Machu Picchu – Four Days Of Biking, Trekking, Rafting and Inca Past

Day 1 – Take car to 4000m and bike down to 1500m. Then rafting.

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The start of the rafting

Day 2 – Trek for 8 hours with breaks and a stop at some hot springs

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Coca plantation

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A wild guinea pig

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Coffee beans drying in the sun - separated into the best for Europe and the rest for everyone else

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Crossing the river in a basket

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A stop in the hot springs before continuing in the dark

Day 3 – A lie in and a trek for 3 hours along the railway line

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The $850 Hiram Bingham train - Peru's answer to the orient express

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Aguas Calliente where we spend the night

Day 4 – wake up at 4am to climb 2000 steps to Machu Picchu

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Cusco – Guinea Pig And The Inca Capital

Luxury was how we entered Cusco. The Tepsa bus not only provided dinner and WiFi, but 160 degree reclining chairs and even a library. Luckily the WiFi on board meant I could check couchsurfing and see that we had been accepted to a very interesting hostel.

From the outside you see the business ‘Going Bananas’ juice bar. This is the owners main business and source of income. However if you go through the back there is a hostel that you won’t find on hostel world, ‘La Casita del Chato’. This second venture started because the owners wanted somewhere cheap for travellers to stay, so along with the people who owned the building they converted rooms into dormitories. The cost of a bed is only 10 soles (£2.50) I.e. their runing costs of the hostel. There are hot showers, which are needed for the cold of Cusco and you can hang out in the juice bar. In the bar you can find other couchsurfers and like minded people, so the atmosphere was great. Plus the place itself is very cute with Chato the dog, who the hostel is named after, coming over for a scratch, home made brownies and a book with tips left by other travellers. It was nice we stumbled across such a place on Couchsurfing. Maren and Carolyn are their names on the site and the hostel is located at 554 Calle Recoleta Agosta, if you fancy dropping by next time you’re in Cusco.

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Chato the hostel dog

Once checking in and breakfast had been had, we meet up with another of Elena’s friends who drove us around the city. We saw the  Plaza de Armas, which is the main square and is very beautiful, the church above the square and the Blanco Cristo. We also looked around the some stalls at a town festival. Thee wasn’t much to see but we enjoyed some cake and bought a few souvenirs.

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Now it was about 12 so  we were dropped back at the plaza ready for the free walking tour of Cusco (‘Free Grand Walking Tour Cusco’). The guide, Marco, was very enthusiastic and much better than the one in Arequipa. He talked of Tupac who was the first revolutionary against the Spanish and started the road to Peru becoming independent. We visited the museum of medicinal and magic plants where he talked at length about Coca and Ayawaska. The former is what cocaine is made from and the leaves can be freely traded in Peru. Chewing them helps with many things including tiredness, altitude sickness and stops you being hungry. However don’t expect a high as you need 30kg of coca leaves to make one of cocaine.

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Ayawaska is a strange and also scary sounding drug. It is involved in a ceremony with a shaman and allegedly when you take it you can see your present, future sand past. It opens up other realities and can change your way of thinking. The guide says this is because it contains DMT which is natural, but is only released in the body when you are born and when you die. Hence taking this substance is the same experiencing as dying, without the hassle of actually having to give up your life. I’m not sure how much of this so true as the guide was getting very philosophical at this point, however I think Bruce Parry tries it in the BBC television documentary ‘Amazon’, if you want to see it in action.

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Afterwards we walked up to the church we had seen previously and then down again to see the famous 12 angled stone. The reason it is famous is because it is part of a wall built by the Incas, but in this wall the blocks aren’t rectangular as this would make the wall collapse during an earthquake. Instead each stone fits neatly into the other even though they are various shapes. The most impressive is obviously the one with 12 angles.  Also in this wall the Incas left stones that create the image the three animals which represent  this world, the underworld and the upper world; the puma, the snake and the condor.

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Finally we went to a Pisco bar where we were told how they make it from distilled wine and of course got some more samples of Pisco Sour. Feeling very hungry we then went to get some food at the San Pedro market via the chocolate museum – everyone loves free samples. We then looked around the handcraft market before heading to the hostel.

Here we chatted with more travellers and the owners. We got some snacks and Peruvian wine from a local supermarket -it was surprisingly nice considering I don’t like wine. Elena and I then walked back into town to meet up with the guy from this morning and his friends. We went to an invite only party which included waiters offering us nibbles and some free beer on entry. Even though the music couldn’t be danced to it was still fun. We then went onto ‘Mama Africa’ which played American style music so we left soon after. We both had a good night out in Cusco.

The next day, which started around 11, we decided to go to Pisac, a town an hour away, with Daniel from the hostel. The reason was that we were on a mission. A mission to find and sample Guinea Pig. A place had been recommended to us there but upon arrival the locals did not know where it was. It turned out it was actually the name of the next region – some information had obviously been misunderstood along the way.

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Undeterred we bought some chicken and vegetables at the market and then walked around the biggest market we had seen – you could have easily got lost. Oddly we then had a sit down in a cemetery and appreciated our surroundings. The sit down was definitely needed as on the bus back we had to stand for the whole hours ride.

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Both of us were starting our way to Machu Picchu the next day so we visited our separate agents to get all the final details. This included surprises like hot water costing extra. It still sounded great, biking, trekking, rafting, hot springs and of course seeing the main even itself.

Our search for Guinea Pig was not over and eventually we found it on the main plaza, hence it was expensive. However we split four different dishes between five of us, which made it a bit more affordable. The verdict? It was fantastic, quite fatty and a bit like lamb. Obviously there is not much meat on it but the restaurant had prepared it superbly roasting it in rosemary and other tasty things. We hoped to have it again sometime in Peru, but for now it was time for bed. We needed to be ready to start our four day trip to Machu Picchu.

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Colca Canyon – Snow and Condors

Snow was not anticipated on the agenda but it happened in Colca Canyon. The scenery of mountains and volcano’s was fantastic with wild alpaca, verconya and llamas about. Of course the main attraction to this canyon, twice as deep as the grand canyon is the condor. Enjoy the photos.

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Leaving arequipa with Volcano Misti in the background

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Wild vicuna - their wool is softer and worth more than alpaca

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A coca tea break to help with altitude

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Chivay - where we spend the night

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The bridge to the hot springs

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At dinner we watch a show of traditional music and dance

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The next morning

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Arequipa – All Things Alpaca

Twelve hours of night bus and we had arrived. This time we had actually manage to find someone to host us on couchsurfing. However he had a basketball game till 11am and it was 9. For starters, to kill time, we asked all the bus companies about their prices and times for our next destination, Puno.

Next we looked for a map of town and were directed to a tourist office. Here we spent the next two hours discussing tours to do in Arequipa, such as horse riding, white water rafting and trekking in Colca Canyon. Yet we didn’t book any of that, instead we booked flights from Cusco back to Lima – otherwise it is a 23 hour bus ride – and our trek to Machu Picchu. We are doing the jungle trek for $200 US. This involves biking in the first day with optional rafting. Then trekking the next day for 8 hours. A shorter trek on the 3rd with optional hot springs entrance and finally on the fourth day, I think bus into the site, where we spend the day at Machu Picchu itself before train or bus back to Cusco.

It was now past 11 so we raced in to town to find Kevin, our host, at the stadium. He took us to a tourist office to sign up for a free walking tour of the city before taking a taxi to his place to dump our belongings. He is very lovely and helpful and even joins us on the tour. It takes about two and a half hours and we learn a lot about the city, that it is a mix of all the ancient cultures because it is mid-point between the coast and the mountains. Plus how the Spanish used the cultures to help convert the country to Christianity such as in the Peruvian Last Supper where Jesus is tucking in to some Guinea Pig.

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After, Kevin gave us his own little tour, showing us the narrow streets of the old town and an art gallery. Earlier we had decided not to go to Puno as it is quite dangerous so the next day we decided to spend shopping.

First things on the agenda were to find the agency in the main plaza which was the same as the bus terminal, in order to pay for Elena’s flight and Machu Picchu trek. Next we attempted to find a recommended panaderia (bakery), which we failed to do, and to compare prices on two day Colca Canyon tours. The canyon is a few hours out of Arequipa and is naturally stunning. It is also more the twice as deep as the grand canyon and has a location where you are guaranteed to see condors. The Andean condors are the biggest of the three condors with a wing span of 3m so they are something to be seen.

For lunch we meet up with another couchsurfer who drove us to a restaurant and area of the city renowned for its food. Elena had ‘meal of the day’.This is a dish which is the same across all restaurants in the city and changes for every day of the week. Today it is a soup that includes intestines. Alizee has chupe de cameron, like a big prawn broth and I have fried trout, which was fantastic.

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We stop at a viewpoint before heading to a shopping centre to find the number one priority – a new camera for me! Sadly Nikon, my previous camera make doesn’t really exist in Arequipa and it is hard to find one that is better than my old one for a reasonable price. I find a Sony one and after too long waiting for the battery to charge so I can turn the camera on I decide to get it. However the staff then informs us they have lost all the accessories for it, including the charger! Making it useless. So I instead get a canon with 12x zoom. Though later i find out it has only 10 megapixels where my old one had 16, no panorama mode and most importantly the battery only lasts about a day! Hopefully the insurance company will replace my stolen one…

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The rest of the day we spend in Alpaca stores and markets probably buying fake, but also the genuine articles. My purchases include fluffy baby alpaca slippers and jumper – plus maybe some gifts… Arequipa is definitely the place to buy everything alpaca, it is sold in all the markets (though probably fake) and there is an street full of stores. It really is super soft. To give you an idea of price ill quote a shop I believed sold the real deal. A jumper cost 180 soles (£45) and scarf 60 soles (£15). These were also baby alpaca which is higher quality than normal alpaca, so just alpaca you can probably find cheaper.

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After spending too much we have dinner of a salad to get our vegetable fix -most dishes don’t come with them, but do come with double carbs such as rice and potato. Plus we shared some Alpaca meat. It was really good, rich and meaty in taste.

There was a couchsurfing event afterwards so we went along with Kevin and Cat, who was going to be moving in to Kevin’s and had joined us on the walking tour the day before. It was a language exchange meeting where you joined groups of a language you wish to learn and chat to advanced speakers in the group in order to improve. Sadly my Spanish is at the level where i can’t even make sentences, so I was quite lost and didn’t really learn anything. I imagine it is good once you have reached a certain level.

Unfortunately, we were quite tired and so did the boring thing of going home early. We had booked our Colca Canyon tour which was going to be by bus for two days. We would stop at beauty spots to take photos, have a buffet lunch and a traditional dance dinner show, relax in hot springs and of course see the condors. It all started at 8am the next day…

For up to date travel adventures follow me @lastchance2be

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Ica And Pisco Are A No No

Boarding the bus in the early hours of the morning we were happy to be leaving Lima behind and to see what the rest of Peru had to offer. However we were not prepared for what Pisco had instore for us.

Pisco draws travellers because there are two wildlife reserves close by, both in the sea. It is even more interesting than this as it is also in the dessert so the conundrum of a huge body of water next to somewhere incredibly dry is something to be marvelled at. We arrive and was told by a taxi driver and seconded by the bus ticket seller that Paracas was a much nicer place to stay than Pisco. Thus we left our bags at the bus depot and headed to town to see what Pisco was like.

Trouble was there wasn’t much of Pisco to see, and that isn’t because of the earthquake that hit a few years ago. There was a huge dust storm blowing around which meant once you were outside you quickly turned a nice brown colour. We took shelter in the market for lunch and then braved the streets to find some fruits.

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Another reason Pisco is known is for the drink Pisco that makes the cocktail Pisco sour. Hence we obviously had to have our Pisco in Pisco. Sadly the dust was becoming too much but we had to see the pre-Inca cemetery that Alizee and Elena’s travel agent had said about. After some vastly varied directions from locals we found the cemetery but there want anything to be seen that was pre-Inca. Locals told us how one of the people buried there was a vampire, but that wasn’t what we had come for. It was still quite interesting as Peru has the Spanish tradition of building mausoleums for its deceased which ius different from the single grave style back home. Battered and blinded by dust we cut our losses, including our Pisco Sour and returned to the bus stop to Paracas.

Unfortunately Paracas was just as bad if not worse than Pisco (we should of known as Paracas actually means sandstorm!) So we spent all out time in the hotel working out whether to wait to do the wildlife tour in the morning, hoping the weather will be different or just head on to Arequipa. In the end we decided to go to Ica, where we would have to change for the bus to Arequipa anyway. As we didn’t want ton waste time, we chose to get a bus that nights, which meant sneaking out of the hotel!

Ica is known for sandboarding, sand dunes and an oasis. Our hotel owner said it would be better in the afternoon so we took our map and explored Ica. We first went to a museum where they had artefacts about the ancient people who lived around Ica. Yet the most interesting thing for me was the fact that one of the valuable cloths had been stolen in 2004. I understand why people steal things but is there really a huge market for museum pieces? And if you bought one you’d have to hide it, meaning you can’t show off the wealth and connections you have by owning such a piece. The museum also showed that the famous scream painting had been stolen, one that everyone recognises. Who would buy something so obviously meant to be in a museum?

We again had lunch in the market where I tried cerviche which in this case was fish and squid marinated in lime. Normally chilli is also involved, but I do not like anything spicy. It was good, but they had used a lot of lime so in the end I couldn’t finish for fear my tongue would turn to acid.

Walking out of the market and along the street the worst part of the trip happened. I was robbed! Luckily I was unharmed but the thief got away with my camera, 300 soles (£75), my drivers licence/ID and my bank card. This meant the rest of our afternoon was spent in a police office. It all happened very quickly. I was only wearing a small bag with a strap to my waist, about 20x15cm. A guy ran up behind me and pulled the bag hard, snapping the strap and allowing him to run off with everything. Now I am actually quite paranoid about being robbed and was holding the strap whilst walking and the bag part was in front of me. The problem was I was not expecting someone to actually rip it off my body. Thus TIP: make sure your bags have thick straps and are attached quite securely to the main compartment.

On the other hand because I am paranoid I minimised my loses, for instance by not carrying my passport around, even though the police later said I should. However I would argue that being robbed is a good reason for not carrying your passport! Plus I was not that disheartened about what I had lost. I have good insurance so I should be able to get it all back, though insurance companies do always try and screw you over. I can buy a new camera and before heading out on this trip I had opened another bank account so I had a spare card. The main problem was that I lost photos, but Alizee and Elena both have cameras so I should be able to recover that loss through their photos. The only big photo I lost was my first time in the Pacific ocean, but that his nothing in the grand scheme.

When we were done with the police, who surprisingly took the theft seriously considering it happens a lot in Peru (we were warned the market had pick pockets and you should always have an eye on your belongings – live and learn). We finally did something with our day and went to Huacachina, the oasis. We climbed a third of a dune, it was quite hard work, and watched the sunset. Afterwards we had our Pisco Sour pretending it was in Pisco. At least it was by an oasis. The robbery wasn’t going to spoil our travels.

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Next stop Arequipa, the place to understand and buy all things alpaca.

Don’t forget you can follow me on twitter @lastchance2be

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Lima – Chills and Fountains

(Unfortunately there are no pictures for this post as later my camera gets stolen!)

Our flight came in to Lima at the fun time of 1am. Luckily through a connection Elena had arranged for people to pick us up at the airport. We had assumed we would be couchsurfing with them, but to our surprise they pulled up to a hotel. Even more surprisingly they refused for us to pay, which we greatly appreciated.

The plan for the next day was to walk around and explore Lima, however Alizee was feeling a bit ill. Thus Elena and I met up with Engles, one of the people from the day before, and headed for the city centre. There are some nice buildings, but overall the city was quite disappointing and grey. The highlight was a ceremony happening at the main plaza, which is a bit like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, there was a band playing and people doing a silly walk in uniform across the courtyard.

What we weren’t prepared for was the cold of Peru. Sure we knew as we crossed the equator (a first for me!) we would be going in to winter, but not this bad. Thus the evening was spent at the local shopping centre buying jumpers. After which the number of jumpers I owned outnumbered my tops. Luckily it all fitted in my bag.

Our plan for the next day was to hunt down a yellow coat we saw in a market that I liked, but in the end we ran out of time. In the morning we visited Museo Larco, which has lots of artefacts and history about all the ancient cultures of Peru. I learned a lot and it was interesting to compare them to the Mayans of Central America.

Afterwards we waited for someone from the hotel to pick us up and take us to Miraflores where he lived. Here we had lunch and I was taunted from the clifftops as I watched people surfing in the waves of the Pacific Ocean – an ocean other than the Atlantic. One I wanted to get in so I could tick-off a bucket list.

We left and wound our way through the town, we assumed we were not going to the beach but to a supermarket. It was getting dark by now, but suddenly we were below the cliffs, but not stopping. Perhaps we were going to the pier? No we drove past that too. Thankfully we did stop and I ran to the sea. Unfortunately, this particular Pacific Ocean was quite similar to that of the UK’s. It was very cold and definitely not the inviting colour of the Caribbean. However in a nice way it was good to know that other places have seaside that is as bad as our own.

10 minutes we spent by the beach before we were heading back to the hotel. We had planned to meet Engles there and were running behind our estimated 5pm arrival. Next we visited the best thing in Lima, the fountain park. It was really beautiful with many different fountains, including one you can walk under, one that dances to music and one that allegedly has a guinness record for being the highest.

Finally we ended the night seeing a Cuban salsa band in a club, by sadly for the girls Peruvians have no concept of the salsa dance, so it wasn’t as good as it could have been. I still had a nice time though, chatting a bit with Engles as he had been studying English for 5 months and was complaining he wasnt forced to speak it. We returned home tired and ready for the next city – Pisco and its famous Pisco sour.

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Antigua – Volcanos and Colonialism

Again the beauty of the pictures tells all. Our second and final destination in Guatemala.

Antigua and its huge market

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Scaling Volcano Pacaya

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Life still growing after destruction

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Four days was not enough to decide on an entire country. My first impressions were a sudden longing to go back to Belize, as guys harassed us to exchange our money at the border. However as time went on I grew to like Guatemala a little better. We did less than ordinary things for Guatemalans – i.e. on the very last day we had a spa day powered by volcano Pacaya. However the markets showed us more of what living in the country might be like and in fact if I was to return, especially if it was to learn Spanish, it would be in Antigua. There is so much stunning scenery and things to explore that you never even heard of, such as the volcanos, as all you hear is how the country is so dangerous. Thankfully we didn’t experience any of that. Primarily it had the most fantastic Mayan site, Tikal. So if you want to do one site Guatemala is the place to go. Final thoughts are that it would need to become less dangerous in order for me to return soon, but when this does happen hopefully I will be back. We’ll see what the future holds.

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