Tag Archives: Cusco

South America Awards: 3 Month Review

    • Time: Three Months
    • Countries Visited: Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador & Colombia
    • Distance Travelled (total from UK): 25,781 km
    • Distance Travelled (in South America): 18,289 km
    • Time Spent On Buses: 7 Days
    • Time Spent On Boats: 10.5 Days
    • Time Spent On Aeroplanes: 1.5 Days
    • Items Lost/Broken/Stolen (Bee): The saddest was a beautiful “guiding star” brooch my sister gave me got pinched when I stupidly left it pinned to a hoody that got packed off for a rare laundry. I also lost my sunglasses (that lasted 10 weeks!) in Galapagos, replaced them, and lost the replacement pair within a day. I also somehow lost a pair of bikini bottoms, a pair of hiking socks and my conditioner.
    • Items Lost/Broken/Stolen (Nick): Still my poor watch, but I’ve also destroyed a second pair of sunglasses. Luckily a man walked up to me in the street in Cusco the following day and sold me a pair of genuine Ray-Bans at an unbelievable price. What do you mean they’re not real? He swore they were… Other than that pretty good so far, just the usual shampoos and shower gels left in hostels.
    • Injuries/Illnesses: 1 long Peru/Poo-ru fest of a nasty sickness that seemed never ending, ruining Nick’s birthday and ending with Bee in A&E in Ecuador. It turns out that everyone we have met since who has been to Peru got poorly at some point there so we are in good company.
    • Changes to Itinerary: 3 – Seeing Chile, taking the plunge and doing the Galapagos and then cutting down our time in Colombia from a month to 2 weeks due to sickness slowing us down.

S6301026

Q&A With Bee

Three Months In, How Do You Feel? By this point of the trip I have the best of both worlds. I have hit my stride with the travelling, the language and the accumulated confidence that I can do this and surprise myself with how far I can push my comfort zone. I don’t have any of the anxiety jitters that I still suffered a month in, mainly because we are travelling cautiously and so far have had pretty much entirely positive experiences in every country. It also feels like there is so much left to see, and I definitely am not getting jaded or overloaded by new experiences. Instead I wake up every morning with my mind whirring at what incredible things I will see or do or eat or drink! I guess the only change as we shift from having more time ahead, to more time behind us (sniff!) is that I can’t help but start to cast my mind forwards to how life will change once I get home. Travelling has given me such a precious opportunity to look at how I lived previously with a ton of distance and perspective. I feel like my brain has undergone a major re-shuffle and that I’ll now live differently and with slightly altered goals once I am back in the UK and plunging into the big bad what next. I also have a huge list in my notebook of ideas and plans and projects I hope to embark on once I am back. I think travelling gives you a giddy sense of grabbing the world with both hands and really shaking life up, which in turn makes me believe (whether its true or not) that once I am home... I can have more of an impact in life rather than just living day to day in a rat racey haze. The main concern is how will I cope when I don’t get to hang out with my best friend 24/7?

Biggest Lessons Learnt: That there are pigeons in every country and that more often than not, if you are told a hostel has Aguas Caliente (hot water) it will be an absolute lie. I think hostel owners know its a buzz-word with tourists and bound to lure you in, they then act super surprised when the hose with electric cables stuck to it doesn’t run warm. This happens to us ALL the time!

Best New Skills Aquired: Snorkelling… and the ultimate skill any backpacker needs: how to fit massive objects into tiny packages. Mozzie nets, sleep sheets etc all become huge when unrolled and then somehow need to be fitted back into a bag the size of a postage stamp.

Best Moment: This is such an impossible questions, so I don’t know why I’ve just written it. I will probably go with the snorkelling with a turtle experience. It’s closely rivalled by the hot springs on the salt flats, the amazon boat thunderstorm and crossing the equator on the Galapagos.

ed9a6182638c11e3adce12d47fd231ef_8

Worst Moment: I think it says alot about the Ecudorian healthcare system that it wasn’t being in A&E! My worst moment was definitely our boat crossing back from Isla Isabela to Puerto Ayora on the Galapagos. The trip over to Isabela had been reasonably choppy (when they hand out sick bags to everyone, including locals, before you set off… it’s never a good sign) but I coped okay and managed to keep my breakfast in my belly. The return journey made the previous trip look like a jaunt on the swans at Alton Towers! From the second we hit the water, the waves were black and crashing over the sides of the boat. As we got deeper out to sea, the ocean only grew fiercer and I have never seen water look so hateful… churning and swirling and tipping our little boat side to side so much that the windows kissed the foam. By halfway, everyone except Nick who has the sea-legs of a pirate, was green. Then the puking started. Then the moaning. Every time the boat was spat out and slapped back down onto the waves, I felt my spine cracking. The only glimmer of good was when a huge wave crashed over the back, taking with it two huge sharks who avoided landing in our laps and leapt over. It was two hours that felt like two days. Back on dry land, I had to take a moment to kiss the ground. On the bright side, we had heard the Galapagos crossings can get choppy, as so many currents meet there, and maybe we wouldn’t have had quite the full experience if we hadn’t braved it for ourselves!

Best Place Stayed: For me it was Hostel Manaus. The atmosphere was just the right amount of boozy, social, inclusive and helpful. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was here we would meet some of the best friends of our trip and people on the most fascinating journeys. We met Eduard, a wonderful Dutch man who’d relocated from setting up a successful business in Rotterdam to move to the middle of the Amazon jungle and build a farm and eco hostel from scratch. We also met Gareth, who was making a documentary about kayaking 9000km around Brazil. We met a French journalist who was in Manuas to cover the progress of the world cup stadium (and whom I imagine life has just got very chaotic for given this weeks tragedy).  Everyone, without exception, was so friendly that all our evenings naturally followed the same routine: a huge cook-out in the communal kitchen with everyone offering up ingredients, followed by a rowdy roam down the road to share giant beers and travel tales. Something that I love about hostel life, and happened in Manaus, is that you can slope up somewhere in the morning, sleepy and unsure what to expect. By nightfall you can be socialising with 2 Brazilians, a French, Dutch, German and Canadian, making friends for life.

Worst Place Stayed: The shed in Galapagos that has no name. We were given the recommendation by our cruise guide when we mentioned we wanted a cheap night somewhere central. We wandered up to a garden gate, with a scrap of paper and the name of a woman. We don’t think we ever actually found her… but ended up sleeping in a shed, with no roof (but a huge plasma tv that didnt work…) that absolutely stank of pickles. Skyler fondly named it “the big mac shack” for us. The weirdest part was that there was an en suite bathroom, but every item such as the mirror, sink and toothbrush holder was CELLOTAPED to the wall. Oh and there were two guard dogs that took an instant dislike to us and terrorised us everytime we attempted to leave or arrive.

Best “Travelator” Moment: We don’t often mock fellow travellers but you do meet the odd person who has fallen down a black hole of dreadlocks, henna tattoos, happy pants and chatting a lot of guff about energy. The KING of the travelators was a man who was staying in Huanchaco at the same time as us. He had all the usual trappings, but also insisted on constantly carrying round a giant conch shell at ALL times… occasionally petting it as if it were a baby. It took a day or so for us both to click that he wasn’t just moving it the conch from one place to another, but that it was a permanent feature. At night he would join a gang of people jamming around a bonfire, and we liked to imagine that he played along on his mournful conch.

1db0e4b6610511e389b50ed9ed7febb2_8

Best Purchase: My alpaca wool jumper in Cusco that has marching alpaca knitted around the collar.

Best Beer: Bogota Brewery Craft Beer: Honey Ale Flavour

Best Pizza: Bodega164 in Cusco. It was blue cheese, mushroom and bacon; and after months of disappointing pizza experiences it was completely mindblowing. Also, Nick chose this night to drink a beer at altitude and have a funny sick moment mid pizza, so I got all his slices too. What a champ!

Best Book Read: The Devil in The White City – Erik Larson (I cannot recommend enough, and instantly downloaded everything else he has written to my kindle and Nick & I have both consumed them at a crazy pace and enjoyed nattering about them after. He is such a talent and writes in a truly unique style)

Soundtrack to the trip: It’s funny how one song becomes a stand out. For me its “Wasting My Young Years” by London Grammar. This song blurs from my old life into the trip, as in my previous job the company I worked for was doing the visual effects on the video and its where I first heard to track. It’s a song that seems to come on my ipod at every big travel moment: arriving on the alien salt flats, flying over the Andes, rocking side to side during a night on the Galapagos cruise or zooming through Colombian coastline at 100km p h. Also, the lyrics are more than a little relevant:

I’m wasting my young years
It doesn’t matter
I’m chasing old ideas
It doesn’t matter

Don’t you know that it’s only fear
I wouldn’t worry, you have all your life
I’ve heard it takes some time to get it right

Things I Miss The Most: Baths, peanut butter, cups of tea, clean clothes, knitting by the TV… wow I sound like a little old lady, so I better add in getting drunk on happy hour with my friends in Soho.

S6301118

Q&A With Nick

Best Journey: We’ve taken some truly amazing once-in-a-lifetime trips while we’ve been here, and while sailing across the Equator, busing over the Andes, and hiking through the jungles of Tayrona would win at any other time, for me it’s still the 4-day Amazon river-boat. If someone ever offered the chance to do it again I’d accept in a heartbeat.

Friendliest Local: We’ve had amazing fortune with all the people we’ve met so far. In fact, I’ve only being randomly sworn at once, by a bus driver in Peru. But the king of the friendly locals was the owner of our hostel on Isabela (in the Galapagos), who was completely convinced we could understand his hyper-fast lisping Spanish, and whose answer to any of our queries (including ‘is there a safe?’) was to tell us not to worry, and relax.

Best Beer: I’ve heroically sampled the local beer in every country so far, one of my favourite things about backpacking. All have merits, but for the perfect refreshment to taste ratio, it will have to be Venezuela’s Polar.

S6301328

Best Ice-Cream: I’ve also been trying to put back all the weight I lost during my illness by eating ice-cream every day. Although I was doing that before, so not sure what my future excuse will be. Bee likes to say to me she’s finally seeing my unrestrained eating habits. For awhile the pick of the ice-cream litter was the Oreo sundae from Bolivia, but now Colombia has provided the reigning champ – a Mars Bar flavoured scoop covered in dark chocolate sauce (which also fills the cone underneath providing you with a frenzied eating mission at the end to stop it pouring over you).

Worst Meal: We’ve had a few shockers in our time here, but the worst surely has to be sopa del res from Santa Elena’s hungry street. Translating as soup of the beast, it was a disgusting broth of stomach lining and other mystery parts (maybe some sort of jelly marrow?) washed down with a horrible juice. Ugh.

Three Months in? I always think travelling for an extended period distorts time. I feel like the last three months have lasted forever, and happened instantly. We’ve done so much, and are in the middle of doing so much that I have yet to comprehend it all and mentally sort through it. It’s been tough at times definitely, but no more than the other times I’ve been away. On top of that though is the knowledge that me & Bee will probably never get to spend this much extended time in each other’s exclusive company, and that makes every moment really special. Even when I have to ask her to wash her socks in the sink as they’re so disgustingly smelly I can’t even be in the same room as them.

S6301267

LIST THE COUNTRIES YOU’VE VISITED IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE! DO IT NOW!!! Ok, ok… It’s a tough one, and with the caveat that we’ve still got a fair bit of Colombia to do, and our Ecuador time was spent mostly on one of the most magical places on Earth… Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile………………………………….Peru.

Bee Says:

My order of preference is a tiny bit different:

Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile…….. Peru too.

Machu Picchu and Other Majestic Marvels

Bee Says: I know this blog promises a whistlestop tour of Peruvian marvels, but first cast your mind back to where we last left you… loitering in the Lake Titicaca town of Copacabana, Bolivia. Our last meal in Bolivia, an early pre-bus breakfast, turned out to be one of the best ever. El Condor & The Eagle Cafe is owned by an Irish chap and his Bolivian wife, and if (like us) you are in dire need of a few home comforts… you will find them all here! We tucked into a feast of foods very absent from our lives lately including peanut butter, poached eggs, baked beans and SODA bread… a welcome change from Bolivian bread which is generally white sliced packed with so much sugar and chemicals, to keep it from going off, that it crumbles into dust under the knife/in your mouth. They also had BARRYS TEA! For any Irish readers, you will understand the importance of this. It’s the equal to Yorkshire Tea in my heart, and my beloved friend Chloe never fails to bring me back a box from her trips home to the Emerald Isle. It was a special moment as I slurped my first brew in seven LONG weeks!

S6301051

From Copacabana we hopped on an international bus to take us the 3 hour drive around Lake Titicaca into Peru. The border crossing was unbelievably lax, not even a vague look at our backpacks, and off we zoomed into Puno, where we had very excitingly timed our visit to take in their annual PUNO DAY festival. Listed in the Lonely Planet as one of the top´must-see events in South America, our brains were filled with dreams of street parties, late night Pisco Sour sessions, fireworks over the lake, parades, fiestas, costumes, music, dancing, lights…..

Nick Says: How can we ever sum up Puno Day? The day dawned bright and clear. We´d been told to go down to the lake early to see a recreation of the legendary first inca, Manco Kapac, emerge from Lake Titicaca. So off we set down the road. Our first indication that something was wrong was the road itself. What should have been a parade route decked out in colour was actually a smelly and trash filled route which was only home to a giant, stinking pig rooting through all the rotting garbage, and who growled at us loudly as we passed. Getting onto the waterfront wasn´t much better. A few people milled around (what we thought was a crowd… was only people going to the bus station) and some woman tried to sell us Ceviche from a cart. Declining her raw fish which had been sitting in the morning sun for hours, we turned away defeated. Puno Day was a poo day.

Later on we eventually found the parade, and it was much tamer than anticipated. Basically, the people of Puno had dressed their children up in various costumes and forced them to march through the town dancing to brass band music. We stayed for a while and clapped at the infants to dance for us before turning away. Puno had disappointed our expectations and it was time to leave.

S6301094

S6301087

S6301093

Our method for this was a bus service called Inka Express. About 10 times as expensive as a regular bus, it tackles the 6 hour route from Puno to Cusco in 10 hours instead. But what a 10 hours it is. And so worth the extra money. Rather than just a regular boring bus, Inka Express is instead an amazing tour of all the Inka sites between the two cities, MC´d by an amazing guide called Ronald. Ronald endeared himself to me within the first 10 minutes by theatrically intoning over the microphone that when using the toilet, ´ooo-ree-iny only. NO PO PO!´ A friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide, he took us first to Pukara, the home of ceramic bulls famous throughout Peru.You put a pair on top of your house to bring harmony and balance to your family, so me & Bee got a couple of mini ones for our future Brighton house. I opted not to match it with a statue depicting a ritual decapitation also on offer, but I’m already regretting the decision. The Inka Express zoomed through the gorgeous natural scenery and we passed from the arid Alti-Plano into the more luscious Sacred Valley, where abundant agriculture fed the Inka Empire. But most importantly, we stopped at a high mountain pass where Bee got to hold a baby Alpaca, who proceeded to try and eat her. Heart melting.

5751b69c47e111e391180ed4ff970c93_7

What was obvious from only a short time in Peru is a) how much more developed (in a Westernised sense) the place and people were than Bolivia, and b) how much more geared to tourism they were. Take for instance the scenic mountain pass. We had seen several such beautiful locations in Bolivia, with nothing more than the shepherds for company. Here there was an entire world of shopping possibilities, and eating options too. This is something that seems prevalent all over Peru. Enter a shop and they´ll be falling over themselves to see if you want to buy their goods. A lot of the time in Bolivia it seemed a mission to even find out who was running the shop (they were usually found glued to a telly novella), and if they wanted to sell anything to you. Tourism in Peru is big business, and just another example of how far this country has come from 20 years ago – as a local guy explained to us, the country was on its knees from terrorist attacks.

a65fad50497811e3be060ed4a55bf507_7

Bee Says: The Inka Express dropped us in Cusco, which is basically the York of South America. Quaint, pretty, tourist tastic and jampacked full of foreigners on their way too or from Machu Picchu (it’s the closest big town with airport to it) – in fact people come here on week holidays from all over the world, so it’s less backpackers and more tourists. There is alot to like about Cusco, it is safe, friendly, and a novelty to be somewhere basically English speaking for a bit. We did some perusing of the artesan markets (both ending up with Inca Cola tee-shirts), had some wonderful meals and visited the Pisco Museum!

e7bed82e481611e3b2aa22000aeb0f9e_7

5a2d31e047df11e3ba9622000ab69b4d_7

Pisco is the national drink of Peru, a really strong grape brandy. Very excited at a museum based solely around an alcoholic drink, we arrived to discover that it is basically… just a bar! It notched up another cultural fail at visiting museums, considering that the only museums we have been to so far are:
1. The one in Sucre full of scary horror masks
2. The one in Isla del Sol which was meant to be about a giant frog but ended up just being a room with human bones in
3. The one Inka Express Ronald took us to, which was entirely dedicated to Incan babies being born with elongated skulls in Inca times and maybe being extra terrestials?
Anyway this was our 4th museum and then it turned out not to even BE a museum, just basically a Pisco bar.

27557bf0481711e3ba260e125263e36e_7

We really did need the alcohol though, as we made a horrific error in our hostel choice. We decided to save money by booking a dorm (which we did in Manaus and really enjoyed) but this one was a “party hostel” and full of 18 year old gap students raving all night, doing shots and running around our dorm at all hours. Every night was a different activity like “drinking games” and “karaoke” and there was a bar with photos of people being zany next to guides on how to say phrases like “mashed up” in spanish. They played “pumping ibiza anthems” all day long, until 4am with the speaker right outside our dorm, although that still didnt drown out the drunk teens yelling AAW MAHH GAWWWD at a million decibles at our door. Dont get me wrong, there is a huge target audience for this type of accomdation (and I would have loved it as a student traveller) but it certainly wasnt for us, and we set off from Cusco as bedraggled, sleep deprived wretches.

One thing to probably mention here, is that by this stage we had decided not to trek to Machu Picchu. We had both really fancied doing one of the 4 day hikes there, but my asthma was still being irritated by the altitude, and all the hikes took in mountains of 4500masl+. With only a certain pot of trek pennies to our name, we decided to save the dollars to instead do the Lost City trek in Colombia… which is nicely back on the ground and takes in some crazy jungle passes. Not hiking also gave us the opportunity to visit Ollantaytambo, an often-overlooked “taster” dish to Machu Picchu itself.

f70fcde4494f11e3b0d8124666b39ba1_7

Nick Says: If you ever find yourself in this part of the world, make sure you take the time to visit the village of Ollantaytambo. One of the few places where the Incans defeated the Spanish, Ollantay consists of a incredible Incan fortress on a hill overlooking a Inca town. History truly feels alive here, with tiny cobbled alleys spilling into tradesman yards, trickling streams, or crazy bars like the one we ended up at. Called Gansos, it was set up like a tree-house attacked by a multi-coloured streamers, and as we sat around sipping drinks on the swing streets, we figured life was pretty good. Ollantay was a tranquil oasis after the party hostel, and one of my favourite places I´ve visited. It also helped that I ate the best steak of my life at a restaurant not far from the main square. Considering I´ve not really felt like food recently (vomiting incident), I was so happy I had a huge appetite that night. The Incan Terraces create high walled alleyways, so after our beef and booze we had to scuttle through pitch black cobbled passageways to our hostel, lots of fun and a relief to be somewhere safe enough to do this without getting set upon.

cce73808497811e3812a0e2c0ff80ffb_7

The next day (we wished we could have spent longer) we walked down to one of the most picturesque train stations in the world and awaited our locomotive. The setting was just a teaser for what was in store. Unable to do the trek, we thought the train was the booby prize. How wrong we were. For anyone who enjoys train travel, this is one of the best. Mile after mile of soaring peaks, tangled jungle, and glimpsed ruins kept our faces pressed to the window. We went the cheapest ‘expedition´ class, but didn’t feel we were short changed in anyway. A panoramic view enabled us to see everything next to and above us. Glorious. If you get the train, make sure you sit on the right hand side on the way there for the best view. But then all too soon we were there at our destination, Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo).

ea6d9818497811e3b89c1203f21acad2_7

27567e0c497911e3b9ca1287e245a320_7

Bee Says: Aguas Caliente has a bad reputatution for being a rubbish place you have stay pre Machu Picchu (if you want to get on site early you have to sleep here and then catch a bus at 5am, as you can’t stay at Machu Picchu itself) and accordingly we had pretty low hopes, so the town was such a pleasant surprise! Aguas Caliente has a really different look and vibe to anywhere else we’ve been in South America, with everything built on stilts and stacked up over the river that runs through it, very much like places in Asia. Sure it’s touristy, but we had a nice day pottering aroud and opted to visit the natural hot springs with the locals (Aguas Caliente means hot water! So it would be rude not to) but it started storming after 30 mins so we had to jump out. Lightening + hot spring = muy peligroso. Our alarm went off at 4.30am on the most important day of the year… nicks BDAY! We visited a bakery for pan au chocolate and present giving, trickier to organise than it sounds when we have spent about 5 minutes apart in the past two months.

0796fd4c4ade11e3bbc612a400ee52df_7

Nick Says: Birthday and Machu Picchu? What a combo. Leaping in the expensive bus there (you can walk, but it´s a beast of a trek uphill), the anticipation startled to tingle. I couldn’t believe I was about to visit one of the world´s greatest man-made wonders, and a place I´d been dreaming about since I was 18. And boy did it live up to the hype. The site itself is massive, far bigger than I ever thought. You could easily spend days there. In fact we spent hours circling the main site just soaking up the views. It’s iconic and you’ve seen it a hundred times, but nothing compares to actually seeing the place in reality. The photos will do it more justice than we ever could in words, so enjoy them. A little tip though, if you are unable to climb Huayna Picchu (the mountain in all the pictures) as only 400 tickets are allocated a day, then Machu Picchu mountain is a brilliant, and maybe even better alternative. It’s on the north side of the site, and offers you an incredible view of the Machu Picchu and the landscape it inhabits, as well as being a pretty tough and rewarding climb on its own. You need to buy tickets in advance, and its existance isnt mentioned in the Lonely Planet or …. well anywhere, except word of travel-mouth, so you will find it a tranquil spot to escape the crowds too. We were numbers 1 and 2 onto the mountain, what a birthday present.

9dfee3d04ade11e3a07212504153f5ec_7

7655f6344ade11e394a00ec3b6531b36_7

ef8ad95c4ade11e389ef12ac79f96301_7

S6301136

Bee Says: We spent 8 hours on site and were hiking or walking the whole time, I actually doubt we would have got the most out of it if we had arrived tired straight from a gruelling trek. I cannot stress enough the importance of arriving early doors – as by 9am thousands of people were milling aroud everywhere and it was almost unbearable. I recommend taking the extra hike to the “sun gate”, a testing hour each way with another breath-taking view on arrival and it meant we could walk part of the original “inca trail”. Machu Picchu lives up to every bit of hype, it has a truly other-worldy magnetic magical feeling, and it’s certainly a wonder of the world in my eyes. If it isn’t on your bucket list, zoom it right up to the top… especially as we are already hearing rumours that visitor numbers will be capped soon, as the site cannot maintain the physical strain of thousands of tour groups rambling through. If that happens, the whole experience may well become prohibitively expensive.

After a dreamy day, it was back to Cusco to celebrate Nick’s birthday night. Except… he had contracted the Inca Death and spent the night vomitting. Poor guy, he was really really sick and feverish and all I could do was keep him dosed up on rehydration sachets. Luckily for a birthday suprise I had booked us into a swanky 5* hotel Aranwa (imagining romance, flowers etc) so Nick could spend the next day in a king size bed, watching movies on the giant telly and ordering chicken soup on room service. It aided a speedy recovery, enough to even eat a slice of the amazing surprise birthday cake that was wheeled out at breakfast – the whole staff singing Happy Birthday in English AND Spanish. The staff couldnt have made us feel more special, and generously overlooked our scraggy stinky appearences and treated us like royalty! To add to the special moment, due to the fact I booked the room there was a name mix-up and Nick will forever be known as Mr Barker.

1879d6064ba711e3814d12589ecf55e2_7