Sparky Travels

May 6, 2011

Mancora

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I Arrived in Mancora at 10am on the 29th of April and by 11am I was drinking beer with a group of English and Danish lads in the hostel. A good start. just as the sun was reaching full strength we decided to have a game of beach football: UK v Denmark. The orginal plan was to have a swimming break at halftime but soon it was at regular intervals as the game hotted up. The Danes had taken a 3-1 lead and had the wind in their favour but our experience (i.e. age) finally told as we won 6-4. We celebrated by diving into the ocean as the losers slumped in the sand.

That night we left our hostel, The Point, and went to Loki Hostel. The Point has a relaxed atmosphere and secluded beach while Loki is ‘’the’ party hostel of Mancora. It lived up to its name until 1:30am when inexplicably the bar shut! The party moved out into town and onto the beach until after the sun had come up. It turns out that Mancora is a popular spot on the gringo trail as I met almost a dozen people from my earlier travels there, including Jake and some lads from Buenos Aires.

The last day in April was a hangover day which is much more enjoyable with a pool, beach, sea and hammocks to enjoy.

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The next day was not so good, I was in bed for most of it with a fever and aches. I managed to join the newly arrived Mia and Marie for a Thai dinner but that was about it. Bronwyn, Lisa and Jacob arrived on the 2nd. They’d been my roommates in Lima and we joined them in the evening for card games. My penultimate day in Mancora ended with dinner at the Beef house where I had an absolutely perfect slab of swordfish followed inevitably by drinking on the beach and Charlie Brown’s bar.

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After breakfast on the 4th and saying goodbye to Jake, I managed to sneak a last bit of beach time. Soon I was saying a sad goodbye to Marie and Mia too and sitting on a bus back to Lima.

Mancora was a much needed change of scenery and pace from the rest of my South American trip. The water was warm, the weather great and the mosquitoes well fed. It was nice to be ferried around in tuk-tuks again. I’m also glad we stayed at the Point where we could relax if we wanted or head into town for a bit of nightlife.

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Back in the capital, I went present shopping and dinner with guys from the hostel (Langoustine risotto)  before packing my bags for my first plane journey in South America. Rather than a 72 hour bus followed by a 20 hour bus, I decided to fly direct from Lima to Foz do Iguazu on the Brazil, Argentina border. I did this on the 6th of May and with a 3 hour flight time, it was definitely the correct choice.

April 28, 2011

Lima

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My Cruz Del Sur bus arrived in Lima at 10am on the 26th of April. I’d reserved a bed at the Pariwana hostel in the upmarket Miraflores district and caught a cab there to dump my bags. Soon I was off exploring, beginning with a walk down to the Larcomar shopping mall solely for the purpose of seeing the sea. I hadn’t seen the sea since Ushuaia, Argentina a couple of months ago and it had been even longer since I’d last gazed out over the Pacific Ocean. Lunch was an 8 Soles set meal in a local restaurant while watching the Champions League semi-final between Man Utd and Shalke. The evening was filled with blogging and beer in the hostel bar. I managed to come 3rd in the Pub Quiz which was decent enough given I was playing alone. With a couple of team mates to jog my memory and answer the ones I missed we could have blitzed it.

I was up early on Wednesday the 27th to try and see some of the tourist sights. A friendly taxi driver who gave me tips on Peruvian cuisine took me into the centre of town where I began with the Museo de Convento de San Francisco. It was interesting to hear about the influence of Franciscan monks in South American christianity and get an insight into the art, sculpture and architecture of the church and adjoining buildings. The most enlightening part was the dark catacombs below. Filled with the graves and piles of bones from an estimated 27,000 worshippers who were buried here over the years, the extent of the maze, much of which remains unexcavated, is unknown. Now only the Franciscan Monks from the convent are buried here.

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I watched the first half of the Real Madrid v Barcelona semi-final in a Chinese restaurant while having lunch before spending a couple of hours in the Museo de Arte (MALI).

It had four interesting exhibitions including one on the famous painting ‘The funeral of Atahualpa’ by Luis Montero. One of the earliest historical paintings by American artists.

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Through Parque de la Cultura and on a couple of blocks is Parque de la Reserva. It’s newest attraction is a number of fountains dotted around. Apparently it is best to view from sunset onwards when multicoloured lighting produces a real spectacle but since I was in the area I thought I might as well have a look. Though none of the fountains were a revelation, they were all impressive and as pretty as any I’ve seen around the world.

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Back at the hostel I met Mia and Marie who’d arrived that day. An hour later both of their day-bags had been stolen! They went to take showers and some local sneaked into the hostel, into their dorm and grabbed the first two bags he saw before scarpering. They happened to belong to the girls and each contained their camera along with items of purely sentimental value. All Machu Pichu pictures gone in an instant, real bad luck. The hostel, who failed in their responsibility (guests had to wear wristbands but these were never checked on entry), at least gave them free accommodation and a couple of cheap drinks so we spent the night in the hostel bar trying to erase the memory of the theft.

The next day, I caught the bus to Mancora, 18 hours away in the North of Peru, for my first beach in South America! People I’d met travelling hadn’t had much to say about Lima but I thought it had potential to be a fun place to stay once you got used to the size and tempo of the city.

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April 25, 2011

Colca Canyon

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I was awake at 3am on the 23rd of April to do my second trek in a week. This time it was only a two day trek into the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world, second only to a neighbouring canyon. I slept on the bus for the 3 hour drive from Arequipa until we reached the Condor Viewpoint overlooking the canyon drop. This was an exceptionally touristy spot with hordes of international and Peruvian sightseers lined along the rocks hoping for a glimpse of the large Condors which inhabit this region. A couple were flying about a fair distance away but just as we were about to leave a few more appeared and they started to drift closer to the waiting wall of camera lenses. Second only to albatrosses (which I saw in Antarctica) in wing span they were very majestic and it was easier to get a sense of scale against the mountain background as the rode the thermals around the top of the canyon.

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We finally got dragged back to the bus (“Vamos!”) and along the road at the top of the canyon to the trek starting point. My fellow trekkers were a Spanish/English couple an a pair of French girls who live in London. We began by looking down at our destination for the evening, deep below on the canyon floor. The blue pools of the oasis’s gleamed in the sunshine and looked mighty inviting so we started zigzagging our way down towards them.

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Though deeper than the Grand Canyon in the USA, the Colca Canyon has much less steep sides so no rock climbing was necessary. We did have to be careful with our footing though since the track was made up of dirt and stones which gave way easily under our feet resulting in us sliding as much as stepping at times. It took 3 hours to traverse our way down to the floor where we crossed a bridge over the river at the bottom, climbed for five minutes and then stopped for lunch.

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My ankle was holding up pretty well given its exertions a couple of days prior and I had my right boot on very loosely to ease the pressure on it. Nevertheless, the rest was appreciated, with lunch being the usual combination of vegetable soup and rice, potatoes and meat. We lay on the grass and digested in the warm sun which sent me to sleep for 10 minutes or so. When I awoke we began making our way along the bottom towards our oasis accommodation. It was a relatively easy 3 hours with a mixture of ascents, descents and flat parts resulting in us gaining only a little height overall.

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We arrived just as the sun dipped behind the mountains which didn’t stop me and the Spanish guy from having a swim in the ‘oasis’ which was just an outdoor swimming pool built in the centre of the resort. The resort was pretty basic but idyllic and would have been a pleasant place to spend a couple of relaxing days. After a wee relax in a hammock and a nap we had dinner and went to bed. The food on the treks was average fare but there really wasn’t enough of it given the amount of exercise we were doing.

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The lack of food situation was taken to a ridiculous level the next day when we rose and began walking while it was still dark. There was no breakfast before we began, it was waiting for us at the top of the canyon, 1 km vertically up! We were told it could take 3 to 3.5 hours to reach the top which is an awfully long time to trek without something in your belly. The Spanish guy and me started to push on ahead as the girls slowed and went at a steady pace with very few short stops for water and photos. It was a hard, monotonous stomp up with the gravelly track needing every step to be carefully placed. The pace of other guys who we passed kept us going and we were surprised when we reached the top in a little less than two hours. We relaxed and waited for the rest to catch up.

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Two of the girls arrived 45 minutes later and the last, who had muscle cramps within the first 10 minutes, did well to make it up with the guide 45 minutes after that. We were absolutely starving by then and wolfed down the scrambled eggs & bread with jam in the restaurant at the small town of Cabanaconde. As we waited to be picked up after breakfast the locals were celebrating Easter Sunday with a parade and dance round the plaza. They were drinking a glass of beer each time they stopped and were having a great old time.

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Our first stop on the way back was a viewpoint which gave a really good view of an arable portion of the canyon with green fields and little lakes. The village of Malata after that was a real tourist trap but the attraction we were all looking forward to was the hot springs at Chivay. It was an extra 10 soles (£2.20) but it was well worth it. The springs were roasting and good for our aching muscles and we could easily have spent longer than an hour there.

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We were hungry again so stuffed ourselves with an average all you can eat buffet before the long drive back to Arequipa. There were a couple of further stops on the way to look at distant volcanoes (from a mirador at an altitude of 4900m) and then took look at llamas.

Back at the hostel by 5:30pm (a long day considering I’d climbed out of a canyon before 8am) I called Helen on Skype and then went into town to Mia and Marie’s hostel. They had arrived in town that day and offered to cook me dinner. I couldn’t turn that down so joined them for tasty pasta and wine on their roof terrace. Their Colca Canyon tour was the next day so I left and caught a taxi home to have an early-ish night.

On my last day in Arequipa (25th) I relaxed in the hostel until 6:30pm overnight bus to Lima. Time to hit the big city!

April 22, 2011

Arequipa

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On the 21st of April in Cuzco I relaxed in Pariwana hostel, drank beer with Sam, a fellow Edinburgher and lost in the first round of an impromptu table tennis competition. That evening I boarded a bus to Arequipa.

I arrived in Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru at 6am the next day. I’d been recommended a hostel by some people in Cuzco and it didn’t disappoint. The Arequipay Hostel was far from the centre out in the suburbs but made up for it in facilities. A converted villa in a residential compound, it had pool, movie room, PS3 and hammocks to relax in.  I barely used any of  these though because I had other tasks at hand. I used the internet to update my blog while I waited for my bed to be ready. Once I was settled in I caught the free transfer into town along with, Sarah an Irish girl living in Glasgow who’d also just arrived. We strolled round town but it was the beginning of the Easter holidays so most of the sights were closed.

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Fortunately the city is pretty enough so it was pleasant to walk round the plazas and past the churches. On the walk back to the hostel we stopped at possibly the most disappointing mirador (viewpoint) I’ve ever seen. It gave a poor view of an uninteresting part of the city though the setting, with an ornate church and palm lined square saved it.

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The rest of the day was an administration day but in the evening Sarah, I and an English girl we met went out to a Pizzeria just off the central Plaza Aramas. As we left after some high-quality pizza we walked into a sombre Easter parade. Figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary were carried round the square accompanied by a silent procession of locals carrying candles. All to the slow and atmospheric sound of choral singing and a brass band. I went to bed as soon as we got home because I’d stupidly signed up for another trek. This time to the Colca Canyon.

April 20, 2011

Machu Picchu

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We were up at the ungodly hour of 3am to try and get and get some of the restricted number of tickets for Huayna Picchu. Stephane decided to walk up to the jewel in the Incan crown but mindful of my ankle I opted to join the others and the hordes of tourists on the bus up there. We had to queue for the bus for 2 hours till 5:45am which got us in the fourth bus going up and assured of being among the 400 who got tickets for Huayna Picchu. After the zigzagging bus up and queuing for various tickets we finally entered Machu Picchu at 6:30am. As we walked in the whole complex was shrouded in clouds but with perfect timing they began to clear revealing the majesty of the place!DSC03164 DSC03165

Elvis gave us a tour of the complex for a couple of hours, displaying his comprehensive knowledge of the site and a good insight into the important parts. DSC03192 DSC03197

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Just as he was leaving he got a call to say that our train out had been changed to 2pm! It was meant to be 7pm but we’d been told it would be 9pm. We’d asked as a group to have it changed back to 7pm but instead they had moved it a further 5 hours forward. Needless to say we were unimpressed. This left us less than 3 hours until we had to go back to town so we joined the queue for Huayna Picchu, the sacred mountain overlooking Machu Picchu. It was a hard hour walking up to the top. I’d erroneously thought that given the popularity of the tourist attraction, the route up would be safe and easy. Instead it was a steep and treacherous route of steps cut into the mountain with infrequent hand rails. The view from the top was impressive but we had little time to enjoy it as we had to make our way back down so we didn’t miss our train.

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Fortunately I’d opted for my trainers rather than the evil boots and my ankle felt a lot better allowing me and Stephane to gallop down at a fun pace. We wound our way towards the exit and caught the bus down to Agua Calientes and rushed to the train station cursing the lack of time to further explore the whole reason for our 4 day trek. We were pacified though when we got on board the train and realised they’d bought us 1st class tickets for the ride to Ollantaytambo. We sat back in much needed luxury and enjoyed our meal, wine, pisco sours panoramic windows as the train rumbled through the beautiful countryside.

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At Ollantaytambo we were picked up by minibus and returned to Cuzco, with a stop on route to marvel at some beautiful rainbows. Back in Cuzco, I had a well deserved sleep, Bembos burger and repacked my bag. Machu Picchu…tick.

April 19, 2011

Salkantay Trek Part 2

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A 5:30am start to our third day of trekking was accompanied with the usual drizzle. We had breakfast and set off on our way. Fortunately Marije’s knee was feeling better but we kept the mules and horses behind just in case. The usual Inca path was out of action due to a massive landslide that rainy season so instead we took the ‘hard road’ on the opposite side of the river. This was also affected by landslides, in fact a few had occurred that very morning. Our guide clambered over the rubble of one to check it was safe. A few seconds after he returned a boulder of a ton or so went careering down the hill bouncing past the point he’d been standing seconds earlier. A minute later we crossed that part at an uncommonly quick pace! We later found out that a further slide occurred later and cut off the road completely. Another landslide we had to cross consisted of liquid mud and we had to put down rocks to form stepping stones across the brown soup. It was pretty hairy stuff at times.

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Soon the route became more stable and we could get a good pace going in the constant light rain. My right ankle had begun to give me jip due to the rented boots but was manageable as we reached our next stop at 1pm after 5+ hours of walking. The town of Playa Sahuayaco was the first time we met any other trekkers. It had a few shops and restaurants and soon after we arrived a couple of other groups also rocked up. At 1900m it was the lowest altitude I’d been at in ages. I’d built up a fair appetite so helped myself to 5 servings of lunch before we walked down to the nearby river to relax.

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Dinner, beers, cards and a lecture on Inca history followed before we bedded down for the night, our tents surrounded by the chickens, dogs and turkeys who lived in the yard.

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Our final day of trekking began at 4:30am. Porridge was consumed in vast quantities in preparation for the uphill trek. After an hour along the hard road out of town we started to climb up and round the hill along old Inca trails. It was a constant ascent as we climbed into the clouds. The landscape began to change towards jungle as we went up. The clouds obscured the view but the route was lined with many pretty flowers. Walking in the middle of the group I just missed sighing a Spectacled bear which had been feeding on the path but ran off when the guide and Stephane rounded the corner. After 3 hard hours of going up we reached the top and took a rest in true jungle terrain with vines hanging all over the placed.

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A few minutes into our descent down the other side of the hill we reached the Inca ruins of Llactapata (Quechua for ‘highest town’) at a height of 2650m. The walk down should have been easier than up but downhill was killing my ankle which started to cause shooting pains up the bag of my leg every step. On a more pleasant note, we caught our first glimpse of Machu Picchu across the valley as the clouds cleared and the sun came out.

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It was two hours of winding path down to the bridge at the bottom. I hobbled on ahead of the rest trying to cover the ground without stopping in fear that if I stopped I’d not be able to start again. After a rest at the bottom we walked along the river for another painful hour to the Hidro Electric station. The railway station here marked the lunch stop which was a blessed relief. I topped myself up with Inca Cola, Ibuprofen and paracetemol and rested in the shade before our final trek to Agua Calientes. Our mule driver had left that morning to go all the way back and meet his next group and our big bags driven down here with the chef but from now on we had to carry them. With the bag on my back and day pack on my chest we set off alongside the train tracks like human mules. DSC03133 DSC03128 It took two and a half hours to reach Agua Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu but fortunately the drugs had taken effect and I was almost able to enjoy the walk. After a hard day of trekking we reached the town at 5 in the evening and checked into the hotel. The place was basic but adequate and the showers were hot!

Our final dinner cooked by the skilled and friendly chef Saul was followed by a quick internet check and an early night. Tomorrow is Machu Picchu!

April 17, 2011

Salkantay Trek Part 1

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A couple of hours after falling asleep my alarm was ringing and I was up and out. What I didn’t need was there to be no water and consequently no shower. I didn’t have long to worry about this as the minibus arrived and we were on our way to Mollepata. Given that I risen at 3am I pretty much slept the whole way there. My fellow trekkers were a Dutch couple and Swiss guy. Our guide was a Peruvian called Elvis. At Mollepata we had breakfast, bought coca leaves and walking sticks and then continued to the starting point of the trek, Sorayapampa. Here, at 3800m we met our mule driver and chef and began the our walk to Machu Picchu. A few minutes after we began we stopped to make an offering to the mountains in Incan style (no, not sacrifices) by leaving coca leaves and requests for good weather and safe journeying.

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The landscape was very reminiscent of the Scottish highlands, to further add to the likeness the rain began while we slogged uphill to our lunch destination at Soyrococha. It was a hard hike up to the high point of 4600m as we made our way through the Salkantay Pass between Humantay and Salkantay mountains. Just before the top we stopped for lunch in the pouring rain, huddled under a plastic sheet. The soup followed by fish and rice warmed our cockles and kept us all in good spirits.

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The downhill walk to the plains and our camping spot at Huayracmachay was long but not too steep and the rain eased throughout. We were descending into the clouds at this time so never got to see either of the mountains we had passed. When we arrived at Huayracmachay our tents were set up and the chef was working on dinner. The valley were were in was meant to be pretty but we couldn’t see more than 50 metres in either direction. We chatted and got to know each other before heading to bed at 9pm. Me and Stephane were sharing a tent while, naturally, Joost and Marije had a tent of their own, as did Elvis.

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We awoke at 7am on the 17th after a night of heavy rain. Our tent had just about coped while Joost and Marije’s hadn’t fared so well. A pancake breakfast and clearing sky encouraged us and we were soon on our way downhill again. The rain returned but was only a light drizzle as the highland landscape gave way to forest. DSC02969 DSC02978

Halfway down the track Marije’s knee gave up and after attempting to struggle on it was decided that Elvis would go and get a horse and bring it back so she could ride down. We sat and waited with her as Elvis ran off. Two and a half hours later Elvis still hadn’t returned. Lunch was being postponed and we realised we didn’t know exactly where the campsite was, other than ‘down’. We decided that we should at least try and make our way down the hill a bit. A few minutes after we set off, Elvis appeared with horse in tow. It was a good thing as the track quickly began to deteriorate. We crossed through creeks and waterfalls on bridges made of branches, or stepping stones. For a few hundred metres the track was a mud slick where we were glad to make it through without losing a boot. It would have been very difficult for Marije to make it down here on foot.

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We arrived at Colcapampa at 4:30pm and wolfed down our very late lunch. Elvis was especially deserving since he’d had to go all the way to camp, get the horse, bring it back and then return with us! Dinner was only a couple of hours later in the same place and after a lesson on the Inca gods from Elvis and a game or two of cards we went to sleep.

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April 16, 2011

Cuzco

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Liam, Marie, Mia and I arrived in Cuzco, capital of the Incan empire, on the 12th of April and checked into Pariwana hostel. Unlike most of our accommodation over the last month, this was a big, busy, party hostel. After a quick nap in the ridiculously comfy beds (big duvets & 2 pillows!) we had a few games of table tennis in the courtyard. A walk round the town revealed it to be very pretty, if touristy, with colonial architecture dominating and a numerous pretty plazas, not least the central Plaza de Armas. We dined at Los Perros, a modern restaurant serving international cuisine.DSC02904

Liam was only passing through Cuzco on his way to Lima and a flight out of South America so the next day was his last day with us. We sat on the balcony of an Indian restaurant, drinking beer and wished him well on his journey. I then went on a trek round town to look into treks to Machu Picchu with limited success. Me and the girls went to the recommended Inca…fe for dinner where I sampled some Alpaca steak with the Andean staple of quinoa. The alpaca was tender and juicy with a taste veering towards venison. yummy!

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Back at the hostel it was Pub Quiz night, but we arrived too late to form a team. Instead we helped a couple of Irish guys, James and Eugene who won the quiz and kindly shared their bottle of rum prize with us. This helped make the karaoke night which followed the quiz bearable. The singing (none of which involved us, I hasten to add) was excruciating and the song selection abysmal. Me and James were the only two left wh wanted to continue so we caught a cab to sample the local clubs. The first was closed and the bar below was lifeless. The next stop was pretty much full of prostitutes and tourists and the final one full of large groups of Israelis. We decided at this point to cut our losses and head to bed before the sun came up.

I dragged myself out of the hostel on the morning of the 14th and tried to get my trek booked. Most were too expensive or didn’t go all the way to Machu Picchu and the only company that ticked all the boxes was closed for the morning. While I waited for it to open I went to MAP, the Museum of PreColumbian Art. This was mainly displays of ceramics and metalwork from the earliest civilizations through to the Incas. The most impressive was that of the Mochicas, from the 1st-8th century AD. These displayed high levels of craftmanship and lifelike portrayals of animals. Other impressive pieces in the museum were indistinguishable from some modern art, especially cubism.

I managed to book my trek, a 4night/5day Salkantay trek, that afternoon which begins in two days time. Fresh from my enjoyable Alpaca experience it was time to try something else… Guinea Pig. It was served roasted, halved and with the head chopped off but with it’s little claws rigid in the air. The taste was like very bland rabbit and there was not much meat on it. I’ve tried it but I’ll never order it again. Though maybe a stew would be more palatable.

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Friday the 15th was spent trying to get prepared for the trek the next day. I needed to pay the $400 or so, hire trekking boots, sleeping bag and a rucksack. At our team meeting that evening we were informed that the pickup time for the trek was 4am in the morning. I still managed to go out for a farewell dinner with Mia, Marie and Claire, another Danish girl. We went to a sushi restaurant and I managed to get a couple of hours sleep after packing my bag and checking out.

April 12, 2011

Puno

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After an uneventful exit from Bolivia and entrance into Peru, we arrived late in the evening at Inkas Rest hostel in Puno, a town on the banks of the Peruvian part of Lake Titicaca. The owner, Alfredo, was super-friendly and directed us to a Chinese restaurant that would still be open at this late hour. We underestimated the size of the dinner and ended up with a huge selection of wanton soups and noodle courses.

We were up early on the 11th to be picked up for our boat tour on Lake Titicaca. The first stop on the tour was a 20 minute sail away, The floating islands of Uro These are a community of people living on islands made from reeds dating back to before the time of the Incas. It was a bit of a tourist trap with a tour boat anchored beside each island. Once we were on ‘land’ we were shown how the islands are made and what life is like for the villagers. They were very friendly and it was an interesting stop but it all felt a little unreal. We were given a ride in a reed raft back to our boat and then spent a few hours sailing to the next destination, Isla Taquile.

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Taquile is a traditional Titicacan island and as with the Uros Islands, is very touristy. We had a walk up to a house for lunch where the gave us a demonstration of local dancing and served us lunch. Then we had an hour to look around the nondescript plaza. If you’d never seen island life on Lake Titicaca then it may have been interesting but I was quite bored with it.

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One good thing about the trip was the people we met while sunning ourselves on the top deck during the long journey to and from port. We met some of them (including Katie & Shaun and Shelley) in the Rock and Reggae bar in the centre of Puno after a dinner of Pizza and Pisco Sours. We rocked the bar for a good number of hours before heading home. On the way a guy ran past Shelley and grabbed her vintage cigarette case, disappearing quickly into the night. Presumably he thought it was her purse but he was out of luck, there weren’t even any cigarettes in it.

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The next day we caught an 8am bus to Cuzco, leaving disappointing Puno behind. Though I’d seen floating Islands for the first time on my travels, the tour (which was well run and informative) destinations didn’t really do it for me. The town is also pretty underwhelming and I wouldn’t rush back. Not the greatest introduction to Peru, but the real sights are yet to come.

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