Absolute Peru: Dreamy Mountains, Cute Camelids and Food Glorious Food

 

mountains and lake

Another retrospective on a trip to Peru in the summer of 2013. I chose to go on a three week G Adventures tour called “Absolute Peru” with my flat mate Rachel and her friend from home Becky. The challenge of hand writing a daily diary whilst having an incredibly exciting adventure must have taken its toll on this trip after the Inca Trail so forgive me if the details get a bit hazy! I wrote this journal in a beautiful little book a kid in my class got me as a present at the end of the year. They can be so cute sometimes.

Peru journal

Lima

My first impressions of Peru’s capital city met all of my expectations: grey and gloomy, disorganised infrastructure, mismatched and incomplete buildings, money exchanged cash in hand on street corners and meaningless pedestrian crossings. But what better impression was I going to get of Lima after 24 hours in transit? Fortunately I was in a forgiving mood. When we arrived at our hotel and meeting place for the start of the tour we quickly set our bags down and went in search of something to fill our stomachs. There is a main theme running through this journal as a result of Peru’s growing gastronomic reputation. We were too hungry to bother looking far so we settled with Haiti Cafe opposite our hotel for some tourist breakfast (a step up from the fast food chains lining the main street). Not long after this I got my hands on my first Inca Kola! I’d heard about the toxic yellow fizz from a colleague back home. It is enjoyed so much in Peru by tourists and locals alike that it is even more popular than regular Coca Cola! Sadly though the company that produce the yellow stuff has been part owned by the big C since 1999 after they realised its money making potential. Still good for a sugar kick though; the bubblegum flavoured drink had me buzzing!

me with inca cola

Inca Kola

That afternoon we met a lovely English girl called Helen in our hostel and very quickly three became four. We all went out to explore Lima and shared some amazing Peruvian fast food together – chicharrón! This is basically a thick, crusty, freshly baked roll filled with succulent roast pork, onion and yellow potato. The little cafe where we ate was mainly frequented by locals on their lunch break which really gave it an authentic feel. The menu also offered a vast selection of freshly squeezed jugos (juices) which are very popular throughout Peru due to the bountiful crops of fruit they produce. I ordered a mystery drink: jugo de guanabana! I’m still not really sure what guanabana is but it tasted great – plus it’s a really fun word to say!

chicharron

Jugo de guanabana and chicarrón

Luckily my lasting impressions of Lima were improved slightly by dinner. Mariscos a lo macho (mixed seafood and sole fillet with rice in a delicious spicy sauce) and another first, pisco sour! The increasingly famous drink is made from a base of pisco (Peruvian brandy) whisked together with egg whites, lemon juice, sugar syrup and a dash of Angostura bitters served over ice – absolute heaven. I highly recommend getting yourself to Peru or at least a decent cocktail bar ASAP to try one. We got to know our group leader and the fellow 13 travellers we would be spending the trip with. Yvonne our lovely native tour guide gave us an extensive description of the adventures that awaited us, there was so much to look forward to!

Marisco a lo macho

Marisco a lo macho

Paracas

The next morning we journeyed four hours south to Paracas. The bus service certainly didn’t disappoint in what I’d heard about South American transportation. The seats were really comfy and they put on some random films (although I was more interested in looking at the landscapes through the window). They also brought round a free lunch served by a smiley Peruvian waiter. I was beginning to understand why people chose to travel up and down the continent in this way. I’d hoped that the small coastal town of Paracas would bring us at least a glimmer of sunshine after the thick smog like clouds we’d experienced in Lima. Not quite, but at least it was slightly less dismal. We had a bit of time to kill so we took a wonder around the harbour and encountered some charming pelicans before meeting back at the hostel to head to dinner with everyone else. I had really been looking forward to trying a Peruvian ceviche – a careful blend of tiger milk, fish stock, spices, garlic and finely sliced red onion over diced sweet potato and ever so tender white fish pieces. This is easily one of my favourite dishes (I even recreated it the following Christmas at home with my brother and I have to say it was excellent!). Good food, Peruvian lager (Cusqueña) and pisco sours flowing we got to know the group a bit better. We were a like minded bunch of mixed nationalities: Greek, Danish, German, American, Austrian and English, of course – including a very sweet couple from Guernsey.

DSC03084

Ceviche clásico

The main attraction in Paracas was the boat tour out to the Ballestas Islands (AKA “poor man’s Galapagos” but by no means insignificant). I have never seen so many birds all at once; Humboldt penguins, Peruvian boobies, cormorants, pelicans. In some places the sky, ocean and land was a blanket of winged creatures. The scenery was also dotted with lardy sea lions who were basically lounging around lapping up the attention. The speed boat was good fun too and it all made up for the prolonged dismal skies.

Ballestas

Paracas and the Ballestas Islands tour

Pisco

Our next stop on our route south was the Pisco winery. Our guide was very informative of how to make all the varieties of this grape based wine/brandy. A nutshell description of its production would basically be a barefoot fiesta in a huge vat of grapes with the aim of making as much squishy mess as possible. Moving swiftly onto the best part, we tasted a range of the alcohol; pisco sour (one more didn’t hurt), two wine versions – “panty breaker” (sweet) and “baby maker” (pure pisco – 42%) and a creamy fig flavoured one. I managed to resist the temptation of buying any to take home! Huacachina A little further on the road we stopped at hotel in the desert town of Huacachina for lunch. Here I tried lomo saltado for the first time. This is a very popular dish in Peru inspired by the Chinese portion of Peru’s population (it’s more multi-cultural than many may think). Stir fried beef and vegetables in soy sauce with rice and chips – because it wouldn’t be Peruvian without a side of potato! After lunch we headed into the rolling dunes for a more action based excursion. Riding in a sand buggy was awesome – I’ve been on tamer roller-coasters. Once we’d churned up our lunches diving up and down the slopes, we gave sand boarding a try. At the top of a practically vertical gradient, we launched ourselves head first, bellies flat to the board, gripping on for dear life, down into the sweeping sands. Shame we only had time for a couple of goes, I could have done that all day! I managed to break my camera here, apparently lenses don’t like sand. One massive advantage of travelling with a tour group is that we could share all our photos at the end of it and my camera having been a little rough around the edges, I wasn’t too devastated. We headed back down to the hotel where we had time to muck around in the pool before a two and a half hour journey to our final destination for the day.

Huacachina lunch

Group shot of lunch in Huacachina

sand boarding 2

Sandboarding

pool jump

Cooling off after our ride in the dunes

Nazca

Nazca is home to the Nazca lines, an ancient and mysterious series of geoglyphs which we would experience the next day. I loved our accommodation here, San Marcelo. It was an old hacienda in the middle of nowhere which had been turned into a rustic hotel. We finished the action packed day with a beer and a quick card game. The next morning we were told we were going to visit a “cemetery” out in the desert. This can be a problem with guided tours. Unless you want to look like a brooding jerk who wants to do their own thing all the time, you pretty much have to go with the flow and accept that not everything that’s included on the tour may be to your liking. Having said that, the “cemetery” turned out to be a pretty cool archaeological site where we saw a series of real-life mummies and their graves. It was one of those moments where you realise how digging up dead people can tell you a lot about how they lived their lives. To be fair though, there’s only so many dead people you can see in one day. This followed by a brief visit to a pottery studio where we learnt about how the Incas produced their ceramics. The rest of the day we were either waiting to board our tiny plane which would take us over the Nazca lines or recovering from the flight. Despite some vomit inducing turbulence, the masterpieces which had been carved into the landscape over 2,000 years ago spanning up to 200 metres in length were totally worth the ride. How were they produced? How could they have seen what they were drawing? And more importantly, why? This is still very much a mystery and archaeologists have only been able to speculate on their purpose. My guess would be they were drawn as an offering or act of devotion to their gods. The Nazca lines are probably one of the most fascinating experiences for anyone travelling through Peru, perhaps second only to Machu Picchu.

Nasca lines flight

Nazca lines plane

Arequipa

Instead of going to bed that evening we got on a night bus at 10pm to Arequipa. On board yet another South American extravaganza, the double decker with reclining seats and a footrest seemed very comfortable with plenty of sleeping potential. Unfortunately I am still in the process of developing the fine art of falling asleep in any location. The service was great though, snacks included!

On board the night bus

On board the night bus

Finally at 8am we were in Arequipa, a beautiful town, second largest after Lima. It is nicknamed The White City due to its pale volcanic stone architecture. It reminded me a bit of Antigua in Guatemala; old cobbled streets, a central plaza with a grand cathedral, boho shops galore and all encased by hypnotising mountains and volcanoes. I’d decided this was the perfect opportunity to find the essential souvenir of the alpaca sweater! We spent a fair bit of time hunting for the colours we’d seen other travellers wearing and trying to haggle down the best possible deal. I was very happy with my $8 jumper and wore it proudly with some spectacular hippy trousers that I’d bargained too.

Working the traveller look

Working the traveller look

On our shopping spree we also checked out the local market and witnessed the unbelievable variety of potatoes on offer. Spread out along the length of the market walls were spuds in practically every shape, size and colour imaginable. Apparently Peru has about 3,000 different types potato! I was also fascinated by the vast range of fruit on offer, many of which I’d never come across. Part of this is down to the diverse eco-system of the Amazon rainforest which spreads into the east of the country. I bought two different fruits to try; one was called a cherimoya and the other a pacay (monkey fruit). The cherimoya looked like a giant avocado which held a deliciously sweet and juicy white flesh with a few black stones to pick out, kind of like a melon. The pacay was even more unusual. It was shaped like a giant okra or pod of peas. When peeled, it revealed several fluffy pieces of fruit with a stone in each one. The cotton-textured exterior was a bit weird but inside there was a tiny reward – I can see why these are more popular with monkeys! We finished our tour of the market with another freshly made juice. I had a surtido (mixed fruit) with an egg and honey from the algorrobina tree – nutritious and exotic.

potatoes!

Potatoes galore

cherimoya

Cherimoya

monkey fruit

Pacay (monkey fruit)

The rest of the day we strolled around some of the historical sights of the town. The Museo Santury was particularly interesting; it housed Juanita, the best preserved mummy in the world thanks to the icy conditions in which she was found. She represents one of the child sacrifices the Incas used to make to their gods. Fortunately now they only sacrifice alpacas and llamas! We also went inside Arequipa’s cathedral which is the only one in the world to have a statue of the devil. Lunchtime brought further gastronomic experiences. We decided to try some local snacks. I had empañada de carne (basically a really tasty Cornish pasty) and Becky tried a papa rellena (stuffed potato – a feat of culinary ingenuity!). I also had a huge slice of pastel de maíz (sweetcorn cake) which was just plain odd to be honest. We also tried out a historical drink which is still popular today, chicha morena: a sweet, refreshing juice made out of sweetcorn and lemons which dates back to when the Incas used to worship corn (one of Peru’s most successful crops).

empanada

Snack time in Arequipa

Dinner that night deserves a drum roll…Alpaca steak! This was seriously good. It’s a ridiculously juicy and tender meat which is much healthier than beef – 0% cholesterol. It was served on a bed of quinoto (quinoa risotto). I am a big fan of this superfood grain, it’s such a shame that it’s so expensive back home. The views from the rooftop terrace of our restaurant were stunning. Wrapped up in ponchos the restaurant had given us to keep out the cold, we gazed across the glowing lights of Arequipa’s main plaza listening to very talented Peruvian musicians playing enchanting guitars and pan flutes.

Alpaca nom nom nom

Alpaca steak and quinoto

Colca Valley – Chivay

Back on the bus the next day we headed into the Colca Valley to revel in the breathtaking landscapes of mountains, lakes and volcanoes, all dotted with cute camelids (llamas, alpacas and vicuñas). En route to the valley’s capital Chivay, we stopped at the highest point of the whole tour, 4,910 metres. We’d been briefed about altitude sickness, the symptoms and how to treat it. Many people believe that coca leaves (from the cocaine plant) can help act as a preventative. Lots of us had been drinking the popular coca tea to give us a boost and others chose to chew on the actual leaves for maximum effect. You could even buy coca sweets! I felt pretty confident that the altitude wouldn’t effect me. A few people started to get headaches but all I noticed was that the air was thinner and it was slightly harder to breathe.

llama country

Llama country

tourist 2

The tourist shot

special brew

Enjoying a refreshing cup of coca tea

highest point

This highest point of our tour, 4,910m

When we got to Chivay we went to a very local and “rustic” restaurant for lunch. It was so basic that they didn’t even have menus so the waitress told me a few dishes that were on offer. I made my best attempt to translate the few words I recognised to everyone else. The order came literally two minutes later. I had alpaca again, only this time, as it was a different cut (terms that my Spanish didn’t quite cover), it was the chewiest thing I’d ever eaten! We had no idea how much our meals cost. I was estimating 10 soles (about $3.50) as it was such a simple plate of food. The bill came and we worked out that everyone’s meal had cost only 4.50 soles which is around $1.50, a bargain, despite having to eat like a cave woman. It was a real insight into the daily lives of these rural Peruvians, where they might stop for their lunch break and what standard of food is acceptable/affordable. Fed and watered we went off on a mini-trek with the tour group up a fairly steep hill to test out the altitude. It was pretty tough. I consider myself to be a fairly fit person and we only walked up hill for about 10-15 minutes but it certainly gave my lungs a workout. It was good to get used to the idea of what walking and climbing at altitude was going to be like when on the Inca Trail which I was getting more and more excited about.

SAM_0528

Chivay

little girl

The children here were so beautiful and curious

That night at dinner it became apparent that some of us were feeling the effects of the mountain air. A couple of the group had completely lost their appetite and looked wiped out so they went back to the hotel early. I was feeling pretty shattered too. The following morning was probably when I realised something was up. I hadn’t slept well and felt a bit achey and groggy but I perked up a bit once the day got going. We went on a short hike in the Colca Valley up to the condor cross to see Andean condors who inhabit a specific section of the canyon (depending on where their nests are). These giant birds put on a great show for their many spectators, spreading out their incredible three metre wingspan, swooping and gliding down the canyon. Back on the bus I still wasn’t quite right (this is why your mum always tells you to pack plenty of ibuprofen and paracetamol!).

SAM_0594

The Colca Valley

making friends at colca canyon

Making friends at Colca Canyon

On the way back to Chivay we stopped off to try a Colca sour (pisco blended with cactus fruit and lots of sugar). They were delicious, but I wasn’t really in the mood. We stopped for lunch in a quick touristy restaurant back in town (I didn’t want to risk a local hangout again). By this point I just wanted to sleep. I had a nap and when I woke up I was a mess of back pain, stomach cramps and fever. I had to skip the planned trip to the hot springs – gutted. I wasn’t much better by evening but I made it to a restaurant with the group to see some local traditional music and dancing. I forced myself to eat some pasta but had to leave early for bed. I felt so weak.

Puno – Lake Titicaca

After another rough night, we had to get back on the bus for a seven hour journey to Puno – the highest location of the trip at 4,200m (not great for altitude sickness). I dosed myself up and headed to the local market with the group to buy groceries for the family who we would be staying with on Lake Titicaca the next day (Puno is the main town in Peru which borders the famous lake).

lake titicaca 2

Lake Titicaca

The painkillers seemed to be keeping the fever and cramps at bay. I went out for dinner and I managed to eat a small pizza. I felt like I was getting better. The hotel here was pretty cool apart from the fact they’d put me and Becky on the top floor – five flights of stairs didn’t exactly aid the sickness! I woke up after another broken night’s sleep feeling drained and concerned about whether I should even go on the boat tour. I was mainly worried about the home stay, not wanting to be sick in literally the middle of nowhere. I discussed it with Yvonne and she suggested I keep dosing myself up and come anyway. I was easily persuaded as I really didn’t want to miss out on anything. We headed to the lake via “taxi-bikes” – literally a two-man cart pushed along by an old guy on a bike. I felt exhausted but I was determined, with the help of drugs and powerade, to keep my spirits up and make the most of everything the day had in store for us. The first stop on the vast lake (the highest in the world) was the Uros Islands. These spectacular manmade floating islands had been created by old tribes to escape from the invading vicious Incas on the mainland. They had been formed and were still kept topped up today by bundling together stacks of dried reeds. The small patches of land were home to tiny communities of about 70 islands in total. Each community integrated to use the same school and church which were built on separate mini islands. Their main income was tourism – they were no fools to the opportunity we presented them to sell us their remarkable handwoven fabrics which represented their historical beliefs and traditions. I bought a cushion cover with the pacha mama (mother earth) embroidered in bright threads against a black background.

floating island

The Uros Islands

on the floating island

On a floating island

uros goods

Handwoven fabrics for sale

After a quick extra boat tour around the floating dwellings, we got back on our main vessel which took us to one of the main islands, Taquile. This did not go well. We had to hike up many steep steps to the centre of the town leaving me completely faint and breathless. By the time we got there, I was completely zapped of all energy. I struggled to get down a few mouthfuls of soup and could barely pay attention to the explanation our guide was giving about local traditions. Thankfully Yvonne spotted that I was suffering so she we took a long, slow walk back down the boat ahead of the others. I would like to say we went straight back to Puno where I could have made a swift recovery, however we had the home stay to get through first. We arrived at an even more remote island, Laquina, where we were greeted by our hosts for the night. Before heading to our temporary homes we went to the island’s school grounds where the group had a game of volleyball (I was camera woman). I just about managed to play dress up in the traditional clothing the families bought us, grimacing through the photos. By this point I had had enough and regrettably had to ask my host brother Albaño to put me to bed where I stayed (between toilet stops) for 15 hours! Luckily Yvonne had arranged for me to stay in one of the homes that actually had an indoor bathroom (opposed to an outside whole in the ground concealed by a wobbly wooden door). I am not a dramatic person, nor do I like to complain about ailments, but that night I pretty much thought I was going to die. I’ll spare you the gory details – I just felt sorry for Helen who had to share the room with me!

volleyball

Playing volleyball on Laquina

homestay dress

Traditional clothing of the Laquina women

Once back on dry land in my vertiginous hotel room, I called the doctor. He’d seen it all before – traveller’s diarrhoea together with altitude sickness. I was prescribed anti-biotics and some very strong painkillers (dolocordralán extra forte – a combination of paracetamol and diclofenac). These pills were little miracle workers and I awoke the next day feeling 100 times better! At breakfast I felt so happy and relieved to finally start feeling normal again after 4 days, I was even getting some appetite back. It really made me realise how we take our health for granted and sometimes feel unbreakable, the experience certainly taught me a lesson. Sadly I did miss out on eating guinea pig that evening; I was on a strict diet of no dairy, grease or raw fruit or vegetables. But Rachel did inform me that guinea pig, a dish in Peru that they usually eat for special occasions (Yvonne’s mum kept a whole shed of them in their back garden), basically tasted like KFC. Maybe I didn’t miss out after all! Cusco After another long bus journey (this time with a more settled stomach), we finally arrived in the vibrant city of Cusco. Most backpackers come here on their way to Machu Picchu so it had a real traveller vibe to the place. We had time for a wonder around town and then I fancied a quiet dinner by myself so I popped to a little soup cafe next to our hotel and had an amazing, soothing flavour combination (can’t remember exactly – probably something with quinoa) to give me stomach a bit of extra guarantee for the days ahead. Later in the evening we met our guide for the Inca Trail, Henry, who gave us a talk on the route, what to pack and other odds and ends. The next day we went on a tour of the Sacred Valley which is another collection of ruins next to Cusco. We stopped off at a local Planeterra supported weaving cooperative where we learnt about how the women spin the alpaca and llama wool and how they use natural plant extracts to dye the threads in a wide variety of bright colours. The creations they were selling were stunning, perfect souvenirs for mum.

weaving ladies

A Planeterra supported weaving cooperative

Ollantaytambo

Our final stop was our resting place for the night, Ollantaytambo. When we arrived we went on a walk to the Urubamba ruins which really demonstrated the incredible Incan engineering and stone masonry. The carefully carved granite steps soared hundreds of metres into the sky, creating a long series of terraces. This was a spectacular introduction to the remarkable strength and ingenuity of the 600 year old empire. Dinner tonight was in a hippy style vegetarian restaurant. I was ravenous with my appetite back in full swing so I had a lovely veggie empañada (vegetable pasty) with proper British style thick-cut chips. With a happy tummy we got an early night before beginning the Inca Trail the next day! The Inca Trail This was why I was in Peru. Everything else I’d experienced so far (sickness aside) had been amazing, but at the end of the day, like most people, I was there for the challenge of the hike with the reward of the iconic Machu Picchu on the other side.

The start of the trail

The start of the Inca Trail

At the start of the hike we had our permits checked and passports stamped (they only allow 500 tourists on the trail each day as a preservation measure). The first day was fairly straightforward in terms of physical effort. The big surprise was the impressive teamwork and coordination of the porters who were carrying our stuff on their backs and sprinting ahead to prepare dinner and set up camp for the night. We were kitted out in full blown walking boots and poles whilst they galavanted around in ojotas – flip flops made from recycled tyres! Everyday they took my breath away with their fitness, skill and cheer on the mountainside.

Getting going

Happy hikers on day 1

The second day was far more challenging. We hiked gradually up to 4,200m, a point appropriately named Dead Woman’s Pass. The steps up to the top, carved into the landscape by the Incas over 500 years ago, were never ending. We had to take them slowly as Becky had now started to feel ill and was doing an incredible job of keeping up with the rest of us.

Dead women's pass

At the summit of Dead Women’s Pass

Rewarding views of the Andes

Rewarding views of the Andes

For me the hardest part came when we began the two hour descent over the other side of the mountain down towards our camp for the night. I had to take it easy, even with walking poles, as it was difficult to navigate the icy steps. I was not falling over! Safely at camp we tucked into a well deserved dinner. Each meal was comprised of a starter of quinoa soup, followed by meat, potatoes and veg (all very tasty) and then some sort of pudding. It was all fairly simple but really well put together, nutritious and just generally fascinating that the porters could carry so much up the mountainside and prepare it in a tent in the middle of the Andes!

camp day 1

Mountain side camping

dinner tent

Dinner tent

group shot with porters

Group shot with our amazing porters

Tucked up in our sleeping bags we were in for a chilly night. We really did get a full range of weathers and temperatures in Peru! In the morning we awoke to a sprinkling of snow which was only going to make matters worse (or more fun, depending on your disposition), for the rest of the descent. Helen had already achieved a twisted ankle and also managed to sustain a swollen knee and one of the Danish girls slipped and badly bruised her coccyx bone which was bad news as rest of the hike was mainly downhill. Before we set off we stocked up on thick, warming hot chocolate and quinoa porridge, the perfect energy food. This wasn’t to everybody’s taste but I loved it, I still need to make it back home. I had my trepidations about this part of the trail as I’d been told by people who had already done it how rough the repetitive downwards motion can be on your knees. I managed it surprisingly well though. It was a long day of hiking, about 16km in total. We had one more night at camp before a short walk to Machu Picchu the next morning. Dinner was particularly special that evening. The couple from Guernsey were celebrating their one year wedding anniversary and unbelievably, the chef had managed to create a full blown iced celebration cake (on the side of a mountain!). It must have been cooked in some sort of pan on the stove – utter genius. Final day and we had a very early start (3.40am) so that we could make it to the sun gate for sunrise over our epic destination. We walked a short way in the dark to another checkpoint. Here we had to queue in the faint light of morning for about 40 minutes before continuing on an up and down route of about two hours. I must have practically sprinted the last hour or so as I’d stayed behind with one of the girls who was injured for moral support. Stumbling up the final steps of the sun gate a sweaty mess, I arrived with 10 minutes to spare to find a spot to take it all in. I almost didn’t recognise where we were because we weren’t positioned at the classical viewpoint of Machu Picchu. As dawn broke, it was stunning nonetheless and a special moment for everyone who had convened there together for this historic sight. Happily taking in the view, it was another moment when I realised the relief of not being so focused on getting the perfect photo. Without a camera, I’d started to realise that sometimes it’s better to just relax and experience where you are.

The view of Machu PIcchu from the sun gate

The view of Machu PIcchu from the sun gate

When everyone was done with their snapping, we walked down the hill to the famous viewpoint of the UNESCO World Heritage Sight (cue more snapping). The sheer scale of the stone structures almost defeated the possibilities of human endeavour. Again I was left thinking how did they construct this all those centuries ago? What made the view even more captivating was the mountainous backdrop of Wayna Picchu (young peak, Machu Picchu meaning old peak). The Incas certainly knew the perfect spot to build a fortress for full scenic effect – this powerful civilisation must have lived very happily there!

made it

Me, Becky and Rachel at Machu Picchu

For me, the interesting thing about the Inca Trail experience is that the trek itself is easily the best part. Yes, Machu Picchu is mesmerising, but the other smaller less crowded ruins you get to see en route combined with the breathtaking landscapes, mountainside camping and the fascinating lives of the porters is more than enough to top the few hours you spend at your destination. And quite frankly, after you’ve just completed a three day trek and your legs feel like jelly, the last thing you want to do is traipse up and down more giant steps! We managed a couple of hours of admiring the different terraces and caverns before we headed to get the bus which took us down to a neighbouring town called Aguas Calientes (hot springs) where we met up with the group before returning to Cusco. This is where my diary gets fairly hazy. I really enjoy writing, but daily handwritten updates were turning into a bit of a chore, especially when there were so many other distractions. The following is an attempted summary of what happened on the remaining week or so of the tour.

Cusco

We arrived back in Cusco in the early evening. With food heavily on our minds we went to a backpacker style restaurant in one of the city’s quirky side streets where they served every style of burger imaginable. I was so hungry that I also managed to polish off a gigantic slice of surprisingly decent carrot cake. We felt like celebrating our achievement of the trek so we went out for drinks after which resulted in a very late night for me and Becky who had the energy to work up a sweat in a cosmopolitan club dancing on bars adorned with luminous face paint that we’d acquired from some random hippies. Phew, finally a night out!

celebrating inca trail

Celebrating completion of the Inca Trail

happy painted faces

Happy painted faces

The rest of our time in this historic capital was spent either strolling down its charming streets browsing the beautiful art galleries and markets or exploring the Museo Convento de Santo Domingo. Also known as Qurikancha (quechua for “sun house”), the christian church used to be one of the most important temples of the Incas with walls and floors coated in pure solid gold. I thought it was interesting to see how the Spanish had built a house of God directly on top of this spiritual site, replacing everything apart from the incredible strength of the Inca stone foundations. The colonisers even used the gold as a ransom for the life of the Inca leader Atahualpa – but that’s another story!

The Amazon rainforest

The final leg of our fantastic tour of Peru was a trip to the Amazon basin. A short plane ride took us to Puerto Maldonado, a riverside town on the edge of the rainforest. We could feel the humidity of the jungle immediately so we didn’t waste any time slapping on suncream and plenty of deet (this is the only place we needed our antimalarials). Our two chatty group leaders took us on board a catamaran that would take us down river to our accommodation. We had a packed lunch on the boat and one of the hilarious guides told me that the mystery meat I was tucking into was crocodile (of course I believed him, I am just that gullible). We glided for a couple of hours admiring the lush scenery on the way to our “G Lodge”, a series of eco-bungalows owned exclusively by the tour company. They were picturesque, small wooden houses for two, raised off the floor by wooden stilts to avoid the creepy crawlies of the forest floor. Inside everything was designed to be eco-friendly. With no electricity, we had just a candle to light our rooms. The darkness and the sound of the jungle at night was simply incredible.

Lunch on the Tambopata river

Lunch on the Tambopata river

Eco-bungalow

Eco-bungalow

We explored exotic fruit plantations, ox-bow lakes, two seriously huge trees and of course, we saw some pretty awesome wildlife, including capybara which are a bit like giant rodents. The alligator night watch very atmospheric, their creepy yellow eyes glinting in the moonlight. In fact, most of the decent animals we saw were in the dark. The most memorable part of our stay here was easily the “spider night walk”. I still can’t actually believe I took part in this, being quite severely arachnophobic. To be honest, it really wasn’t that scary. I think part of it is the fact that the eight legged terrors are in their natural environment, they’re supposed to be there, instead of just staring at you indignantly from your bathtub. We were lucky enough to see a tarantula posing in his lair. It was scary, cool, horrifying, awesome, spine-tingling and beautiful all in one hit. He will be etched in my memory forever!

Giant tree

Giant tree

Capybara

Capybara

Tarantula on the spider night walk

Tarantula on the spider night walk

Lima

Well the tour was almost over. We had one more night back in Lima together before we departed early the next morning. And Lima still had one more trick up its sleeve. Food again! We ate dinner at a restaurant that was nothing short of a gastronomic marvel. For all you foodies out there, here is the menu: http://www.saqra.pe/carta/Interior_Carta_Comida_Ingles.pdf 

I had escabache with a chickpea tacu tacu followed by pineapple picarones with fig syrup and coconut ice cream. Read the menu if you want to drool. It is true that Peruvian cuisine is on the horizon in a big way in the UK at the moment. There are some fantastic restaurants in London you can go to if you can’t experience the real thing.

After a few final cocktails with the group, it was time to say our goodbyes. It’s amazing how well you get to know people when you travel together, friends and strangers alike. It was a trip that I would recommend to anyone with a heart for adventure and discovery.

Me, Rachel, Helen and Becky - last drinks in Lima

Last drinks with the travel buddies

 

Advertisements

3 responses »

  1. You certainly have been busy getting this typed up! Looks brilliant too…I might have to venture into the realms of wordpress for my blog because it looks far better than my Weebly one! Enjoy Vietnam!! x

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s