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Peru

PERU | Wednesday, 26 September 2007 | Views [1284]

A musician that entertained us on the boat to the islands on Lake titicaca. He was excellent!

A musician that entertained us on the boat to the islands on Lake titicaca. He was excellent!

Nigel´s Prelude:

Peru is home to a mysterious land and culture that had a great impact on us, both in a negative and positive way; but mostly the latter. Therefore we have written a relatively large amount about our unique experiences there. We hope you are able to take the time to read it...

Laura writes:

Arrival in Lima:

Our arrival in Lima was not a pleasant experience and in fact, fairly scary. We arrived at Lima airport from Sao Paulo at around 11.00 pm. At the arrivals hall the taxi drivers pursued us from all directions. This was very disturbing, especially at the time of night when we were very tired and just wanted a bed to sleep on. Unfortunately we had not reserved a hostel before arriving which made us more vulnerable to the taxi drivers who were also offering us places to stay. (Apparently they get a commission for taking tourists to particular hotels.). One guy was especially persistent and we kept trying to shake him off. We thought we had finally got rid of him when we told him we were going upstairs to the food court for a bite to eat but after eating and ringing around for accommodation, we went back down to find him waiting. We told him we were not interested and eventually he got the message.


By this stage it was approximately 2.00 am and we negotiated with another taxi driver to take us to our accommodation. We suspected something strange was happening when we were walking further from the airport with no sign of the taxi. We questioned him about it and his response was that the taxi was outside the gate because he could not enter the airport with the taxi (something like that). We put our bags into the boot but then when we got into the taxi, the guy who had pursued us inside the airport was behind the wheel. Out of nowhere, another guy appeared and between the 3 of them they started discussing / negotiating. By this stage we were pretty scared and what made things worse was that we could not understand what all the discussion was about. All this set alarm bells ringing and we told them we wanted to get out. When they tried to convince us otherwise we repeated ourselves more forcefully and started to make our way out of the taxi. Nigel opened the back door, but then the taxi started moving off slowly with the guy who had picked us up standing between open front and back doors, consequently being hit by the rear one that Nigel was opening to get out. We yelled at the taxi driver to stop repetitively until it did so. Nigel got out and went to the boot, but no-one appeared and so he started yelling for them to open the boot. I sat back down in the back seat with my legs hanging out of the taxi thinking that this would make them more hesitant to take off but once again they attempted to drive off. When no-one appeared after what seemed like a long time (20 seconds), Nigel raised his arm and was about to either make a dent in the boot or just hit it to make a very loud sound, and it was at this point that finally someone appeared with a key and opened the boot. Once we got our gear and started to make our way straight back to the airport, we heard the taxi take off in a great hurry and we walked very quickly back to the airport. On our way back, Nigel noticed that we were being followed, but didn’t recognize the person as being one of the men from the taxi. We made it through the airport doors to where there was plenty of light and police / security officers and immediately felt safer.


We were badly shaken by the ordeal! We did not want to make the same mistake again, therefore we went to the information desk to find out what taxi services were reliable or if there was a shuttle bus at that time of morning. They pointed us in the right direction and we found a registered shuttle taxi or bus that was due to leave in more that half an hour. Even though we had to pay more for this service, we thought our safety was definitely more important. It was then that we saw 2 or 3 signs warning people of the dangers of using unregistered taxi services.


While we were in the process of organising the taxi service, a man in uniform approached us and asked if we wanted to make a formal complaint about our ordeal, but at this point we didn’t know who to trust. He showed us his ID, but we still had our doubts whether it was genuine or fake. He gave us our space and I asked at the shuttle bus if he was really a police officer and worked at the airport. She told us that he did work at the airport and was a police officer, so we decided to report the incident and followed him to the Police station where there were other officers.


Apparently they had witnessed us walking out of the airport with the taxi driver and saw us walking back to the airport again looking very nervous and agitated and presumably it had been reported to them by the person that followed us back to the airport.


Anyway, after that experience, we will try not to make the same mistake again, however, it is easier said than done as every country is different and being aware of all the dangers of all the countries we are visiting, is not always easy, but at least our Lonely Planet guide warns about some of these dangers.

Cusco:

After spending 24 hours in Lima we were glad to leave this city. Arriving in Cusco was a strange experience for Nigel and I as we became so emotional that we struggled to hold back tears. Perhaps this was due to Cusco being such a spiritual place with its many Inca temples and such a high population of indigenous people that it may have a unique energy / vibration. I guess that the Andean music that was being played live by an indigenous group also added to the experience.


Well Cusco was a very good experience for us. It is here that for 3 weeks we became part of the community so to speak. Especially since we were not here just for the tourism, but also for Nigel to learn some Spanish, and me, well I found a course in silver jewellery making that I took part in during the same hours that Nigel was in Spanish school. After class we got to see some of the closer sights around Cusco, such as the ruins of Sachsyhuaman, museums and a live show with all the indigenous dances of this and other areas. On the weekends we ventured further out to the sacred Valley which included other ruins in Pisaq, Chinchero, Urumbamba and Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is also the place where people catch the train to Machu Pichu. The ruins at Ollyantaytambo were especially impressive and the most impacting. It was an awesome sight and the village surrounding the ruins was also incredible and unique with it´s small artesian gift shops and the cute cafes and restaurants at the base of the Inca ruins. These ruins could also be seen from any position in the valley due to their size as well as being spread all over the mountainside. It was also incredible to see the faces on the rocks that had been carved out by the Incas. We also got to see the granaries where they kept their crops and the temples used for rituals and ceremonies.

Nigel and I visited these ruins on 2 occasions. The first time was on a tour of all 5 or 6 sites in the Sacred Valley with our more economical tourist ticket, however, this trip was so rushed (typical of these tours!) that we decided to go back to Ollantaytambo on our own with time to take it all in and really contemplate.


It was then that we did a hike up to the mountain top where there were no other tourists around, (a real pleasure!), and sat on a rock in the silence next to one of the Inca ruins where ceremonies used to take place. We really got to appreciate and take it all in this time. We also got to appreciate traveling on a public bus amongst the locals. This was an experience in itself.

Puno/Lake Titicaca:

In Puno, we got to see and experience one of the floating islands that Lake Titicaca is well known for. My first impression was that this island was a stage in a theatre and the locals with their colourful traditional clothing the actors. It looked too different to what I’ve ever seen before for it to be real. I had seen these islands on TV in the past, but to see it right in front of my eyes was a totally different experience.


These islands are made with a particular type of reed that is very strong. This is why it is also used by the community for the construction and use in many ways. For example, their large canoes, (it takes 2 month to build one), as well as the construction of houses and the souvenirs for tourists. Walking on this floating platform was a strange experience as it felt like we were sinking when walking on the reeds.


The livelihood of these indigenous people used to be fishing but as a consequence of commercial fishing, the fish are no longer abundant and now they have to resort to selling tapestries and other souvenirs to the tourists that come to visit them.


While on this floating island, we also had a ride on one of their typical reed canoes. It was only a short distance between 2 floating islands, but it was very soothing, relaxing and a unique experience. The lake was very glassy and serene. It was the ideal conditions to take it all in.


The most rewarding experience however, was an overnight stay on one of the islands, with a local family of indigenous people.


Here, the group we were traveling with got divided into groups of 2 or 3 and a family was selected for each small group. These families were all waiting for us on the dock as we arrived on our small boat.


Lake Titicaca was an awesome sight from this island, especially from the top of the mountain side we climbed shortly after the meeting we all had shortly after our arrival on the island. On top of this mountain, there was an Inca temple with magnetic energy that effected compasses. According to our guide, this site was of scientific interest and studies had already being carried out.


Even though we had been told to meet our host families at the base of this mountain at 6.00 pm, Nigel and I got carried away contemplating the sunset from a family run café at the ruins, that was serving hot chocolate and what must have been Peruvian style donuts (delicious!). When we realized everyone had disappeared and that it was 6.00 pm we began making our way down the tricky path. We were very lucky that we had taken our torch, as the island was in total darkness, except for the lightning in the sky of what seemed to be an approaching storm. The experience was a little eerie! especially whenever I remembered that we were walking in the area that we were told had a strange energy and power.


We were met half way to the house by someone carrying another torch who we later realized was our host and he accompanied us back to the house safely. Finding the house on our own may not have been that easy, as there were no clear tracks, the paths were over uneven terrain and the houses far apart from each other.


That night, the locals organised a welcoming traditional dance with Andean music for us. Before the party, our host family came into our room to dress us up in their traditional dress. We all had a good laugh seeing each other dressed in this way, including the 2 girls that were also part of our group (one from Holland and the other Peruvian), that were sleeping in the room next to ours.

That night the dance was a lot of fun as well as interesting. One of the things that appealed to me the most was the communal style of dancing that took place. Here everyone danced together. Not like we are used to dancing in the West where everyone dances alone, this was much more enjoyable and sociable. It was also very energetic and joyful as well as interesting to be dancing with the locals that were all indigenous.

There was a very special feel and uniqueness to this place. There was also something very special about sitting outside to watch the stars, which could be seen very clearly in the night sky, especially at that altitude (3,800 m). The sounds of our environment as well as the Andean music playing in the background, brought home not only the remoteness of where we were, but also the uniqueness of this place and its people in the Peruvian Andes. Another aspect about staying with an indigenous family was that we got to observe and experience how willing and eager these people were to show and share their lives and customs with total strangers. Unfortunately, I felt that spending only one night was not long enough to get a real sense of this place and to learn more about this community, but at the same time, I am very grateful for what I did get to experience. It was unique to say the least!

Machu Pichu:


Well, Machu Pichu which we did on the following weekend after Puno was another unforgettable experience. We again departed our home stay in Cusco to experience yet another adventure.


This trip to Machu Pichu was a mystery to Nigel and I. Even though we had organized it through one of the teachers at the school where Nigel studied Spanish, we had not had the chance to clarify all the details. All we knew was that we were going with a small group of people, (it turned out to be around 24) that there was some walking involved and that we were going to be stopping for 3 nights in 3 different locations.


The first surprise was when we were put on a bus full of locals by 2 of the staff of the travel agency that the teacher had organized the trip through, but hey… we were the only ones of the group that were on the bus! It was explained to us in a great rush as the bus was due to leave, that the rest of the group was already at the first destination (Santa Maria), as they had arrived that morning. Why were we leaving at 8.00 pm then?! We later realized that it must have been organized this way so that Nigel wouldn’t miss his last Spanish class. According to what we understood in those short few minutes was that our guide would be waiting for us when we arrived at 2.00 am. This also made no sense to us. He would be waiting at the bus stop at 2.00 in the morning? Come on, get real! We were also given a sealed yellow envelope which we were told to give to our guide, as well as an extra bus ticket which we thought was just a mistake and got close to throwing out the window…


The next surprise was when we were woken up by a friendly guy. Who the hell was this? I thought he was trying to sell us something as this was a frequent occurrence on buses, but to wake us up for this purpose!? This was unusual. No, apparently this was the guide that we thought was going to meet us at Santa Maria at 2.00 in the morning. Obviously we hadn’t understood this minor detail. After a quick run down of what was planned and an explanation that we would travel with a group of South Korean students, he asked for the envelope and the ticket. Hey, where was the extra bus ticket? We finally found it and handed it over to him just in time to stop the conductor from throwing him off the bus!

One of the things we noticed on this bus trip was the significant difference in temperature and humidity compared to Cusco. (Cusco is very, very dry.) It seemed that the climate was more tropical here. The vegetation was also evidence of that as it was very lush and tropical.


We finally arrived at our destination and got off feeling very disorientated and tired. What made things more difficult and challenging was that this town seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and the small streets were also very dark at this time of morning. Once more, out torch saved us. We stopped walking to knock on the door of a very simple and rundown hostel, but there was no answer. Did they know we were coming? After persistent knocking by our guide, and to my great relief, someone answered. Well apparently some of our group was sleeping here, and the other part somewhere else in the area. We continued to navigate through the dark streets of the town, but because there did not seem to be any street names or house numbers, finding this place was no easy task. I remember thinking… thank god this guide has accompanied us here, as without him, we would have been totally lost. He was having quite a bit of trouble himself though. Our guide actually mentioned that the travel agency had asked him to come along with us for this same reason. The heat and humidity had not helped the situation, especially when we were dead tired and desperate to go to bed, so we were very relieved when we finally found the place.


We had to get up around 6.30 am (it was around 4.00 am when we went to sleep!) That did not sound good, especially knowing that we had a 8 hour walk ahead of us, and needed all the energy we could get. Well we were not too happy when at around 6.00 am we were woken up and told we needed to be ready in 10 minutes! Apparently the rest of the group was waiting. Well, we didn’t even get a chance to go to the toilet as one of the other guides (there were 4 or 5 guides total) were hurrying us along.


It was while having breaky before the walk (the rest of the group had already had theirs), that we discovered that our house mate (Daniel) who was also staying at the same family home we were staying at in Cusco, was one of the people in our group. This came as a great surprise, because as far as we knew, even though he had told us he was going to Machu Pichu the same weekend as us, we thought he was going on a different and longer tour to ours that also included one day of mountain biking. As we found out later, it was the same tour, only that we had missed out on the cycling as we had arrived so much later than the rest of the group. According to Daniel and other people in the group, the cycling had not been an enjoyable experience as they had had to cycle in complete darkness in less than favourable conditions, and some had even thought it dangerous.

By the time Nigel and I finished breakfast, the rest of the group had already left. We finally caught up with them approximately one and a half hours later.

The first day of walking was very intense, as not only was it a long walk, but the terrain was also very steep for prolonged periods of time. On this day we made 3 food and 2 drink stops on the way. The locations where we stopped were an experience in themselves to me. These stops were made in villagers` private homes along the Inca Trail, (not the more popular and longer Inca Trail, but an alternative, shorter route). To Nigel and I, this was very different to what we were used to back home when bushwalking. To actually be invited into people’s homes for a rest, drinks and food just added to the whole experience of this incredible place. These homes were also very different, including their immediate environment. The houses were very rustic with simple constructions, some made of what looked to be mud brick. The resting area was usually outdoors, and in two of the homes, they had chickens and other game running around freely which was good to see and off course, with great views as well! These people apparently take this opportunity to sell their goods to trekkers, even though at the first place we stopped at, there were no set prices for most of the things they offered, as it was through donations (bananas which were growing everywhere, a special Andean drink made of a specific type of red corn etc.), while other items such as coffee grains, chocolate, bottled water, special muesli bars were sold. This food and drink were very, very welcomed after a two hour uphill climb! We drank as much food and liquid as our bodies needed. I must have been fairly dehydrated, as after so much drinking, the dizziness I had been experiencing, was relieved. The lack of sleep had definitely not helped.

After another hour or so of walking , we arrived at our second stop for that day. Again, our hosts offered more bottled drinks, and we sat around for a short while and admired the views of the surrounding mountains as well as the vegetation. No snacks or other food was offered at this second stop. We arrived for lunch in another town a couple of hours later. This was another incredible little place amonst lush vegetation. Here, our lunch was included in the price of our 3 day trek, (all meals and accomodation were included). A very long table was set up for our group and we ate and rested for a while to regain our energy. Something that stood our to me here was the kitchen that was practically outdoors and did not have walls all around. It also had a thached roof. The chickens were running around freely here as well and we also saw some visitors (perhaps from Europe) that looked like they had taken permanent residence at this property (I could understand why!). Being in this place gave me the feeling once again of being in the jungle in a remote and unique part of the planet. Of course, I could imagine that in the Amazon jungle this feeling would have been a lot stronger, but for me living in Australia, this came pretty close.


After lunch, we continued our journey, this time for approximately 3 hours. What made this stretch easier was the thermal spring that awaited us like an oasis at the end of the road, one hour before arriving at our final stop for that night. Everyone was looking forward to bathing and relaxing in those pools. It felt it was like our reward for all the effort we had put in. As I said before...the oasis at the end of the road.


We walked along the river for a while and had to cross a suspension bridge. When we were about 20 minutes from the springs, we had to use a flying fox to get to the other side where the trail continued. This was another highlight of our walk. Some were excited and others a little apprehensive. The flying fox was around 120 M in length with a fairly high drop. According to one of our many guides, there were many flying foxes like this one around, which the local people used to get from one side of these cliffs to the other. The flying foxes were apparently the only way accross.

Well, arriving at the springs was a great feeling. It didn´t take long before everyone was in the water. I got into the pools in my underwear, as I had forgotten my bathers in the larger backpack that had been taken straight to the place we were staying for the night, but after such a long walk I wasn´t about to miss out, no way! At the springs, we were given 2 options, we could stay 2 hours if we were taking the minivan to our accomodation, or stay a shorter amount of time and walk the remaining 1 hour. Most of the people almost without exception went for the 1st option and stayed longer.

Our second night was spent in a pretty little town called Santa Teresa. Our accomodation was again very simple and rustic, but this was part and parcel of the whole experience to me, and made the trip the more interesting. No hot showers here!

That night, I started feeling a little upset in the stomach and by morning I wasn´t eating anything. I did not have much energy to walk. There were several people that were not up to walking either; some due to lactic acid build up and others fatigue or pure lazziness. Nigel decided to walk the rest of the way, whereas I took the easier option of a mini van ride along with the other "sick" and "injured" for the last 3 hours of the walk. We were taken to the lunch spot where we were supposed to meet up with the rest of the group and waited there for quite a while with one of the guides. At least we got to enjoy a performance by one of the South Korean guys who was travelling with us and had brought along his electric guitar and amplifier. He was an excellent player!


Once the group arrived, lunch was served (I could not eat a thing again) and then we started walking once again. This time we had no choice as everyone had to walk. Our larger backpacks travelled on the train with one of the guides to our final destination for the trip which was Aguas Calientes. From this town, the plan was to walk up to the Machu Pichu ruins (1 to 2 hour walk) at 4.00 AM the next morning.


The walk to Aguas Calientes was 3 hours from where we had stopped for lunch. The scenery on this part of the walk was different to the 1st day. In this area, the vegetation was even more lush, denser, greener with crop plantations including Babana trees. It was unfortunate that we did not get to enjoy the scenery as much as we would have liked due to the fact that for the whole 3 hours, we had to walk along the railway track and had to be looking down at the ground all the way, due to the irregularity of the spaces between the sleepers as well as the rocks that were not easy to walk on either. Nigel, after seeing a dog walking by on the rail, decided to try it out with much success. This allowed him to walk a little faster and more comfortably. Unfortunately it did not work for me and one of the other guys who tried to do the same. We were very disappointed! At one stage, one of the guides warned us that one of the trains was scheduled to pass through and when we heard it coming, we quickly got off the railway track to let it pass.

We finally made it to Aguas Calientes by late afternoon. This town, even though it was very unique, I was surprised to find it was not what I had imagined. It was very touristy with people everywhere. There were many restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, a market and the railway track in the middle of it all. It looked very different to anything I had seen before. The river was a feature that also stood out in this landscape. This river is very long and stretches all the way to Ollyantantambo near Cusco. I guess the mental picture I had formed, was of a place off the beaten track that had a natural hot spring and very serene with many indigenous people in their traditional clothing. Perhaps at one point in time in the past, it may have looked like this, but the picture I saw was very different, not unattractive at all as it did have it´s appeal, but different all the same.

Our accommodation for the night was of a pretty good standard when compared to the places we had stayed in the previous couple of nights, we even had hot water! The only thing that took a little getting used to, was the fact that we had to share the room with one of the other guys in our group that had joined us more recently who was from Holland. All I can say is that it was an interesting night!!

After getting up at around 4.00 AM the next morning as planned, we set off on our last part of the journey which was the uphill climb, up to Machu Pichi (1 - 2 hours). It was still dark at this time which added to the whole experience, as it made the journey a little more mystical and mysterious for me.

The climb up was not an easy one, as it was incredibly steep all the way, but definitely worth it, not only because of the beautiful views, but also because Nigel & I felt that to get to this magical place had to take some effort. This was part of the whole experience. We felt that if we had taken the bus up, the journey would have lost some of its magic. This felt more like a pilgrimage to me, and after walking for 3 days, I would not have got much out of arriving at our final destination on a bus.

We finally made it to the top and after passing through the main entrance, we were amongst the ruins. It was very foggy at this time of the morning, so much so, that the only ruins we could see were the ones we were walking through. Our guide explained that the fog usually lifts by 9.00 to 10.00 AM. It did just that, however, while the fog was around it added to the special feel of the place. Once the fog did disappear, all was definitely revealed! We first viewed the ruins from a height while our guide spoke about the Incas, the significance of this sacred site etc. Later, we weaved our way through the ruins while our guide continued to explain.

We had been to other Inca sites in Peru, including those in Ollyantaytambo, but nothing compared to these ones. The altitude of the surrounding mountains around the ruins added tremendously to its appeal. It was also unbelievable to see how far these ruins extended. It was an incredible sight. Seeing this place with my own 2 eyes was very different to seeing it on television. However, somehow, the journey was more memorable than the destination. I think the reason for this is that the 3 day walk was a personal challenge as I didn´t know what to expect or what I was going to see and experience from one moment to the next, whereas, Machu Pichu is familiar to us all. Another factor was the disappointment that after the effort put in to get to Machu Pichu, (walking for 3 days), the first contact with this place is a car park full of other tourists and buses, and that before you see anything at all, you have to line up at the enterance and pay just like the rest of the crowd. It is not a place you are discovering for the 1st time, but rather a sacred site that is overcrowded and overexploited.


While we were studying in Cusco, we were told of other ruins that had been discovered more recently and that to get to them it was a lot more challenging than Machu Pichu. Now, this sounded very interesting! It was a shame that we didn´t have more time available while we were there. This would have satisfied my sense of adventure to a much greater extent. This element is something that I have constantly been seeking on this 1 year trip, and even though it has been partially fulfilled by the experiences Nigel and I have had in the last 7 months, my thirst for adventure has not been fully fullfilled.


From Aguas Calientes, we travelled to Ollyantaytambo by train with the group and then took a minibus back to Cusco. After our 3 and a half weeks stay in this great place, our time was up and we flew back to Lima the next morning.

Lima to Tumbes in the North (by bus):

We didn´t stay in Lima and as soon as we arrived at the airport, we took a taxi to the bus terminal to continue our journey up North.

We travelled along the Peruvian coast (Trujillo, Chiclayo, Piura & Tumbes) up to Ecuador, except for the diversion we made inland to Cajamarca from Chiclayo which was a great experience, especially the visit to the Porcón community.

Cajamarca was similar to Cusco in appearance, especially the cobblestone streets and the colonial architecture. This place was where the last Inca chief was captured. The Spanish demanded ransom for his freedom. Even though the ransom room was filled with gold, they betrayed and killed him. Cajamarca has the oldest colonial architecture, as it was the first place the Spanish conquered in Peru.

While in Cajamarca, I had read about the Porcón community in our Lonely Planet guide and was very enthusiastic about visiting this farm of indigenous people who were making it all on their own without anyone´s help. A completely self sufficient community. These people had started off as slaves and ended up being pretty well off as a community with their own laws and decision making. The main source of income for these people is tourism, (they even have their own animal reserve), the pine timber which they grow and sell to the rest of Peru and the furniture weavings and other crafts that they even export overseas. Cheese was also another of their specialties which include secret recepies.

I was absolutely delighted by this community, not only was what they had achieved admirable, but it was a great experience to see these indigenous people still wearing their traditional clothing and practicing traditional customs.

Here in the community , we stayed in the guest house which included 4 rooms, a huge dinning room / living room with a fireplace and much more, and all this was just for the 2 of us, as there were no other visitors staying on the farm at that time.

Another highlight of our stay on this farm was the horse riding. It was also a good experience having an indigenous guide with us, who even picked some medicinal plants for Nigel to take for his digestive problems during our walk around the bridge of the Incas.

From Cajamarca, we continued up the coast of Peru and made a stop in Piura and Tumbes, very close to the Ecuadorian Border.

This is where our 4 week adventure in Peru ends and our journey through Ecuador and back begins...

Tags: adventures

 

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