, two flips and about 20 skidded metres saw me having a really good time.  I was less impressed however with the sand lodged in EVERY knook and cranny, but the stack was impressive.

    I finally mustered the will power to leave Huacachina, which was hard due to the poolside antics, late night drunken bbqs and blissful heat, and headed to Nazca to view the infamous lines.  $40US buys a 40 minutes flight over the lines which was good but not great.  Considering there is absolutely nothing (and i mean nothing) else to do in Nazca the lines were mediocre at best.  Kinda cool, i saw a hummingbird, spider, monkey and spaceman alongside countless lines and shapes etched into the arid plain and only visible by air.  believed to be an ancient astrological calendar or water map the plane ride made me feel queezy and two ppl in our Cesna threw up.

   Also visited an ancient Nazcan b urial ground where we had the method of buriel explained alongside vivid images of the actual tombs.  That night however I caught a bus from Nazca to Peru, where I am today.

   Cuzco is beautiful.  The original incan city before the Spaniards came for conquest Cuzco sits in a central valley lined by mountain ranges.  Staying in an awesome hostel, Loki, people here are really sociable and friendly.  I am having a ball at the moment, but i think the best is still to come…..

Tomorrow I am going proper Inca style. Tomorrow I am venturing on the 4 day Inca Trek.

IM now in Lima, Peru and ¨Wow¨, time and distance just disappear here.  Its been four days since my last post and already i am in another country and another timezone.  Three countries in 7 days so far, its time to chill out for a bit!

   NOTE: Unfortunately for this log I am sporting an impressive hangover, so excuse my articulation and possible lack of wit (I think I can hear the comments from here…) Tears and laughter ensued as Maurice left me for Canada last night but not before some ¨goodbye beers.¨

    Santiago is a really cool city.  Stories of uncontrollable pollution are drastically exagerated and the streets are safe enough, at least at day time anyway.  The interesting thing about Santiago is the massive gap between rich and poor, atleast how noticable it is for a foreigners eyes.  El Golf the business district could be Melbourne, while the slummier areas could be likened to Adelaide (nah just jking).  By and large tho a really ´walker friendly´ city, decked out with statues, churches and colonial architecture Santiago is impressive to a travellers eyes, and the people are friendly.  For example, an ice cream in the park saw a local practising his English with us, this (as most conversations here do)  led to a conversation about soccer and the next day I went to the park for a kick with the local guys.  Im not modest, its no secret, and I think I can hold my own with a soccer ball…but….that afternoon was an education.  Drastically unfit, i was outplayed but picked up a few moves and for the first time in a month finally kicked a ball around. 

   We visited the museum of Contemporary Arts, cool Andy Warhol exhibition, and walked the suburbs of Santiago the next day.  A dawdle through the cetral market included a $2.50AU pollo asado con aros y ensalada (BBQ chicken, rice and salad) lunch in the craziest food court ever.  You walk through a big door into aisles lined with tiny reseraunts all selling the exact same thing, at the exact same price while people yell thier only English at you to entice you into thier resteraunt ¨Chicken, fish, chicken.¨ In the end we just ate at the most ´Gringo´ looking place, more out of habit than choice. 

  San Christobel, the highest viewpoint in Santiago sports a giant statue of the virgin Mary looking over the entire city.  Though i could not notice the smog at ground level the elvation really made the smog visable impinging on the view and hanging over the city like a low and angry cloud. Though we made friends with some schoolgirls, i think it was only our white skin that attracted thier continued attention.  San Luis Parque, where again ornate statues line the steep paths, saw a drink in the shade and a contintuation of my infatuation with too many photos (i think i have taken about 400 in the month i´ve been here, god bless digital cameras). 

    All in all Santiago was awesome.  Sunshine, picturesque urban layout, and way too many roast chicken dinners resulted in being overindulged, overfed and over crappy food for ever.

LIMA

   At 5am yesterday morning I awoke from 2 hours sleep to catch the airport shuttle bus.  Why is EVERYTHING so expensive at the airport?  Of course there is nothing like a lack of sleep to make you appreciate an overpriced Pastrami sandwich, but still….

   No sooner had I stepped off the plane than i noticed the complete contrast between Peru and Argentina and Chile.  Though I´d been warned, numberous times, I couldnt help but be reminded of Thailand as the two money exchange places (situated 5 metres apart) yell at tourists to change thier money with them, and why not to do so at the other place.  Infact, there is nothing you can do when 15 taxistas swamp you a foot from the airport door, all convincing you to follow them as they try and shuffle you into taxis, but laugh.  And thats what i did, even after a bad sleep.

    A short haggle for the price of a taxi and I felt like I was home, this was the travelling I was more used to, this was the purchasing method I have previously thrived upon.  The game of the up and down, the power of the haggle.  I think im going to need a week maybe to get my groove back, but when i do… Look out!  This is going to be fun!

Till next time

Ash

 

 

Two and a half hours at a border crossing is more than enough, specially when 2 hours of it is waiting inside the bus, but I guess it could have been worse…. Could have been me that spent 20 minutes repacking my bag after proving to the Chilean authorities that I am not an international drug smuggler.

    Arrived in Santiago last night to a very pleasant surprise, there is not that much pollution.  The public transport system appears to be good and there are some awesome views from our penthouse apartment hostel which i can comfortably say is the best place i have EVER stayed in for $15 or less.  Hostel Navatierra is like a hidden appartment in an exlcusive block on one of Santiago´s central plazas.  If it weren´t for Emma and Caz (nicknamed our ¨Breakfast Angels¨, after hiking fresh danishes 2 hours in El Chaltan for our best meal on that whole hike) we would never have found it.  Infact, when we rang the bell I expected an old man in pajamas to be very grumpy at the two smelly Australian men standing in his doorway, but it is a hostel.  Polished wood floor, exposed beams on the roof, AND….. each bed has a doona!   So far Santiago is looking good.

   Our first night here included a Roast chicken with ALL the trimmings (again cooked by the ¨breakfast angels,¨ who are quickly becoming my guardian angels) and the 4 bottles of wine smuggled from mendoza.  We ate, drank, took photos and chatted.  Was great till Moz broke out the BB Gun, which he has a tendancy of doing, and started shooting everyone… Everyone!  After two glasses were broken, one of which took a liking to Maurices foot, it was definately bed time.  One never apreciates something as simple as a doona until they have it again for the first time in a month.  If heaven was a bedspread, it would have been my doona last night.

  Today is the girls last in South America.  Hanging with them is the only thing on the adgenda right now, and there may well be some tears during the goodbyes.  Otherwise, who knows for Santiago, might try and catch a soccer game, walk the city, hit a couple of bars and enjoy my doona (I am obcessively happy about it!)  But for now the suns out and I am not; its time to fix that!!

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Roast chicken with The Angels

 

Hostel Navetierra

 

Mmmmmm, doonas

 

The view for sunset