A Travellerspoint blog

Cusco

The Tourist Capital of Peru

sunny 20 °C

Cusco, what a beautiful place you are. One week has not been enough and I can see why people stay. There is just something in the air here, maybe it's the altitude or the beautiful surroundings? There's no way of pinpointing exactly what it is that makes this place so special. It could be the amazing ice cream place that creates the ice cream right in front of you, making you come back every day for a new variation. It could be the wonderful hostel up on the hill, allowing you to eat breakfast with a stunning view in the morning sun. Maybe it's even haggling with locals to get that gorgeous blanket you wanted at a decent price? Or how about all the locals in their traditional clothes carrying baby llamas, offering to let you photograph them for just 2 soles! (50 cents). Or MAYBE, it's that the weather forecast was rain and thunder for the whole week but the sun shone for the full 7 days anyway.

Here's the amazing ice cream place!

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We spent most of the first days browsing the many stalls and souvenir shops and looking at all the amazing colonial architecture. People here are MUCH more used to foreigners than in the remote mountains, as Cusco is pretty much the tourist capital of Peru, and they'll try and stiff you for everything and anything! As we had had our break from the tourist world in Huancavelica, the busy town of Cusco didn't really bother us so much. People came and went at our hostel as they all had busy schedules heading up to Machu Picchu, the famous Inca site, but we arrived 7 days before our trek started, so we had plenty of time to relax, explore and enjoy everything at our own leisure. The fantastic weather held up all week which was a great bonus too! Tom decided to get another band added to his tattoo on his leg, to mark this fantastic adventure in South America where we have been enjoying the Inca designs and styles that have been so present in South America. So that was mingled in amongst the browsing! It's a magical place, steeped in history with beautiful old churches, colonial buildings and an abundance of ruins just up in the mountain. It keeps up with modern life by offering things like Starbucks and McDonald's which are cleverly disguised in the old buildings surrounding the main square. This square has its own police officer guarding the grass and chasing off sellers, making it the only place you can sit on a bench with out being pestered to buy anything.

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So after lazing around a lot we decided to hit up some of the sites around Cusco. Of course the Machu Picchu Inca site is the most famous and takes 4-5 days to hike to (we'll get to that next week!), but there are many Inca ruins in the area to visit. We were recommended Saqsawaman (sack-sa-wa-man) or as the non-local population call it, "sexy woman". On the walk up we were approached by two guys and we decided to take the two horses they were offering for a tour of the area as there were a few other ruins around the "sexy woman". This was great fun and it's been a few years since I was on a horse, however the guide didn't speak English (we were told he would), the other ruins literally looked like a pile of rocks that resembled nothing, there was no info whatsoever AND half way through the tour the guide just said "finished" and we had to get off and walk the rest of the way. As we walked down the hill we had a good view of sexy woman and it really didn't warrant the expensive entrance fee that was extra to pay.

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We feel a little bad about saying this, but want to say it nonetheless. We have seen a relative amount of Inca ruins here in SA, and every time we have visited them, they are expensive to see, there's never any information and really, they're just a pile of rocks. This may seem a little uncultured but we've just been a bit disappointed by them. So we skipped the "sexy woman" as we will be visiting the biggest pile of inca rocks relatively soon! Hehe, well, Machu Picchu is a bit different I guess. It's an ancient city of ruins :)

We also visited a little town called Pisac, a short trufi ride out into the mountain countryside. As an entrance to the sacred valley, it was another beautiful town nestled at the bottom of steep high mountain gorges. Seeing a trend here? It's a good trend hehe! They have a "famous" market here but it was mostly the same stuff being sold in Cusco. We finally (after months of deliberation) bought a leather photo album to use when we get back for SA pictures. I haggled to the dirt for it and, after agreeing on the price, I got a wee bit more off after noticing it was a little broken (nothing a bit of glue won't fix!). We are getting to be expert hagglers - it's going to be weird coming back to Europe. You take nothing for face value here and never pay more than 75-80% of the stated price. Sometimes we get them down to 50% and one has to wonder how much they would make in profit if they'd sold it for even 75-80%. We found prices to be higher here as they generally get frequented by tour buses full of "grown ups" who don't know they are being over charged. A pretty place but after a brief visit and a vegetarian lunch, Cusco was calling us back.

Our final day was spent stocking up on souvenirs and gathering supplies like hats, backpacks, flashlights and snacks, all for the Inca trek which started the next day. We had a lovely evening that night with an American couple from New York whom we'd met the day before and played some cards and a game called doubt. Laughing, stopping for smoothie breaks and incredible vengeful gaming, it was the perfect way to finish off our time in Cusco. Katty even got a cake for my birthday (we be on the Inca trail for my birthday) whch was awesome. Steven and Amanda - we love you guys! They're on their way around the world, with really no plan at all, but they think they'll be in Europe this summer so we might just cross paths again 😊

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And so we hit the sack for an early 4am start to mark the beginning of our much anticipated Machu Picchu 5 day Inca Trek!

Here we gooooo!

Love from tom and kat

Posted by TomAndKat 15:09 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Huancayo and Huancavelica

A mix of ancient history and natural beauty

sunny 18 °C

After a sunny and warm week in Lima sorting Tom's life out after the robbery, it was time for the colder but more beautiful Andean highlands. First up was Huancayo, which is situated in a valley and is more of a collection of towns that have merged into one another. The area is steeped in history as it was one of the few areas in Peru where the Incan civilisation managed to defend themselves against the Spanish conquerors. They actually fended the Spanish off twice before finally being defeated! Each little town, or area around Huancayo, has its own industry. The first makes their own hats or "sombreros" (not the mexican version!), which is actually a big industry here in Peru and indeed Bolivia, as all the traditional communities wear them.

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The area is well known for its rich mining opportunities which has given way to very cheap silver and gold being sold, an industry of the second town we visited. The third town produces milk and we visited the local factory where it is produced and turned into butter, cheese and ice cream. The final town we visited was Jauja, the first capital of Peru, in pre-Incan times. The Spanish changed the capital to Lima as it is beside the sea instead of high up in the Andes! It is tradition, in the area of Huancayo, that on the 1st - 3rd of Januray every year they hold a festival. During the festivities, local politicians are placed at the centre of a square and whipped if they didn't fulfil their promises they made throughout the year! Perhaps our government would be a little more efficient if the local populations employed these tactics! Haha.

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One thing we have noticed in South America is how all the shops that sell the same things/ offer the same services are all on the same street or next to each other at markets. It was the same in these villages, where every street sold the same thing. We found this really weird and can't see how this is good for business, but at least it is efficient and easy for the consumers! Normally, one would not set up a similiar business right beside another...

We also visited a trout farm, where they use a river to siphon water to several pools where they breed trout. No chemicals are used and the water is continuously flowing passed the trout which gives way to really fresh and tasty trout! We had the "ceviche", which is raw trout marinated in lime juice and other tasty herbs. Delicious! In Huancayo itself we also tried the popular Asian/Peruvian fusion food called chifa. Not particularly tasty and kind of overpriced, but at least we tried it!

The next day we were supposed to take a train to Huancavelica, but unfortunately it didn't run. So we grabbed a bus instead on which we were entertained by a man who got up and talked for nearly two hours about who knows what! Showing a poster of male genetelia as well as one with naked women and female genetelia. He then proceded to try and sell green tea and other various products. It was pretty weird... However, Tom made a cute little friend who kept picking at Tom's hair and showing Tom his pogs. He was quite adorable!

After 4 hour bus ride with gorgeous scenery we arrived to beautiful huancavalica which sits at the very bottom of a valley surrounded by steep high peaks and huge gorges. This town really is as remote as it gets and just what we were looking for after spending a lot of time in popular touristic areas. We walked in towards town, looking for accommodation as there was nothing to pre-book online. Not having any luck we asked this couple who were super nice and drove us to the plaza de armas and took us to a hotel on the square. All out of double and matrimonial rooms, we settled for a single bed room. The hostel was nice enough and the room pleasant, but the whole place was freezing! We had to go outside just to get a bit of warmth, so we weren't to bothered when we had to snuggle up in the single bed together. Also the fact that we were only paying £3.50 /40kr per night didn't hurt!

Huancavelica was definitely not a town frequented by travellers as we quickly found out when locals would wave at us from across the street and go out of their way ten fold to help us. This random guy on the street who surprisingly spoke English drew a map for us and explained how to get to all the places we wanted to go. We really felt like, and probably were, the only foreigners in the whole town! Our first evening we wandered about looking for food when a couple from a shop selling raw chickens, sent us to a restaurant in the opposite direction. We headed there in good faith only to find it closed, but this did in turn take us past a chicken restaurant. No menus and only one thing to chose from, chicken and chips. We didn't mind and had the cheapest meal we have had in Peru so far. At 7s (16kr or 1.60£) we were super pleased, especially since the chicken was so good. So good in fact that we returned the next evening as well as the one after that!

We only had 2 days there unfortunately, so we decided to hike up to a little town on one of the mountains. Passing beautiful nature, rivers, waterfalls and scenery we made it to a viewpoint of Huancavelica and had our sandwiches that we'd made with the cheese we bought in Huancayo. The panoramic view of the city was stunning and definitely worth the hundreds of steps it took to get there! Further up the never ending mountains we arrived at Sacsamarca, a tiny village with beautiful scenery and lots of animals. This is also where we were adopted by the cutest little puppy who, after we cuddled and played with, decided to come walking with us. He joined us for ages and didn't want to leave us when we found out the path actually looped back to town. So with heavy hearts we hailed him a motorcycle taxi and sent him home.

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As we made our way down the other side of the mountain, we could see the winding road that the cars took back to Huancavelica and thought it would be a good idea to instead cut though the steep fields of crops to reach the town faster. We ended up in the suburbs of the town and we felt so out of place, but still welcomed as locals stared and waved at us as we passed by. One thing we've noticed is they don't hound you to buy stuff as much out here in comparison to the big cities. They are more inquisitive and always interested in where we come from. At one point we were sitting on a bench and almost instantly surrounded by about 15 young girls who all babbled "hello gringo! where are you from!!!". We couldn't stop laughing at how close they came up to us and all giggling and laughing to each other as they practiced their English on us. It was really special nice and special!

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We awoke on our final day in huancavelica, to find the town bustling with life. People were all dressed up, parades were forming and various military groups were standing in formation. We are still not a hundred percent sure what it was for, but it was definitely a celebration of the town of sorts. It felt like the 17th of May for me (Norways national day) with all the traditional dress and kids in bands marching along the street. Throughout the day the town was filled with food and sweet stalls, parades, and people dressed up. We ate at this outside grill that cooked the meat over open fires which was amazingly cool. We had the "pachamanca" where the meat is cooked under stones that are heated to very high temperatures. No forks or knifes were given out so we tucked in with the other 100+ locals who were enjoying the festivities. We sat there thinking "we're totally going to get sick from this!". But the food was too good to resist. We had such a fantastic time there and we really wanted to stay longer but had to move along as our Inca Trail (Machu Picchu) start date drew closer.

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We were originally meant to travel to Ayacucho and then from there to Cusco which is 24 hours. But after a bit of research and realizing the journey could be quite dangerous with potential robberies and winding mountain roads, we decided instead to head for the coast to Pisco and go from there instead along the more frequented route.

I have to admit I am super relieved we made that choice after 6 horrible hours overnight on the bus to Ayacucho. The driver was insane and drove at 100kmph on dark, small windy and very steep mountain roads. I don't think I could have stomached another 24 hours like that.

Anyway, Cusco next! Super exciting, lots to see and do. We are really loving Peru, but I think we are both starting to miss friends and family, hope you're missing us too!

Love from Peru!

Posted by TomAndKat 20:08 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

La Paz and Beyond

Peruuuuusing into Peru!

sunny 25 °C

We have been a little "off the ball" the past 2 weeks so we are sorry that we haven't been as regular as normal on the blog! After leaving the AMAZING jungle we flew back to La Paz, Bolivia.

La paz sucked ass, as per normal. Our third time in the smelly, dirty and cold mountain town. We shopped a little, then quickly got the bus to Copacabana (Bolivian, not the famous Brazilian Copacabana) on the edge of lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world!

That night in Copacabana I got unwell again and was awake throughout most of the night, burning with a fever. Weirdly again as in Rurrenabaque, I was fine in the morning, just a little weak. By this time the food was getting to both us and we were sick and tired, of being sick and tired!
We planned to take an overnight trip to Titicaca's Isla del Sol (Island of the sun) although it was cloudy and cold on the way over (haha). Once we got to the island the port town was miserable and accommodation there really was below basic. So we decided to hike over an ancient trail left by the Incas to the south of the island, one that supposedly took 3 hours. Now, there's two reasons as to why we shouldn't have done this hike. Firstly, I was weak and had hardly eaten much that day except half a sandwich and some fruit. Also, as it was cold, when the sun did come out we hadn't applied any sun cream so by the end of the hike we were exhausted, bright red faced and I was straight on the toilet.

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The views were pretty great though, and it was interesting to walk the trail, but honestly, they charged us 3 times for taxes and other stuff and gave us no information whatsoever about the ruins along the way, nor indeed the trail itself. We found accomadation on the south of the island, but for 30kr (3 pounds) a night, we couldnt whinge about the freezing cold room! The next day we got up early and headed back to Copacbana on the first boat. A lot of people had said Lake Titicaca was the highlight of their Bolivian trip. Perhaps it would have been nicer if it was warmer and we were more prepared for it. At this stage, we'd had to return to a Hotel we'd stayed at before we left for the island to pick up our big backpacks and get our laundry back. After having exceptionally rude service and facilities (our washing was not clean, nor did it smell very nice), we were well and truly depleted of energy, enthusiasm and headed to the port for some breakfast. As we sat down a Canadian couple were arguing with the staff there claiming that the bread was not fit to serve a dog. So of course we made a run for it and scoured the town for a nice, decent place (it was also raining at this point, fuelling our frustration and anger). We made it to this bohemian style place which the guy outside claimed to have good wifi - which we were desperatley in need of at this stage. The breakfast there was fantastic and the wifi WAS decent, so we stayed there well into the afternoon until our bus left to head to Peru!

It was recommended to stop in the first peruvian town of Puno, to visit the floating islands, but we read that it was a bit of a tourist trap and we weren't really in the mood at this stage so we decided to skip it and head straight to Arequipa, one of Peru's most beautiful cities.

Bolivia was a fantastic country, where we have made so many great memories. However, MAN WERE WE READY TO LEAVE! 4 weeks of dodgy stomachs and eating out in dodgy places eventually grated on our nerves and we both needed some fresh fruit and vitamins! I didn't think it was possible to crave vitamins so much...

So as we sat on the bus on the way to Arequipa, we were confident that things would perk up a bit! Were we right? No of course we weren't right. Things went from bad to worse. Early on in the bus ride, and we won't go into too many details on this one, but our bus hit a donkey. The drivers don't slow down for anything here, and we're pretty sure the poor animal did not survive. Unfortunately we only stopped for about a minute or two before the driver drove off as if nothing ever happened. So that was depressing. Then, we had to deal with a baby, who seemed to manage to scream it's lungs off for the rest of 8 hour journey. Once we finally arrived in Arequipa at 1.30am our bags had been sitting in water in the bus baggage hold so they were soaked through. Does it get any better? Nope. We finally make it to our hostel which we had booked a room for the night. We were so happy to be there and they told us that they had double booked and had no beds left in the hostel. At 2.30am, this was the final straw for me as I shoved my confirmation email in their face. So after a lot of calls to her boss, the receptionist told us we'd get the night for free, and that we could sleep in the movie room. We pushed two sofas together and finally tucked ourselves into what had become a private double bed and we were just about to go to sleep, when a dog started barking outside followed by cats fighting.

What a day. And night.

Now we would have been a lot more pissed off and angry at our situation, if it hadn't been for a few things. First of all, the breakfast was awesome. Very tasty bread with bananas. Might not seem much to the common european person, but to us, this food was like staying in a 5 star hotel! Also, the hostel was great - it had fuseball, pool, ping pong, a play station, 2 movie rooms and a hammock in every nook and cranny outside. But best of all.....IT HAD A KITCHEN!! The first thing we did that day was head straight to the supermarket and bought about a weeks worth of shopping haha. People at the hostel looked at us in horror as we arrived back with all our bags. Fair enough, we went a bit crazy, but we weren't planning to eat out for a loooong time haha. At that point we hadn't showered for almost a week due to cold water in La Paz and no showers on the Isla del Sol so it was amazing to have warm showers that didn't just dribble cold water on you.

We were finaly in heaven.

I made a bolognese sauce (I even chopped the tomatoes myself - sooo good) and we ate dinner whilst watching Mr and Mrs Smith, curled up in the movie room. We literally spent the next three days pretty much sitting on our asses, watching movies, playing pool/table tennis and chatting with other travellers. We didn't leave the hostel once. Also, as a bonus it was perfectly warm there in Arequipa, a nice change from the high altitude, cold cities in Bolivia.

After our 3 day binge on food and movies we ventured out to see a few sights Arequipa had to offer. I went off on a 2 day trip with two guys I had met there to Colca Canyon which included 7 hours of hiking down hill and 3 hours of walking pretty much up vertical for 1.5km. It was full of beautiful scenery and intersting flora. Meanwhile, Kathrin made some australian friends and had a night in with them at the hostel. When I arrived home the next day she seemed like she'd had a good night hehe. She also ran into a girl we'd met in San Pedro, roughly 1 month back which was random and nice!

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Arequipa was rejuvenating and we prepared ourselves for our peruvian adventure. It began with a trip to Huacachina, a desert oasis with huge sand dunes as high as small mountains. Travellers pretty much arrive there, stay 1 night, do the activity and leave again. The activity is dune buggying and sand boarding which was really cool. First we zoomed off into mounatins of sand getting flung around and driving down steep hills of sand. We then got our boards and, lying down, zoomed down huge dunes of sand which would take you about 15 seconds to reach the bottom, going quite fast. Was a short, adrenaline filled evening! We then moved on and headed up the coast northwards towards the beach resort, Cerro Azul.

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On the bus there, disaster unfortunately struck. A woman approached me on the bus and told me water was on the floor underneath my feet (where my small backpack was safely stored). She picked it up out of the water and put it in the compartment above my head and I, being the stupid oblivious person that I am, thanked her and focused on the water around my feet. 5 minutes later we pulled into a bus station and of course a woman pointed at me and shouting at where my bag was. I stood up and my bag was gone. The woman told me a girl had just run off with it and I immediatly knew who it was, that I had been played and that I would never see my backpack again. What made it worse was that I had everything in my backpack. Yes, I know, seperate your money, put things in different places in your various bags, but the crappy reality of it is this; after almost 3 months of travelling, you naturally become relaxed when on buses and you tend to think less about security. It's difficult to describe but it's just impossible to be 100% vigilant 100% of the time. I had been so careful. We have heard all the stories from other travellers. But as soon as you let your guard down for a second they are there, ready to pounce. After getting a police report from the local authorities we decided to skip the beach and head straight to the peruvian capital - Lima. As we sat on the bus in silence to Lima, I remembered something Paddy Austin (family friend) said to me before we left. It was pretty much the last thing he said to me actually - "Tom, you will get robbed in south america. The sooner you accept that fact, the easier it will be when it happens". One might think that as being harsh, but to be honest, I felt prepared. Yes of course I was angry, but I was never going to see the bag again nor it's contents, so there's no point in worrying about it. Just get everything fixed and move on.

Kathrin, the amazingly resourceful person she is, managed to get us a room for 2 nights in an apartment in a hotel for 100kr (10 pounds) a night, instead of 800kr (80 pounds). I don't know how she does it, but I like it! While I was a useless mess, drowning in my own sorrows and feeling sorry for myself, she cancelled my bank cards AND got me an appointment the next day at 8am at the British Embassy, Lima. She was my knight in shining armour haha. All of this eased my pain ten-fold! Most of the things in the bag are, at a hefty cost, replaceable. However, 2 months of video camera footage is not, and neither were the numerous souvenirs I stupidly had in there from various countries. Even the amazing leather bag itself was a souvenir! Anyway, I am not going to drag it out. Iv'e mourned already. Yes it was crap, but life throws these things at you - one has to deal with it and move on. We are still safe, together, and have all our limbs!

So the past 6 days have been filled with waiting in lines, paying a lot of money to get passports sorted, visas and immigration cards back. We have a joint bank account which has been really handy becasue I can use Kathrin's card but I still have access to all my money. And my phone! I still have my phone, and my sunglasses haha. Apart from getting my life back, we just spent our time at the local cat park where loads of random cats spend their days lying in the grass surrounded by tourists and locals. Tomorrow we leave Lima behind and hopefully we can comfortably and safely move on to begin enjoying our travels again.

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We are planning to cross through the Peruvian Andes and slowly make our way to Cusco, one of the most well known places in South America and the base for our 4 day hike to Machu Picchu, the most famous Inca site in the world!

Posted by TomAndKat 20:23 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

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