Day 270 - 286 Cuzco to Lima
26.08.2011 - 12.09.2011 16 °C
No. of courses (food) consumed on the Inca trail = 38
No. of potato varieties cultivated by the Incas = 2000
No. of pisco shots 'necked' in a minute = 5
No. of own goals Richard scored in a 5-a-side with kids all under 11 = 2
We survived the Inca trail! It was amazing and well worth totally blowing our budget for. The views were phenomenal, so green, lush and steeped in history, we felt very special to be there. Yes, there are plenty of people to share the experience with, as in it's pretty popular, but that didn't spoil it for us. Especially since our trekking group was great and everyone got on really well. We had two sets of honeymooners (crazy!) and a good mix of nationalities and good banter. We all helped each other along and it was lovely to all make it to the sun gate together and take in that stunning first sight of Machu Picchu which signaled the end of our slog. The 4 day trek wasn't as challenging as we had feared but the lack of oxygen at altitude and the millions of 'gringo killer' steps take their toll. I (Pauline) did suffer a little from altitude sickness apparently due to my incredible ability to sleep too deeply. An oxygen boost and a bit of special treatment were required on Day 3 morning but having missed pizza for lunch that day (devastated), I pulled myself together in the afternoon and made up for lost time during our last supper. Richard would need to write an entire extra blog just to cover the food on the trip. He's still talking about it now. We don't know how they do it but the porters are unbelievable, they literally run passed you to set up camp, carrying at least 4 times more than you and they even give you a round of applause when you finally catch up with them at camp. Cute but a little embarrasing! We ate so much and it's all really really good food, as the only vegetarian I was very well taken care of, I could name several restaurants in Liverpool that could take a few hints on Vegetarian fare from these creative peruvian (very carnivorous) guys. The chef even baked us a cake on our final evening, it really was 5 star camping. Special thanks to our guides, Elistan and Saul, they were legends, so enthusiastic, caring and knowledgeable, they helped make it the experience of a lifetime. So wearing our loud and proud 'We survived the Inca trail' T shirts we enjoyed a final guided tour of The Lost City with Elistan then made a bee line for the exit as the day trippers crowded into Machu Picchu. It was a bit much battling the crowds so after soaking up the culture until lunch time, a few of us had some well deserved beers by the river in Aguas Calientes and reminisced about the trip.
After a couple of days recouperating and challenging our fellow trekkers to pool back in Cusco, we carged off back to Bolivia to see more of Lake Titicaca. We'd had to rush through it en route to Cusco so we decided to make the short (ish) hop back to Copacabana as we'd heard that music and passion were always the fashion there. I can't remember who told us that, Barry someone I think. It turned out to be a fine pit stop to take in the World's largest high altitude lake.
We day tripped to Isla del Sol and walked the length of the island. A little rushed in the end to catch our boat back to the mainland. Although the views there were beautiful I was more interested in the baby donkey i'd spotted on the beach! Apart from the lake itself, the highlight here for me was the fresh Trucha Frita (trout), the porridge in a bag went down well for the breakfast obsessed Richard and the glasses of cream topped with beer (not the other way round!) were a meal in themselves.
On a sad note, the rubbish at the shore was a big dissapointment. It's a theme that has followed us everywhere we have been (except Oz & NZ) but it doesn't make it any easier to accept.
Back accross a border crossing that was by now all too familiar and onwards to Arequipa. Peru's second largest city doesn't feel too overwhelming. We found a lovely hostel and were much happier on our second day when we downgraded our room for a more managable price but were still able to take advantage of the great facilities on offer. We chilled out in the TV room and watched some live tennis and dvds, a real luxury in our hobo lifestlye. We met some lovely fellow travellers here and got some great tips on where to go and we finally had a breakthrough in our so far fruitless quest for short term volunteering.
Traveller not Tourist is a relatively small charity set up by an English Woman to help support children in Arequipa who's families have moved there in search of work. They run an afterschool club and an orphanage and they have a 'volunteer for a day' project as well as opportunities for longer term stays. We helped out for the day and spent the morning cleaning up the afterschool and painting the outside walls as well as organising the donated library books. When the children arrived in the afternoon (literally running to the doors) we helped a new volunteer teacher get to know her new class and then played games down at the playground. Great fun and really rewarding, the children aren't guarded at all and they welcome any newcomers that have a bit of time to get to know them. Oh and we got another free t-shirt, bonus!
Next stop was Ica and the small town of Huacachina. Literally an Oasis in the desert surrounded by gigantic sand dunes, Huacachina is a strange place. We had been told about the wine and pisco tours and the sandboarding trips here and decided not to miss out. We had a fun filled day and crammed both trips in to one day. In hindsight we should have done the wine tasting last, but at least it made falling off the boards a little less painful, although our bruised arms claim otherwise. Absolutely great fun but a little dangerous (sorry mam's). The pisco tasting was only marginally less dangerous since they were serving up big shots of different types of pisco at each bodega and we hadn't had any breakfast! Fair to say we were speaking Spanish more freely with Ricardo (our guide) than our usual morning banter, and we had to smuggle some crackers in the car between visits.
To rest our battered bodies we spent a few days chilling at the beach in the sleepy fishing village of Paracas. Part of a national park, this part of the Peruvian coast is awash with birdlife and we got up close and personal with some gigantic pelicans on the beach. We owe a lot to a lady with a basket of delights here too, for she introduced us to our new favourite treat. Pecans with caramel covered in chocolate, they are divine!
We are now into our final quarter and just about ready to come home. But first, we are really looking forward to Ecuador and Colombia and we are too excited about meeting our special guest in Caracas in less than 5 weeks!
So, onto Lima! ¡Viva el Peru!