Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Happy Birthday JJ (JJ = Jesus Joven = Young Jesus)

I am now 34 years old – how did that happen? When I began my travels back in Oct 2010 I was a spritely 30 year old, naïve to the wonders of the world; where did all that time go?
Well f*c k the aging because we are now in Chile and this badboy is loooooooong, 4,300km to be exact, covering half of the length of the South American continent and we will travel down its skinny arse shape taking in Christmas and New Year until we reach the ‘bottom of the world’ – well the most southerly city in the world and maybe a little beyond that.

By the time we left Peru we had completed 38 days, the most time we had spent in one country since Guatemala, 6 countries ago and we both agreed that it was time to move on. However, Peru will go down as a great country to visit and probably the best so far in terms of the sheer amount of activities on offer, diverse geographies to visit and interesting culture and history to boot.

Leaving the ancient Inca capital Cusco and Wonder of the World Machu Picchu behind we began our descent south and moved onto Puno, which sits pretty on the banks of the infamous Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world.
We were here purely for the lake and had little interest in the town itself which worked out well because it was a completely underwhelming place and had little in terms of tourist attractions – people come here only for the lake.
Feeling a little lazy as well as wanting to be in and out as quickly as possible we organised our 2 day and 1 night tour of the lake through our hostel, something we would never usually do because why pay the middleman for doing nothing?
Given that this trip would leave us little time to sort out our exit bus we also left this to our hostel and he annoyingly took us for an $8 commission and put us on the hottest, smelliest bus known to Peruvian man. Guess who gets a bad TripAdvisor review?

We knew that we had made a mistake letting our hostel book the trip as soon as we boarded the boat. We will always do our best to avoid the ‘tourist’ trips and DIY it because apart from being cheaper the experience will always be a little more authentic and personal.
We hadn’t been sitting on the boat for more than 2 minutes when a one man band jumped on board, played/sang 2 songs before taking his hat off for tips. Annoying!
What else was annoying were some of the members of our group. As mentioned in my previous post myself and AJ are now diagnosed sufferers of Misanthrope – a general hatred of people – so imagine our discomfort at finding a boat full of 16 holidaymakers, not backpackers (only 1), holidaymakers!!
Now I try not to generalise when it comes to nationalities because I have been fortunate enough to now meet people from all over the world and can call a lot of them friends but the French people on this tour were too much (sorry Clem and Ludo). We had the 2 old hippies that stunk, smoked, drank (at 10am), refused to say ‘Hola’ solely ‘Bonjour’ and generally dictated how the trip should run and we had the wealthy single child family, who were arrogant and rude and the daughter who was approximately 19yrs old had criminally hairy legs – get some manners, stop traveling on mummy and daddy’s money (actually, why? Free holidays, sweet), shave your legs and smile, it won’t kill you!!
All of the French also insisted on speaking over the guide so that nobody else could hear him – it’s just not cricket.
There were some cool people on the boat as well.
Holidaying couples from the UK and Aus were good guys but the most interesting were an elderly couple from the US who have travelled all over the world and the bloke was a retired Glacial Geologist – now that is a job! He pretty much spent 25 years on a glacier in Alaska and rose to the forefront of glacial study and their current rates of recession.
He was a very interesting man to talk to.

So to the tour, which should have been called, ‘You are a gringo, therefore a cash cow’.
Lake Titicaca is an awesome place to visit. It covers 8,400 square kilometres (about half the size of Yorkshire), is the highest in the world at 3,808 metres and is bordered by Peru and Bolivia (of which we could see its string of 6,000 metre plus peaks acting as a natural barrier in the far distance).
There are a number of islands, both natural and man-made within the lake and all are inhabited by the native Indians, the Aymara and Quechua.
First up we visited the floating island of Uros. During the advancement of the warlike Collas and Incas hundreds of years ago the local population to escape persecution fled into the lake and built their own islands made from the cutting and binding together of the reed beds and then covering this floating base with a thick mattress of reeds. Upon this they were then able to build their new homes and community with the islands requiring a fresh bed of reeds only every couple of months as the previous ones rotted and slowly made their way down into the lake from whence they came.
It is rumoured that the people don’t actually live on Uros anymore but don their traditional clothing and take a boat over the island each day in the name of tourism and commercialism. No matter what you may think of these people, they are very astute and very good business people.
This part of the tour consisted of a demonstration of how the island is built, complete with dolls and a thatched dolls house (the French spoke and some just got up and walked off), we got to look inside the ‘homes’, of course there were a few market stalls and then there was the added bonus of taking a ride on a traditional reed boat – at an additional cost of course.
We were already fully committed so we just went with it.

The boat dropped us off on another part of the island (it was quite a large place) and we were gutted to find a small thatched hostel and restaurant with absolutely no other guests. If we’d have known this is what we would’ve done – no people, not commercialism and no financial p*ss taking.
F*ck me, have I turned into a 34yr old grump??

Next up was the island of Amanati, located 3 hours away in the wider open part of the lake and home to the Quechua people. Here we left the group and headed to our homestay for the afternoon and night where we lodged with a young married couple and their 3yr old son.
This part of the trip was well worth it because we had no choice but to practice our Spanish and were pleasantly surprised that we could hold conversation for long periods at a time. We have definitely come a long way in terms of our language skills but we still have so much more to learn.
There were a couple of things that we didn’t like about the homestay:
1)      The family wouldn’t share the dining table with us which was a little uncomfortable. Instead they sat virtually on the floor around a little homemade table and looked up at us
2)      During lunch they laid their knitted goods out on the table and looked expectedly at the cash cows to purchase their overpriced handicrafts. Being completely weak and resigned to our roles as rich westerners we parted with some cash and I got some much needed gloves whilst Arancha bought yet another beanie and yet another scarf!

Late afternoon we were once again reunited with the group as we climbed to the pinnacle of the island at 4,300 metres to watch the sunset over the mountains, the islands and the lake and very nice it was indeed. Our ‘mum’ walked us to the meeting point and along the way spun her money making yarn using a traditional spinning top in exactly the same way as her people and Inca’s did hundreds of years ago before her – I found this fascinating and very cool indeed.

The evening was all about dressing up in traditional Quechua clothing and attending a dance at the local community hall.
The men got away lightly only having to wear a poncho and beanie whereas the women had to dress up completely in skirt, blouse and shawl.
There was a local band playing (for tips) to accompany the dancing and it was fun, especially watching our host dance with us looking uninspired and fed of doing the same sh*t each week.
It was deemed good manners to offer to buy our host a drink so of course he accepted and chose the most expensive thing on the list!

Our actual bedroom was beautiful compared to many we have had and the views out across the island to the lake waters were topped only by the bedazzled starry night sky.

The next morning after breakfast it was time say our goodbyes to the family and head back to the boat but there was still time for one last financial extraction.
The day before our mum gave us a bottle of water each for the walk up to the sunset viewpoint and so when offered a bottle of water as we left on this morning I graciously accepted.
It got a little awkward when I took it and then she stood there with her hand held out and all went silent. It then became apparent that this wasn’t a nice gesture, she wanted paying and of course there was a commission on top – after all why would you buy it and sell it as cost price?
So I handed over the cash and it proceeded to get a little more awkward when she then said “y dos ayer”, “and 2 yesterday”. Now that was sneaky! She literally handed us those bottles and said nothing at all about payment the day before!
We just laughed, shook our heads and paid the woman.
Sensible business people.

Don't trust those innocent faces
The final part of the trip was to visit and walk around a tiny island of Taquile, a very handsome place that looked a lot like a Greek island bathed in the sun and sea of the Mediterranean.
A 2.5 hour ride later saw up back into Puno, pleased to be back on our own and ready to leave on an early morning bus to Arequipa.

Arequipa is billed as a smaller Cusco, and whilst nowhere near as interesting a place to visit it does have a charm and likeability to it. The central plaza is certainly pleasing to the eye but it is the backdrop of huge 2 volcanoes, lurking a little too close for comfort and viewable above the roof of the cathedral that captures your attention.
As eluded to earlier, our bus trip to Arequipa was not the best but apart from sweating and not wanting to touch anything with your bare hands (and we had another pukey kid near to us – why us?) it was interesting journey.
A)     There were the 2 bogan Aussies (Australian for chavvy) who were really nice but one of them (we called her Kath) had the saggiest tits I have ever seen and without a bra on and top that didn’t completely cover her midrift got onto her tiptoes and reached up to open the roof hatch right in front of me – I didn’t want to look but both I and Arancha couldn’t help but stare to see if they really were going to flop out and slap me in the face. I am not sure if it is fortunate or unfortunate that they didn’t.
B)      The route we took is known for the smuggling of contraband from Bolivia. We are only talking about clothing etc but the authorities are completely on the ball when it comes to the locals trying to sneak it back through from the border. At the checkpoint I could see the police unloading the bags so I went down to make sure nothing happened to ours. On the way down the stairs a local handed me a couple of bags and asked me to take and put them on my seat – obviously I dropped them immediately and told her to do one; dodgy biatch. She could’ve handed me anything!
It turns out she was a suspected smuggler and I watched with a lot of discomfort as both her and her daughter were roughly manhandled and all of their personal belongings were emptied out onto the floor and tossed about in the dust. It wasn’t so much this that bothered me but the daughter’s screaming and distress. In the end they were allowed back onto the bus but I have no idea what happened to the bags that I was asked to hold!!

We were in Arequipa as a base to travel to the Colca Canyon before returning for a final stopover before heading down to Chile.
We really didn’t do a lot with our 2 nights here apart from sort out a route to and a place to stay in the canyon and to relax in our cushdy hostel.
We were staying at our third Flying Dog Hostel (Lima, Cusco & Arequipa) and this particular one was probably the best hostel I have ever stayed in in terms quality. Our private room could have easily been a dorm room for 10, the secure walled building was based around adjoining European style courtyards and as for the attaching bar it was exactly how I would have my bar if I ever settle down and have a house big enough for one.


We were heading to the Colca Canyon for only one reason – to see Andean Condors in the wild. We took a bus out past the volcanoes and into the rocky world of the canyons to the town of Chivay, based at the start of the canyon.
From here we had to kill a couple of hours waiting for our next bus to take us along the length of the Colca Canyon to the village of Cabanaconde.
Whilst waiting for the bus we had a bite to eat at a local café and I ordered a tea with my sandwich which came as a cup of hot water with a teabag on the side. Quite unconsciously I took the teabag, put it into my pocket for later and produced my own sachet of coffee and used that instead, and with that I unwittingly turned into my grandparents!!

It was dark and cold by the time we reached our destination but all was good once we entered the Pachamama Hostel. Opening the door we were hit by the warmth and cosiness of a front room / pizza restaurant that just invited you in. The food here was excellent and we dined heartily on llama every night – stir-fried and on pizza. Yummy!
We choose to stay in Cabanaconde because it was a damn sight closer to Cruz Del Condor (the viewpoint) than Chivay. It was either catch a 4:30am bus from Chivay or a 6:30am bus from Cabanaconde – no contest.
Therefore, at 7:30am the next morning we got off the bus in the blazing sun to a view that was spectacular enough even if we did not see a condor. Colca Canyon is 1.3km from top to bottom at its deepest and Cruz Del Condor was sitting at a point close to this looking out over a vertical drop to the valley way below and across to the highest points of the canyon, high enough to hold glaciers!

There were only a few other backpackers when we arrived as the tours groups usually show up between 8pm – 8:30am but I was not surprised to find a friend perched on the side of the cliff. Backpackers whilst not following the same routes do have the same locations on their list so we expect to run into to people now and again and it was very nice to run into Martina who we last saw as we each embarked upon our own Galapagos Island adventures!
We took advantage of our early arrival to join Martina on what we deemed to be the best spot overlooking the canyon and proceeded to wait and wait for a sighting of this bird as more and more tour groups arrived.
Then we waited and waited some more and the same tours groups then left.
After that we waited a little longer because we literally had nothing else to do, so why not wait and see?       
Also whilst waiting Arancha turned to me and exclaimed that it is a shame that the Condor plane no longer flies and did I remember them?
I turned to her and said that I didn’t, what were they?
She explained that they were luxurious, long and had a pointy nose that slanted downwards.
Oh, Concorde, why didn’t you say?

General viewing time is deemed to be between 7am and 10am and at approximately 9:30am Arancha spotted the first Condor as it glided about 20 metres below where we were perched. There is no other word than majestic to describe it passing below us so effortlessly on the currents of air.
Soon after another one joined the party and they both drifted below and above us warming themselves up in the morning sun. Unbelievably our faith in seeing a condor and choosing our spot based on feeling paid dividends as 10 metres in front of us both of the condors came in to land onto a rocky outcrop. We couldn’t have chosen a better spot but we were now well aware of a mass of people crowding at our backs and although we weren’t worried about being pushed over the edge, it could’ve happened – especially if some of the French Titicaca crew were there!
Coincidently one of the guys from that trip (Swiss, not French) had turned up and was sat next to Arancha.

For 10 minutes these 2 perfect specimens perched and took in their surroundings, namely a throng of weird creatures standing on 2 legs holding a variety of black boxes and as they took to the air all you could here was click, click, click, click, click……
In the end we saw 3 condors from that viewpoint and the closest we got was one soaring about 5 metres over our heads which is not to be sniffed at when we are talking about a bird with a 3 metre wingspan!

We decided to walk back to the village we meant we had the added bonus and taking in our surroundings for a further 3 hours as we slowly made our way home. Apart from another English couple there was absolutely nobody else about – we had the canyon, an Andean Fox, a Vascacha (a bit like a rabbit with a long tail) and a further 5 condors all to ourselves.
A brilliant trip and perfect for a couple of misanthropists!!


During both of our nights in Cabanaconde we spent our time with a really nice German couple who both grew up in East Germany and were 30 yrs old when the Wall came down. They were the first (previously) East Germans that we have ever met so we made sure to ask all about how it was and of course what they thought of David Hasselhoff bringing down the Wall singlehandedly. They actually hung their heads in shame at this. Ha ha!

Back to Arequipa for a single night we timed it just right to take the evening tour around the Satan Catalina Monastery, labelled as a ‘city within a city’.
This still functioning monastery is massive and has a museum, restaurant and café within its walls but under the moonlit sky with few other visitors about it was all about the ambience and atmosphere for us.
I have no qualms saying that if I was alive during the 1700’s I would’ve lied and said that I was a believer to ensure that I could have lived here. All of its squares and streets were beautifully built and decorated with frescos and plants, each area was coloured differently from red, to orange to blue and as for the living quarters of each nun they had a bedroom, a room for prayer and reflection as well as a decent open aired kitchen all of which were lit for us with candlelight and fire – it was full on spooky.
Also in the museum there was one piece that could’ve easily saved Peru’s poor – this golden crucifix was set with an uncountable number of diamonds and precious stones.

And that was that, Peru was done. Peru is the perfect country for a holiday if you are thinking of taking one – you could do something completely different every day if you wished and we still missed out the Amazon jungle part!!

Catching the bus to the border town of Tacna was easy enough once we got by the anal security guard who insisted on checking each bag by making everybody untie everything to then only put a hand once in and out of the bag. This was too much for Arancha and she nearly toppled the table as she snatched her bag back at this completely futile exercise. It was funny to watch.
Crossing the border was easy as usual and even better was that our first Chilean town was only a 20 minute drive away by bus.  

And so we were in Chile.
Our first town of Arica was a sleepy beachside town which absolutely stunk with little to offer other than a place to relax. The reason for the stench was that the bin men had been on strike for over a month and the rotting piles of rubbish were now constantly being circulated by an unnerving amount of vultures.
Our chosen hostel never received our emails but based upon the complete lack of organisation displayed by Roy the Kiwi in our brief time of meeting one another it is quite possible that he deleted them by mistake.
He did give us a catchphrase that we have been scoffing at ever since when we exclaimed surprise at the price of a hostel room. He simply said ‘welcome to the first world’, which we found a little snobby and also amusing because to date Chile might be first world in terms of cost but certainly not in terms of infrastructure, development and litter.
To be fair to Roy though he did sort us out a room to stay at a neighbours place and so we got to stay at the ‘End of the Trail Hostal’ with US / Chilean couple Franklin and Rose.
This felt more like a homestay than a hostel and it was, we were sleeping in the room next to the owners and when the guest bathroom was occupied they let me use their en-suite.
Rose was always singing and amusing herself as she tottered about the house and Franklin was always talking – to us. Once he even came into our room and talked to us for 30 minutes non-stop about this and that.
Franklin was a retired avalanche specialist from Utah (odd that I have met a glacial geologist and avalanche specialist in such a short time) and also a Vietnam vet – so he was racist. He told us how he spent his 21st birthday in Sydney because he couldn’t stand to look at any more slanty eyed women!
“Vietnam, Japan, China, Korea, they’ve all got slanty eyes!”
Apart from the racism he was a nice guy but he was a little intense and looked me right in the eye as he told me with no enthusiasm at all that he had been sober for 22 years. Great achievement Franklin but have a drink mate, you seem like you need it!
My favourite thing about Franklin was that he required a knee transplant so his leg flapped as he walked, hence I named him Flapping Franklin. It takes longer to say but it is worth it because it amuses me.

Arica really didn’t have much to offer us and all we did of note was to look around the small town and walk along the shore line to an outcrop where the much rougher part of the Pacific Ocean came crashing into the rocks with super force.
There were 3 Chilean sisters sharing our hostel with us and 1 of the older sisters was a bit of a character. I haven’t had so many kisses and cuddles since my aunty Chris used to plant big sloppy ones on me as a child and when she started talking about ‘sexo’ and ‘juice’ in the same sentence in Spanish I was glad that I didn’t understand; but it was being compared to a young Jesus Christ that did it for me and then using her thumb to make the sign of a cross on my forehead that took it way too far!

We moved 4 hours down the coast to the beach resort of Iquique and spent precisely 21.5 hours here. It wasn’t that it was a bad place, far from it, the streets were really oldy-worldy and made me feel like I was strutting down the street in a western movie and the place definitely had a vibe to it, I have never seen so many people packed onto a beach before. Check out the pic below of the beach at 6pm on a Sunday evening.
Actually that is a good thing about Chile. Crossing the border from Peru lost us 2 hours with the time difference but this loss in time means that we can now enjoy later and lighter nights as the sun now sets at approx 8:30pm.

Back to Iquique. We just didn’t find a reason to hang around any longer so decided to spend one evening in the city, enjoy the sun and ocean views from the roof top balcony of the hostel and then head inland for 7 hours to explore the lure of the Atacama Desert, which would serve as the perfect location for my impending birthday and where I had wanted to spend it.

The journey to the town of San Pedro De Atacama was a long one and served in confirming that there really isn’t a lot to the north of Chile, it is dry and dusty and not that pretty. What it lacks for in aesthetically pleasing views it does make up for in drama as we drove down the coastline for 3 hours before heading inland and for these entire 3 hours the road was flanked on one side by mountains and the ocean on the other – there were no beaches and towns, only rocks and sea.
Once we had travelled inland for a further 3 hours the environment began to change and for the better. Although only on its fringes we were now entering the land of the Atacama Desert, the driest place on the planet where it is believed that some areas have not seen the rain for over 1 million years. The Atacama is so hostile that in some parts there is no life at all, not even bacteria can survive.
Unfortunately we were not going into the heart of the desert, where we would be going there would be no shortage of life – tourists, and a lot of them. Queue the cold shivers.
For an hour approaching San Pedro the landscape altered from rocky canyons to flat, long stretches of nothingness before rising up out of the earth to form huge volcanos that straddled the border with Bolivia, whilst ever changing in colour and form as the sun set over the altiplanaca. From the luxury of the bus window we even got to see our first mirage as the shadows cast under the long light of the now disappearing sun created what appeared to be a vast shimmering lake when in reality it was still the barren sandy ground.

San Pedro De Atacama was a little dusty but green oasis in the desert and it was packed full of people hoping to experience their own piece of the aether.
We found ourselves a little hostel close to the town centre (that being one main street and a small shaded plaza) and were immediately not very keen on our ‘landlord’. In short, he was a knob.
He had broken his leg so spent all of his time in a wheelchair and so declared that usually we would get breakfast with the price of our room but as he needed to rest we wouldn’t be at this time. Also when I was leaving the kitchen he watched me leave and then stopped me to point out I had left the light on. Obviously I returned to turn it off and then watched him wheel to the kitchen door, stand up, walk in and turn the light on!!
2 days later I asked him for a roll of toilet paper and he got a little edgy that we had used 1 whole roll in 2.5 days between the 2 of us and exclaimed that if we wanted anymore we would need to pay for it! I tried to tell him in Spanish that this was ridiculous but my growing annoyance saw me stutter and splutter like a flid.
The room was $36 per night with no breakfast – I expect free toilet paper!!
We left earlier than we planned to and found another place to stay so his frugality bit him back on his fat and lazy arse.

As this was my birthday week we decided to make sure that we had plenty on and to leave this place having done it justice. So this is how our 6 days in San Pedro De Atacama and the surrounding areas panned out:
·        Astronomy tour – my aim had been to always attend an observation session of the night sky in the Atacama Desert, after all this area is the best in the world when it comes to astronomy. Unfortunately for us we didn’t get to experience the best. We were on some dude’s roof on the outskirts of town where the lights of a passing car would temporarily blind us and the neighbours outdoor light was on – obviously light pollution is just what we are after when viewing the stars! Also those pesky tourists were all around us so we actually had to queue to use each of the 2 telescopes! Tut tut.
On top of all of this we didn’t even really see that much. We only saw Venus, a star cluster and a nebula on the belt of Orion – stuff we have seen before when we did it in much more impressive style in Western Australia.
The highlight of the evening was looking up into the sky and seeing a shooting star. Unbelievably we were the only 2 people to see it as the rest were engrossed in what the guide had to say even though what he did say was all scripted on his i-pad.

·        Altiplacanas tour – this trip was about exploring the lakes and vast planes of this region. First up were the toxic saline Laguna de Chaxa, home to 3 species of flamingo and here we had our early morning breakfast as we watched scores of flamingos do the same.


Next up was the town of Socaire, a small place relying on agriculture and where the churches were built with the steeple as a separate entity because according to Catholicism the steeple representing a penis and the church hall representing a vagina could not be locked in unison – it would be a sin. Aaaggghhh, stupid idiots!

After this we visited the stunning twin lakes of Miscanti and Miniques which were simply delicious. The pics can show what I can’t explain – simple raw beauty at its best.

·         It was now my birthday and so we had the day planned out to ensure that it would be a good one and it would begin at 4:30am with a trip out to the highest Geysers in the world.
With a start I woke up at 6:15am because like a dick I have forgotten to set the alarm! Happy Birthday to me!!
I won’t lie, I was not in the best mood for the first 2 hours of my ‘special’ day but Arancha’s pressies and postcard for a card did cheer me up; thanks again. It was also nice to open my parent’s card which I had been carrying around for 10 months and even nicer to find some cash in it. Cheers!
Anyway, it all turned out for the best in the end and probably better than it otherwise would have.
After visiting the agent and explaining that we were divs we rearranged the Geyser tour and brought forward the Salar De Atacama tour to that afternoon and so at 4pm on my birthday began our exploration of the salt lakes.
The scenery here was breath-taking, a world set in pastel shades and the salt flats lent themselves perfectly to perspective photos and our sense of acting the fool.

Following a short swim in a natural waterhole we then got to try out the salt lakes which ensured that my birthday would be remembered. The Cejar Laguna was the same as the Dead Sea ie. we could lie in the water and float. The buoyancy was so great that I was able to lie back with my hands in my pockets and relaxingly take in my surroundings and contemplate life. The result was that life is good!
We rinsed ourselves off with fresh water and then were treated to sunset snacks and Pisco Sours as the guide played some traditional Andean music which all added to the atmospheric nature of the evening. AJ graciously told the guide that it was my birthday so I got to drink more Pisco than the rest which obviously was not an issue.

The rest of my birthday evening was spent with Arancha and Christian, our friend from the Quilotoa Loop trek and fateful and superb Mama Negra Festival in Ecuador when we got ourselves completely annihilated. He just happened to be in town so along with an American random we drank a lot and to then just top it off we walked out into the desert to ‘La Playa’ (The Beach) to enjoy a late night drink with the locals in their secret meeting place.

Christian also introduced us to his new friend that he brought with him from Bolivia – a llama foetus. Apparently if you bury it under your house it will bring you good luck but all I could see and smell is that it will ensure you always get a hostel dormitory to yourself.
All in all my birthday may not have started as planned but it turned out to be a brilliant day and I would not have changed anything about it – therefore, it was a success. Roll on 35!

·        Finally we made it to the Tatio Geysers, a hotbed of steaming volcanic activity located 2 hours from the town out in the desert. In order to witness the highest concentration eruptions and activity we needed to get there by 6:30am which meant fighting the -10 degree temperatures and of course making the 4:30am alarm call!
I honestly do not know what we have done wrong but for the third time we had the vomiting traveller next to us. This time it was a fat loser who tried to control his sickness by chanting “Oy, oy, oy, oy, oy” over and over until it was too much and he spewed into a carrier bag! Why us?????
The geysers were interesting to see and standing as close as possible to the huge clouds of steaming spewing into the air, not unlike the fat tourist, was a fab way to alleviate some of the cold that was threatening to take my toes from me.
Breakfast was somewhat of a disappointment though; surely with all of that boiling water why not boil us some eggs??

So that was our time in San Pedro De Atacama and the Atacama Desert and it was now time to return to the coast and keep heading south and south some more.
I had a very satisfying and busy birthday week, just how I like it, but let’s face it, whatever I did was going to be decent, it is not like I am at home or in the office is it?  

Monday, 11 November 2013

Use your imagination

As I write this post we have now completed 1 month in Peru and we are still not entirely sure as to when we will leave. Travellers in general rave about Peru and the range of activities on offer to the backpacker and we can now see what all the fuss is about.

So getting back to us, we left behind the mountains of Huaraz and took the overnight bus to the capital city of Lima. As much as I like to visit a city I wasn’t really looking forward to Lima and had discounted it as a worthy destination to spend my money on before we had even arrived and I had no idea why. Maybe it was the thought of leaving the tranquillity of the mountains behind, but in any case it was a silly assumption because Lima rocks!
As seems to be the way in Peru and not in any other country in the world, our bus arrived over an hour early once again so we were left sitting at the bus terminal at 5am waiting for a reasonable hour to make our way to the hostel.
Feeling rather jaded we got to our hostel very much looking forward to a little lie down before heading out to explore the city.
At reception we asked the very sleepy receptionist if our room was ready and if not, what time would it be?
He looked at me a little perplexed and said of course the room was ready but check-out was 10am; it was now 7am.
It was now our turn for confusion and asked what was he on about? What has check-out at 10am got to do with anything?
It turns out I was a div and had booked the room for the previous day and he honestly thought that I wanted the room just for 3 hours before leaving. In the end we sorted it all out and our little rest of the eyes meant that we awoke after 11am and had wasted an entire morning.
It was a lovely kip though.

Part of the reason for our visit to Lima was to attend to some business. As much as we love not working and being complete wasters at some point in the future we must return to the ‘real’ world and replenish the funds. For Arancha to do this she needed to renew her teaching registration (all part of the task of proving that she doesn’t touch up kids like Savile) and this meant making a visit to the Australian Embassy to obtain a certified copy of her passport.
The Embassy was in the business end of town and it was odd that the area very much reminded me of Melbourne and I had plenty of time to stand about and reflect on this because it took Arancha an absolute age to complete this task with an old lady who didn’t know how to do, well, anything.

On the way back from the Embassy we started to explore the Miraflores area of Lima (where most of the tourists stay) and the charms of this city soon had us enraptured and also a little annoyed that I had convinced AJ that we should just move on so had booked tickets to leave the day after the next. This city is easily worth a 4 – 5 day stay.
For our first day we explored the coffee house laden alleyways and salivated over the numerous deli style eateries that adorned every corner of Miraflores, all centred around the Kennedy Park (named for JFK), which itself was interesting for its churches, nightly market and colony of resident wild cats.
Our hostel was ok but it was a little out of the action so we also found ourselves a new room and were very happy with ours that looked out over the park itself and all of the action – such as a couple of car crashes and a few drunks.

For our final day on this brief visit to Lima we set about fitting as much in as we could so that we could leave knowing that we had ticked a few boxes.
We caught a bus into the ‘old city’ to take a look around the beautiful Government buildings and surrounding architecture of the Plaza De Armas and after a typical Peruvian lunch of ceviche, rice, chicken and Inca Kola we made our way to the San Francisco Monastery for a tour of the catacombs.
We had no idea that our ticket entitled us to a free guided tour of the monastery but to be honest I can see why it was free because it was the quickest I’ve ever known and we learnt nothing at all even though it was in English.
The catacombs themselves were interesting just for the fact that there were thousands of bones everywhere. I think the guide said there were close to 70,000 bodies buried here but they had been here for so long that only the skulls and larges bones such as the femur had survived and not disintegrated over the course of time.


Next on the agenda was a bus ride across town to the once bohemian but now affluent beach side area of Barranco. This is the where the rich live and spend their time and money and I must say that although it was devoid of much life and energy it was very nice.

We forgot the budget for just one hour and had a very expensive beer on the gardened terrace of a restaurant overlooking the setting sun on the Pacific Ocean before walking off into the dusk with an ice cream – we know how to live.


We returned to Miraflores for dinner that evening and reflected that we really hadn’t given ourselves enough time in this city. Whether we return one day I am not sure but I would definitely like to spend a little more time here just hanging around and watching the world go by.

However, there is no time for melancholy when your next destination is an actual real oasis in the desert!
Huaccachina is a small habitation that was built in the 1900’s for the wealthy of Peru and is set amongst the towering sand dunes of the Ica region around palm tree decorated natural oasis. It really is like something out of a book.
After a number of earthquakes the settlement fell into disrepair and was sort of abandoned until it became a haven for backpackers after some genius decided it would be perfect to allow us to drink, sandboard and take joyrides in sand buggies around the desert.
We read that many backpackers lose themselves here for a couple of weeks and as much as I wouldn’t go that far we certainly enjoyed our time here.
We did sweet FA during our first day and just circled the lake whilst eating and drinking, relaxed in the gardens of our hostel with the pet tortoise and then climbed to the top of the sand dunes that literally began at our front door to enjoy the Arabian style sunset.
In the evening we met up with Anita, a Welsh girl we had met earlier in the day and myself and AJ enjoyed our first Pisco Sour’s – a traditional Peruvian beverage.
Pisco Sour’s are dangerous! They are made of bourbon, egg whites, syrup and lime juice and they are really strong. I haven’t yet had a proper night out on them yet but I think whilst in Peru it is important to get well and truly Piscoed!

We did partake in the afternoon tour of the dunes and it was excellent fun and such a good laugh. The 2 hour tour consisted of being driven up and over the dunes in a style akin to a rollercoaster and at times you felt as though it could very well be the end as we reached the tip of the precipice and then careered down the other side.
Then on 3 separate occasions the buggy would stop at the top of a humungous dune and there we would strap ourselves into the sandboards and make our own way down to the bottom.
I have never snowboarded before so this was a new challenge for me and my success rate was about 50/50.
My first ever downhill attempt on a board was perfect ie. I didn’t fall, so I was quite happy but let’s not beat around the bush, I took a few good falls as did everybody else.
I have included a clip here of our fun that left sand in every crevice!

I got a little over confident on one run and nearing the bottom I thought that I had this boarding lark nailed until I hit a lump and completely stacked it.
I am not kidding, the way that I landed I honestly thought that I had torn my bum-hole wide open. It hurt so much that I had to just rest on all fours whilst laughing and crying at the same time. I was so convinced that I had created a new anus that I had to get some fingers down there to check for blood. Serious!
It was funny that Arancha did the exactly the same thing: bum, hole and fingers!!
There was one guy who took a really bad fall and stumbled all over the place when he regained his feet – so obviously I laughed a lot at him.
On the dunes that were far too large and steep to attempt standing we took the easier and much more fun route down by lying on the board on our fronts and shooting down like Superman.  
It was all over a little too soon but we were more than happy although a little scared of taking our next poo as we watched another perfect sunset alongside the buggy.



Not wasting any time we next found ourselves in the dusty bad lands of Nazca to see the mysterious Nazca Lines.
We were still unsure about whether we would or could afford to take a flight over the lines but as Nazca was only a short 2.5 hour bus ride from Huaccachina (a rarity) we were able to arrive in good time and work out what we would do the following morning so that we could leave that very same evening.
We had already enquired about flights in Huaccachina so we had a good idea about the different levels of plane and prices on offer so our uncertainty was diminished and we had a flight booked for 9:30am the next day after our very first travel agency enquiry!
We would be taking a 35 minute flight over 12 of the Nazca Lines in a Cesna plane that could carry 5 passengers for £60 each. Deal.
The town of Nazca itself was pleasant enough and did not feel overrun at all with tourism, which was surprising given that the lines are such a big draw.
You could still eat cheap and find lots of old men in hats dozing on a bench in the central plaza under shade of a tree hiding from the intense sun that beats down upon the town.

If there was any apprehension about flying in such a small plane in an area where the safety record was questionable, all doubts were washed away when the driver taking us the airport received a phone call and his ring tone was ‘Take My Breath Away’ made famous by the movie Top Gun. How could our safety be in doubt, I was Ice Man and Arancha was Goose. (Although Goose did die)

The Nazca Lines are believed to be around 1,500 years old and there are many hypotheses about what they symbolise and mean, such as one that declares that they were created so that their gods could see them from the sky or that they represented star constellations. The real answer is that we will never know exactly why they are there but I think that the mystery is better.
There are dozens of these pictures marked out in the desert and all sorts of conspiracy theories can be attributed to them, especially as there is one called the Astronaut! (Really it is just a human figure, that’s all).
As mentioned we would be seeing 12 of them and these included some of the most famous such as the Astronaut, the Spider, the Hummingbird and the Monkey.

In order to give everyone the best view of the lines the plane would circle over each marking twice and bank at 30 degrees on each side so that we could all see and I have to admit that after 30 minutes I was over it.
The banking was making me feel sick and the women behind breathing into a paper bag did not help and as for the lines themselves, I am really glad that we saw them, it is remarkable that they were able to mark out pictures so accurately over distances as big as 350 metres without the ability to view them from the air, but we felt that we were too high up and it is a case that now that I have seen them I will not ever return.

The time was now upon us and we were on our way to Cusco to embark upon the fabled Inca Trail to follow the route to the long sought Lost City of the Inca’s, Machu Picchu.
The bus journey from Nazca to Cusco was 15 hours overnight so we decided to travel in as much luxury and comfort as possible which meant that we would have huge comfy seats as well as personal touch screen entertainment units where we could choose to watch our own movies, read a book, play a game or listen to music.
There is no better way to travel long distance but for us it wasn’t quite so relaxing. The reason? The little boy in front of us was ill and for 15 hours we had to listen to him spew his guts up and smell the combination of vomit and loose bowels.
He might’ve only been 4 yrs old but it didn’t matter; I hated his fat little pale face with a passion! Be sick on your own time boy.



Upon arriving into Cusco I cannot tell you how nice it was to take a lung full of fresh and clean air even if we were now at 3,300 metres altitude, so there wasn’t as much oxygen as normal.

Cusco is Peru’s tourism hotspot as it lies in the middle of the sacred valley (an area completely choca-bloc with ancient Inca ruins) and is the base for numerous different activities such as trekking, mountain climbing, white water rafting, mountain biking and of course where you set off for the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu.
Now given what I have listed above I hadn’t actually read anything about the city and I expected a quaint and cute town nestled in the mountains similar to those in Nepal, so I was somewhat taken aback by the full city that lay out in front of me. At first I was a little disappointed by what I saw but by our first afternoon I was taken with the city of Cusco as much as every other of the thousands of tourists that strolled around the immaculate and clean streets of the old city.
We had arrived into Cusco earlier than planned so would have 5 days to hang around and acclimatise before leaving on the trek.
We used our first day to become acquainted with the city and to also find a nice place to stay whilst we were here. We ended up staying in the Flying Dog Hostel (as we did in Lima) and we loved it. It was in a secluded part of town and the hostel was so quiet that we felt like it was our own house and could do as we pleased.

Arancha was also very excited at the sheer number of shops and Artisan markets in the city that sold a range of Alpaca woollen goods, clothes, bags, tit and tat that the tourists lapped up.
Walking around the city the history smacked you in the face from both an Inca and colonial point of view which is a rarity as the Spanish destroyed much of the pre-colonial architecture and culture.
However, we didn’t really take in much of the history on our first day as we visited the Chocolate Museum and ate free samples as well as ordering Inca hot chocolates (which you make yourself by pouring melted chocolate, milk, honey and chilli into a mug) and devouring chocolate brownies – we were increasing our fat stores for the trek!

We decided to take part on the free walking tour of the city and I am so glad that we did because apart from getting to know the city much better we learnt so much about the Inca’s and the history of the country. The following is a combination of knowledge from the tour and our Inca Trail guide who was descended from the real people of the region, the Quechua Indians.

Firstly, it is incorrect to call the Incas the Incas because Inca means King. Apparently when the conquering Spanish first invaded all they heard were the locals repeating over and over that they must take the Spanish to the King, so over and over amongst this unknown language they heard the word ‘Inca’, hence they called the indigenous the Incas.
The Incas quite rightly didn’t believe in a God as such, they believed in Pachamama, the Mother Earth and were devoted to all things natural.
The believed that the snake represented the underworld, the puma the land and the condor the sky and that the rainbow linked everything together, which is why we could see the rainbow flag everywhere and we now knew that Peru was not one big gay party.
The Incas also used the movement of the Milky Way to determine the seasons. With the dark parts of the galaxy they were able to see the Llama, the fox and other animals and they know that once the Llama crossed below the horizon it was time for the rains to come as the Llama would drink from the earth and then cry the water out, hence the rains.
Their buildings and structures were also immense and way ahead of their time. All Inca constructions were built on angle of 75 degrees and fit so perfectly together that nothing was needed to bind the rocks like cement. Some of the rocks were cut in such a way that they contained over 24 angles to fit and lock others into place and could weigh up to 300 tonnes! The reason for all of this was that the Incas knew their land and knew how prone they were to earthquakes so built everything to withstand this – the Spanish on the other hand knew better and built everything as they did in Europe and so during every earthquake since everything has crumbled to dust and rubble.
The Inca valued the Cocoa bean and tradable goods above all else and used gold and silver purely for decoration as it held no value to them and so it is said that when the Spanish reached Cusco they removed over 3,000lbs of precious metals from one temple alone.
The city of Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire and the location of the city was chosen with much purpose. The city lies perfectly at the centre of 6 mountains that are worshipped as deities and the givers of life and quite rightly so as the Incas knew the mountains were so high that they held snow and glaciers which obviously would melt and release water down into the valley and hence enable life to thrive.
The city itself was also built in the shape of the puma and within the walls of the temples you can make out the shape of the revered animals created from the shapes of the rocks.
All in all, these people were doing everything right and living very much in peace and prosperity before the Spanish came. (Once they themselves had conquered the surrounding tribes and forced everyone to live under their rule – still they did ensure that everyone was fed and clothed and lived in a sort of Socialist culture)
It is actually quite upsetting to imagine how the central plaza of Cusco would’ve looked before, with its magnificent temples and what amazing sights we would have seen if traveling through South America now if it hadn’t suffered the colonisation of the Spanish.
I think it is even worse to imagine what happened to the people and how they felt when the Spanish forced the Catholic religion on them and claimed to be saving their souls! And how did they force their god upon the people? They built churches and cathedrals directly over the top of the temples so that the indigenous had nowhere to go and no reminders of whom they really were.
The Incas also did not have paper and pen so there is no written account of their lives and times and all that we know now is what has been passed down through word of mouth and speculation.
Once again, those few greedy men who invented god and Christianity / Catholicism in order to rule over masses have a lot to answer for.
However, I am from England, we aren’t exactly innocent ourselves are we!!


On the side, there are some funny things here, such as a Willy Market and Fanny Tuna in a tin. Yummy!



So back to the tour.
We walked around the central plaza and learnt some of the history, such as the Spanish removed over 3,000lbs of gold and silver from one temple alone, we ventured down alleyways where more hidden relics of a bygone era remained, we explored the artistic San Blas area with its many artists and musicians, one who played us a number of handmade traditional Peruvian instruments and of course we had some panpipe music.
We also did some food tasting and it was really nice to try that typical Peruvian dish called Sushi! Not sure why we were eating Japanese but it was good and finishing up in the Chocolate Museum was obviously no hardship.

Whilst in Cusco we ran into Anita from Huaccachina and also Maya and Evelin, the Bulgarian couple we met a couple of weeks before in Trujillo who have become good friends.

We did some other sightseeing things in Cusco by visiting Cristo Blanco, a much smaller and less impressive version of Christ the Redeemer in Rio, solely for the views out across the city down below. Also in that area was the Inca fort of Salcantay which had the added bonus of both wild llama and alpaca that requested no fee for a photo like their owners did down in the city.
The Temple of the Sun was also worth a visit and it was interesting to see the original Inca temple with the newer Cathedral built around and above it.
We found ourselves at a loose end on one particular day so we decided to do an open top bus tour around the city and if I was bored before it I was definitely bored during it as we visited every single site that we had already seen in the previous days. Yawn!

The day before we left for the trek was 31st October; Halloween. Now I know Halloween is massive in the US and quite big in the UK but never did I think it would be as big as it was in Peru. The centre of the city was awash with opportunists selling outfits for the many parties taking place that evening and the amount of little kids walking around with their parents dressed up as all manner of ghoulish and fantasy characters was bonkers.
The kids must love it here because they don’t trick or treat around houses like we did, they do it in the thousands of restaurants and cafes who literally chuck handfuls of sweets at them.

And so after having to book our place 3 months in advance due to the enormous popularity of the Inca Trail the time was upon us. Machu Picchu is one of those must see’s and first caught my attention in primary school and now it was only a 45 kilometre trek away.
I was a little apprehensive about the trek before we left as we are very much used to doing it on our own but in this case you had to trek with a guide and group and how special could it be when the trail is limited to 500 people per day!! (This includes the guides and porters so equates to about 250 tourists)
The answer thankfully is that the huge amount of people in no way diminished the thrill and enjoyment of making the pilgrimage to the lost city – although it really helped that we had a great group of people who were, a) all quite fit, and b) not old and in need of taking it one step at a time; thank f*ck.

We were picked up at 5:30am from our hostel and began the 3 hour journey to the start point. It all appeared to be going to plan when the guide threw his hands up in dismay at realising that he had picked up the wrong person at one of the hostels and that we had a German lad instead of a Danish girl – I know it is an easy mistake to make!
The problem was solved by dumping the lad at the restaurant stop for him to meet his real group and getting a taxi to collect Celine and drop her at the start point where we were waiting.
As mentioned we had a really good group and it was in part because of these guys that our trip was so memorable.
We were a group of 9 and just like the 3 bears it was not too big and not too small, it was just right.
There was an Englishman (me), an Aussie (AJ), 2 Frenchmen, 2 Danes, 2 Swedish and an American and everybody had something interesting to offer the group in terms of information and stories and we all got on really well as a group of friends.


Our guides were the very knowledgeable Saul, a direct descendent of the people of the mountains we were to trek through and Lucieta, one of the only female guides in a much male dominated world of trekking.

We also can’t forget the porters and chef who would do us the great service of setting up and dismantling camp for us each day as well as cooking us 3 meals and providing us snacks so that we never went hungry or thirsty.
For us this was a very welcome and different experience from what we are used to. Seriously, who expects to be woken up each morning with a knock on the tent door and a serving of fresh tea to help us to wake up.
At lunch time they would even construct a meal tent with a table to sit 11 people and take it down again to move onto camp.
All the meals were great as well and consisted of soup for starters and then a wide range of dishes to fill ourselves up on before tea and then bed.

The trek itself is described as 4 days and 3 nights but in all honesty it only consists of about 16 hours walking, if you are not old, fat or slow.
There are many theories as to what purpose Machu Picchu was built for and served, such as the last Inca stronghold as they fled the invading Spanish but from the work completed by Hiram Bingham (the guy who discovered it; only in 1911!) it is pretty much agreed that this city built in this most secluded spot in Peru was actually the summer residence of the King and the Inca Trail that we all follow is the actual same path those Inca’s took over 600 years ago from Cusco – we were actually stepping on the same stones that they laid!
The walk takes you through cloud forests, over rushing rivers, up, into and over the mountains, the highest pass being at 4,200 metres, which is a personal altitude record for many on the trek and so quite a big deal, and passed many a beautiful view.
What surprised me most about the walk though was the amount of Inca ruins we would see and visit – this was not just a walk this was an educational trip and you couldn’t help but be enthralled by the ruins built into the sides of or at the top of the mountains as we sat there and listened to Saul go all misty eyed as he recounted the laws and beliefs of his people and the tales of his grandfather.


As much as the weather wasn’t always perfect and sometimes it was completely sh*t, you couldn’t help but be taken by the thick mist that would part to reveal a long lost Inca site or hidden mountain which was both spooky and exhilarating. No wonder Machu Picchu lay undiscovered until 1911!!
The trip was actually a very spiritual one and we were encouraged to participate in the traditions of the Quechua Indians and make prayers to Pachamama (Mother Earth) by spilling some of our Chicha (Peruvian mountain booze) on the earth before drinking or by taking a handful of coca leaves and blowing through them and whispering to the mountains for safe passage before chewing on them for energy. It was just all f*cking awesome and really special.

As much as we tried not to let it affect us, it did. I am talking about the people! Seriously, we hate people, it is a real problem and maybe a disease.
When you carry your own stuff as we all did you get a little snobby and righteous about those who pay for a porter to carry their belongings and only carry a day bag or nothing at all. I personally think that part of the challenge and part of the mission is about getting their on your own and under your own power. Like Clement, one of the French guys pointed out, taking oxygen to conquer Everest is cheating because the whole idea is that you push yourself to achieve what is difficult. If there were normal levels of oxygen at the peak of Everest then where is the challenge? It is the same as walking up a hill at sea level.
Now, this was no Everest but if you are only carrying a little bag and nothing at all do not block the steps and get in my way as I am climbing; I have a big bag and I am not afraid to use it!
Also there is absolutely no place on a mountain for men to trek in jeans, a shirt and a jumper tied around their shoulders. Some people dressed as though they had just decided on a whim the day before the make the trek, not booked it at least 3 months in advance, like the 3 Emo’s walking in Doc Martins!!
But saying all of this, we were fast enough to rid ourselves of the masses and enjoy the trail pretty much to ourselves.
I must also thank Mayanne, the American, for having a birthday on the first night of the trek so that we got to enjoy cake on 2 of the 3 nights along with the ‘Goodbye’ cake that served as a bribe to give the porters a tip.



Before we knew it we had reached the final day, the day we would climb around the back of Machu Picchu Mountain before coming up to the entrance to the mountain bowl that hid the city for so long and take our first glimpse of the legend from high above. In order to do all of this we needed to be rudely awoken at 3:30am (of course with a cup of tea) so that we could get packed and then make our way to the entrance gate to the mountain where we could happily stand in line for another 90 minutes until they opened the gate and we could proceed – what a crap process. What made all of this much worse and uncomfortable was that it was absolutely p*ssing it down. We are not talking a light drizzle here, it was raining Llamas and Alpacas.
Finally the gate was open and of the 200 odd tourists waiting in a nice orderly queue at the gate our group was in second place and soon would take the lead to be first to take in that mythical view.
The last task that lay between us and the top was a staircase known as ‘Gringo Killing’ because it is a staircase climbing 30 metres up at an angle of about 75 degrees and it finishes off most of the whiteys. The best way to conquer these steps is to start, ignore the build-up of lactic acid in the legs and not stop until you reach the top completely out of breath. As we were the first group we had a free rein as to the route we took up but given how many oldies, fatties and walking sticks were on the trail I can’t imagine what the traffic line would’ve been like once the majority of the groups reached this point.

From here it was now only a 200 metre walk around a corner to the Sun Gate, the gate into the city limits if you will.
I was building myself up for an emotional moment, so let’s get it into perspective.
Machu Picchu lay undiscovered from the world for over 400 years once the Incas abandoned the city for their last stronghold in the 1500’s. The Spanish had heard of a lost city and it went by names such as El Dorado, the Lost City of Gold etc but they could never locate it. It wasn’t until Hiram Bingham in July of 1911, on an archaeological trek combined with a mountain climbing mission (he wanted to make his name and become famous) came across the jungle covered ruins that were now inhabited by local farmers; although he still didn’t realise what he had found until a year later because he was busy doing other things!
The reason it lay hidden for so long was due to its location. Machu Picchu sits high upon a mountain in the middle of a green, forested Karst rock mountain bowl that rises vertically straight up from the white water rapids of the Urubamba River 800 metres below. Before the 1900’s the only to get to this region would be to fight your way through dense forest along hostile and precipitous mountain paths that were long ago swallowed up by the jungle.
A railroad was built by the Peruvians in the 1900’s to the region below the city but they were never aware of what lay above them because it was so high up and out of view.
It really was a lost city, unknown to the world apart from a few farmers who were living in a small part of the ruins.

Well from the Sun Gate we would enter the area from a high point where our view would be out across this bowl and down to the city clinging precariously to the mountain side in the first rays of morning sunlight.
As we rounded the corner we held our breaths for this defining moment but the collective sigh was not one of awe, it was of dismay. The rain may have stopped but the mist it had created left a view of completely nothing! Nothing!!
We all looked at each with no words and it was either a case of laugh or cry. We had no option but to laugh when our guide told us to “use our imagination”.
He did assure us that it would clear as the sun warmed up so we made our way down the path to the city that lay a few hundred metres below. Along the way we stopped for a history lesson at White Rock, the largest rock in the area and a place where ancient mummies were found by Bingham.
A couple of hours in we reached the spot where you see most people’s pictures of MP and each group was then expected to stand with happy faces as we took snaps of absolutely f*ck all.
I was getting a little annoyed now because there really was no need to take pictures of this not so happy moment and as I looked around there were a number of trekkers in floods of tears – this was maybe their life defining moment, something they had worked towards and it was all for nothing.
Admittedly the mist cleared in small but all too brief patches but it wasn’t to be the glorious moment we had envisioned.
You can see what I mean in the pictures below.



However, by the time we had puts our bags into storage and taken a toilet break the mist had cleared and we were able to bask in what was a truly remarkable place. The trip included a 2 hour guided tour of the city and combined with the now clear blue skies and one of the most breath-taking mountainous settings we have seen we were all smiles once again. 
We spent a good few hours at MP but soon the amount of day tourists entering the site made it completely unbearable and we needed to get out of there. Taking in such a place when there are just a few hundred people, the place being big enough to disguise the number is fine but once you reach a few thousand and you are queuing on the stairwells just to get up and down it is not so special and frankly ruins the whole experience.

Our answer to this was to the exit the city and head down to the horrendous town of Aguas Caliente, built solely to accommodate tourists to MP, so it tacky and over-priced.
We had to wait until 6:45pm for our train and bus ride back to Cusco so we decided to take a break in the hot springs that apart from having a group of local men lustily looking at Arancha’s boobs, the water also smelled like these guys and every local before them had taken a p*ss in there.

Eventually it was time to leave and head back to Cusco and the luxury of a bed and 20 hours after getting up we achieved this and arrived back at the hostel.
We decided to stay for a couple more nights before moving on to new adventures and we happily milled about and bought some Xmas presents for home as well as meeting up with friends for a couple of beers.

So that is where I leave this post. We made it to probably South America’s most famous location and although it didn’t quite go to plan it was still a magical place to see and to visit.
Will I ever go again? I am not sure but if I do I hope I want to be rich enough to request a private viewing so that I don’t have to share such a place with the camera happy Japanese and masses on Europeans that do not seem to have learnt how to do really basic things such as say “Please” or “Thank you”.
I have just Googled ‘a hatred people’ and we are now self-diagnosed as suffering from Misanthrope.
Bye, people I hate!