[ Caboose ] [ Introduction >> South America >> Peru ]
Copyright © 2003 Kevin O'Rourke
The site is a work in progress, the 'Album' page in each section contains some photos but only some sections have much text.
Monday 8 May 2000
Another lazy morning in a hammock was followed by the bus to Puno. I was glad to get through the border post without any trouble as I suspected my papers weren't really in order.
Hostal Los Uros was quite nice. A very enthusiastic lady took us there and then on to a tour agency, where we booked a boat trip for tomorrow.
Walked down to the station and after waiting for ages while the staff played with their new computer we bought two 'Inca' class tickets to Cusco for USD60.
Went out through the market, where Dugly bought an Alpaca rug. I was curious about the number of guinea pigs for sale, until I remembered that they're regarded as food round here.
Back into town for a pre-dinner coffee and then into a restaurant. Had 'cuy' (guinea pig), fried with vegetables. It looked a bit like roadkill rat, complete with head and splayed legs. It was a bit disappointing really as there was very little meat on it.
Tuesday 9 May 2000
Early start, we were picked up by a minibus at 0720 and driven to the port. I bought a can of Coke and a Kit-Kat, then we boarded our boat. We were handed lifejackets, which most of the other tourists on board couldn't manage to put on, and were told to take them off as soon as we left port.
The first stop was the floating islands (Los Uros), it's an interesting thing to see but looks like it's pretty much run for tourists now. One of the islands has a school and each little reed house has a solar panel to run the TV.
We took a reed boat to the next island then got back onto our diesel powered boat. The guide was quite informative, telling us of how the native fish had been wiped out by trout introduced by well-meaning Canadians and the trout had then been wiped out by the introduction of pejerrey. Trout farming is still a big industry round here though.
Isla Taquila was very pretty but the 500+ steps from the harbour to the village were a bit tiring, especially in combination with being at 4000m. We had lunch at the top, quinoa soup, kingfish and herb tea. The walk along to the main village was very pleasant in the sunshine. Lots of little girls were along the path selling friendship bracelets or willing to have their picture taken in return for money or sweets.
The islanders form a cooperative to manage tourism on the island, with prices fixed in all the shops. The local men were knitting their traditional hats, I bought a very silly-looking one for dad.
The trip back to Puno took three hours, after which we repacked our rucksacks and checked our email. We went to the same place as last night for coffee and bumped into Claire and Giles, so we decided to have a meal there. Dugly and I both had very good alpaca steaks.
Claire told us how she had had an argument with an Australian woman who insisted she had travelled across from Chile to Bolivia with two people from Antarctica, one of whom was called Kevin. Claire was very indignant until I told her about Kev and Nige from Rothera.
Afterwards we went to the 'Positive Vibrations' pub for mulled wine and then back to the hotel.
Wednesday 10 May 2000
A very long train journey to Cusco. We boarded at 0715 and left at 0800. I remembered the scene from Michael Palin's 'Full Circle', the train moving slowly across streets and through markets.
Inka class was very comfortable, probably quite close to British 1st class, although the carriage was a bit elderly. It was disappointing to find that all the meals were charged for separately, we had thought something would be included in the (very high) fare. Staff were constantly prowling the train trying to sell food and drinks.
The views were fantastic as we passed along the shore of Lake Titicaca and then into the mountain valleys. The occasional stop at odd little stations with locals trying to sell all the usual things added to the experience.
We stopped for a while in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere to let the Cusco to Puno train pass, most of the line was single track. We were suddenly besieged by women and children selling fruit, toy llamas and alpaca hats.
I read Louis de Berniére's "Señor Vivo and the Coca Lords", very good but like "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" it has a very depressing end.
It was dark by the time we arrived in Cusco and gave in to pressure from a taxi driver/hotel tout to go to the Hotel "Calicanto" on Quero. The tour agent announced that we would be coming to talk to us tomorrow. Out on the main square we were hassled by restaurant agents, kids selling things, etc.
Thursday 11 May 2000
Spent the day organising things. We started by finding another hotel to move to. As it was low season we found somewhere cheaper and nicer quite easily. The "Carlos Quinto" was a nice old colonial building, with proper hot water rather than the almost lethal electric showerheads. We bargained the price down from to USD18 with breakfast. The full price, in high season, was USD55!
We made enquiries about the Inca Trail, prices ranging from USD50 to USD130, it seems to depend on what's included. It looks like the minimum price including fares, etc. will be around USD100.
Booked a rafting trip for tomorrow and bought a tourist ticket which covers several local attractions and visited some of them.
The cathedral had a particularly interesting painting of the last supper, with Jesus eating cuy.
We also went to the church of Santo Domingo on the site of the temple of the sun, PES3 for entry and PES10 to hire a guide. The Inca stonework was absolutely perfect, with barely a chink between the stones. Then the Spaniards demolished it to build a church.
The remaining Inca stonework has survived the earthquakes since, which is more than can be said for the Spanish buildings. We were still being hassled by kids, most of them selling postcards.
Outside the modern art museum there were an interesting collection of local paintings for sale, better than most of the ones inside. I bought a watercolour street scene.
We found the hostel where Lee was staying but it seems he's no longer there. On the way back we had pizza before heading to the Cross Keys Pub, which is crowded with the very worst sort of gringos. They delight in taking the piss out of the local kids earning some money by selling cigarettes and sweets.
Friday 12 May 2000
Moved in to the Carlos V then were collected by the bus for our rafting trip. The bus filled up with a surprisingly aged crowd, mostly around 60. It was a two hour drive out to the river, near Ollantaytambo.
We had two boats, Dugly and I were in one with a young Dutch couple and an elderly Austrian/Argentinian woman. Our guide, Hermán, practised everything with us, including crashing into rocks and then took us through our first rapids.
There were apparently a lot of things to see along the river, but I wasn't wearing my glasses so I couldn't see most of the ruins, Inca bridge bases and waterways.
After the excitement of the first the rapids got harder, finishing with a small waterfall, big grins all round. Several of us then climbed on to a suspension bridge and jumped off, the water would be best described as exhilarating!
We continued paddling for a bit, until we came to the bus. Once we had carried the boat up to the bus and changed we had lunch. The old folks were interested in the journey Dugly and I were making, we successfully avoided any mention of Antarctica.
The bus back to Cusco took over three hours. Dugly booked a cycling trip for tomorrow and we tried to organise some more rafting for Sunday, most of the agencies were only offering the same trip we had just done though.
We had tea in a restaurant on the plaza, a disappointing pizza. When we came out a big stage and projection screen had been set up for a political meeting by Toledo, one of the presidential candidates.
The recent election-related trouble was apparent from the huge police presence. Policemen in full riot gear with batons surrounded the square. Everything went quietly though. The police looked like they hadn't really been expecting problems as they stood there smiling and joking with tourists and having their pictures taken.
Saturday 13 May 2000
Dugly went off cycling up hills, I lurked in town. Visited La Merced monastery, mostly the usual gory Spanish religious art but with a small basement cell painted as heaven and hell.
I found a book exchange and a couple of potential rafting companies, did a bit of internetting and then had lunch. Dugly reappeared later, having met Kev and Nige on his trip.
We booked a rafting trip for tomorrow and went off for a bit more web surfing. After that we had an afternoon snack at "La Tertulia", which was complete with a staff of five giggling young women and a cat. At one point they asked if I spoke Spanish and when I said "a little", they all blushed and giggled a bit more.
Tea in a Mexican restaurant was very filling. The discovery of a crispy-fried cockroach in my starter horrified the waitress, she kept apologising for the rest of the meal.
Sunday 14 May 2000
Our rafting bus turned up around 0930, held up by an accident in town. After a while we realised we were driving back to the same place as before. We spoke to the guide who said to go ahead with today's trip and he'd arrange for us to get a free trip on the section we wanted tomorrow.
This trip was with a different operator so we got wetsuits, worse buoyancy aids and wooden paddles. Our guide was good, as everyone had rafted before he seemed to enjoy taking through the rapids sideways. At one point he let air out of the raft so the ride would be more exciting.
At one point I was dangling over the side, hanging on by one foot before I was pulled back in. It was another stunningly good day, we jumped from the bridge again but it was colder today.
A Peruvian bloke on the trip, who couldn't swim, decided to learn and floated along behind us for a while. A girl who worked for the agency also had a go but wasn't at all keen.
Back to the hotel for a hot shower then sorted out our free rafting for tomorrow and booked the Inca Trail. Dugly bought a painting and some food. We then met up with Dugly's friend Ian and his girlfriend Emily.
Monday 15 May 2000
A bloke from the rafting company turned up to say that it wasn't possible today but that he would definitely organise something for tomorrow, but we're leaving for the Inca Trail then.
Went into town to sort out air tickets to Lima (USD58), a bus to Nasca and a hotel there. We later went to "Eric's Adventures" and organised (we hope) a trip for the 20th.
In the afternoon we were sitting in a café on the main square when I saw Lee walking past, we shouted down from the balcony and he eventually spotted us and joined us. He was leaving Cusco that afternoon but stayed for a while to discuss the States and watch "The Beach" in the café.
Met Ian and Emily for tea, went to some touristy English place and had curry. Back to the hotel for an early night.
Tuesday 16 May 2000
Inca Trail day 1
Got up at 5am to be at SAS travel for breakfast at 6am, then we all piled on to buses. We stopped at Ollantaytambo to buy coca, sticks and drinks and also to pick up our porters. At Km82 we were assigned to our guide, Virgilio, and watched the porters load up with their huge packs, some of them were carrying two rucksacks tied together.
Set off walking, it was easy to begin with but then the hills started. Stopped for lunch, passed through a few more villages and then (wheezing) to our campsite. We had a really good meal and then went off to bed. Spectacular views of narrow valleys and mountains, sun set and moon rise.
Wednesday 17 May 2000
Inca Trail day 2
0600 wake up call with mate de coca to start the day then a nice breakfast of porridge and toast. Most of the morning was spent on the uphill struggle to Dead Woman's Pass, I found a nice slow pace I could keep up and finally got to the top.
We descended a bit to where our table was set for lunch, then right down to the bottom of the valley before ascending again to our (rather muddy) campsite.
Another excellent meal was followed by rum, with thunder, lightning and heavy rain outside the tent. After the meal we all sat and talked for a while. The others of the trail were: Dugly, Ian, Emily, Ash and Clare, Yvonne and Jörg (German), Kjell (Swedish), Philomena, Caroline and Mark (Irish).
Thursday 18 May 2000
Inca Trail day 3
Got up around 0600, had breakfast and set off up to the next pass. Down more steps to ruins and more ruins and into a valley where we should have been able to see Macchu Picchu but couldn't because of low cloud.
We then started a long downhill section through the cloud and past ungainly electricity pylons into high jungle. Orchids and frogs lined the path.
Our campsite was on Inca terracing above the main campsite at Winay Huayna. We had a brief beautiful view of the Urubamba valley before the cloud closed in again.
Before tea we quickly walked down to the ruins at Winay Huayna, more Inca stonework and some ceremonial baths but it was getting too dark to see the site properly. We walked back up past the restaurant and bar, bought a few beers from a stall and then back uphill to our camp.
From our site we could hear an English group singing obscene songs very loudly as we had another lovely meal, this time with wine. We had the usual after-dinner chat and then went off to bed for our 0500 start.
Friday 19 May 2000
Inca Trail day 4
Had a bit of a late start, at 0540, and a very quick breakfast. Set off down through the jungle and then up more wretched steps, past a TV crew discussing the Inca Trail price hike and then up more poor steps to the Sun Gate.
The view was disappointing as the clouds were still surrounding Macchu Picchu as we walked down into it. Virgilio wanted to go off an sort out our train tickets so we were left with a very Manuelish guide ("I can speak English, I learned it from a book").
The cloud eventually cleared, allowing us to see more than a few metres of the site at once. We wandered around for a while before catching a bus down to Aguas Calientes.
On the way back to Cusco the train was packed, we had to eject some locals from our reserved seats. We were unable to contain ourselves when a woman wriggled under Caroline and Phil's seat to avoid paying. Caroline has been getting more and more ill over the past few days, she's now very tired and sick.
The views from the train were spectacular, towering peaks, some snow-covered.
There was a bit of trouble between an Israeli tourist and a local as we approached Ollantaytambo, he kept smacking her in the face with his rucksack, she responded by kicking him. He didn't seem to understand what was going on at all so just shouted at her.
At Ollantaytambo we got off the train and onto a bus and had the now familiar journey back into Cusco. We checked back into the Carlos V, the room next door to our previous one and I had a hot shower. We unpacked, dumped our stuff at the laundry and we out for tea to Chez Maggy, lovely lasagne.
Saturday 20 May 2000
Got up early for the rafting trip. The bus soon filled up with Israelis, who were noisy as usual. It was a 11/2 -2 hour drive to the starting point where we were kitted out and inflated our rafts (very knackering). It was warm and sunny so I decided not to bother with a wetsuit.
Into the river on our raft and plunged into rapids straight away. It was excellent fun and very tiring.
At one point the guide in a kayak capsized and banged off a rock so three rafts had to rescue him, his paddle and his water bottle. One of the Israeli rafts ended up with people paddling in several directions at once as they all shouted instructions at each other and ignored their guide.
On our raft we had a very hungover Dutch guy, who was sick and cold and couldn't paddle for a lot of the time.
As we approached the end a crowd of local kids appeared on the banks shouting "take me with you". Once we had carried the rafts out of the water the kids sat on them as they deflated and ate the leftovers from our lunch.
On the bus back most of us slept almost all of the way, exhausted by the paddling.
We met Ian and Emily and their friend Colleen for a meal at the Inka Grill, a fairly expensive restaurant serving "nuevo andino" food. The food was superb though, I had chilli-stuffed potatoes for a starter, chicken stuffed with gorgonzola, walnut and spinach for a main course and an incredibly rich chocolate dessert.
Then we went off to Rosie O'Grady's Irish pub to meet the rest of the Inca Trail group, trying to talk over the very loud band. I had a few beers and then headed off to bed. Dugly stayed on for a while chatting up Philomena and came back at about 0400.
Sunday 21 May 2000
Chaos and confusion reined at Cusco airport. Passengers for earlier flights were still waiting when ours was due to leave and ours never appeared on the displays. Two TANS planes landed at pretty much the same time and we were bundled aboard one of them.
The old 737-200 had previously belonged to an Egyptian airline, judging by the hieroglyphic theme to the interior. The seats were hard and the PA system incomprehensible.
We had a brief stop at Arequipa to refuel and then landed at Lima airport, which was shrouded in its famous fog. As soon as we got out of the plane we were hit by the heat and humidity.
A taxi driver found the Lacsa desk for us and I reconfirmed our tickets to Miami. Our taxi into town cost us USD12, we left our luggage at the bus station and then got a taxi into the centre. We had been advised not to walk as the area near the bus station is very dodgy.
After two hours on the Internet we got some food and cash and headed back to the bus station. While we were sitting waiting a very cute wee boy, called Hector, came over to talk to us and he ended up sitting nearby on the bus. He practised a few English phrases on us and asked us questions, once I had explained to his mother that we didn't mind him 'bothering' us.
It soon descended into the bus trip from hell: no legroom, uncomfortable seats and frequent stops with the lights being switched on at each one. We arrived in Nasca at about 0100 and were confused by the fact that there were now two branches of the same hotel.
We got a room, booked a flight over the lines for the morning and slept.
Monday 22 May 2000
Got up at 0700 to get a bus to the airport. Our flight over the lines was in a four-seater Cessna with an old Spanish guy. The pilot spoke good English and pointed out the various sites, which were very impressive from the air.
We went back to the hotel for breakfast and then booked our bus back to Lima for tomorrow before heading into town. Toledo and Fujimori supporters were vying for attention by playing very loud music simultaneously in the town square.
Had a snack and then walked back up the street to the hostel past the taxi and bus drivers all shouting out their destinations, "Ica, Ica, Icaaaa....".
In the afternoon we went to the Hotel Nasca Lines and paid PES15 each for lunch and the use of their pool. The place was deserted so we had the pool to ourselves. Swam and lounged in the sun all afternoon.
Back at the hostel we met Claire and Giles and went out for tea with them.
Tuesday 23 May 2000
After a leisurely breakfast we got onto our bus and drove off through the desert. The dunes on either side were an amazing sight, like nothing I had seen before.
We swapped onto a better bus, with air con, at Ica. The bus even had a video so I saw the last half of some "Dirty Dozen" film in Spanish and then "Face/Off".
The bus arrived in Lima after dark and we started trying to find somewhere to stay. We tried the Hotel Bolivar, on Plaza San Martin, first but the cheapest we could get a room was USD70. On the way out the doorman pointed us at the Hotel San Martin around the corner, where we got a room for USD35 with a bath, cable TV and breakfast.
Went out to the cinema and saw "Virus" (Jamie Lee Curtis, bad beyond belief) then had a meal at "Parillada San Martin". Their steak and chicken sandwiches were incredible.
On the way back to the hotel we met a very friendly and helpful man waiting at a pedestrian crossing with his son on his shoulders. We started talking and he gave us some advice about safety in Lima before telling us about his business shipping drugs around the country. A quick getaway seemed like a good idea at this point.
Wednesday 24 May 2000
Our last breakfast in South America was accompanied by real coffee and fresh rolls. It almost made up for all the Nescafe.
Lima looks much better by day. The hotel doorman ordered a taxi for us, interviewing taxi drivers one by one until he was happy with the price, PES15.
After we had checked in a guy approached us, trying to persuade us that he too was a foreigner but he had been robbed and needed money to get to Ica. We said no and went for a coffee.
At the gate we were all called out to identify our luggage. I had no problems but the police dog seemed to be taking a great interest in Dugly's rucksack. I briefly thought about running away but stayed on to interpret. It seems Dugly's bag of ground coffee had attracted the dog's attention.
We had two very comfortable flights, up to Costa Rica and then on to Miami. Lee wasn't at the arrivals gate. As we tried to work out what to do I heard a very faint announcement with what might have been my name so we made our way to the information desk, where Lee was waiting.
As soon as we left the air-conditioned terminal building we realised how hot and sticky it was in Miami. We got a bus to our hotel and turned the air con on full as soon as we got into the room.
journeys/SAmp.html last updated: Fri Feb 29 14:17:20 2008