Partying, hiking and Machu Picchu
01.07.2016 - 08.07.2016 20 °C
The 19 hour bus ride from Mancora to Lima wasn't half as bad as it sounds. Two meals, super comfy reclining seats and an endless stream of Adam Sandler films dubbed in Spanish, what more could you want? So when I arrived at 9am, my main concern was whether to find somewhere to stay in Lima for the night, jump straight on a bus for a further 22 hours to Cusco, or head to the airport and hope I could get a reasonably priced flight. I've not heard great things about Lima, and didn't really fancy another bus, so opted for the latter. I got a flight for around $100USD, which was delayed almost immediately after I bought the ticket.
I finally got to Cusco and as daylight began to fade headed into town. I fell in love with the place pretty much immediately. It's visually beautiful, there was music all over the place, and locals clad in traditional clothes dancing on the street. I decided to brave some street food from an area teeming with locals, and got some sort of shredded meat with potatoes, corn and veg for 10 soles (£2-3). I'm not certain what the meat was but there were plenty of guinea pigs being grilled so it may have been that. If it was then you should forget that Dominoes tonight and get down to Pets at Home sharpish, because it was really good.
Because my liver is my least favourite organ, I decided to check in to the Cusco branch of Loki and give it some more punishment. As is becoming common on nights out, Brexit was a much discussed topic of conversation. As is also becoming common, I danced on the bar, expertly leading The Macarena. I had a day to kill before beginning my trek and Machu Picchu visit, so booked myself on a trip to the Sacred Valley. While the tour was a little rigid for my liking, a lot was packed into the day and some of the sights were breathtaking. The valley contains some of the most important and impressive landmarks of the Inca people, with Pisac and Ollantaytambo particular standouts. The guide was as entertaining as he was enthusiastic and informative, and at lunch I found alpacas are as tasty as they are cute.
I got back to the hostel just as the 11th anniversary festivities kicked off. The main event was a train of 252 free 'blood bombs' (Red Bull, vodka and grenadine), followed by a giant 'LOKI 11' being set alight and a firework display. Naturally, there was also a professional face painter on hand. As a result, I ended up walking back to the hostel at 7am looking like Gene Simmons, which attracted a bit of attention. I checked out later that morning and stumbled across town to the hotel I was booked into as part of my trek. I thought I'd actually take a look at the itinerary, and it turns out the first day was essentially the same as the aforementioned Sacred Valley trip I'd taken the day before. So, bright and early, I was on my way back. While the tour was a little rigid for my liking, a lot was packed into the day and some of the sights were breathtaking. The valley contains some of the most important and impressive landmarks of the Inca people, with Pisac and Ollantaytambo particular standouts. The guide was as entertaining as he was enthusiastic and informative. I didn't have alpaca for lunch.
The Inca Trail itself is limited to 500 people per day, only around 200 of which are for tourists. These sell out months in advance, so the trek I took started the other side of Machu Picchu in Lares. The one down side to the trek was that it didn't actually finish at Machu Picchu, rather at the Sacred Valley. Aside from that, the 3-day trek was phenomenal, with an eclectic mix of people. While the first day was great, the second day stole the show, with the scenery towards the 4,800m peak growing ever more dramatic and glorious. As we ascended, the mountains gained a sprinkling of snow, engulfing an array of deep blue lagoons. A backdrop of glaciers draped over the peaks of The Andes completed one of the most stunning sights I've ever seen. The trek wouldn't have been particularly challenging from sea level, but the altitude certainly made things more interesting. Having lived a less than healthy lifestyle recently, I decided to challenge myself and go as fast as my oxygen-deprived body would allow, meaning I had the utterly beautiful summit to myself for a good 20 minutes. After taking the obligatory selfies I sat there soaking up the serene silence of my surroundings. The rest of the group gradually emerged before we headed down the other side for lunch, provided by chefs who somehow produced top notch meals with barely any equipment. After a second (bloody freezing) night camping, the third day was a little more relaxed, ending with the train ride to Aguas Calientes just outside Machu Picchu.
While the trek itself was spectacular, there was one aspect of the trip I was somewhat uncomfortable with - the 'interaction' with the local kids. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was poverty tourism, but it seemed more for our benefit than theirs. Basically, we were told we could take toys or food to bring along and give out to the children along the way. In reality, the slightly baffled looking kids were sent to stand by the path waiting for us and take what they could. In return they would pose for a photo so people could go home and tell everyone what a good samaritan they are. It was so insincere it would've made Jeremy Corbyn blush.
While I enjoy camping in small doses, I was quite happy to sleep in a comfy bed in Aguas Calientes, even if we did have to get up at 4am to make sure we could catch one of the earliest buses to Machu Picchu. The low hanging clouds hovering around the peaks made for yet more spectacular views, and our brilliant guide Jhonatan led us through the various sections of the city. After that we had time to explore, so a group of us walked up to the Sun Gate, where some of the most spectacular shots of Machu Picchu are taken. We got a view of some clouds. Once back down, we got a demonstration of the Incan city's impressive drainage system, as the heavens opened. After donning super stylish ponchos, we headed back to Aguas Calientes for food and finally back to Cusco. And that is where I am now, sat in the hotel lobby reveling in the relatively decent WiFi.
Argentina has been part of my plan from the beginning, mainly for Iguazu Falls, but I think it may be sacrificed. I would rather see fewer places properly than rush through many. I'm heading to Arequipa on Sunday, before Puno on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. From there it's into Bolivia where, among other things, the salt flats at Uyuni await. It's a hard life, but someone's got to do it.