Thursday 5 May 2011

Peru on Alex

Peru has generally been invigorating, with incredible landscapes, facsinating culture, very spiritual places (yes, I was actually affected!) and nice people. Coming in from Ecuador in the north and coming down the coast was exhilarating, the first really different scenery we'd seen in a while - desolate desert and coastline. Tumbes, just across the border, had probably the heaviest mosquito arsenal we have ever come across. We got on a very fancy bus; we'd heard they were good in Peru, but this double decker was off the scale - really good food too (food?! on a bus???). We checked out the big market in Chiclayo, with all the shaman stuff - San Pedro cactus and Ayahuasca for trippy cleansing - and loads of remedies for every ailment, including the bedroom variety. Best market since Mexico, definitely. We did a tour to see the weathered Túcume ruins, collections of Moche pottery and the collection made from the tomb of the Señor de Sipán - one of the richest collections of finery we have ever seen. Then onto Trujillo, another big city in the middle of the desert - the centre looks a bit like Ealing or something, with pedestrianised shopping areas. I was amazed at the amount of agriculture around the towns and cities, huge expanses of green cultivation which (I think) must have taken a lot to achieve. Amd then a truly unbelievable top floor trip to Lima - the desert looked just how I imagine Arrakis (the Dune planet from the Frank Herbert books) to look, huge sand dunes everywhere and mountains in the distance. Tania's camera didn't stop clicking.

We were just four days in Lima; it was nice but we had to get on. Steve and Connie, whom we had met on the tour in Chiclayo and who actually live on a boat moored off the San Blas islands!!!, had recommended us Ica and particulary Huacachina, with it's sand dunes, buggies and boarding. But I must have been very relaxed on the bus, I put the computer bag on the upper rack for the first time... and it got pinched. We'd been warned about that too. First time anything bad had happened on the whole trip, really - in 2 and a quarter years. We miss you Mac, you were very good to us! So we had to hang in Ica for a bit to get the police report for the insurance and we both got sick with bad tummies (we haven't had much of that on the trip either).

After 3 days convalescence we made it to Huacachina, the oasis tourist town. What a crazy, surreal place that is. Tiny and a literal oasis, every hostel has a pool, the dunes are amazing (especially right on the top at sunset) and the weather perfect. The dune buggy ride was nuts - it was like being in Star Wars, on Luke's home planet Tatooine. One of the most amazing sights of the whole trip and I mean that. Managed to come a cropper in spectacular fasion on the board. I optimistically thought I would be a natural, with my extensive skiing and (admittedly) only one time snow bording experience. Oh well, everyone cheered and clapped. I only hurt for a few days.

So then it was just a night in Arequipa (lovely from what we saw, we went to the museum with the mummy, one of the best museums anywhere even if Juanita herself was away for investigation) and then onto Cusco, because time was starting to turn against us. Cusco is stunning, all cobbled streets and little alleys and hills - a walker's paradise. We had one night on the English beer they serve there (Old Speckled Hen!) and did a tour of the nearby ruins - all great. Then onto Machu Picchu, by train - we decided not to do the trail a while ago: too expensive and we're hoping to find some less trodden Inka trails later on. The plan was to stay a night in the mountain/jungle tourist town near to the site, Aguas Calientes (there are baths there) and get up really early to climb Huayna Picchu, the mountain that looks down on Machu Picchu. Mission! Up at 2.30am, in the queue for the bus at 3.15am, bus left at 5.30am, queue to get on the list for the climb (they only let 400 people a day do it), then wait till 7.45am to actually start.... It was spitting and everywhere was cloud - probably a good thing, 'cos that mountain is vertiginous to say the least. In fact everything Inka is vertiginous, I think. It was hard, but we got to the top and and promptly managed to lose each other. The clouds parted and we saw Machu Picchu, to claps and cheers. Some hours later, when he sun had come out, we reconvened. I was shattered and slightly traumatised after a scary trip down, my legs were shaking badly - Tania semed fine. And then we did a tour of Machu Picchu, finally leaving the place late afternoon. I didn't want to leave though - the city is impressive because of the quantity of original material (hardly any recon), the scale of it and the setting (a bloody steep mountain side), but the surrounding mountains are just breathtaking and there is definitely something spiritual going on.

We stayed at Ollantaytambo on the way back, in the Sacred valley - one of my favourite places anywhere. I actually did feel very spiritually uplifted there. There are crazy ruins on really steep mountainsides again and the face of an Apu (mountain spirit) looking over the village. Did some great walks, met a local archaeologist who showed us an amazing collection of Inka relics including a complete mummy(!!!) and skulls with full heads of hair; and drank a small quantity of pisco sours, and Chicha in a real Chicheria (an old lady's house, with guinea pigs running around on the floor, and mainly women drinking). The Chicha (fermented corn beer) knocked me for six :) I was sad to leave that place.

Amd now we are on the banks of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,810m, about to go into Bolivia, the final country. 24 countries, 2 years 3 months, 5 pairs of shoes, 40 beach locations, god knows how many bottles of insect repellent and sunscreen - and just 2 weeks left. What you sayin', Bolivia?