The time had finally come. The country we had both been waiting for since our initial planning, Peru. With my good friend from university, Sis, having completed 3 months of volunteering and work in the country a few years prior to this trip, I had been regaled with stories of the mountains and locals that enraptured the mind. With stunning pictures to accompany her extravagant tales, I remember the feeling of wanderlust and an overwhelming desire to see this land I already had begun to feel such an affinity with. Peru was meant to be the foundation of my original travel plans as I was initially meant to volunteer at the same project as Sis, from where I would book excursions in and around the magnificent surroundings. It was only when the travelling dream became shared by two people that the route you have all been reading was born. With just a month to go, we had to do Peru proud and I'm sure you'll agree, we did.
As with most newcomers to Peru, the journey begins in Lima. With a whopping 11 million inhabitants it is estimated that around 2/3rds of the countries population currently reside in Lima, making it a formidable economic force that is slowly finding its place on the world stage. The citizens of Lima (Limeños) are surprisingly forthcoming, that is compared to some of the other capital cities we have encountered around the world (*cough* Bogotá *cough*). As we were bundled into a taxi upon landing, we were soon relieved to find that the Peruvians really were a good bunch. Our taxi driver, speaking slow and clear Spanish, began to offer us countless bits of advice in the area surrounding Lima, where to go and what to see. As we sat in the back, we were waiting for the sales pitch, 'I can take you there for the best price!'. But it seemed there were a few South Americans willing to help some tired gringos on the way, free of charge. We eventually arrived at our hostel and quickly settled into our 10 bed dorm. Considering we were arriving from the (not so) sleepy village of Minca, Colombia it took us a few moments to regather ourselves as the bright lights of the city and the noisy, first day travellers washed over us. A quick reminder that life had actually continued whilst we were up the hill at Casa Loma. With not much to do but eat and wait for Jackie and Mark to arrive, we did just that. Finding a brilliant restaurant that offered the ever economical 'menu del día', we decided to make it a local haunt. This restaurant turned out to be a good choice as we were able to watch the City - Madrid game on the Wednesday afternoon, a big Champions League clash. With the result of the game being 1-0 Madrid, I took a quick look round the restaurant and smiled sheepishly at the owner. It appeared my loud groans of annoyance may have scared away their lunch time business, there was not a single person left in the restaurant. Determined not to be put down by the Mancunian mediocrity, we decided the best course of action was to eat. Cakes this time.
As time ticked by, Friday eventually rolled around. The Woodalls cometh. Checking out of our hostel, we jumped in a taxi and were taken on a journey no longer than 5 minutes, the price of which was around £5... you can't trust 'em all, ey? However, the matter of a few squid was not going to deter us from meeting our fellow gringos. Fresh off the boat and roaring, we were welcomed into their hotel room. Gifts abounded as literally kilos of Percy Pigs were unloaded into my lap, had Christmas come early or was I just dreaming? Wasting no time, I immediately relieved a bag of its contents until I was stopped mid-pig by the next present, something that caught my eye way across the room. 'Is that a... chess set?' I was up immediately and began arranging the magnetic pieces on the board, ready for the first contender of the holiday. It appeared Mark had once had an interest in chess, a strong candidate for a holiday series. Let the rivalry commence. With the greetings completed, we set off to explore the surrounding area. With much of the tourist activity occurring around Parque Kennedy, we decided it was a good starting point for our Lima adventure. Unbeknownst to Jackie and Mark, Parque Kennedy was also home to 'Calle de Las Pizzas' - 'Pizza Street'. I modestly suggested we could take a stroll around the park, constantly aware that wood fired ovens were slowly toasting wafer thin dough whilst tomato, basil and cheese were lovingly spread on top. My plan was well thought out, pre-prepared to ensure I got us to our destination just as the restaurants opened, the fresher the dough the better the pizza. As we slowly honed in on the target, my mouth began to salivate, we were close and my pizza senses were tingling. Turning onto the street, we were greeted with open arms as restaurant salesmen celebrated our arrival. They knew what I wanted, they could see it all over my face so you could only imagine the shock and turmoil that ensued when I heard Mark turn around and say, 'Too touristy, let's go somewhere else.' I was shot down at the final hurdle, all previous sensations of warmth and desire subsided as I responded with the crushing words, 'OK, menu del día?'
The next day, after an incredible meal at 'Las Brujas de Cachiche' - 'The Witches of Cachiche', we set out to find the historical centre of Lima. Being located in the downtown area of the city, we made use of the local transport that the city offers, a bus service which operates on its own lane through the towns highways. My eyes were peeled for any potential thieves, after this long in South America I could even smell when one was about. Mark, however, was not so fussed about the potential thieves as his bright orange camera swung nonchalantly from his shoulder. Despite his assurances that everything would be fine, I made sure I kept close to his side, just in case any unwanted trouble should arise. Arriving in the historical district, we were certainly not impressed. The area was dirty and felt like it had become overrun by the downtown hustle. Whilst the buildings were impressive, the atmosphere was certainly lacking the intrigue that may be found in many other historical areas across South America. After a quick walk around and a few upturned noses, we headed over to the Parque Central. Before describing what is at Parque Central I must first inform you back home that there is something rather peculiar going on in Lima.
From the moment you step off the plane there is a strange sensation that something is following you. You look around, is there someone there? No? It's not a person, ladies and gentlemen. It is instead the music of Abba, relentlessly pursuing you with every step you take. For some bizarre reason the city is Abba mad. You hear them in the airport, in the taxi's, on the radio and if you're unfortunate enough, even in your dreams. So with this in mind, it seems fitting that the city council had decided to pay tribute to Abba every night in the Central Park by displaying a water fountain show set to the music of... (you can guess who). Arriving at the park, we again gave a nod of the head to the fact that if there's tourists involved, expect to be charged for everything. The entrance to the park was gated and lined with turnstiles and the bathrooms also required a monetary exchange. This was bad news for Mark as he suddenly realised the worrying frequency at which Tamara and I need the toilet. With all bodily functions sorted and Mark's wallet a little lighter, we set about exploring the park. Rows and rows of fountains erupted from the ground, each backed by multi-coloured lights that shimmered and glinted in the dying daylight hours. Keeping an ear out for any faint 'Mama Mias', we decided to embark on a tour of the park via the children's 'choo choo train'. As Jackie, Tamara and I all piled ourselves into the child size carriages, we suddenly realised something. Mark wasn't going to be able to get in with us. Stopping for half a second to consider whether we should wait for another train, Jackie quickly shouted 'Forget him!' Shocked and surprised at Jackie's dismissive remark, I proceeded to argue Mark's case that we should all enjoy the ride together, desperately tying to refute Jackie's persistent efforts to leave him behind. Alas, my hard work was too late and the train disembarked from its station, leaving behind a very sorry Mark on the tracks. The rest of the evening was spent in good spirits as pictures were snapped at will and we dipped our toes in a few of the fountains. With darkness consuming the park, we stopped to appreciate the spectacle that was before as the water danced in perfect harmony with the brightly coloured lights. Stopping to take in the sights, I couldn't help but think this would have been the perfect 'first date' location for Tamara and I when we were in our fledgling stage. Nevertheless, I'm sure Tamara would agree, Nando's is pretty hard to beat.
At the ungodly hour of 04:30am our alarms shrieked in the darkness, adding to our pounding headaches after a restless half nights sleep. We both cursed Jackie Woodall as we made our way to the awaiting taxi that would take us to the airport. Initially we were due to meet my parents in Cusco, so after presuming that a) they wouldn't be making a surprise appearance in Bolivia and b) I wouldn't be flying home to England, in hindsight this would have been our first meeting in 8 months. Therefore, naturally, Mum had booked the earliest flight leaving Lima at 07:30am, however as plans had changed and this was in fact our third meeting in 8 months, this flight time was anything but necessary. Nevertheless, after a hot chocolate and a ham and cheese toastie we looked on the bright side and accepted an early arrival in the city we had much anticipated visiting. After a quick hour flight that had saved us a long winded 20+ hour bus journey, we landed in the Inca Capital of Cusco. Grabbing a handful of the coca leaves on offer for wheezy tourists, I felt the familiar sensation of a tight chest and lightheadedness that accompany being positioned at 3400metres above sea level. George aka mountain goat, had as usual acclimatised within seconds and striding ahead looked content to be right back at home in the Andes. We jumped in a taxi and after 15 minutes pulled into the colonial, quaint streets of the historical city, pleased to be away from the hustle and bustle of the capital. Our hotel was situated a stones throw from the main square which meant the colonial theme seeped deep into the cracks of our walls, offering a beautiful courtyard and spacious bedrooms. As we entered the lounge area George's face lit up as he saw the huge chess board set up ready for action, a common accessory of hotels in Peru. We headed to the square for a quick breakfast and were instantly hounded by Peruvians using what they could to get a Sol or two off the tourists. It seemed a popular trend that women or children dressed in typical Peruvian attire would also dress up their baby alpacas and eagerly hand them over into the susceptible arms of the gringos, whilst expecting some loose change in return. With Dad's pockets drained, we decided a nap was in order after such an early start. As a few hours passed I was awoken by the beautiful sound of Peruvian panpipes and as this was the first time I had heard them since arriving in Peru, I quickly called mum and rushed downstairs to investigate the source of the sounds. We located the music coming from the hotel's restaurant and as the only other observers except for a young couple, we assumed they must be practicing for the evenings ahead entertainment. As the soothing melodies passed by for half an hour, we eagerly questioned the four band members as to where their evening whereabouts would be. Unfortunately, we were told the band only played on weekends and we disappointedly agreed a CD purchase would have to make do if we had a chance of hearing them play again.
The following day, after a relaxing evening the night before, we decided we would explore the city's impressive architectural buildings and marketplaces. As George and I completed a game of chess, mum and dad sneaked past beckoning me to discretely follow. With George's interest in the game expanding daily over the past few weeks and Peru's markets offering quite a selection of Spanish vs Inca theme boards, I wasn't surprised to see they had bought George a set as an early birthday present. Instantly knowing George would be thrilled (but concerned the decor wasn't quite what I had in mind for Nottingham) I agreed to keep it our secret. Annoyingly however, it seemed the chess spirits were calling George and unlike any other time I had tried to convince him on our travels, George was insistent that we go shopping. Like a moth to a flame he discovered the chess stalls within seconds and as he began to barter his best price, panicking, I shouted "I think they are extremely tacky." These words cut like a dagger to his heart and as he sulked off down the road my guilt took over. We gave in and reluctantly, three months premature told him of his present. Like most men with toys however, one set wasn't enough and after purchasing a miniature version, alas we now have two chess sets. That evening (over another game of chess), we were left to our own devices as Mum and Dad had an early night. This of course left the young'uns to hit the town, or in the case of the boring Wozzles - hit McDonalds and then hit the sack at 9pm.
The following morning we had booked a private tour of the Inca Sacred Valley that lies within the Urubamba valley, which took us from Cusco to three Inca stops and a lunch stop at midday. The entire circuit spans 170km to Maccu Piccu but requires at least another full day to explore. Mythology believes that the first man, 'the one who gave the world vital breath' named Wiracocha sent his followers to find the centre of the Earth and place a golden staff into it. This place, now recognised as Cusco means in Quechua 'the navel of the Earth' and in Inca times was the nerve centre of a vast communication system. In order for messages to be delivered efficiently, every 2km along the Andean path were small message huts and runners named 'chaskis' who would relay the messages using quipa - knotted cords woven to record coded messages. As with many at that time, the Incas believed that every form and figure on Earth had a celestial double in the sky above them. The Willkanuta river that runs through the sacred valley was believed to be a celestial representation of the 'celestial river' above it, the Milky Way where they would see constellations in the shapes of sacred figures. The Incas then decided to base the design of the towns in the shapes of these spiritual figures. Thus Cusco is based on the shape of a Puma, the most important Inca city represented by the most important Inca spiritual animal.
Our first stop was to the Pisac ruins (2972m) which once connected the Inca empire with Paucartambo, a place on the border of the eastern jungle. They built the town in the shape of a condor, which in Inca times was believed to be the guardian spirit of the dead, who carried spirits to the afterlife. Our tour guide, a petite lady seemed extremely keen to move our tour at a very brisk pace yet to her dismay George and Dad simultaneously took it in turns to disappear. Having explained that our family often have photography competitions, our guide seemed shocked when she saw in total 6 cameras being used to shoot the exact same landscapes. The Japanese are expected to possess such an unnecessary quantity, but the Brits from Birmingham, certainly not. As our guide did her best to keep us in tow, we soon understood her motive as buses upon buses piled upon each other on the mountain path and herds of hungry snappers eagerly pushed their way towards us. As we made our way to the exit our guide quickly drew our attention to the heights that the ruins had once been built upon. She informed us the Incas built as close to the sun as possible whereas the lazy Spanish built everything very low as close to natural amenities as possible.
Our next stop was over an hours drive to the little town of Ollantaytambo (2800m) which is located at the foot of the spectacular fortress Inca ruins. This site was still under construction at the time of the conquest and was the only place to have ever resisted attacks from the Spanish. As we made our way to the steep stairways leading up into the mountains we gasped at the sheer enormity of the ruins before us. We began ascending the stairways and were amazed when our guide pointed to a distant mountain and informed that us granite blocks with measurements of 10mx4m were carried by foot to create the buildings. The site itself holds mythological significance whereby the first man marked the town as the 'house of the dawn' and the emergence of Incas as gods. The mountain facing the ruins has a face carved into it which is believed to be that of the first man, significantly at dawn on winter Soltice the face is lit perfectly by the sun and therefore, metaphorically, becomes the sun. Like other towns described so far, the design was based on the constellation of the llama that the Incas saw in the sky above. They believed the llama was the animal in charge of balancing the water cycle and myth states that if she didn't drink the water from the sea the whole Earth would have been flooded. The location in the town where the llama's eye is situated becomes lit by the sky in April (dry season) when the constellation is at its highest point in the sky and is believed to 'awaken' the llama, allowing it to drink the water until the light in her eye diminishes in October (rainy season, when the constellation is at its lowest) and the water cycle is again balanced. As we took in the beautiful scenery one last time we headed for the exit, again one step ahead of the other tourists as their buses pulled in to the entrance.
After a tasty, buffet lunch we drove another hour to the small Quechua village of Chinchero (3762m) where we made a brief stop to learn about the weaving methods of the Andean women. Dressed in vibrant clothes and fantastic hats, we were shown how natural produce are used to dye the wool and instruments used to make the clothes. Of course we weren't allowed to leave empty handed and so we made our way to the market stalls to pick out a few garments. Yet the problem with South America is every stall is an exact replica of one another and it is hard to pick one stall over insulting another. To my astonishment I turned around and saw George in a purchased cardigan something I never thought I would ever see! Arriving in Chinchero, believed to be the mythical birthplace of the rainbow, we noticed the town was very different to the previous stops we had made that day as there were no looming ruins or steep stairways to climb. However as we stood alone in silence on the grass banks overlooking the sacred valley and with the snow-capped peak of Salkantay mountain that dominated the western horizon, we could still feel the magical Inca's presence through the air. After a quick visit to the church, followed by the square, we made our way to the exit and for the final time missing the crowds who unfortunately for them, were about to miss the breathtaking sunset.
After an exceptionally educational and exhausting day, we closed our eyes for the brief journey back to Cusco. Our parting gift of information was the meaning of the word, Inca - the spirit, force or energy which generates or produces well-being. After a day of enlightenment and appreciation for this fascinating race, we eagerly awaited what the next few weeks would bring us. Most importantly after satisfyingly conquering the altitude that day, we were now more than confident we would be able to conquer the mighty Machupiccu.
Having seen the countless pictures, heard the endless stories and listened to the fabled legends of its creation, it was finally time to go and see South America’s crown jewel – Maccu Piccu. The once lost city of the Inca remained dormant for nearly 400 years before embarking on its metamorphosis into the flagship tour of the Americas. It boasts almost perfectly preserved ruins at a lofty 2,800m, meaning the views aren’t the only thing taking your breath away. Like many things worth seeing in the world, the location of this wonder is slightly obscure. Hidden deep in the Peruvian Andes, near the Urubamba River, it lies on a lofty peak above the ever-flowing Urubamban water, sitting comfortably in the misty clouds that eternally twist and swirl on meandering air currents. Maintaining a solemn guard over the ruins is the mighty Waynu Piccu, probably one of the most photographed peaks in the world as it provides the stunning backdrop for all able (and not so able) photographers. Before the Spanish Inquisition took place, the site doubled as a country house for the Inca rulers and an institute for raising and training the next in line to the Inca throne. The population was estimated to have been around 200 Incas during its peak, with young princes and princesses having to learn the intricate ways of the Inca government – I wouldn’t have minded going to school there.
As we stirred ourselves from a deep slumber at yet another obscene hour, 5am I believe, I quickly said my curses and got my shoes on. With the lost city of Maccu Piccu lying in such a remote location, there are two manners in which one may arrive at their destination. For the rough and ready there is the mighty Inca trail, a 4-day hike through the mountains that surround Cusco using the same road that the Incas would have walked should they have needed to reach the town. With more time and under different circumstances, I am sure that Tamara and I would have given the Inca trail an affirmative nod, the challenge seemed exciting and we had heard some of the sites along the trail rivalled the brilliancy of Maccu Piccu itself. With time not on our side, Jackie had instead opted to get us there as quick as possible. The train has become the steadfast option for those who are not able to embark on a 4-day hike, certainly a more civilised approach that we thoroughly enjoyed after 8 months of ‘slumming’ it. Bundling into our seats and stuffing our bags beneath the table, we were quickly on our way with the train departing Cusco around 7:50am. We began to sit back and relax. Scenery passed by that was so flawless, I began to wonder if the windows were real, I was certain at some points they could have been a projector beaming impossibly perfect landscapes for the tourists to lap up. Alas, the windows were real and so was the train horn that appeared to be directly above our heads. As we screamed through the countryside, I began to resent the driver and his trigger-happy approach to warning any life form of his presence. In the name of distraction, we did the only thing we could, broke out the travel chess set. With Mark and I locked in strategic combat for the remainder of the journey, we soon whittled the hours away and arrived in the town of ‘Aguas Calientes’ – Hot Waters.
For all intents and purposes, it is safe to say that Aguas Calientes is nothing more than a tourist trap. With 3000 people visiting Maccu Piccu every day, it is easy to see why the tourist industry has quickly cottoned on to this once sleepy town. With our bags in tow, we quickly sort out our lodging. We had booked a total of 3 nights in Maccu Piccu, the hotel of choice? Gringo Bills. The strong name of the hotel instilled confidence that ‘Bill’ would make sure things ran smoothly. Upon arrival, we were greeted promptly and taken to our rooms. The hotel was quaint with an outdoor labyrinth of twists and stairs that eventually led us to a pool and roof terrace. The endless steps began to take their toll as we begrudgingly carried our belongings, the difficulty of the task was only compounded by the thinness of the air and as the midday heat began to rise we were ready to crash. A golden rule in mine and Tamara’s book is to never crash on an empty stomach so with this in mind, we alerted Jackie and Mark to our plan. With Mark growing increasingly suspicious that we had both acquired worms on our travels, we set off to find a restaurant in the dilapidated town. With the hotel being placed conveniently on the ‘Plaza de Armas’ – ‘Parade Ground’ (the main square), we quickly found ourselves in the middle of the hustle and bustle of tourist life. Salesmen armed the doors of each restaurant, each more annoying than the last. Offers were presented and improved at the slightest inclination of disinterest on our parts as some men resorted to desperate measures in order to keep a sale. We began to wade through the extended arms and tatty menus and found a spot on the square that seemed to have a good variety in menu and weren’t ‘too’ keen to get us through the door. Their lack of disinterest should have set off alarm bells but after an order 3 fajitas and 1 taco, Tamara’s fate was sealed. We devoured our meals and returned to relax at the hotel for the remainder of the afternoon.
It was only later, having completed the pre-briefing for our Maccu Piccu trip, did Tamara begin to complain of the dreaded stomach cramps. Brushing them off as the bog-standard cramps that come along for an hour and subsequently disappear, we headed out for our evening meal. Having only sipped her bottle of water, I began to see the look of worry spread over Tamara’s face. ‘I need the toilet.’ She timidly aired to the table before disappearing into the bowels of the restaurant. Returning within a few seconds, face slowly turning a shade of green, she informed us that it was out of order. As the early stages of panic began to set in it was up to Mark to escort Tamara back to the hotel room with haste, less a premature bowel movement spoilt her white underwear. Returning back from the restaurant, I was surprised to see that Tamara wasn’t in our hotel room. I began to wonder where she could have gone in her flustered state until I heard the intensely guttural noises emanating from the en-suite bathroom. As Tamara began to clear her insides in all manners possible, I quickly ran to fetch Jackie to give me a hand in looking after her. With over 15 trips to the bathroom that night Tamara’s prospects of reaching Maccu Piccu the following day were looking slim.
As dawn broke on the Peruvian peaks, I stirred with a feeling of anticipation. Tamara lay next to me in a comatose state, earning a well-deserved rest after her nightlong battle with the toilet seat. With Jackie and Mark awakening at a similar hour, we all huddled around Tamara, gently waking her to find out her current condition and whether she would be fit to make the journey ahead. The response was not promising. Still suffering from a fever, Tamara informed us that she had only stopped utilising the lavatory 2 hours ago and was definitely not feeling up to the task. Naturally, Jackie and Mark decided the best course of action was to allow Tamara to rest whilst we carried on with the trip as planned. As we solemnly walked away from Tamara’s side with a sense of hollow excitement, we made our way to meet our guide for the day. Arriving at the queue for the bus around 6:00am, we were expecting there to be a little less of a wait to get aboard one the shuttle buses that run directly from the town to the site. Our guide had told us the previous day that the worst of the queuing is at around 4:30am as many people attempt to get up the mountain in time for sunrise. With this in mind, you can imagine our shock as we arrived at the bus stop and witnessed a queue snaking up the road for over 200m. Not wanting to think about what a big queue looked like, we hastily joined the back of the line and began to patiently wait. After a 15-20min wait, we had arrived at the front and boarded our bus. With Mark finding his seat directly next to the driver, Jackie and I decided to stick near to the front so that we would be able to hop off quickly and beat as much of the crowd as possible.
In typical South American style, the bus journey was a hair raising thrill as other shuttle services careered around hairpin bends, narrowly avoiding head-on collisions with our own bus. The precarious drop to our right hand side silently threatened our bus driver’s ability to control his vehicle as potholes and boulders shook our bones to the core. Upon arrival, as the bus began to slow to a stop, we unclenched our fists and allowed the blood to flow back into our whitened knuckles. The bus journey had left us rattled but with our guide in tow, we clambered past the flocks of middle aged Americans in a race to get through the turnstiles. Passing the gates, we began a short walk along a paved path around the corner of the cliff face. Through the mist and early morning fog, we could begin to make out the imposing silhouette of Waynu Piccu. As my heart began to race, I turned to Jackie and excitedly exclaimed ‘We’re nearly there!’ After another fifty metres we had finally arrived, the mighty ruins stood right before us in all their perfection. With no words available to fully describe the scene that lay before, I took in a gasp of the fresh mountain air. Earning its place as a wonder of the world, I felt privileged to be standing in one of the most beautiful locations on this planet but with our guide desperate to keep us ahead of the crowd, we were dragged from viewpoint to viewpoint within a matter of minutes. By the third time of being herded through the crowds, Mark had had enough and with a look of disapproval, disappeared into the ruins never to be seen again. As Jackie and I were stuck with the guide, who had already been paid for, I took it upon myself to double check she knew her stuff. With the rest of our time at the site being spent interrogating our poor tour guide, we left satisfied that she (kind of) knew her stuff. She, however, couldn’t get rid of us quick enough.
The following day, with Tamara’s health improving, the four of us assembled at the hotel in preparation to head back up the mountain. Our bags were packed and we were ready to rock when another obstacle stood in Tamara’s way. The rain, which had pleasantly held off the previous day, decided to make life as difficult as possible for us. Unlike our Mancunian rain, the Peruvian storm twisted through the skies, striking any unsuspecting victims that had foolishly wandered out into the open air. Having missed the previous days antics due to sickness and ill health, Tamara was undeterred by the sight of a few water droplets. ‘Get me up that r*ddy hill!’ Tamara exclaimed in a rare outburst of profanity. With most of her time spent reading her information guidebooks on Maccu Piccu the previous day, Tamara was ready to give us our second tour of the ruins and this time I really couldn’t pick holes in her flawless knowledge. With the rain still pouring down, we arrived at the summit and brushed through the bystanders to ensure Tamara was given the priority spots at the viewpoints. However, despite our best intentions, Pachamama (Mother Earth) decided it wasn’t Tamara’s time to see the breath taking scenery as thick, grey clouds hung sullenly over the crowds that swarmed the walkways. Not allowing the fight to be knocked out us, we proceeded to walk through the twisting corners of the stone-built alleyways and corridors. After a quick stop under shelter whilst we allowed the worst of the rain to pass, we emerged to a brighter day. The clouds had slightly lifted, leaving us in a hazy fog that mysteriously revealed structures in the distance. As optimism filled our souls, we rushed to the edge of the walls, desperate for a look over the captivating mountains. With all prayers answered, Tamara finally managed to see what she came for. With a hug and a kiss to celebrate it was time for a poncho picture. Having lugged a poncho each up the mountain we all began to pose for our pictures when Tamara, ever the extravagant, demanded that she had a picture taken whilst on top of my shoulders. With my cheerleading skills out of practice, I gathered what I could of my breath and prepared to take the hefty weight of big ol’ Tommy on my shoulders. With the picture ready and in place, we thought we’d pulled it off until we heard the distant Spanish cries of the Peruvian security guard. After being scolded for attempting such an acrobatic manoeuvre amongst the ancient ruins, Tamara and I scurried off with our tails between our legs, laughing and giggling as we went.
After our return train journey and an unsettled night battling for breath back in the high altitude of Cusco, at the crack of dawn we were ready for a relaxing ten hour bus journey to Puno, Lake Titicaca. With our seats at the front, we shook our blankets and shut the curtains, saluting our neighbouring Woodalls in preparation for a lengthy sleep. Within seconds however, we heard the booming echo of a microphone being tested and a shrill voice deafening our sensitive eardrums "Good morning, welcome to your day tour upon the Inka Express". George and I looked at each other perplexed, no bus in South America had ever offered a tour guide on it before. I shot Mum a wary look who sat non the wiser, politely listening to our tour guide. I knew Mum had booked everything online back in England so I appreciated all her efforts, but really, a tour bus? As you have probably guessed we aren't the best family at obediently following tours and so we all sat in dismay when we were told the itinerary ahead included six lengthy stop offs. The only stop, lunch, awarded mum a few brownie points back. The worst part of all was we realised the ten hour trip could easily be done in six if it wasn't for Dora the Explorer dictating our day. Yet as my selfish mood was based on my lack of sleep I quickly stopped pulling my adolescent pout and kept an open mind for the day ahead.
As the bus chugged along through the picturesque Peruvian countryside, we listened to our guide's informative script that amazingly, like a tape recorder, simultaneously flicked between the English and Spanish language. The entire bus consisted of tourists, which was another shock to George and I's system, as we could probably count the amount of white faces on two hands we had seen on buses throughout our trip. A stereotypically loud and obnoxious Yank kept us entertained throughout the day, nearly breaking his ankle taking a selfie with a llama and shouting "I just wanna see some f***ing agua" as we pulled close to Lake Titicaca. Our morning ride through the 'route of the sun' began at the exquisite Andahuaylillas Church, known in Peru as the 'Sistine chapel of America'. Shortly following this we stopped at the Checacupe site where a beautiful suspension bridge and local life felt relaxed and untouched. Our final stop before lunch saw the Raqchi ruins - the largest Inca temple ruins in the world, whereby the central landmark, the Temple of Wiracocha (300metres long) equates to the length of a U.S football field. Unfortunately, the Spanish conquistadors knocked the majority of it down and built a church in its shadow. As we reflected over lunch, much to Mum's delight she had done well, very well and we had been spoilt for sights throughout the morning; a reconfirmation of Peru's beauty. Our afternoon included a stop for souvenirs and a final stop in the town of Pucara where a small history museum subsides. As we pulled into Pucara, we immediately noticed ceramic bull like figures ('Torito de Pucara') adorning all the rooftops of houses and the church. Created in this small town, we discovered they are placed on the roof for good luck, fertility (of crops and livestock) and to bring prosperity. In Inca times they would have been llamas but throughout history have been 'christianised' and turned into cows. Regardless of their animal form, we enjoyed the colours and their significance and brought two little bulls for our kitchens in England as I doubt they would last a second outside in the British winter conditions.
After a long day we were pleased to hear our bus was pulling into Puno (3800m), the third largest Peruvian city positioned on the shores of Lake Titicaca and bordering Bolivia. Described as having 'grit and character' we struggled to see anything other than Bolivia's dirty cousin and hastily jumped into a taxi in search of our mountainous hotel. As the soot and smog faded behind us we sighed a sigh of relief and began ascending up a very steep hill at which our hotel was positioned at the top. Our driver had quickly latched onto George's formidable Spanish speaking ability and decided to try and sell him a tour for the following morning. As our taxi's suspension scraped up the hill at a pace slower than a tortoise, we buckled in and braced ourselves in the likelihood of us sliding backwards. Oblivious to everyone's clenched buttocks and racing heartbeats, the driver precariously placed his wrists on the wheel whilst opening a large map for George to see. After what felt like an eternity the car eventually made its way to the top and although his salesmen techniques were a winner, his driving abilities needed some attention and had therefore lost him this particular sale.
After a few moments the big metal doors spread open and we pulled in to the Mirador Hotel, which in the dark of night looked like a big white space ship reflected in the glimmer of water below. As usual we had the hotel to ourselves, the beauty of being a month premature of the June high season. Our rooms were snug as heaters had been left on to avoid the altitude coldness and we eagerly anticipated the morning sun revealing the view over the lake. After a quick dinner we said our goodbyes and had an early night. Unfortunately throughout the night my previous stomach bug was back for one last bite and so the next day was spent in bed recovering with George as my doctor. Mum and Dad however, set out to see the Uros floating islands, a must-see attraction in Peru. The floating islands are inhabited by 2000 members of the Uros tribe who, pre-dating the Incas, believed they had black blood as they could never get cold. The locals spend their days fishing and weaving to sell produce to tourists and those back on the mainland. The islands, homes and boats are made by totora reeds which are needed to be daily topped up to avoid breakage in the structure or water seeping through. Mum and Dad spent their day having a private tour around a proud local's house (the size of a small hut), dressing up in local clothes, a boat ride and enjoying a song performance from the island's women. Amusingly, despite the backwards lifestyle, each hut has its own satellite dish (contributed by the president) and a Uros-FM radio station that plays daily for the locals.
Regrouping on the terrace we enjoyed some lunch and the beautiful view of the lake below. George and I both agreed how surreal it felt being back so close to Bolivia despite the thousands of miles we had travelled in the meantime. Yet before we had a chance to consider visiting our beloved Bolivia again, it was time to pack our bags and begin to head back up north.
What a week we had in store for us...