Nothing to do with - Yacht Charters, Sailing Holidays, Sailing, Cruising and RYA Courses
These are land Adventures - Looking for Lost Cities, Digging for Inca Gold and Drinking Pisco, Flying Over Nazca and Climbing Huayna Picchu & Machu Picchu.
Tumbes, Trujillo, Lima, Nazca, Arequipa, Puno, Cusco
Discovering South America.
Crossing the Boarder From Ecuador to Peru
Having spent two weeks in Ecuador Tony (A very old Friend) and I are traveling on into Peru.
It is a strange border to cross. Sleeping on the bus heading for the boarder, the bus suddenly stops, seemingly miles from anywhere. Do we want to go to Immigration? Tired and sleepy I stagger off the bus. There is an immigration office, the passports are stamped and then there are too many touts for taxis. Apparently we need to go to the boarder 7k away!?
We get to the boarder and cross a bridge but there is no apparent boarder at all. On the other side we get into a taxi to take us 4k to the Peruvian immigration. Get there, passport stamped, where now? We have to get a taxi to Tumbes for a bus there are no busses here! The taxi driver wants $10 I ask the officer on immigration it should be $6 or $7. I am still half a sleep and we have been hassled and hustled all the way across the boarder and I can see that we have been royally ripped off because we have stupidly accepted everything that's happened. Still its not a fortune and we get to Tumbes quite quickly.
At Tumbes we get to the bus station and Tony presents his newly changed 50 Neuve Sol notes. The two girls behind the desk smile look at each other - "est falso!" - more gringo suckers! Well the bus does not go to Trujillo until 2230 so we take a stroll and get something to eat.
After the calm and mystical tranquility of Ecuador the northern coastal area of Peru has a new energy about it. Crowds of people mill about in the early evening. The hustle and bustle is electric and although it does does not feel dangerous it is also not safe or relaxed. We sit overlooking the street watching the people and eat our dinner while the sand flies tuck into my ankles. For days after wards my ankles and elbows itch as though on fire and drive me crazy. For a number of days since Rio Bamba I have been bitten by something probably fleas which have made my skin crawl and left nasty bites just about everywhere.
We have found an address for Michael White in Tony's 8 year old Lonely Planet in Trujillo and called him. Yes he is still there, has a hostal Casa Clara and does trips around the local archaeological sites. A short taxi ride and we are there and settled in but unfortunately there is a taxi/transport strike and Michael is not going to be persuaded to take us in case we get involved in some trouble from the pickets and the police. Situations have developed in the past where people have been robbed while the police have been busy controlling crowds or groups have been caught in the cross fire and been tear gassed. So we take advantage of the rest and catch up on things including a bit of R and R.
Next morning we are ready to go on our first tour of the ruins, I glance in the mirror and sure enough, time is not improving the foundations or the facade. The morning tour is to the Sun and the Moon pyramids (el Sol y Lunis) and we board a battered old mini bus and off we go. The ruins are situated out of town close to a small hill. The moon temple is the only one we can look around and it is surrounded by desert sand. It is totally constructed of mud bricks (adobe) and it seems that over five different periods it was completely built over and a new temple constructed on top. Now it looks drab and matches the surrounding sands but once it must have been a bright and vibrant place standing out amongst its setting. A bright and vibrant place dedicated to death and human sacrifice to appease the gods. Inside some areas have been exposed to show walls still painted in brighter tones.
Returning to Casa Clara for lunch we rest before boarding another slightly less battered bus for our trip to Chan Chan a ruin of massive proportions. Again constructed of mud bricks baked in the sun its just as drab but here there are traces of some colour on the outer walls which have been less exposed to the elements and predominantly the occasional El Nino rains which from time to time decimate the area and flood the arid desert. It is all constructed on a flat plain and is very hard to gain an impression of what we are looking at and walking in. It is a maze to us and impossible to gauge or appreciate its scale. What we need is an observation tower so that we can look down and across the whole ruins.
Our tour over, we return, collect our bags and head for the bus station for another overnight bus to get us to Lima.
Again we are deposited in a strange place in the early morning and we duck past the pack of taxi drivers waiting at the entrance. Down the road a bit we find a driver asking almost half the price and head for Miraflores. We find that the Flying Dog which was recommended is full so we stash our bags in Park Kennedy and while Tony stands guard I go walk about to find a room. he obviously looks like a vagrant as a Policia with a large Rotweiler come and question him on what he is doing there. By mid morning we are settled in a nice clean hotel called Tinkus and for the first time in days we have no bugs eating us, nice warm beds and boiling hot showers.
That evening we meet with Glen an old friend from Thailand and he has sorted out the evening itinerary. First the Old Pub which is fairly busy but full of tourists and ex pats. Then on to the Brenchly Arms, which is decidedly quiet but we while a way some time chatting to the girls behind the bar, Sol, Jessica and Melissa. Melissa has her hair tongs out so I get my hair raised into tufts at each side, an interesting effect a bit like devils horns but never mind its not possible to make me look any more ridiculous! Then on the way back to Tasca we meet Nicole and Maria, Nicole is quite attractive with twinkling eyes and it turns out that for a mere 100 Sol I would be welcome to spend the night with her As a proposition it does not compete with the more important agenda and anyway 100 sols will pay for 20 beers and some more exploring. - so I decline her most gracious offer. Tasca Bar was quiet so its not long before we move on to Sentinale where we meet the owner, Fausto and also Ivan who is "the" man about town - he knows everyone and if he doesn't know you then you are not worth knowing.
The next day Tony and I stroll to the beach or rather the cliff tops and as we approach we spot Ivan and he shows us around the parks and points out things of interest. Later on I have arranged to meet Silvia at an art exhibition so I take a taxi into the old part of town which is full of local people wandering around. I find the exhibition which is a little strange. It is housed in an old building and one room has branches covered in a bark of nails apparently growing from the walls with another tree chiseled into the plaster and bricks of the walls. There is a rope which passes through the ceiling across the room out of the window and back up to the next floor where it is reunited with the other end. Another exhibit is a sort of red/pink shell shore which reflects into silver foil stuck to the walls and more bizarre is a mountain bike bolted to the floor which sledge hammers attached to its pedals. It is possible to pedal and have the hammers break slabs of tarmac scattered on the floor.
I am due to meet Silvia in the Hotel Bolivar in Place San Martin which turns out to be a magnificent old colonial building but I wait for over an hour but she does not show so I return to town to meet the guys. It turns out later that there were two bars in Hotel Bolivar and we were both waiting in different ones. Well back in town I meet the guys and do the rounds ending up in Sentinale again with Glen, and Ivan somehow the conversation is so intellectual and absorbing that it is not until 0900 that we finally pack up and go home. Glen has been absorbed in conversation with a young lady from Birmingham and it was probably her slow and gentle slide onto the floor which precipitated our departure. I am not quite sure whether she was totally and utterly drunk or just bored with the conversation. Anyway Glen did the gentlemanly thing and escorted her home to her hostal!!
The next day of course is one for relaxation and I meet up with Silvia in the evening for a coffee and then a Chocolate. We have a very enjoyable chat about life and the universe. Silvia is an artist with a five year old daughter and works on a project to identify and ecological friendly and sustainable sources of materials for art. She has an inner poise and beauty which makes her an excellent companion and conversationalist.
The next day I walk to the coast again and then turn south to look at Barranco before heading down to Silvia's house for coffee and to meet her family. A neighbour comes and talks to us all no stop and keeps us all amused.
Later I have time for a quick meeting with Carla in Starbucks - Yes I know "Starbucks" of all places but sometimes one has to let moral standards slip and it is always worth the odd visit to be be reminded how truly ghastly these places are. True to form the decor is plastic and sterile, the coffee uninspiring, extremely overpriced and the service abysmal.
The weekend is over and its time to leave so we catch the bus for Nazca. Driving down the coastal road under a dull gray sky, brown gray sands to the east and the dull deep gray sea to the west. The endless desert and the vehicle tracks remind me of Namibia but the big difference is the clinging cold humidity and greyness everywhere.
The six hour bus ride to Nazca got us to the bus station by 2000 hours and it was only a short walk into this small town where we soon found a pleasant enough room before going out for a meal in a large chicken rotisserie restaurant. and then a few beers in a bar up the road. We have arranged an early morning flight over the Nazca Lines and we are up at 0700 and having breakfast when the bus arrives to take us to the airport. There is no manana manana now except on our side, we are not going to be rushed as we are sure we will just sit around once we arrive at the airport. The bus goes and we get into a battered black taxi for the trip. Once there we find the "check in" desk and sure enough we have to wait and watch an appalling video by some American about the Lines. Anyway, by 0900 we are rounded up and introduced to our Captain who takes us across the tarmac to our Cessna 6 seater. All aboard we taxi up the runway and prepare for take off. The engines roar as we gather speed and gently take to the air. Flying round in a roughly clockwise route looking at the lines. Some are lines which intersect at different points and other are arrows which point in different directions. These have all been made by removing the surface of the desert and leaving a slightly lighter hollow which can really only be seen or appreciated from the air. There are also outlines including a Monkey, Humming Bird, Frog, Condor, Flowers, Heron, a figure and a Duck. the pilot banked the aircraft over steeply first on one side and then the other so that we could see and photograph these markings. At times the plane seemed to stand and hang on one wing.
Our 40 minutes in the air was all too soon over and we returned to earth and a bus back to town for a wander round before lunch. We met Edgar who I have managed to contact. He is an astronomer, runs the local planetarium and he invites us to his talk that evening. We all lunch in town having the fairly standard menu del dia, bowl of soup followed by a meat platter, in this case it was Lomo Soltado, pieces of braised meat, with sauce, onions, tomatoes and chips all mixed together. The Maria Reiche museum is just on the edge of town and we walk there for a look at the artifacts displayed there. Maria Reiche devoted her life to studying the lines as well as the evidence left behind by the the Nazca people. There is an original aqua duct on the site, ceramics, a burial site preserved as it was found and a selection of female heads. The women had been sacrificed, beheaded, their tongues cut out, their mouths filled with excrement, their lips sown together and a hole made in their forehead so that the skull could be attached to the priests belt. Now one can only guess at a reason for such behaviour and one can only assume that Nazca women were possibly too talkative. I wonder at things discovered, understood or perceived so long ago, technology changes but does much else? There are always idiots at the top of the tree with ridiculous ideas.
We just have time for a quick meal before we visit Edgar for his talk. He shows us the milky way and the southern cross before we enter the planetarium for his explanation about the astronomy and its relevance to the Lines. It really was an amazing talk and brought the whole concept of the Lines and their existence into life in a way that just seeing them from the air does not. Some of the Lines are at the rising or setting points for sun and the moon as well as some major stars like Alfa Senturi. It seems that some of the other lines also marked rivers and water courses some of which were subterranean. Others like the figures may have been formed to represent star constellations which would have been visible at different times. There is evidence that people walked the lines and also sacrificed ceramic idols and other items.
After the Planetarium we see Scorpio, Saturn with 3 of its moons and are able to photograph the Moon through his telescope.
There is time for a couple of beers and some relaxing banter before we catch our night bus to Arequipa.
Arriving at 0800 we come out of the bus station and get a taxi to an area where we think that we should find a hostal. The driver takes us to a hotel which looks OK but we didn't choose it so we decide to take a walk leaving our bags at the hotel and look for something with a touch more character. We find one in the next block which is much nicer although slightly dearer at 100 sol per night. Its is called Santa Marta on the road and called Santa Marta. Ariquipa has a more relaxed and friendly feel than Lima, its more tranquillo. It is nice to feel the sun and some warmth again and the people seem very friendly and hospitable. But still the town is still surrounded with rusty brown desert which does not inspire me at all. It seems to draw on ones energy.
Wednesday is my birthday and we go out for a meal. The restaurant looks warm and friendly and I choose Alpaca medallions in local sauce, but the food is decidedly average and we are pleased to leave. Wandering around town we go for a beer at the Split Bar. It does not look very Croatian apart from the pictures on the wall and the attitude of the barman is decidedly un Croat. He is in fact very friendly and is intent on mixing cocktails for anyone who wants to try one. We sit and chat and talk to Femca about blues music and then to Sandra and Amilia. We all decide to go to Deja Vu for some music but for some reason we are all waiting for our host and it all takes some time. Eventually we leave and the club is playing some sort of head banging music so I wander round and leave.
The following day involves more sight seeing and shopping followed another odd meal and I had "ceviche" which was cooked (supposed to be raw) prawns in a bowl of lemon juice - I don't think so! A couple of beers and a quiet night.
In Arequipa we have decided to give the tours a miss and do our own thing so we take a taxi to the bus station and get a bus to Chivay with the idea of seeing the Colca Canyon. We just get out of town and the Policia pull us over and for some reason there is a 2 hour wait. We eventually start going and by now there is a whole stream of trucks and buses waiting - well they don't want to wait actually and there is a frenzied push and the whole road is soon blocked by four lines of buses and trucks as all they all try to get started first. They drive off the road as well as on it barge across from lane to lane. Obviously there is a huge convoy now and progress is very slow for miles. Eventually our bus stops and it seems we have a problem and the crew try to get us on another bus. We take our bags and walk down the line of heavy stationary traffic but it starts off and we are left to walk back to our bus. It waits awhile apparently another is due to take us on - but it never appears and we turn back limping into the bus depot at 1700 hours. we are fed up and decide to get our money back and go to Puno.
We board another bus and it is due to leave at 1730 but at 1800 we are still sitting there and the natives are getting restless. "Vamos" they start to chant stamping their feet until eventually we leave.
Arriving in Puno we get a taxi into town and see quite a few people wandering around some with brass instruments. We find a scruffy looking hostal at about 2300. There are crowds of drunken people wandering about with a few piled up asleep in doorways and the smell of piss pervades. The whole town looks scruffy and shut. It does not look too friendly but there are plenty of police about. surprisingly we decide to go out and have a beer in town. We walk a couple of blocks and then discover the reason for all the activity. There is a Fiesta for the University taking place. The main street is crowded and faculties of the university are dancing down the street. There are men dressed in costumes, some similar to matadors and others in different attire, some as animals and some with masks. The women are mainly dressed in very appealing costumes with full skirts which twirl and fly up when they dance and wiggle their hips. Beneath these twirling skirts some have a short shift which retains a degree of modesty. Yet others we are delighted to see do not have this shift and appear to have almost nothing to protect them from the cold night air.
We find a bar called Positive and inside is an interesting selection of people including a German woman called Angelika who is a voluntary worker, a local guy with frizzy hair a trilby hat and false tooth which he manages to loose on the floor while talking to me and has all the staff on their hands and knees searching for it. Carlos the main bar man and cocktail mixer is as high as a kite and probably not from alcohol. Still he is comp as mentis enough to drag us off to a night club where we end up being entertained by a crowd of locals. Dancing with them I get some salsa tips as well as some glasses of pisco from their jug. It is 0430 before we go home.
The next day we change our hostal for something more in the manner to which we are accustomed, Hotel Buho. We walk the streets, markets and take a look at Lake Titikaka. Puno is not a pleasant town, it is dirty, scruffy the stink from the sewers is not at all aromatic. Lake Titikaka has been part of the inspiration for the trip. Its name alone has conjured images of beauty and intrigue and it is the highest and largest navigable lake in the world (the highest lake in the world is lake Victoria in Africa). When depicted on maps it is shown as a beautiful lagoon colour of turquoise. As I stand on the shore at Puno I look at a dirty, muddy brown, pond which does not look very large and my heart sinks. The port looks no better and there are a fleet of none too pretty, scruffy motor boats moored there waiting their turn for the next batch of tourists visiting the islands off shore.
What is this? Why have I come here? I feel so disappointed that I loose any enthusiasm to go out and explore it. I have lost all interest and cannot care less but luckily Tony retains his interest and we do some research and plan the next trip, 2 days on the Islands out in the lake. It turns out that there is an agent who has a reasonable, all in deal next door to our Hotel so we book our trip, pay our 70 sols and have an early night.
We are collected at 0800 and delivered by mini bus to the port where we are shown aboard a boat. Its not long before we are moved to another boat and soon we set off.
We have a guide onboard called Stephan and we head for Uros first while he proceeds with his group explanations and instructions. This is a group of floating reed islands which are tethered out in the lake. The islanders moved out there to avoid the Inkas and made these islands by cutting up the roots of the reeds into blocks and then by tying them together they made floats which can then be covered with cut reeds to form the soft spongy platform which they walk and build their houses on. These reeds are added to every week or two as the old ones, in the water, rot away. Just about everything is made from the reeds including their boats and houses.
We spend about a hour on one of these islands and Stephan sits everyone down in a circle and delivers a long and boring lecture for the tourists. I really hate being a tourist and being guided around like a herd of sheep so I am standing at the back and trying to take in more of what is going on. The talk over we are allowed to look around the village and talk to the locals but it is mostly an attempt to sell useless trinkets. They have some pigs kept out there and they obviously hunt for birds as there are several hanging up on the shed sides. The cooking apparatus is a clay oven which is stood on a large stone and the fuel is, of course, reeds. It all looks highly inflammable and dangerous but I suppose there is plenty of water about if the reeds catch fire.
The others pay extra for a reed boat ride but I decline and sit looking at the water in the lake which is a bit clearer here. I talk to Juan, one of the locals who seems to have a bit more about him. He tells me how they fish for trout with a spear, the depth of the water and asks me where I am from. There is also a local wedding taking place and with brass band and there is obviously going to be a full on party as the beer is flowing and a stage is being erected on top of the reeds.
It is time to move on to Amantani and we sail off. The boat never increases speed from tick over and it takes 4 hours to get there. This is all interspersed with lectures from Stephano. I am not enjoying this tourist guide bit and I am also depressed about lake Titikaka or maybe I am just fed up of traveling and looking at the drab brown desert. I sit in my seat and doze feeling a terrible sense of impending doom. I feel that I am having one of my normally accurate premonitions and I am very concerned that some catastrophe is about to occur. I even have a look round and work out that there are no life jackets, just a couple of life rings.
Arriving mid afternoon, in the small harbour at Amantani, we are met by Maxima who is 29 and single and definitely takes a shine to Tony. She takes us up the hill until we get to a small building made from adobe bricks and shows us upstairs to a room with 3 beds for us to stay in the night. Leaving our bags we go down and meet Lucio Calsin who is about 56, his wife Domingo, and Gloria and Lisandro his other 2 children. We are staying in the village of Communidad occo Panja. We are on a small farm surrounded by fields mainly for maize, with a flock of small sheep and a few chickens. There is a pile of new adobe bricks in the yard which will be used to extend the kitchen and a new wall has already been party constructed. This wall has a door way into the yard which Lucio always uses while the women take the easier route round the side. The toilet is about 20 meters from the house. Its green metal sides enclose a porcelain bowl mounted on a concrete floor over a pit. The women disappear into the cooking hut and squat on the floor preparing our lunch. Soon smoke is pouring from the chimney vent in the roof but mainly curls down and out of the door way. The oven here is also a clay oven and the fuel sticks and twigs. Lunch comes and it is soup made of maize and potatoes, followed by a main course of potatoes eggs and rice. This is supposed to be their standard fare.
Late afternoon a walk to the top of the mountain Padja Madre (Mother Earth) has been suggested for sun set at 4,350m. It is a fair walk which is up a stepped path. It is not that steep but the rarified air means that I am gasping for Oxygen again as I walk up to the top. I pace myself trying to go as quickly as possible without getting too out of breath. My heart pounds easily and I enjoy the exercise. There is a magnificent view of the other peak Padja Padre which has a larger temple constructed, of course, to Father Earth. The sun sets over the western mountains and we head down to our family and dinner of white soup, rice and diced potatoes with a cup of moona tea............!
Our evening entertainment is local music and dancing and we are dressed in ponchos before leaving our home stay - the women are dressed in local skirts, blouses and shawls. We are taken and seated in a hut with two bands playing. We sit and listen for awhile until some of the local women arrive and start to show us how to dance. As more of the tourists arrive the dancing moves outside and we dance around the fire in a circle. The main idea seems to be to pull the rest of the dancers into the fire. Or, while dancing, with one of the women the swirling skirts, shawls and ponchos flick at the flames, fan them so that the flames lick at the clothes and showers of sparks are kicked up.
It is a beautiful night, there is no moon and the Milky Way is very clear along with Saturn. We sit and sip a couple of beers and chat to some Japanese students.
The next morning we have pancakes and moona tea for breakfast before it is time to leave for Tequile and we go back to the boats.
.Another long slow motor and we arrive in a small harbour at Tequile. We walk up into the village and Stephano gives a talk about the local handicrafts. It always seems interesting at the time but I know full well that I will not remember it later so I fidget and look at the view.
Lunch has been arranged but it is only 11.30 so we decide to save our 15 sols (which at £3 seems exorbitant, compared with the usual price of around £1) and walk to the main square for a coffee. We chat a bit with others in the group and wander round town. A couple of streets back the place is covered in shit. Its not certain whether its from animals or humans but its not pleasant.
The boat has moved to the other side of the island so we walk up and over the island taking the steep and ancient steep steps. Here they are reasonably wide so it is possible run down to the harbour with a few stops to admire the view.
Then the long ride back to Puno - oh well time for a snooze.
Well I was pleased I went and I enjoyed the islands. Away from Puno Lake Titikaka did begin to live up to its special name and the water and views were much more inviting and spectacular. Staying on Amantani was still touristy but pleasant, it did give us a view of Island life.
Once back in Puno I try to book the bus and train with the agent in Puno to get to Cusco and Machu Picchu. His prices seem to be unclear and his suggestions do not work. I get really fed up - see below.
Journey to Agua Calienties
I had heard a lot about getting to Machu Picchu and much of it was about how expensive it was, how you had to book in and advance and what you can and cannot do. Anyone that knows me will understand that I am not impressed by being controlled. Things seemed to get worse and worse and I was ready to completely miss Machu Picchu off my trip. The final straw was a stupid travel agent in Puno who seemed to grasp what I wanted but every offering was totally unworkable and most of it double the price if not over expensive. So with a short temper I cancelled my bookings with him and decided to go it alone. Tony also wanted an extra day in Puna and I was anxious to get on and complete the site seeing in order to leave some time for more relaxing stuff later on - we agreed to do our own thing for a day or so.
So I packed my things and left for the bus station in Puno where I got a ticket on a more luxurious bus at half the price to Cusco. I sat and waited till departure time 21.30, 22.00 and at 22.30 it eventually arrived only an hour late. I have been chatting to an woman called Rina from Argentina whose Spanish is muy rapido and hard to understand but we have jointly been hassling the staff. By now I am thinking well it serves me right this is going to be a disaster. Anyway we set off, the seat reclined attempting to sleep it was more of a doze. Then we are there, the bus pulls in and I get off grab my bag and it is 0400 am - it is a half hour early!
In Cusco there are a host of touts wanting me to stay and giving me conflicting advice. I see Rina waiting and ask her for advice. She says wait. Her friend arrives to pick her up and tells me that there is another bus station and I need a taxi for 5 sol. The taxi takes me but there do not appear to be any buses. There are more taxis and one is going to Urubamba for 5 sols. There is already a local woman inside and then an old lady comes in traditional dress carrying a large bag of onions so I get in too. It is not long before we are joined by another man and we set off. Leaving town dawn begins to break and mist hangs in wisps are the valleys. There is more green here and we are passing through farm land with a bit of green around. It is much more pleasant and lively and inspiring than the brown desert.
We have a grand panoramic view of Urubamba before we plunge down into the valley. We stop by a mini bus stop and we get out the little old lady runs for a mini bus and I am stopped by a taxi driver. He says "2 sol no mas" so I decided to go with him. He did manage to increase the price later to 4. As it happens I get the taxi almost to myself as we wind through the mountains to Ollyantaytambo. It is a beautiful morning. It is easy to imagine that you are up in a special land with the Gods. There is an ethereal feeling and gone is the dust and desert, it still seems barren but has much more of a feeling of life. The drive takes us through land dotted with farms and we follow a river before climbing up again to Ollyantaytambo. The approach road becomes cobbled and the ancient buildings are made of stone with wooden rafters and tin roofs.
I have arrived in Ollyantaytambo by 0600 and I buy a ticket missing 2 trains and getting the 08.53 train for $73 return. Tony later tells me that the agent who had so annoyed me charged him $130 for this but was supposed to have included the entrance to Machu Picchu.
I have time to stroll around and get some food. I am served a continental breakfast by some delightful girls who are attempting to solve the Rubic cube.
Agua Calientes and Machu Picchu
By midday I am in Agua Calientes and find hostal close to an email shop where I send a message to Tony then get my tickets organised for Machu Picchu. All is soon completed and it has all tuned out very well. Maybe I am lucky and I guess this is also not the high season so there are less tourists about.
There are some amazing views of the mountains which soar from ground to sky and there is plenty of green cloud forest clinging seemingly precariously to their sides. This further cheers me up as I have found the coast road (the Pan American Highway), with its endless desert and scrub sand and rock all a redish sandy beige dusty, very uninspiring and depressing. The people down on the coast seem to be molded from the land on which they live. Although they wear bright clothes they seem to be just as dirty grimy and dusty as the land they live on.
The following morning, I wake up at 04.15 beating my 04.30 early morning call - I want to climb Huayna Picchu and only 400 people are allowed up each day. A quick shower, dress and grab my small day pack and walk down to the bus stop. There are already about 100 people strung out in a line and I am not really sure where this queue starts and ends so I walk up to the ticket office and park myself there - it turns out that I was midway down the line. The first bus goes at 05.30 and there is 50 minutes to wait. Eventually the buses start arriving and the first comes and fills then the second and I am on it - that means I am in the first 50 or so. we get out of the bus and I see there is already a long queue with over 100 people waiting. How come? People have walked up and are already in the queue. More people arrive and walk to the front of the queue pushing in and joining their friends, these are the stragglers who have walked up later. Oh well the queue does not look that bad. Waiting till 0600 before the gates are opened and we we are allowed in to Machu Picchu. Those of us that want to do the climb have to walk across the site to the check point allowing people up to Huayna Picchu. There is another queue and we wait again. The first 200 are allowed in and then we get our tickets numbered. A man comes down the queue "7 or 10" - I have no idea what he means but I say "7!" He takes my ticket and gives it to a girl who writes on it 51. It transpires that I can go up at 0700 hrs and my number is 51 in the second and last batch of 200 for the day. We wait again until 0700 and then they allow people in one at a time signing in a book as they go. At 07.20 I get to sign my name and time in the book and off I go.
The climb is steep - it is one step up each time - each step is 6" to 2' and it is quite hard going. As I climb away from Mach Picchu itself I can look back and down and the views are spectacular. I settle into a pace breathing hard and gasping or breath to get the all important oxygen into my lungs. People stop and I pass them pushing on - slowing down when I gasp too much but trying to keep a steady pace. On we go until we reach a terrace at the start of the ruin on top of this mountain - then some very steep steps narrow stone step with very short tread take me up into the terraces and ancient construction. I get to a point when I can see no obvious route up but people are above me. Ah! there is a small narrow chimney, about 20 meters high, too small to get into, between a wall and a rock. It looks easy enough so I start up and the near the top it narrows and becomes a bit more technical. I glance back, shit there is not even a bottom or any ground in sight. I better get out of this, I think. I sum up the last part of the climb and move as rapidly as I can, hand, foot, hand, foot, hand, foot, one last pull and I am on top of the 20' square construction. Wow what a view and I walk around and look down. There on the other side I see the path around and the steps up!! Oh well it was more fun my way. I look at my watch and it is 0745 - it has taken me 25 min's to get almost to the top and I am pretty pleased with myself - not bad for me!! I don't count myself as being very fit and I am not as young as I used to be - yet I have walked passed about 30 people, no one has passed me and I am about the 20th person to the top out the second batch. I have also been worrying about the climb because I injured my right knee a few months back walking in the Peak District and it has been very painful especially going down hill - today it is no problem.
Huayna Picchu - click for the Video-
I am happy to sit and take my time on the last few meters now taking in the view and getting some photos. Gazing down on the site of Machu Picchu below as well as the surrounding peaks standing almost straight up from rivers and canyons below. More distant are the cloud shrouded snow capped mountains of the Andes.
What possessed these people to build so far up and in such difficult circumstances, it is just incredible and one can only wonder at the inspiration behind it. Was it a suitable place for worship, an astronomical observatory, an oasis away from the coastal desert, a kind of cross roads city on the Inka Trail or where they driven up into the hills to avoid enemies. Whilst the area of the city is quite large many of the buildings are also very sophisticated and look more like temples and palaces than houses. The actual number of houses seems quite few to support a large population and whilst there is obvious evidence of agriculture the place seems to have a much grander purpose than merely being a city.
I climb up onto the peak itself at 3085 meters its not so high in terms of a mountain but the mountains sheer sides make it high enough. I find a quiet boulder to perch on and the view is magnificent from this place which feels like the top of the world. All too soon its time too make the descent if I want to see the city itself. I decide to take a longer route which seems to wind down the mountain and should be much easier going than straight down the steep steps. I find to my cost how wrong I was. Walking for another hour, sometimes down and sometimes up, I eventually get to the Gran Caverna and find the site of another ruin with remnants of a temple build inside. The walk has been peaceful through dense cloud forest and with no other people around there are only jungle insects and birds to be heard. Searching around I find the other path out which I figure will take me down again but luckily another couple arrive and tell me they have just come straight from the top. Unless I want to return to the very top again, I have no alternative to return the way I have come but even so by the time I get back to machu Picchu I have not only climbed to the top actually gone almost to the bottom and back up again. That's probably the equivalent of 5 to 6 thousand meters by the time I arrive back at the check point at 1100 hrs.
It has to be said I am pretty tired and I take a good long look at the map as I do not really feel like walking around the whole site. I walk the south side, turn right through the middle see a building with 2 flat water trays inside, move on to the North, past the central large plaza to look at the temples or observatory where there is a replica of the southern cross carved in stone and climb to an observatory where there is a large rock carved as a cardinal marker showing the points of the compass as well as lining up with various astrological events. Then back across to an area of boulders where the Inka workmen had obviously quarried for stone and there are examples where they have started splitting the rocks with chisels using the heat of the sun and cool of the night to split them. I clamber behind some rocks and sit down I am exhausted and its time for the last of my food and a knap (there is no food allowed in side the ruins but I have some emergency rations. I lay down, relax and doze for a while to regain my energy. Then move on to the west side to look for the old Inka bridge. Unfortunately the path has been closed but the effort has been worthwhile as I get more superb views from the other side. I continue on looking for the bridge on another path but I am told I am on the old Inka road for the Sun Gate. I am too tired and decide to head back to town. Before getting to the exit I find a quiet terrace where I sit in peace on my own and relax, take in the whole area, mediate and contemplate the whole place. At least I thought I was on my own but for the midges which fed on my left arm leaving about 20 bites which soon turned into big lumps and itched for days afterwards.
Walking the last steps down to the bus there was a short wait and them I am delivered back in Agua Calientes. I find Tony has made it to the Hostal and he is not well and has been vomiting blood. Also he has had a bad trip up, been conned by the travel agent out of $60 plus more for a rough bus ride, missed his train and arrived a day later. He goes to the Doctors and gets tests and it turns out he has Salmonella poisoning and needs some antibiotic injections and other drugs to sort him out. He is determined to get to Mach Picchu the following day I head off to the actual Agua Calientes (Hot Springs) to sooth my aching limbs. I get there and find about 5 small tiled pools full of muddy looking water. I try them but the water is only relatively hot and I relax for a while waiting for the aches to ease. I had hoped for something much hotter but they did relax the aching muscles quite a bit.
Tony is up early the following morning. He has stopped vomiting and is going to go up to Mach Picchu. I get my train and have a pleasant journey back to Ollyantaytambo. This time I commandeer 4 empty seats at the back of the carriage and spread out and relax. The train arrives and as we pass the gates at Ollyantaytambo there are dozens of touts. One rushes over as I walk through and when I ask the price - says "80 Sol" I look at him and laugh and my short retort sends him packing. I walk up to the car park and get a cab back to Cusco still paying a little over the odds at 10 sol! The return journey is just as enjoyable a I am deposited in San Francisco Plaza, in Cusco.
I set out to find a hostal (Machu Picchu on Quera) and call Rina who is staying with her family who are all form Cusco. We meet up later that evening and we go and see some local dancing at a theatre.
The following morning I meet Rina again and we take a cab up to the big statue of Cristo Blanco and walk around (not into) the Inka ruins there. The name of the ruins is called
Sacsayhuamán which sounds like Sexy Woman. There is a 70 sol entrance fee to see the ruins but we walk around and above them and are able to look down and have a good view of the whole site from above. That evening I am invited to join the family and we go to Dan Antonios Restaurant to listen to a local band. The music is a mix of Spanish and South American and as the evening progresses it becomes a live Karaoke as members of the audience get up and sing. Eventually the band stops and recorded music starts to play and give us an opportunity to get up and demonstrate how truly badly it is possible to Salsa.
There is time the next day for another town wander and Cusco itself is an amazing city. The roads and streets are stone and date back to Inka times if not beyond. Most of the buildings are made from Inka walls up to first floor level. The Spaniards have built on a second story and the roof to produce the present buildings.
In the evening Rina has told us about a free local dancing display in the Plaza del San Blas. We meet her there and we are treated to quite an amazing display of dancing. The second part of which is a kind of pageant which seemed to depict history through the Spanish conquest until the revolution. There must have been up to 50 dancers all taking different parts and roles and at times they were all on stage at the same time. At time the costumes were traditional dress but at others they were much more elaborate and in parody involved bizarre masks with sometimes huge noses to depict the Spanish.
Well after another very late night, it is followed by another lazy day. We meet Rina again in the main square that evening. There has been a fiesta all day with people marching and dancing around the town. The finale is a music concert in the square. Hundreds of people are gathered most with some sort of alcohol in hand. Rina arrives with several of her family and as usual is properly chaperoned. The night is cold an the music is not so special and interspersed with lots of talking so we adjourn to a night club. The club is pretty full and keeps filling there is plenty of good music much of it English as well as the compulsory Salsa. There is a large group dancing near us and some of them are very accomplished. Its a pleasure to sit and watch and it was just as much a pleasure to join in.
And another late night, a lazy day, only fit for a little wandering. Later Tony sets off for the coast he wants to get some sun and sit on a beach. I am not convinced , the whole of the west coast is one huge beach as far as I am concerned and I have had enough of desert and I have my doubts as to how warm it will be too. I have elected to stay do a little more sight seeing and some white water rafting.
I am at the main square the following morning and get on the mini bus with four Israelis who are also on the trip. The road takes us east where I have not been before. We go out to Urcos passing Largo Huacapay a small lake reflecting the surround mountains in its still waters and the ruins at Pikillaota. The latter are massive walls, with gate ways which apparently guarded the trading routes long ago. It seems they were probably a sort of customs post as well. The idea of taxing and taking money of the working people is obviously time less too.
We arrive at the base camp, change into cold damp wet suits and get back on the bus to head upstream. Boats unloaded we get aboard the raft, Kathy is in a Kayak as safety cover and there is another inflatable canoe to take pictures a cover too. Off we go getting some basic lessons on the way. The rapids are grade III and not so hair raising. I can do as much in my dinghy surfing down waves and taking off on speed boat wakes. But its good fun if cold especially when we take a wave. As one of the front row paddlers I get it full in the face and down my neck. Back at the camp we get into a sauna which does little more than warm so I get into the shower and get really warm. We have lunch and back to town.
I get myself organised back at the hotel and prepare to head back to Lima. Catching a bus at 17.30 I arrive in Lima the following afternoon 14.30. It has been a very long trip. The road has snaked and hair pinned up and over the mountains until we got back on the Pan American Highway somewhere near Nazca. Lots more brown sandy desert which runs straight into the sea. Nearer Lima we pass the occasional Playa, or oasis where there is a little water and townships has sprung up - The Costa Del Sol was one original name.
So back in Lima - most of the traveling done and a bit of time to think..................
It is incredible that all those years ago several ancient civilisations were able to organise themselves and create such an excess of food and other wealth that they were able to employ large numbers of people developing vast areas for agriculture, establishing aqua ducts, making irrigation systems, constructing roads, bridges and building vast cities of intricately cut stone. With all the worlds technology and wealth it seems even more incredible that modern day constructions are so cheaply built, ramshackle and dilapidated. That little has progressed, in fact, most has regressed leaving a grubby landscape full of rubble and plastic waste. Here amongst this this shambles of a modern civilisation, with its poverty, where people are repressed and surrounded by Coka Cola, Nestle, MacDonalds and Starbucks signs. It seems to me that it is a more shocking reminder of how poor our current form of Capitalism is. Capitalism - The Great American Dream! It appears to me, is now a principle which effectively requires you to throw off your integrity in order to "Get Ahead", be "Successful" and "Keep up with the Jones's". All to gain greater profit for the Multi National Companies who have more than enough profit, yet strive for more and to become even larger. Governments tax more, and waste more, giving less and less and social services decline.
Would it not be so easy to turn some of this wealth, this profit, this tax into a better world by developing infrastructure, promoting growth and encouraging enterprise? I am no communist but something needs to change. It is hearting to meet a growning number of people who seem to feel the same and who are actually taking positive action by choosing what they do and where they spend their money - avoiding buying things which are produced by corporations and in preference buying from individuals and small businesses.
Night life in Lima.
The Nazca Lines.
Meeting many people but especially, Edgar, Silvia and Rina and their families.
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Nothing to do with - Yacht Charters, Sailing Holidays, Sailing, Cruising and RYA Courses
These are land Adventures - Looking for lost cities, Digging for Inca Gold and Drinking Pisco, Flying Over Nazca and Climbing Machu Picchu.
Tumbes, Trujillo, Lima, Nazca, Arequipa, Puno, Cusco