Land of the Incas

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Peru Day 15 – The End

Saturday was our final day in Peru, by the end of the day we would be in the air and well on our way back home. This last day I woke up to a mild earthquake at around 8am, it didn’t last very long and did no damage whatsoever but because of how rare they are in England it was a strange experience. To help pass the morning we went and visited the Gold Museum in the mall after breakfast. The exhibitions they have there cover a huge period of Peru’s history with artifacts made from gold that archaeologists have uncovered. It is this abundance of gold in Inca culture and the way one tribe would coat a priest in gold during a religious ceremony which lead to the legend of El Dorado (Spanish for “The Golden One”) and the eventual story of the Mysterious Cities of Gold. A lot of the exhibits were from the Sicán era of Peru’s history and we weren’t allowed to take photographs in there. At dinner we tried one of the restaurants on “Pizza Street”, a street filled with restaurants aimed at tourists. I think it was here we had the worst meal of the entire holiday with the chicken swimming in grease. Back at the Sonesta Miraflores we hastily finished off our packing and headed to the airport. The flight was again a long one, and by the time we were back in England is was mid-afternoon on Sunday.

Sixteen days after we first set off to Peru we had seen many of the sights that Peru had to offer, and experienced their culture and we came back with an understanding of the country and the people in it. We had flown over amazing pictograms carved into the Nasca desert and seen so much wildlife that we couldn’t have seen in England without them being in a zoo. It truly was an amazing Peru.

Peru Day 14 – The Beginning of the End

The fourteenth day was the first of our long journey home. This first leg of our journey consisted of a drive from Puno to a nearby town where we could take an aeroplane to Lima – yet another 6:30am start for the 9:25am flight. By 12 noon we’d checked back into the Sonesta Miraflores hotel and were ready for food. This day we had quite a different meal, we went to Peru’s only mall and ate at one of the restaurants there – which was actually an American style diner with everything in English instead of Spanish. I think this one was probably the biggest meal I’d had over the fortnight getting a rather generous helping of fries and 1/4 of a BBQ chicken. That afternoon we also found a cheaper Internet cafe where we were able to check-in with KLM for the following day’s flight back to England (via Schiphol). That afternoon we also watched “Prince Caspian” in the mall’s cinema which was fun – it was in English and subtitled in Spanish but it wasn’t going to be out for a few more weeks in England.

Peru Day 13 – Lake Titicaca and the Floating Islands

Next morning we arrived at the port for 8am after having had a small breakfast at the hotel. There were an American couple, one of whom was a fighter pilot who we sat and talked to for a while whilst we waited for boat to be ready. Once we set off it was only a short sail round Lake Titicaca to the Islas de Uros where we made landfall on one of the floating islands. Whilst there the locals taught us about their culture and way of life and demonstrated how they used the tall totora reeds to maintain the island and to craft everything they need.

Isla Flotante Uros signpost

It was quite a strange feeling to be walking around on an island that was dry, yet still allowed your feet to sink into it – the reason for this is that the totora reeds compact as you stand on them of course. Each of the many floating islands in this region are actually anchored in place to make sure that they don’t float away. Some of the islands don’t like tourists, but those that do use the money from tourists to pay for medicine and anything they need from the mainland. The reason they don’t get this through the government is that they are not considered to be part of community – they’re on their own so they don’t pay tax either. On this island I bought a hand made tapestry for $30.

Totora reed boat

Isla Taquille Natives

We then took a totora reed boat to one of the other islands which is hand powered so we had time to admire the other floating islands as we passed them. After making landfall on the next island we didn’t hang around long and we got back onto our tour boat which then took about 2 hours to get to a “proper” island named Isla Taquile.

This island was quite picturesque with it’s clear blue water around it, palm trees and very few natives. Whilst we were on this island the natives cooked us food which consisted of potatoes and fish, followed by a demonstration of their dancing and an explanation of how their culture works and how it differs to elsewhere in Peru.

The return journey somehow only took 2 hours, and I spent some of it relaxing on the roof of the boat but after awhile it does get a little too cold. The reason for this is because Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at 3820 metres (12530 feet) above sea level; so obviously the air would be a little cooler.

Coast of Isla Taquile

Peru Day 12 – On the road to Lake Titicaca

As the twelfth day started at 6am our adventure was drawing closer to it’s end. This day was one of those travelling days where we’d be on the road pretty much all day, but getting to see sights along the way. The first place we stopped was a small village just outside Cusco called Andahuaylillas where we looked around an old church. Whilst there was also looked around a sort of museum of the local area, but it didn’t last long and we were soon back on the road again.

Andahuaylillas Church

Between Andahuaylillas and our next stop the bus did stop briefly to pick up some local bread which tasted quite sweet. When we finally did stop it was at a pre-Inca settlement called Raqchi which was later improved upon by the Incas. The settlement at Raqchi was once a temple of Viracocha (also spelt as Wiracocha in some places), the creator of civilisation in Inca mythology. At this site there is a high wall, and various smaller walls and granaries surviving.

Raqchi

After leaving we drove to the highest point on the road to Puno, Abras la Raya which was approximately 4,335 metres (1,321 feet) above sea level. The view from this stop was equally as amazing as the many views we’d already seen on this trip. In the distance there were glacial mountains, and between us and them was the railway that ran to Machu Picchu.

Abra La Raya Sign

After this we made on further stop before Puno at a place called Puca Pucara. It was here where there was the only church we had permission to take photographs inside of though it was a bit rundown.

Eventually we reached Puno and it didn’t look a very nice place even though it had a good view of Lake Titicaca. We probably thought this because of how long we’d been travelling for. The hotel, Casona Plaza looked very nice inside although it had no view of the lake and was noisy; at least it was somewhere to stay until we were ready to go out onto the lake the next day.

Peru Day 10 – Feeling Better

Coricancha

The following day we actually ventured outside the hotel to have another look around Cusco and we did find a few places to visit that we hadn’t already seen. There was a museum underneath Coricancha and an art gallery further up the road – but we’d run out of places to see too quickly. There were plenty of small markets in Peru hidden away down alleyways and from one of them I bought a really nice hand carved, wooden mask for S/. 20 (which equates to about £4.00). The afternoon soon went by after relaxing in the Plaza de Armas for a couple of hours. There were two problems with that though: firstly the heat, and secondly, the number of times we’d be bothered by street traders.

Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Peru Day 9 – Illness Strikes!

Day 9 was something new – it was the first of three days where we had nothing to do. Unfortunately the friend I’d gone with to Peru had started suffering from the altitude sickness again after coming back up to Cusco’s height after having spent two days slightly lower at Machu Picchu. I took this opportunity to spend the morning reading a book as I’d been reading “The Andromeda Strain” for a while on the plane to Cusco but had not had chance to read any more since. By the evening I’d finished reading it and the day had pretty much passed by without leaving the hotel room so I thought I’d go down to the restaurant and try some more Alpaca steaks. When I returned to the room I heard a lot of noise coming from outside, and after looking out the window I realised it was a marching band that was throwing fire crackers as it went down the main road. I think this may have been something to do with Corpus Christii.

Peru Day 8 – Machu Picchu Part 2

Machu Picchu under cloud

The following morning we had another 4:30am start so that we could get to the top of Machu Picchu before sunrise. Unfortunately our guide insisted on coming with us despite the fact it said on our itinerary that we would have a free day to roam Machu Picchu. The early morning was very cloudy and it seemed weird to be sitting above them waiting for them to clear. By the time the clouds began to fade the sun had already been up for a couple of hours and as the clouds parted it started to give the place an eerie atmosphere. We waited until about 7am to get some decent shots from where we had been waiting, but we gave up and let our tour guide finish her tour which only lasted until 9:30am anyway. We didn’t really see much new this day, but we did see a pair of Condors circling the ruins and we managed to get some photos we didn’t get the day before.

Northern Viscacha (Lagidium peruanum)

Back down in Aguas Calientes we still had a bit of extra time to waste so we wandered around to see what the town had to offer and found a Plaza de Armas with a couple of statues to take pictures of before returning to the Hanaqpacha Inn for a quick meal. Whilst waiting around in the hotel to pass time before our train back to Cusco we got talking to some Australians who had been touring South America and were working their way up. They’d been evacuated from Chile into Peru after the volcano erupted. Again, the train journey was long and came with a light meal. This time we also had some short entertainment in the form of a fashion show where people would get the opportunity to buy traditional Peruvian dress afterwards. It didn’t really interest me, and the past few days had been very long so I took a short nap to pass the time.

Eventually we made it back to the Samay Hotel in Cusco, where we’d be staying for the next few nights.

Aguas Callientes Train

Peru Day 7 – Machu Picchu Part 1

On the seventh day, it was not a day of rest for us – it was one of the most anticipated days of the trip with a 4:30am start. We were going to Machu Picchu. The reason for the early start was that we had to be at San Pedro station for 6am so we could make it to Aguas Calientes (spanish for “warm water”) as early as possible. We actually made it to the train station with time to spare despite the hotels promise of a 5:00am breakfast arriving at 5:20am with no time to eat it. The train we took to Aguas Calientes was a little different to British trains – it was called a Vistadome as it had windows in the roof too. PeruRail use these trains so that tourists can see everything around them on 4 hour train journey.

Machu Picchu

As the trains are short on space, all we could take were our backpacks – our luggage had to be left at the Samay hotel in Cusco for a couple of days until we got back. What was nice about the trip, despite the tiredness was the breakfast we got on the train and the amazing views of the the valley, and the Inca trail that we could see on the way. Strangely we didn’t get to check in to the hotel (the Hanaqpacha Inn) so I took my backpack with lenses and cameras up Machu Picchu to the ruins without being able to empty what I didn’t need. We didn’t climb Machu Picchu (that’s the name of the mountain and not the ruins on it), we instead took the bus up to the top which took around 25 minutes. It’s the easy way to do it and doesn’t really give the same experience – but it meant we could spend more time looking around the extensive site of ruins.

Machu Picchu is both a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a UNESCO World Cultural site with it’s very distinctive ruins, and the nearby Huayna Picchu which features in almost every photograph  people take at Machu Picchu. The best observation point for the ruins is where we headed first – to the guard house. It was from around this point that most of the “famous” views of Machu Picchu have been taken due to how amazing it looks to have the ruins offset by Huayna Picchu behind them; photos really don’t do the place justice. From there we gradually worked our way around the ruins taking a phenomenal number of photographs.

By 13:00 our guide had left us to explore by ourselves; it was a good thing really as she commented on the rocks (their size and shape) almost continuously. We took this opportunity to go around taking more photographs and to sit around admiring the view for a while. One of the places we visited during this time was the “Inca bridge”. It was a reasonable walk round to it, but along a precarious path that was less than a metre wide in places with an extremely large drop at the edge of the path. It’s not like England where we insist on putting barriers up everywhere to keep people safe – if you got too close to the edge you’d be plummeting quite some distance. After finally making it round to the Inca bridge there wasn’t much to see – just a huge gap in the path with a few planks of wood stretched across.

Once we’d done at Machu Picchu we went back down the mountain to Aguas Calientes to look around the market we’d passed earlier that day. It was quite a large market and took us about few hours to look around buying souvenirs to take back home. Other than a statues of Timu I’d bought for $30 in Nasca I hadn’t really bought much up until then, so I bought a Machu Picchu t-shirt, a couple of ornaments of Machu Picchu, an Incan Cross fridge magnet, and a couple of animals carved from the local stone.

As we hadn’t bothered with lunch and it was starting to get quite late we decided to see what restaurants there were. Most of them were pizzerias, but we went with a small restaurant called Julio’s where I tried a peppered Alpaca steak and a strawberry pancake – both were absolute delicious. If you’ve not tried Alpaca before then it tastes like beef, only sweeter.