30.04.2013 - 13.05.2013 22 °C
It only took a short 15 minutes from Copacabana to cross the border into Peru. Then a short 6 hour bus journey to reach our fly-by destination of Puno. Nonetheless, we arrived around midnight and headed straight to our hostel (Lucky Your House Hostel) where we were greeted by the most helpful staff. They carried our bags, got us water from the shop down the road and even sorted out our miscommunicated tour instructions for the next day. With a little bit of shut eye, it was the beginning of our epic Peru adventure...
Now Puno is a considered by most travellers to be a one-stop city with the Uros floating islands as its main attraction. The next morning we were ferried across on a short 30 minute boat ride across the 5km channel. After arriving at our assigned island, the family greeted us with a short song and dance routine before helping us disembark. Our tour guide then proceeded to give us a short description on their way of life by way of pointer and flipchart. We were then shown a family home made of none other than reeds which on queue they started to sell us their wares to us. The Uros history dates back a few hundred years when they settled on the islands as a defensive manoeuver from the conquering Incas on Lake Titicaca. It was at this time that they decided to build a community of sustainable islands made completely of the tortora plants’ dense roots and reeds. This may sound odd but once you see it you can only marvel at its complexity considering that the base of the islands can last upwards of 30 years. Don’t get me wrong the days of people living uniquely on these islands have since disappeared but the tour gave us a better understanding of how the Uros lived during that time. Admittedly though, even after reading about it online, we were still surprised how commercial it has become. It wasn’t long before another we were off the islands and back on shore ready to catch the next bus out of town.
With our travel schedule tight we hailed one of the souped up tuktuks (by style...not speed) to the bus station with about 30 minutes to spare before our 1PM bus to Cusco departed. Hurried along by the staff, we found ourselves sitting in the front of the bus. It may not sound that bad only our-so-called ‘reserved seats’ were actually in the front sleeping cabin for the drivers. Before even realizing what was happening, we were piled into the most uncomfortable cramped position for what we were told would be the next 45 minutes which turned into 1hr20min! In amazing Spanish, Natalie was able to say her piece and make our drivers understand our predicament. To be honest it’s not like they cared but at least we finally got the seats we paid for at the front of the bus. Not that long after settling in, we were told that the bus company lied to the majority of the other passengers on the bus as well. The joys of South American bus travel continues!
Finally arriving in Cusco, all we wanted to do by this point was to head straight to see the boys – Little Steve and Mikey. They booked to come over not only visit us but to complete the Inca trail too. We arrived just before they came back from completing their excursion. As excited as we were to see each other the boys were spent, all we could manage was a few words and a drink. That wasn’t before they warned us about the pain that lay ahead. The next morning we all went for breakie to properly catch up. It didn’t take long before that continued into the wee hours of the night. During that time, we had to go to our trekking briefing and pay off the remaining balance. This should have been the easy part except the guy in the office wasn’t the most helpful. Nonetheless, we were ready to tackle the beast ahead. This was not without firstly having to deal with a monster hangover the day before the trek. With that Mikey and Little Steve’s "never a dull moment" visit came to an end. Awesome! Thanks guys!
The culmination of months of planning, mini treks and a dream was about to begin. Our bus picked us up at 6.30, driving us 2½ hours to reach the starting point in Ollantaytambo. During this time, our guides Alistair and Angel gave us a quick run-through on what to expect in the days ahead. This was also a good time for the 16 of us in our group to check our packs one last time before setting off. Those who had hired an extra porter (like us!) had to weigh up whatever they weren’t carrying to a max of 6kg and then stuff the rest in our own personal bags, which for the most part included snacks, jackets and spare clothes. This was no comparison to what our 22 porters had to carry - tents, sleeping bags and food with a max of 25kg on most. The first day of the trek was a short 12km hike across the Vilconota River through the Urumbamba Valley. We then followed the trail down to the Cusichaca River all the way to the extensive Inca ruins of Llactapata before stopping in the small village of Wayllabamba for the night. The best part was by the time we arrived our tents were up and a 3 course meal was ready to be served. Even though it was easier than expected on the first day, lights were out by 9.30pm.
The next morning we were woken to a cup of coca tea and a breakfast fit for kings. It was a good start to the day considering that we had to hike 1200m uphill. By this point, there were a few of us who were leading the group and were so aptly named “the wolfpack”...mostly due to my “Hangover” like beard. Thanks Alan! We moseyed alongside both the Llulluchayoc and Huayruro Rivers all the way to the 3680m midway point before stopping for a quick break at Llulluchapampa. Topping up with some more coca leafs, we climbed to “Abra de Huarmihuañusca” or more commonly known in English as “Dead Woman's Pass” at the 4200m mark. Breathing a little heavier, we crossed the misty cold pass and descended the steep trail to Pacamayo all the way back down to 3600m. Once again we arrived to a set up campsite and a warm cheering welcome from the porters. Our second day was now done with a further 12 km knocked off the trek.
Another 6am wake up was calling! Today was the longest day and the hardest, having to trek 15km over an ever changing terrain. The first part of day we climbed a steep 400m to reach “Abra to Runkuraycay” overlooking the Pacamayo valley. Hiking along we saw many snow-capped mountains dotting the horizon before reaching the “inaccessible town” of Sayacmarca. Some historians are still not sure why this settlement was built in the location it was and think that this was used as pilgrimage stop point before Machu Picchu. Following the trail we then passed through an impressive Inca tunnel carved in a rock onto our final descent down the “gringo killer”. And it surely is! This knee jarring exercise through the cloud forest should have had the best views but fog and rain clouded the supposed beautiful scenery. We continued onwards to the rightly named “town in the clouds” - “Phuyupatamarca” Inca ruins before reaching camp. This was an extra 90 minutes roundtrip but somehow still managed to beat everybody else back. It didn’t long for any of us to call it a night....after an extremely cold shower and another 3 course dinner we were all tucked in bed. It was probably a good thing considering we had to wake up for 3.30am on the last day!
Machu Picchu. This was the day we’ve all been waiting for. With only 5km’s to go we set off for the final checkpoint. We left the camp at 4.15am to ensure our porters could make their early train then had to wait in line with all the other groups until the gate opened at 5.30am. When the last gate finally opened it seemed that everybody was on a mission rushing to get there as quickly as possible. The last part of the trail was narrow, windy with sheer drops along the way. Not to forget the ridiculous “monkey steps” which you have to climb on all fours to get to the top. There was no time to slow down or even be out of breath...before you could even realize how far was left we arrived at the sun gate. The most epic view of all....Machu Picchu and all its glory was now upon us. The sun shining and low clouds hanging just above, gave us the most perfect view. By this time we started to notice the group-loads of people filling into the site. Scurrying down the final stretch, we managed to take the all-so-epic snaps. That wasn’t without getting easily irritated by the fresh smelling inconsiderate day-trippers who have just arrived on the train. It didn’t take much to forget about them and enjoy the surroundings. Our guide brought us around the site explaining its history. After touring the grounds for a good 5 hours, we took the bus down to Aguas Caliente. It’s a small town below MP, and where you need to catch the train back to Cusco. We stopped for lunch and few well deserved drinks, before waving our amazing guides Alistair and Angel a final goodbye. But first we needed to catch that train back to feel human again. Only that was easier said than done especially when the hostel we booked into didn’t have our booking. We’re not sure if it was our grumpy demeanour, looks could kill eyes or our unpleasant smell but we finally received the keys to our room. A little sore, tired and unbelievably proud...we sauntered into a dream wonderland!
CUSCO part 2
The next day we tried to sleep in but woke at the crack of dawn considering all the early mornings we’d had over the last couple days. Not wasting any time, we walked around the city grabbing a bite to eat, buying souvenirs and stopping for a much deserved hour long massage. Then as we were planning our next couple days travel and as backpacking always goes, we somehow ran into our friends from the salt flats – Hamish and Neil. Having already planned to meet up with our friends from the trek, a great group of us headed for a night of great Peruvian food, drinks and the usual face painting...of course. The next morning wasn’t entirely pleasant not for the expected hangover but the raw half scrubbed face where the face paint wouldn’t come off. The day was filled with more cheap local grub from the San Pedro Mercado, some EPL football and the ever common goodbyes before our next stop. In 16 hours we would be in sandy southwestern Peru!
Checked into our beautiful full cama bus (with TV’s behind each seat), we were on our way down the ever so windy road. Not that it mattered anymore about the TV’s what with being queasy and all, but the journey lead us to the land of sand dunes and sandboards. We got dropped off at the hostel and this being the main reason we travelled all this way, we signed up for the afternoon session. Having not much else planned for the day, we enjoyed what the town had to offer which wasn’t much. Only we have the chance to sample the local speciality and home of the Peruvian national drink...the “Pisco Sour”. Finally the time arrived for us to enjoy this natural desert oasis. All loaded up into the sand buggies, our driver crashes into the car behind him, not a great start! Along with the newly added dent/scratch, we went charging up the dunes. Jumping from one dune to the other, our limbs flailing and hearts racing, we finally make it to our first hill. Our boards are nothing more than a piece of wood with some plastic sheeting and Velcro straps. It wasn’t the greatest piece of equipment but with a little bit of candle wax smeared all over the bottom of the board...it’s good to go! And with that we were off down the hill...not perfectly...not gracefully...just down it. We managed to go down the same hill a couple times, climbed back up, down again, and then piled into the buggy moving on to the next hills. By the time we reached the last one, our boards were waxed out. Nevertheless, we made it down in one piece in time to zip across the “Atacama Desert” once more to see the sunset close out our day.
7am. Once again we were up early to catch the next bus out of town. This time we were skipping the capital and heading straight to the northern beaches. The odd thing about Peru is that not all buses leave from the same place, as some of the companies have their own offices/stations. Since we couldn’t continue with the same company we had to taxi across town for our connecting bus. We had a short 3 hour stopover and decided that instead of carrying our bags around with us we would check them in...or so we thought. Having just enough time for a quick bite to eat, we were back on the bus heading for more sun and sand. 18hrs later we finally arrive in the very hot Mancora....only one problem....no bags. That’s right....the bags we thought we checked in weren’t checked in, they were being held. This wasn’t explained to us until we inquired and this is when were told that we had to tell them to release them before we left Lima to have them on the bus. We gave each other a few disillusioned looks before being reassured that our bags we would be on the next bus arriving tomorrow at 11. Deep breath! It was then we realized that we would have to spend the day in the same non-sun friendly clothes. We hailed a tuk-tuk and made our way to our hostel. In no time, our new amazing hostel friends offered us beach wear to fit in. Drink in hand; we could only laugh about the situation. Adam from the hostel gave us a quick tour of the town bringing us to the market and making us sample the best bakery in town. We then spent the afternoon on the beach sipping cocktails before heading back for a beach BBQ. The next morning we remembered we had no bags and rushed to the bus station hoping for them to arrive. The first bus came...no bags. Eeks! We talked to the girl at the desk and she reassured us that they will arrive. Another 30 minutes passed before the next bus pulled in; to our surprise our bags were delivered with everything intact. Wow, second time this trip! Relieved is an understatement and we were more than aware how lucky we have been. After 3 days of relaxing in the sun and a new skin tone on offer, we hopped on the overnight bus to central Ecuador. Adieu Peru! Thanks for being truly and utterly amazing!