I left Copacabana early on the 13th April and despite the Puruvian border official doing his best not to let me in, was soon in Peru and on my way to Arequipa. Switched buses in Puno, and on the second bus I spotted Dennis, a Swiss dude who was in my group hurtling down Death Road. We were both heading to Colca Canyon and both wanted to avoid getting on an organised tour, so we started formulating a plan how we could go off on our own and trek independently.
We arrived at Arequipa bus station about 7 or 8pm and discovered the earliest bus bound for the canyon was around 1am. So we headed into town for some food and our first encounter with urban Peru. Signs of the country being more affluent than neighbouring Bolivia were immediately obvious - better cars, modern shops, more Westernised people etc. After dinner we grabbed a couple of hours sleep roughing it on the floor of noisy the bus terminal, then boarded the twilight bus to Cabanaconde.
Stepped off the bus at Cabanaconde around 6am on a cold and crisp morning, the sun just rising into the clear blue skies. Later a lot more tourists would arrive, but for the first hour or so Dennis, me and a handful of others had this epic place to ourselves, looking out over the second deepest canyon in the world (deeper than the Grand Canyon and second only to a nearby canyon in Peru). As the sun started to heat the canyon - creating the rising thermal currents that they utilise - giant 3-metre wing-spanned condors started appearing, gliding over the canyon looking for prey and providing the gathered tourists some great photo opportunities.
We spent the next two days trekking through the canyon, down one side and up the other where we stayed in a quiet, basic hillside village for the first night with a friendly local family. The second day we walked back to the bottom of the canyon where we spent a few hours relaxing in an oasis, before trekking back up the steep canyon to Cabanaconde. The scenery was pretty incredible, and changeable depending on what height we were at. Much of it was dusty, rocky and desert like, whilst some of it was lush and green, almost as though we were walking through the shire in Lord of the Rings. The sense of adventure was high, just as us two, a few rations and a lot of water, trekking off our own with no other tourists or a guide into this rugged scenery in the unforgiving heat.
After a couple of nights at the canyon it was back to Arequipa on Friday 16th, excited about Friday night on the town! The bus trip was memorable - for the first hour or two it followed the vast canyon and the views made for perhaps my most spectacular bus ride of my trip (yes, there's been a few!), and also the chaos created by all the locals crammed in there, jabbering away. On arrival in Arequipa we jumped in a cab and asked him to take us to a cheap hostel, whereby we were dropped at 'Tourist Place' - a basic place but with far more character than the name suggests - full of South American guitar and bongo players, plus a load of rastas, creating a great soundtrack for a few days.
That evening we drank at the hostel with a few South American dudes, me chatting in as much Spanish as I could. Once my Spanish was exhausted we headed out into town, spending most of the night in a club called Déjà Vu. It was an awesome club, a band playing early-on downstairs before a DJ came on playing a mixture of music, and upstairs DJs spun underground electronic music. The setting for upstairs was immense - much of it open air so you could see the ornate sandstone church in the background, you could look up at the starry sky above, and to cap it off there was an open fire burning. The night was made even better by meeting a pretty local girl - Cynthia - who I spent the next few days with.
The following day Cynthia and I went to a lookout point on the edge of the city to see dormant volcano Mount Misti towering over the Arequipa. Cynthia, Dennis, Alexandra (a girl he'd met the night before) and I went out for a meal that night, witnessed a bloody fight in a local bar, then ended up back in Déjà Vu. It had to be! Nursing a bit of a hangover on the Sunday, Dennis and I headed off to a chaotic local swimming pool, then I met up with Cynthia for dinner before boarding the overnight bus to Cusco.
Arrived in Cusco, the heart of the old Inca empire, early on Monday 19th. The overnight bus cost me £4 and it cost the Dutchmen next to me £40 each - they got stung! Headed straight for Pirawana hostel in the centre of town where I dumped my bag then set off on the local bus for the Sacred Valley, a valley about an hour from Cusco with a number of villages and towns dating back to Inca times, together with a load of Inca ruins. First up I visited the small town of Pizaq, from where I climbed into the hills for about an hour to an old Inca fort. Found a few walls and buildings and I thought was it, then I climbed a small hill behind it to reveal more and more ruins. It's a testament to the durability of Inca design and construction that the ruins were still in such good condition. After Pizaq I made my way to Ollantaytambo about an hour away, a charming town of narrow cobbled streets and waterways that have been in continuous use for the last 700 hundred years. With the sun rapidly going down and the sites about to shut, I did a quick trip round the two sets of ruins on either side of the town before the clock ticked round to 6pm and I got chucked out.
The following morning, as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and stepped out of my dorm for breakfast, I found Dennis - who'd just got into town from Arequipa - waiting for me. Over breakfast we decided to hit the ruins on the outskirts of town; Tabomachay, Puka Pukara, Q'enqo and Saqsaywaman. We took a bus to the furthest site, about 8km from town, then walked back to town via the others. The last and most impressive was Saqsaywaman, which we entered after a game of football with some local lads outside - high-altitude football matches are hard work! Saqsaywaman looked awesome as the sun set over it, it's a massive site and incredible when you read that what you see is only 20% of the original site after the Spanish destroyed and plundered the other 80% and used the stone to make their own buildings elsewhere. Travelling through South America you here endless stories of the destruction and desecration the Spaniards caused in their conquest of the continent, although I suppose we the British behaved similarly elsewhere.
Trekked the famous Inca Trail from Weds 21st - Sat 24th April. Weather was good and the scenery was pretty special, although after seven months on the road and an epic trek in Nepal already under my belt perhaps I wasn't struck by it as much as the others in my group. The trek was strenuous in parts, but overall pretty comfortable compared to ones I'd done previously. What makes the Inca Trail different from other treks is the old Inca ruins you pass and explore en route, our guide Casiano was clearly very passionate about the Inca culture and his explanations and information really brought the trail to life. The trek culminated in the visit to legendary Machu Pichu on the fourth day - shrouded in mist and cloud as we stood above it at the Sun Gate, but this lifted as we climbed down into the site itself. We had a tour round the Sun Temple, Sacrifical area, astrology area etc…fascinating stuff. After the tour a few yanks in my group and I climbed a further hour up Wanapichu, for better views down over Machu Pichu.
Return to Cusco…
Made it back to Cusco very late on Sat 24th April, about 1am. But after sleeping a bit on the journey back I was a bit refreshed and excited to see Cynthia, who I spoke to earlier in the day and found out she had caught the bus from Arequipa to Cusco to come up and see me. We spent the next few days in Cusco together, checking out some of the sights, shopping and relaxing. Cusco's got a real nice atmosphere to it, the place is steeped in history and you almost feel as though you're walking through history - large parts of it are built on the old, easily identifiable Inca walls. Visited Qorikancha, the site of an old magnificent Inca sun temple that was knocked down by the conquistadors and Iglesia de Santo Domingo built on top of the old Inca walls. Said goodbye to Cynthia for the second time on Monday 26th and headed off on the overnight bus to Huacachina on the last overnight journey of my trip…
Following a short taxi ride from Ica, arrived in Huacachina around lunchtime. The scenery as the bus approached the area was dusty and deserty and reminiscent of Northern India…as was the weather as I stepped off the bus into the heat. Being at considerably lower altitude than Cusco the weather was a lot warmer and it was nice to get the vest, boardies and flip-flops on again. Huacachina is a former holiday spot of the Peruvian rich, now more popular with adventure-seeking backpackers. It's a small town of hostels and restaurants set around a lagoon, an oasis in the middle of the desert. In the heat of the day it seems no one has much energy and so there's a very relaxed feel. I spent most of my time relaxing by the pool, but at as the sun starts to go down the place comes alive, as people jump in sand buggys bound for the dunes for an exhilarating buggy ride (like a rollercoaster but better) and some sandboarding action. I proved myself a better sand buggy-rider than sand boarder, then enjoyed a wicked sunset out in the desert! Beyond the sandboarding though and catching some sun there's not much to do in Huacachina, so the following afternoon I was off on a bus to Lima, the final stop on my trip.
Arrived in Lima about 9pm on Weds 21st, once again a local stepping in and helping me navigate my way from the bus terminal, somewhere in the middle of Lima, to the suburb of Miraflores where I was staying. Checked into a crap hostel, couldn't be bothered to keep looking for another, and gave Pam - a Peruvian girl I know - a call. Quick shower and I was off over to her place for a night on the town.
I got chatting to Pam on a travel message board when I was looking for advice on the Inca Trail. Online she was helpful and sounded nice and we got chatting from there….after a number of months I finally met her at her Uncle's mint apartment, where she lives, in Lima. When I rocked up at her address I was surprised at how modern and plush the apartment block was and the place didn't disappoint inside either. I wasn't used to this luxury after months roughing it! Met Pam and her friend and the three of us went for a drink in a bar overlooking the sea - great being back by the sea again and awesome spot for a beer. After that we hit a club in the centre of town, as possibly the only gringo in there I was loving it.
Pam and I got on great and we spent the next few days hanging out. Since I've been away some of my best experiences have been with locals, after all I can chat to Westerners when I'm home. It's cool learning about other peoples experiences of the world…the fact that this time it was with a cute Latino girl was of course irrelevant! On the Thursday we chatted some more and hit the beach along with Pam's friend Wendy, then we wandered round town and chilled out in the evening. The following day, my last full day away, whilst Pam went to uni I caught the bus into the centre of town to see the changing of the guards in the main square, visit the Spanish Inquisition museum and take a quick tour round the monastery (including a wander round the gruesomely that house 25,000 skeletons!). After taking in the last few sights of my trip, caught up with Pam in the afternoon and we had a wander round the colourful, bohemian neighbourhood of Barranco - maybe my favourite place in Lima. We had a few drinks looking out to see the sun setting over the sea, my last few drinks (well, nearly) and last sunset of an awesome trip. It was a bit surreal it was all coming to an end, so fast, too fast…
Saturday 1st May, the final day. I packed up and checked out for the last time…would be strange not doing this again for the foreseeable future, this had been my life for the last seven months and more. Pam and I spent a few hours chilling in the sun in the park, eating cheese, drinking wine and watching the paragliders. Apparently Lima's normally shrouded in fog and mist this time of year, but thankfully the sun was shining during my time in Lima and made for a great way to bow out. Around 5ish I had to say goodbye to Pam, then I grabbed my bag - my whole life since I'd been away - and set off for the airport in a taxi. After chatting to so many locals on my trip, I didn't have any energy to talk to the driver, I just gazed out the window, thinking about everything that had happened in my time away and contemplating what awaited me at home.
…I sit in my room at Mum and Dad's, having been home for two weeks. The anticipated post-travel blues haven't really kicked in, or at least not to the extent I feared. You know, England's not that bad, it's just not as exciting as life out on the road. There isn't that constant stimulus, or that unexpected event waiting for you around the corner. Perhaps the trick when you just get back is keeping busy - that hasn't been hard with the urgent need to make money and find a job! But when I have been a bit quiet, bored I guess, like I was yesterday…you can't help but wish you were back out there. I've ticked off many of the places I wanted to visit, although in the process through chatting to other travellers I've added a whole load more too. So I don't think I'm done with travelling for good, although it'll almost certainly be in smaller stints in future. With the way my bank balance is looking, I can't see my bag coming out of the loft for a few years yet! Living and working abroad though…now there's a thought…
The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
The Wrong Way Home - Peter Moore
Shipping News - Annie Proulx
War Reporting for Cowards - Chris Ayres
How to be Good - Nick Hornby
It's a Mad World, My Master - John Simpson
Freedom in Exile - Dalai Lama
Motorcycle Diaries - Che Guevara
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
Anil's Ghost - Michael Ondaatje
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Che I & II
Seven Years in Tibet
Looking for Eric
The Damned United
The Book of Eli