Hello Peru! (Puno, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu)
9.10.14 -Up early with the new group for our journey to Peru! Javier forewarned us that he would have to distance himself from us when we were at the border control from Bolivia into Peru, again for reasons of them always questioning what they believe are guides taking their countryfolks jobs. Well as soon as we arrived at the ferry port to take us across the lake Javier well and truly disappeared, we didn't see him again until we were past Peru border control! We nicknamed him the 'Ninja' lol.......we all made sure we stayed together as a group to ensure we all got through ok...it was a breeze!, a very warm welcome to Peru! Javier is from Cusco in Peru, so as soon as we were all safely in his country he took great delight in welcoming us, he (and so obviously everyone in Peru) is very proud of his country and how they working hard to develop it, and proud they should all be! We jumped on the bus and arrived in a short while in Copacabana (renditions ala Barry Manilow ensued, even though it wasn't that Copacabana! - still it has a nice beach though!) we had an hour stopover before boarding another bus to Puno, so a few of us piled into a cute coffee shop where the hippie looking guy was making fresh pizzas. I just had a coffee, but the pizzas did look and smell very good. When we reached Puno, we checked into the Helena Inn. I was in a room on the 3rd floor and with the high altitude it took me all my huff and puff to get up the stairs with my luggage. Eugene came to my aid, as he did quite a few times during the tour, he is a true gentleman! Javier then took us on an orientation/walking tour. It is a quaint little town on the shores of Lake Titicaca with a very pleasant main street full of little shops, cafes and restaurants. We went for dinner in a lovely restaurant. We sat next to an American couple who were really lovely and they recommended a few dishes on the menu, as they had eaten there alot. I went for the Lomo Saltado (a peruvian dish) which is like a beef stew, it came with mashed potatoes and veg, it was a definite comfort dish and reminded me of winter back home. They were doing a 2 for 1 on drinks, so the red wine flowed! Then we discovered that it was Eric's birthday and Javier had arranged for a birthday cake, brilliant, he hadn't mentioned it at all, and he was so taken aback, Javier had obviously done it on the quiet having seen his passport details, this was one of many occasions of Javier showing what a truely lovely guy he is! He was always true to his motto which he said many a time to many requests, 'Anything is possible!'....as it was Eric's birthday we all went to the nearest bar afterwards and celebrated (not that we needed an excuse!).
10 & 11.10.14 - Today is our trip on Lake Titicaca and our homestay tonight with a family on one of the islands. I was really looking forward to it, some of the others were nervous, as they had heard how awkward it could be, because of the language barrier. The thought of that didn't bother me, hand gestures and lots of pointing had worked so far! (as well as having picked up a tinsy winsy (pocito) bit of the Espanol!) Unfortunately, both Emma and Magda were poorly so didn't come with us, Javier took care of everything and arranged for them to stay over at the hotel. The rest of us checked out, leaving our large luggage at the hotel and taking our day packs only. We took cycle tuk tuks down to the port, Kelsey and I shared one, and it was such fun. Our driver and another had a race at one point! We stopped at the market before boarding the boat to buy food for the families we were going to be staying with, as a gift. We then boarded our boat and set off across Lake Titicaca. I sat at the back of the boat, enjoying the wind blowing in my hair, whilst a few others started a game of cards. Soon we arrived at the reed islands of the Eros people, yes, they live on floating reed islands! It is fascinating and an experience to walk on! What lovely welcoming people! We sat for a while learning all about how the reed islands are made and maintained and how they live, their history/culture, etc. One lady showed me her hut....it had a mattress in it and that was about it!, but lovely how they hung colourful tapestries on the walls and had colourful bedspreads, etc. After a walk around and taking photos we had a sail out on one of their reed boats, we we learnt takes around 3 months to build, they are solid! The men build them but it's the women that paddle them. Some of the guys had a go with the big paddles, it was am laugh! The women thought it was funny too, but I think they really appreciated everyone taking an interest. After this, we set off in our boat again to Taquile Island. Here we climbed to the top of the island to have lunch, the views were breathtaking! I had to take the climb really slowly, the altitude was really making me short of breath, Herbert was a true gent and waited for me and climbed at my pace. I know I was the eldest in the group, but I did feel a right oldie, having taken the longest, but then Javier assured me that effects of altitude have nothing to do with age, fitness, etc, so to just go at my own pace....he said he's known 20 year olds really struggling! I felt better after learning that (BTW Google have confirmed this, as I looked it up in case Javier was just being nice! lol).....after lunch we walked the rest of the island and down again to the boat (much easier going down! lol) on the way I passed a gate with funny looking hinges, I looked closer and realised they were made out of flip flops! Genius! These people waste nothing! Once back on the boat most of us had a ickle siesta on the way to Luquina Island for our homestay experience! Again, once there we had a climb and Herbert, Eugene and Javier helped me carry my bags and walked at my pace (can't say enough what lovely, true gents these guys are). We made our way to the islands football pitch and we had a game with the islanders (mostly children) wow, some of them knew how to play! Future football players me thinks! After that we met our families and they dressed us in their traditional costumes and we danced with them as the sun set (something else to make me out of breath!) It was such good fun and we all had such a laugh with each other. It was now dark and time to retreat to our respective families homes. Lucky me, we had another climb a bit further up the island! Romi and I were placed together with Lorenzo and Irina and their children Laura and Christian. Irina had made us a lovely dinner of potatoes, vegetables and a type of cheese which is very much like houloumi but is different (I can't remember the name!) and had made us Chicha, a Peruvian red grape drink, which I really like and apparently it is a natural antioxidant. Irina was over the moon with our food gifts, and straight away gave her children the oranges we had bought. They truly tucked into them! I felt a bit awkward as they didn't sit down to eat with us, and I hoped that didn't mean they had gone without in order to feed us, but then they did eat but sat crouched at the side of their open fire which served as the means of heat and cooking. We managed to converse with our limited Spanish and hand gestures. Straight after dinner it was to bed, even though it was only 7.30pm, but they get up at 4am, so this was normal for them and I guess there's not much to do once the sun goes down. Our light was via candles and from the fire and Lorenzo escorted us to our room for the night and lit the candle in there for us. The room was very clean, and the bathroom/toilet was just next door. There was a flushing toilet and proper sink, I wasn't expecting that, so we were both pleasantly surprised. We slept soundly until around 4am when the donkey started! and then the cockerel! We snoozed for a few hours longer and Laura knocked for us around 7.30am for breakfast at 8am. Lorenzo and Irina were obviously off doing their daily chores, as they had left Laura and Christian to have breakfast with us. Laura is 8 and Christian is 5, and what a cheeky little monkey he is! We had fun at breakfast, they really made us laugh and we got to meet their chicken! OMG! This chicken is hilarious! It came into the house and proceeded to eat whatever crumbs, etc were on the floor, then it hopped up on to the shelves, so Laura shooed it out, well what happened next was just hilarious, it was like something out of a comedy sketch! No word of a lie, this chicken slowly peeped it's head round the door and when it noticed that Laura wasn't looking it ran in again and ate what it could at break neck speed!....Laura turned round, noticed it and a comedy chase ensued! I wish I had filmed it! I couldn't stop laughing and as I'm typing this now the memory of the expression on that chicken's face is making me chuckle! After breakfast we went and sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful view. Then I helped Laura and Christian with getting the sheep out of their pen and out to graze and in the process stepped in a load of cow poop! The cow's expression was pure comedy too, these guys should have their own show! Once the sheep were peacefully grazing, I then helped Laura untangle a load of rope, then we peeled a load of potatoes, then we finished off by weeding and digging over their vegetable patch. All of a sudden it was 11.30am and Irina was calling us in for an early lunch. Both Romi and I were still stuffed from breakfast, but didn't want to appear rude, it was like the Vicar of Dibley eating all those Christmas lunches! After lunch we said our goodbyes and walked back down to the boat and all the families came to wave us off. We then set off for our 3 hour journey back to Puno. After time for a shower and rest we went out to a restaurant for dinner and a dance show. Their costumes were beautiful and we think one of the male dancers was drunk lol!
12.10.14 - Got up early for our 7 hour bus journey to Cusco. Javier was excited at the prospect of showing us his home town and I was looking forward to seeing it at last. We arrived and checked in to Hostal Pascana, I had a fab room with a TV that had English speaking channels! woo hoo! and a double bed with a quilt! RESULT! Javier took us on a walking tour of Cusco (showing off lol) and we had a late lunch/early dinner at a fab restaurant called Numa Raymi. The food was excellent and presented beautifully! In the Plaza de Armas (main square) there was a procession of bands going on, looked like some sort of competition between schools, associations, etc. as they had someone at the front of each band with a flag. We then discovered that Mairead, Arge and Celia were in town overnight, so we all met up at Norton's Bar. Mairead and I drank Cosmopolitan cocktails all night and later on Eugene got the Flaming Shots going! All in all it was a fab impromptu night of fun and laughter, which ended up in us being in McDonald's of all places (probably because it was the only place open at 3am!) where Eugene bought everyone burgers! We ate them staggering back to the hostal. Arge and Celia were off on their trip to the jungle at 4am, goodness knows how they did it!....
13.10.14 - Slightly hungover but felt surprisingly ok! and still made it down for breakfast! Javier took us on a tour of the local market. Graham Day would have a fit over their food safety! Raw meat next to cooked meat, no real refrigeration! Pig's heads, trotters, intestines, you name it a part of an animal was there, including testicles! The fruit and veg stands were a pretty, colourful sight. Javier bought some fruit that is a little like passion fruit, for us all to try, You just cut the top off and suck the insides out, not peel it like I started to do! Then he bought some bread for us all to try too. At the top end of the market are all the clothes, souvenir stalls, which I loved walking around! After this we made our way to Jack's Cafe for lunch. This cafe is renowned with travellers and I can see why. Food is fab, service quick, friendly and efficient, they always have a queue of people waiting for a table! I wasn't that hungry so opted for fruit and yoghurt, wow it was huge! I couldn't eat it all! We then had free time to explore ourselves and Javier left us to fend for ourselves for dinner, whilst he nippéd home. It was strange having to find/decide where to eat, after having had everything arranged thus far, so it took us a while to pick a local steak house (the typical no one takes the lead until the last moment situation lol!)
14.10.14 - Had a free morning so explored on my own. Did lots of people watching, saw a children's procession in the main square and found a cute coffee shop, where I had a lovely coffee and slice of lemon cheesecake. Ended up back at Jack's Cafe for lunch and shared a table with 2 girls who were hungover and starving! Later on we all got ready for the bus to Ollantaytambo, everyone was getting nervous about their treks to Machu Picchu. I had opted not to do one of the treks but to stay in Cusco longer and meet everyone a few days later in Machu Picchu, but I was going with them to Ollantaytambo. It was a nice bus ride, with some stops to take in the breathtaking views of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. We arrived and checked in to Hostal Orquideas (Orchid). I couldn't get the key to work in my room door, Javier tried and couldn't open it either (after having done the 'I'm a man I'll be able to open it act! lol), then the owner opened it first time! I wasn't convinced so I immediately shut it again and asked her to try it again, this time she couldn't open it either! So she gave me another room, which was lovely! (all meant to be me thinks!) Javier then showed us around the very small town and we climbed up a mountain for the gorgeous views, we were at a slightly lower altitude now so I coped better! After the climb we went to see a traditional local home. It is normal for a family to have loads of guinea pigs, but wow, there were about 40 of them, some of which were trying to make a run for it! Think they knew they were destined for the pot! Guinea pig dinner is like a Sunday roast for us! All I could think of was our old guinea pig pet 'GP'! (imaginative name eh! lol) After this we headed for some shops so the guys starting their treks in the morning could buy last minute supplies. I ended up buying a bag and a waterproof poncho. Romi fell into a hole in the street, but she was ok, thank goodness, not good when starting a trek the next day!, so she bought a knee support, just in case! Mike wasn't feeling very well and was contemplating not going on the trek and coming back with me to Cusco instead. He made the decision not to go in the end, so Javier set about sorting his train ticket out to Machu Picchu, etc. Once back at Hostal Orquideas I sat in the garden with Javier, Eugene, Eric, Herbert, Magda and Emma and we drank the Eugene whisky Eugene had bought, I mixed mine with Sprite, it was yummy! I said night night to those who would be leaving at 5am for their treks.
15.10.14 - Woke up, had breakfast and then climbed the Incan ruin before setting off back to Cusco with Javier and now Mike and Percy our tour guide for the next few days and Wiki our driver. I hadn't been expecting an organised tour over the next few days, so that was a pleasant surprise and even better now I had Mike to share it with! Mike was still feeling under the weather but well enough to still participate, which for me was lovely! He was also feeling better now he'd made the decision not to go on the trek, I think the thought of struggling through it had been making him feel worse. On the way back to Cusco we stopped at two sites, first was Maras - Moray an Incan site that was just breathtaking, lots of circular constructions, which looked like amphitheatres, we then went to the natural salt flats. Boy, the view down to them was stunning, we had to drive such a long way down to get to them. It was refreshing to learn that locals own these salt flats rather than a large corporation. We tasted the natural salt water that forms the salt flats and walked around them. The whiteness was blinding! Mike and I had an afternoon siesta when we got back to Hostal Pascana in Cusco, then we headed out for dinner together. We decided to go back to Nuna Raymi and both had the dish Ali de Gallina, which is a bit like a chicken korma. We had a lovely natter over dinner, learning more about each other and our families. It was a lovely evening and it was nice to see him looking better. Jemma (Mike's girlfriend) had asked me to look after him (bless), but he seemed to be doing just fine.
16.10.14 - there must have been something in that Ali de Gallina that didn't agree with me, as I was to and fro from the bathroom all night! Despite this though, I got myself together, downed some Imodium and still went on our morning tour which started at 8am. We went to Saqsayhuaman (pronounced Sexy Woman lol) Q'engo and Koricancha - all Incan sites. The stones at Saqsayhuaman are mahoosive! It's mind boggling to think how on earth the Incans moved such large heavy stones and the craftsmenship in building structures with them with such precision and not using any cement! We got back to the hostal about 12pm and I slept the rest of the day after having had no sleep the night before! Consequently didn't go out for dinner, I wasn't hungry so Mike grabbed some bits from the local shop and went to bed early too.
17.10.14 - Early (5.30am) start to get to Agua Calientes for Machu Picchu tomorrow!! EXCITED.COM!! We took a bus back to Ollantaytambo, then got the train there to Aguas Calientes, which is the small town at the foot of Machu Picchu. There are no roads into here at all, only the train track. The train took about 3 hours, I sat next to Javier who explained alot on the journey about the landscape, etc. We sat opposite an American couple who were on another tour, and they were very thankful to Javier for his explanations. He explained that the Eucalyptus trees had been brought in from Australia as the trunks are so straight and strong, so they could grow them and use them for train track sleepers. We arrived and checked into our hotel and went for a walk round with Javier. I'd been led to believe that this little town was a bit of a dump, but that's not what I found at all! It's quite quaint! Had a look around the market and then the heavens opened! Oh no, please don't be like this tomorrow!! Those that had done the Lares Trek (there are a few different treks you can do through the Sacred Valley, it's not just the Inca Trail) arrived at the hotel at 5pm. There were hugs all round, I felt so proud of what they had achieved!, then they all disappeared for well earnt showers! Mairead had been on the Lares Trek too, so I would be seeing her tomorrow at Machu Picchu! Hurrah!!! Mike realised that he didn't have his passport (which you need to get into Machu Picchu) so he was hoping that Jemma had it with her. Turns out she didn't have it, it was in the safe back at the hostal in Cusco!!!! Lots of panic and a not very happy Jemma (she had told Mike to remember to get it out the safe - he hadn't remembered any of it!) We went for dinner (sadly not with Mairead's group too :( ) then it was off to bed for our early start tomorrow! EEK! Fingers crossed a photocopy of Mike's passport, which Javier had, would suffice!
18.10.14 - OMG! PACHAMAMA! I can't believe I am actually going to Machu Picchu! We started queuing for a bus to take us up the mountain at 6am, met Mairead in the queue and had a reunited hug, by 6.45am we were there! I was so excited on the bus journey up. It was misty and drizzly, but somehow I just knew it would clear....my heart was pounding as we went through ticket control (Mike got in just fine phew!) then as it was raining our guide took us into a little stone hut for shelter. I just wanted to get on with wandering around by myself but we had this 1.5 hour guided tour first. I was itching to just slope off all through the tour! Strangely, I just felt like I knew where I was going, so just let me go!!!!! but I didn't want to be rude! Well, my first sight of Machu Picchu brought a lump to my throat! Wow, Wow, Wow!!! I felt like I was home! The guided tour couldn't end quick enough for me, then Mairead and I wandered off on our own, strangely in the opposite direction to everyone else. We just instinctively knew to not go with the crowds and boy was that the best decision we made that day! We had a fab time wandering around, taking in the total amazement of this beautiful, serene place! We sat down at one point to have a peaceful moment. Mairead patiently peeled an orange where at the very last moment, just as she was about to savour it, she dropped it and it went bouncing down the mountainside....we both instinctively moved to try and save it, but knew we would go over after it, so all we could do was watch it! Lol.....then an Isreali guy chatted to us for a while (he was a bit of a player!) so we eventually vacated his company! We also met a New Zealand guy who turns out was a psychiatric nurse, same as Mairead, he was a nice guy and we chatted for a while. After about 4 hours we decided to get a bus back down (Javier had asked we get no later than the 12pm bus anyway). On the journey back down I got very emotional and after speaking to Mairead afterwards she had too (we couldn't sit together on the bus). I will never be able to totally put into words my feelings of seeing and being at Machu Picchu, but I definitely felt like I had been there before and could picture in my mind what the ruined buildings once looked like! I felt I had come home!...... Once back in Aguas Calientes had a wander around, bought some ickle Inca hats which you can put on top of bottles, had an iced coffee at a cafe, then met up with our respective groups for lunch. I hadn't seen the guys who had done the Inca Trail up at Machu Picchu (they arrived there through the Sun Gate at about 7.30am) so it was nice to see them and hear about their experiences. They were shattered though and couldn't wait to get back to Cusco! We all had lunch and then headed to the train for our return journey to Cusco. On the journey back Eugene offered to go and buy everyone take out chicken for dinner. We all met up in the lobby later on.....one hour later still no Eugene or chicken!.......we were just deciding to leave him a message and go out, when he turned up! Fortunately, he did have some chicken and chips with him, but because there had been a non committal response on the journey back to his kind offer, he wasn't sure if it's what everyone had wanted to do! Crossed wires! Everyone was tired, so it wasn't long before we all trapsed up to bed, not having met up with Mairead, Arge and Celia (who were back in town) for drinks after all, our eyes just wouldn't stay open a moment longer! What a fab-u-lous day! I will never ever forget it, I can now die happy!! A feeling of complete satisfaction has washed over me!