Arrival in Peru

Thursday 13th November 2008
Hello, you dont have to read this all but some people expressed an interest so there is the option for vicarious travelling if you so wish!!

We've been having a brilliant time so far...
We've visited lots of Incan adobe pyramids (or piles of crumbly mud) at Pachacumac and Huaca Pucllana in an around Lima (the second one was only recently discovered under a rubbish tip in Ventral Miraflores in Lima, pretty much opposite out hostel and only a month ago they discovered a mummy of a child and a gold mask) My highlight was managing to film a Peruvian hairless dog eating llama poo. I felt very cultured!

We had a guided tour of the monastery of San Francisco and everyone was blatantly only there to look at the catacombs below, with 250 000 skeletons excavated so far, arranged in bizzare patterns of femurs and skulls in pretty circles. Very artistic. The rest of the tour was boring apart from the picture of a man licking someone's ulcerated leg.

We had a fine luncheon of chicken with some weird corn custard on top and a glass of chicha which when we looked it up was apparently beer made by people chewing and spitting out the corn to start the fermentation process, but we then realised this is only in the Andes and it was just a drink made from red corn. Shame, I quite liked the idea of spit juice.

They like to dress up their dogs in Peru to my delight, I have seen a cocker spaniel wearing some kind of medieval tabard and a Yorkshire terrier in a checked shirt and jacket amongst many other spectacular outfits.

We've eaten alpaca but cant quite bring ourselves to eat guinea pig yet. We have seen some fabulous menu translations however such as ´Guinea pig to the furnace´ and for those wishing for a lighter bite, ´hand sandwich´.

We only spent 2 nights in Lima and then flew to Cuzco, the ´gateway to the Incas´ or tourist party capital of Peru, depending on how you look at it. We chose to take the first tack. We instantly met some boys from Brighton who only wanted to talk about estate agents in Brighton and which bars we were planning to go to, how drunk they got last night etc. so we discreetly had to make our excuses and leave!

We all took about 3 days to adjust to the altitude but took the opportunity to be lazy. After locking myself in a toilet and having to get a Peruvian woman to kick the door in whilst I nearly hyperventilated inside, we took a leisurely wander up to some Incan ruins above Cuzco. However, the prices for entry were too expensive for our budget so we found a local ranch and haggled with them for some horses to take us to some other (free) ruins - temples of the monkey and the moon which were great but our horses were a little worse for wear and somwhat flatulent (the cheeky ranch boy told me it was a ´turbo horse´!) It was a beautiful ride through a eucalyptus forest and we managed to understand what we were told by our 12 year old guide in Spanish so were very pleased with ourselves.

Cuzco centre is very pretty with lots of old colonial churches and buildings, many built using the Incan structures there previously as a base and from pilfered stones from the ruins around Cuzco.

They have taken on Halloween in a big way there and the streets in the evening were awash with children in cute costumes carrying plastic pumpkins, so we went and got our bag of haribo sweets from England (well, from the hostel) and as soon as we'd given one out, we were totally mobbed and swamped by children. It was quite scary but good fun and some people wanted to have their photo taken with us!

Nov 1st was All Saints day and all the women from the mountains came down in their brightly coloured clothes and hats with buckets full of quarters of roast suckling pig and everyone gathered in the squares to eat it. There was also what I can only describe as babies baked in bread. There were hundreds of bits of pig and bread with dolls' heads and Jesus heads (with glasses on weirdly) baked into plaits of ornate bread. We did try some but it was a bit stale and the eyes and teeth (and flies) on the pig put us off trying that!

There was also some procession in the Plaza de Armas with the military doing their Ministry of Silly Walks impressions and lots of brass bands, flags, speeches etc. (and even more dogs in clothes).

The local market is ace. We have our daily juices there. Stalls are piled high with assorted fruits and a whole row of women serve fresh pressed juices and smoothies with anything in them from aloe vera to beetroot, and you can mix and match. There's such a great atmosphere and if you're in a hurry, they put it in a plastic bag for you to take away! Next to the smoothies is the offal section where you can find whole cows noses with teeth, furry nostrils and tongue hanging out, complete with putrid stench, necks hanging up, miscellaneous bags of entrails and a dog eating the brains out of a cow's head, complete with horns, on the grass outside!!

There are also stalls with all sorts of spells and potions on them, in all seriousness, some for love, fidelity, power etc.

We decided to get the local bus out and visit some villages and Incan sites around Cuzco. The bus journey was stunning, one of the most beautiful I've been on, winding through high glacial Andean peaks and thundery skies at high altitude (a great excuse to eat coca toffees which help with altitude) and it only cost about 50p for the whole day!!

We ended up at the Sunday market in Pisac which was really pretty but full of western hippies. We found a little cafe for our menu del dia with the locals and 2 girls came in busking in their tie dye, one with a clarinet and one on guitar. They played really loudly (and badly) and then expected the locals, who are really poor, to give them money. It was so cringy and embarrassing, I didn't know whether to laugh or be angry with them!

The local ruins were again far out of our budget but we managed to sneak in through a back alley when a local girl pointed us in the right direction, saving us 20 dollars each. We paid for it in our steep climb up the mountain though but it as well worth it. A stunning Incan complex high on top of a mountain, close to the gods with incredible views of the surrounding mountains and Urubamba river which flows into the Peruvian Amazon.

The next day we were aching from our climb to the ruins, so decided to visit some hot springs which were rumoured about. This involved 2 bus journeys and a ride in a car with 9 people. I was in the boot with a local mountain woman, who had her cloth strapped to her back containing whatever she was taking to market, and a grubby street urchin with her pet in a cardboard box. We were dropped in the middle of nowhere in a bizarre building with filthy brown pools of water which smelled of wee where lots of local boys stared at us and giggled. It was not the outdoor natural pools of clean spring water we were dreaming of. We stayed about 10 minutes before heading off up the mountain to find some more rumoured ruins.

After several kilometres' hike up hill in the midday heat we realised that they weren't there and started to head back. Eventually we managed to hitch a lift with someone who asked Minton in Spanish where we were looking for. She misunderstood and thought he asked where she was from and said "England", which he thought was hilarious. He kindly informed us that England was not in that direction! Anyway, apparently the ruins were another 3 hours walk from where we had made it to so we were saved!

We had lunch in the bus station, I enquired as to the filling of the empanadas (Spanish pasties) the lady had on her stall and she said something which totally sounded like condor. I reiterated the words "condor empanada" to her quizzically and she fell about laughing. I think it made her day!!

On the way back we stopped for sunset in another village, Chinchera, and broke into their ruins, again without paying the 40 soles fee for sunset overlooking the glacial mountains. It was quite magical being in the ruins at twilight with the backdrop of the Andes and sunset over the glaciers opposite.

We then went on the Inca Trail which was the 4 day hike to Machu Picchu which was totally amazing!!

We all got ill at some point. I was ill the first day with sickness and nausea, couldn't eat and had to trek in the midday sun not having slept the night before because of sickness. We left at 4.30am so I was totally exhausted but after the second day I got better and the other girls got ill!! Anyway, in the end it didn't ruin the experience, only added to it!

The porters were incredible, they provided 3 course lunches and dinners every day including fresh trout, cakes, pancakes and fruit salad for breakfast and several different meat dishes, all carried with them on the trek and served seated at a table in a big tent lit by gas lamp up a mountain.

It was really clear so we had views of the snow-capped mountains whilst walking through cloud forest full of butterflies and iridescent green hummingbirds. We saw wild, grey deer who came right up to us and even the porters stopped to watch them. Other wildlife included a comedy mouse in someone's tent, I was very jealous, it took about 6 triumphant porters and several different languages to catch it, and a moth dragging a giant (and fortunately dead) hairy black spider.

We scampered through several different sets of Indiana Jones style ruins along the way and the 3rd day was by far the hardest with 1200 uneven Incan steps to descend. Our legs were ruined but it was so worth it. The cloudless sky that night showed us the best array of stars before the moon rose and it was quite magical imagining the Incas in the same cloud forest next to Machu Picchu, worshipping the same stars and mountains.

The final day was a ridiculous race of people running to get to the sun gate to see the first glimpse of Machu Picchu as the sun rose. We however, walked at a steady British pace with Minton proclaiming ´it's been there for centuries, it's not going anywhere,´ but she was in fact wrong, as we discovered that it's actually moving at a rate of about 2 cm a year!

We had some cheesy photos taken and a tour of the ruins, 'discovered' in 1911 by the American Hiram Bingham, (the locals all knew they were there all along and in fact took him there). At the time there were only 2 farming families living in what is now Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu town.

On our way back on the train, we were treated to a fashion show of Alpaca jumpers, the man and woman who pushed the drinks trolley disappeared into the toilet, cheesy 80´s music was pumped out the speakers and they emerged in flouncy alpaca jumpers and paraded up and down the isle of the train, it was hilarious!! The whole point of the ridiculously expensive train ($75 for 1.5 hours) was that it was a viewing train, to see the view. Not that we had any choice in the matter as Peru rail have the only train line so there was no other option as there are no roads - it's get the train or hike through the mountains!! Anyway, all in all it was stunning and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Must go now, well done if you've made it to the end. Next instalment will be lake Titicaca and Bolivia.

Lots of love, Kate x