Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Week 5 - Peru (Cusco and Machu Picchu) Land of the Inca Empire!

The Inca Empire will be the focus if this week's blog, but I have to say that even in one of the world's most famous and incredible places, some of my experiences this week have been almost too bizarre to believe!

So we are now in Peru, home of the Inca Empire! The centre of the Inca empire, (which didn't actually last very long in terms of historical times) is a city names Cusco! This is where I am writing from as I speak, well type... you get the point I'm sure! So I arrived in Cusco around 7pm, after another epic coach journey! I do mean epic! Having left Bolivia's 'Copacabana' at 0830 and been through a quite bizarre border crossing into Peru, we continued to follow Lake Titicaca's shoreline to Puno. The border crossing, was something like this. Everybody pile off the coach, go to the Bolivian immigration office, get your paper stamped, then walk through a little archway above the little road... and hey, you are in Peru! easy eh? Well not quite, you then have to go the Peruvian immigration office, and hand in a form and get a nice little stamp from the friendly man (America take note!) All that seems ok right? So you get some money changed at some very questionable rates by a little woman sat on the side of the road. Ready to get back on the coach? oh, hang on, just hang on... everybody now has to get their rather full backpacks from the coach, and walk over to the side of the road. Two security people open up the bags in full view of everyone, and seem to look at the top piece of clothing, shove their hand down the side of he bag, then tell you it's fine you can go now! Ok, welcome to Peru!
Here's a few shots from the coach of the Peruvian landscape...

So at Puno bus station here was the scene....

...and the next bus, with luxury seating downstairs seemed perfect! Then I remembered how I though I would save 10 Bolivian pesos (1 pound) and sit in the normal seats, upstairs! What had I done? It was just one bloody pound! I spent the next several hours, with a quite large Peruvian lady, (who really could have done with a shower) and her child of about 5, sleeping on her lap, well within what I would consider my personal space! Still she was pleasant enough, as was the child after I gave her one of my chocolate cookies!
Arriving in Cusco at night at the bus terminal could have been problematic, but as so often happens a fellow traveler (backpacker) comes to the rescue. The only other Gringo (term for foreigner here) on my bus, asked where I was going. She had already been here 'Couch surfing? and knew how to handle the taxi drivers! We shared a cab into town at less than 1 pound! Bargain! I found a lovely little hostel for 25 soles (around 6 pounds) and then headed back into town for dinner and to book some tours and plan how to get to Machu Picchu. Cusco was buzzing with some kind of festival, and here were the scenes when I arrived...

The following day I went on the 'City tour' which basically was a nice little introduction into the Inca ways, and saw some of the ruins around Cusco.. see below!

On the tour I spent most of I with some lovely people England, and three American girls, who were equally entertaining! I also me a girl from Singapore, living in the US, and we headed out for dinner and drinks that night, where I finally got my hands on some cheesecake! Here's the proof!

Oh I must mention the market breakfast of soup with chicken, vegetables and noodles that I had for 7 soles - (less than 2 pounds). The stall holder was called Claudia and here she is with the lovely breakfast!

So the next day was the our of the Sacred Valley, with a night at the base of Machu Picchu. I met some really nice people on the tour, including a trio from England, who spent the next day or two with me! The Sacred Valley is a valley (obviously) which contained many of the Inca cities and towns. Set in front of stunning mountains it gives you some idea of how the Inca civilisation lived. There are three stops along the way, but at the risk of keeping people up all night with this blog, I´ll just show a few pictures from the Sacred Valley

So after the last stop along the Sacred Valley, we were dumped in the little town square, and told to head for the bus station, which would take us to a train station so we could get the train to the base of Machu Picchu (a town called Aguas Calientes). This town is basically a necessary stopover to get up to Machu Pichhu early enough, so you get one of only 400 daily passes to climb the mountain Waynapicchu, which is the big mountain you always see when you first enter Machu Picchu. As I said the town of Aguas Calientes is purpose made for backpackers and travelers, unfortunately it is nothing short of a rip off hole! The hostels are expensive and lacking quality service, the food in the restaurants is poor, but hey, when needs must!
Getting to this place took mammoth amounts of patience and calm. The train line had been damaged by a landslide, so mini buses were being used to ship people part of the way, and with the time on the tickets being clearly different to the operating buses, people were getting confused and being told all kind of incorrect information by their tour guides. After a fleet of buses took us through some very random and remote villages, we arrived at a train station, which was like a holding pen for backpackers! There was free 'tea' hmmm.. coca tea... and coffee, which was a welcome sight with another hour plus to wait for the train! So the train finally arrived and some of the coaches (mine included) got a little free meal...

Once we finally arrived at our destination, me and a few others were hoping we'd be met by a representative from the hostel... the others names were there, but mine wasn't! A mystery name 'Ray' was there, so pretending to be 'Ray' I got to the hostel. After convincing them I did indeed have a booking, I was shown to a reasonable room, despite it lacking a towel, toilet paper or soap.. but hey, it was a room! After a truly awful dinner I went to bed knowing that I would be up at 0330!

0330 Wake up and shower
0400 Breakfast (roll with butter/jam and cup of tea)
0420 Set off to walk up to Machu Picchu
0430 Find bridge that leads to path
0500 Regret idea of walking as it's pitch black, following people with torches!
0530 Getting high now... sweating way too much for this time in the morning!
0535 Yeah! At the entrance to Machu Picchu!
0600 Enter Machu Picchu with ticket stamp for Waynapicchu

I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story!

After several hours of sweating , panting and climbing I returned to town, to try and shower! The hostel wanted to charge me 10 soles (2.5 pounds) to shower.. ha! For the same price I went to the hot springs where all kind of funny things started to happen. After being charged for the use of a towel and locker, I was minding my own business in the hot spring, when a rather older lady got in the same little spa. She didn't seem to be wearing a swimming costume, rather she was wearing just normal underwear, which she suddenly began to point at, speaking in Spanish and pointing to her knickers! Not knowing what to do I just smiled politely and tried to turn away! Another women then got in the spa, a bit younger this one, and was thankfully wearing appropriate clothing! They both then starting trying to talk to me in Spanish. Luckily I was soon joined by a friendly young Peruvian guy, who spoke English and began translating things at the request of the older woman! The translation had the young Peruvian guy blushing, and was basically very private questions and sex and relationships. When the woman then offered me 'free' accommodation in Lima I thought it was soon time to leave, as the word 'free' didn't quite seem to be true! I couldn't quite escape without the younger woman getting her camera, clinging a little too close to me for my liking and getting a quick photo! The only positive thing to come out of this expèrience was meeting the Peruvian guy, who I will try and meet up with for some beers in Lima this weekend!

Another poor quality meal, and semi decent massage later filled my time before a 2145 train, then mini bus, then coach took me back to the safe haven of Cusco, and my previous lovely hostel!

Ok that's definately enough for this blog post! Thanks for reading, hope you have enjoyed it, and as always, happy travels to all those who I have met on this part of the journey!
Regards from Peru

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