The journey to Peru was a bigger hassle than one would first think. This was mostly due to a lengthy delay to our flights that left Alison & I stranded at the Costa Rican airport for 5 hours too long. Now 5 hours doesn't really sound like a long time in the scheme of things, but when you don't speak Spanish & have about 2 American dollars between you, it can be quite a trying experience.
After such a delay we didn't actually arrive at the airport in Lima until around 12.30 at night. This could have been a little bit scary, but we already new which hostel we were headed for & there were plenty of shuttle bus operators just waiting at the other side of the gates to whisk us away. Whisk may be the wrong word for it however as once we decided on a shuttle company & were escorted to our bus, we had an hour to wait until our very enthusiastic driver came back with 2 more unhappy delayed passengers to take along for the ride.
This fairly dodgy introduction to Lima was soon quashed when we arrived at The Point Hostel, a place in Baranco, 2 suburbs out of Central Lima, which Nik & Amber had recommended to us. We arrived fairly bedraggled at 2.30 in the morning to find some of the guests & many of the employees up in the bar playing pool & getting geared up for a night on the town. This wasn't on our agendas, but it was nice to see some smiling faces when you are sitting down to a dinner of half a mars bar & a bottle of water at 2.30 in the morning (Budget airlines are great, until you're stuck with no dinner).
Once we actually arrived at our destination everything was looking up, Rose was meeting us the next day, and we meet Borris, one of the hostel employees that Nik & Amber had told us about, who was pretty much employed to take guests out on the town & show them the local night life (which he did very well, thanks Borris).
Whilst we were eating our luxurious dinner, Borris let slip that Nik & Amber were headed back to The Point the next day, about a week ahead of schedule, to meet us! This was awesome news, after being apart for a couple of weeks, a reunion was well due.
The next day there was much story swapping to be done. I woke to Amber & Rose staring at me which was a little off putting, but a welcoming start to the day none the less. When we all managed to congregate in the lounge we found that our entry to Lima was not the most harrowing. Rose had managed to board the incorrect flight. Now in this day & age you would think that this would be a lot more difficult than it was, but after waiting in the airport at the wrong gate & boarding a random plane that was headed to Lima, Rose was informed that she was on the wrong flight, but that they ¨were going to Lima anyway, so if she wanted a lift¨ that was fine. I guess it's just lucky that she's little & cute & doesn't have a beard, otherwise I'm sure that it wouldn't have ended quite so nicely, & that a cavity search would probably have been involved.
Amber & Nikki had a different story, one of volunteer work gone wrong. Needless to say they high tailed it out of the small village that they had been staying in for a week to learn some Spanish & came back to Lima, possibly the largest party town around.
I didn't see much of Lima, a few very dodgy clubs, notably Tequila Rock, but I meet a heap of very cool people & had an awesome time, which was capped off by the Aussie soccer team winning the world cup qualifier against Uruguay, a game I managed to catch when I crawled back to my hostel at 5 in the morning. Great timing I thought.
After leaving Lima, we headed to Pisco, a fishing town that is know for boat tours to surrounding islands. Borris decided that it was finally time to leave Lima, after an extended stay & came along for the ride.
The islands are well known because of their guano (Yep, that's bird poo) producing residents. These islands even have guards that live on them to protect the guano, which is apparently a very good fertiliser. We did a tour of the islands which, along with millions of species of birds, are also inhabited by a very large colony of sea lions. They were very cute, but stank even worse than the guano. The biggest bonus of the day was that all of us escaped without getting that lucky splat on the head.
That's pretty much all Pisco had to offer, besides vegetarian spaghetti that was full of ¨vegetarian¨ sausage & ham. So the next day we caught a bus to Huachachina, a small oasis town just out side of Ica, snuggled in between the hugest sand dunes around.
We stayed at a totally sweet hostel, with a pool & our own room & a collection of huge tropical birds. The first day that we were there, we borrowed the hostel's sand boards & walked some way up one of the large dunes & boarded down. This was quite a challenge for me, as I have never snow boarded, surfed or skate boarded, but it was awesome fun - until you realized that everything & I mean everything was full of sand. I'm pretty sure that my sneakers still have remnants of Huachachinian sand in them.
After this hard day's work, it was time to have a few drinks, so we started with a few beers & ended with many vodkas. Somewhere in the middle of this, Amber decided that today was the day to get rid of her dreadlocks, so we all pitched in with a stellar effort to remove them. I think Amber started having second thoughts when we were all huddled around her scissors in hand, trying to remove the string that was keeping them together. With our fairly lapsed attention spans we only managed to remove the string that night, but continued the next day, with fuzzy heads, to brush them out to the flowing locks that you will see in the rest of the photos.
After all our stomaches had settled (some needing more time than others, thanks to some dodgy lasagne the night before) we decided that sand boarding would be a lot more fun without the climbing up the dunes part, so we went on a dune buggy tour. This was pretty much like being on a roller coaster without the tracks. The buggy went soooo fast up & down the massive dunes, that there were quite a few squeals, which our guide found hilarious. When we reached some of the larger dunes our buggy was driven to the top, sand boards unloaded & we got to board down, where the buggy would meet us to take us back up. It was awesome fun, but with so much fun, someone was always going to get hurt & Alison was the lucky one. She managed to stack while scooting down the dune on her butt & sustained a nasty graze on her hand & a face full of sand. Luckily she had so much adrenaline running through her body that she couldn't feel it till a lot latter on.
Then it was off to Cuzco, the Inca trail was waiting. We boarded a night bus to Cuzco, which we thought had one other stop in Arequipa, where Rose & Nik would get off, and then direct to Cuzco, where they would meet us at a later date. Unfortunately, the bus that we were on had many stops between Ica & Cuzco, one of which was Puno, the town on the boarder of Bolivia! I saw Lake Titicaca before I even set eyes on Machu Picchu. That wasn't the plan. So a bus that could have taken 20 hours, ended up taking over 26 hours! It was crazy, but definitely worth it. Cuzco was heaps of fun.
We finally arrived in Cuzco at 11.30 at night & went straight to Hostel Loki, a hostel that had been recommended to us in Lima. As soon as we walked in we bumped into Rob & Andrew, two Aussies that we have been periodically bumping into since Mexico. It was a great welcome; a familiar face goes a long way after a 26 hour bus ride. Then a celebratory drink & bed; who new that sitting on your ass for 26 hours could be so tiring.
Cuzco is a very welcoming town & nothing about it is terribly threatening. We soon made ourselves at home & found a favourite cafe, which we frequented at least once a day the entire time we were there. It was called Jack's & had the greatest breakfast menu you could ever imagine, for not too much money (more than we would normally spend, but it was sooo worth it). It was very nice after the terrible bus food. The first day we were in town we basically just explored the markets, looking for some bits & pieces for the Inca Trail that we were to undertake the next day. I bought Llama socks, beanie & gloves, which were to be very handy, & a ring, just to add to my new South American jewellery collection.
That night we had our Inca Trail briefing. I was a little worried when I saw everyone else in our 16 person group wearing hiking boots & zip off pants, when I was decked out in my favourite jeans & converse, but what can you do.
The first day of the trail is meant to be the easy day, but I think that all the days were just as hard as each other, but for totally different reasons.
On the first day we met at 6am & caught a bus to the start point of the trail, and then we had 6 hours of walking ahead of us, but first a suspension bridge, one of my biggest fears. After fighting past a couple of donkeys that were walking across way too slowly for my liking I was off. Luckily the terrain wasn't too challenging because it was really hot & sunny. I struggle with heat & when I was faced with 6 hours of walking in such heat I started to seriously question what I was doing.
Our hiking group was really quite large in the scheme of things, numbering 16 in all. There was however a little bit of a group divide, because there was a bunch of us who were in our 20s / 30s & the others were in there 40s. We soon grouped off with an American named Brett, 4 Irish, 2 x Michelles, a Clair & Dermit, & 2 Kiwis, now relocated to Australia (Smart Boys), named Jon & Julian. This was pretty much our crew for the three days. Our guides were Roberto & Mr. Julian, their catch phrases for the entire trip, which were pretty much added at least once in every sentence were ¨mis amigos¨ & ¨sinoras¨, which were often used together "mis amigos, sinoras". After about the first hour we were all pretty sick of those two little words, by the end of the trek, we were all saying it. They were great though & very knowledgeable & passionate about Inca history.
After about 4 hours of hiking we reached our first lunch stop. Breakfast had been fairly dodgy, a roll with Ham & Cheese for the carnivores & a roll that used to have ham & cheese, but now just had cheese with skerricks of ham, for the veggies. Things weren't looking that great. But when we sat down for lunch we were greeted with a three course meal. There was soup first, a selection of dishes, both meat & veggie for main & desert. It was bliss. Definitely the most gourmet camping experience I have ever had, no toasties cooked over the open fire for four hours that's for sure.
After such a feast it was hard to start walking again, not because we were tired, but because we were so full, but we soldiered on.
When we reached the first camp site mis amigos, I was completely surprised & over joyed by the discovery of flushing toilets. They were still manky, but it was nice to have a little home comfort when you're sleeping in a tent. Then it was time for tea & popcorn, followed by a massive dinner before we rolled off to bed. The first day certainly dispelled any thoughts we had of getting fit, or loosing weight, while on the trail.
The second day was really hard. We were woken at 6am by two of our porters (unless you were in my tent, in which case you were woken by Jon & Julian in the tent next door giggling like school girls. Thanks guys) who brought us tea of coffee in bed. I could lie & say that we were doing it tough, but really we were being pampered. Then we had a very hearty breakfast of pretty much anything you can think of, continuing the fattening up process.
It was pissing down with rain however (or ¨Inca Mist¨, good try Roberto) & the walk was straight up the side of a mountain, on about a million Inca stairs. It was so hard; it was also the day when we got to our highest altitude, 4200 meters. I swear there was no air up there, which made it about a million times harder, then after reaching the top & recovering for a while you had to hike all the way down the other side. My seemingly healthy knees where burning by the time I got down, but the freezing cold wind had also dried my jeans which was a bonus. On the second day the term Stincas was invented. This was short for Stupid Incas. We muttered it all the way up the stairs, wondering why the Incas didn't build tunnels, or elevators!
That was also the coldest night on the trail & I didn't sleep at all because I was so cold, even though I was wearing thermals, llama socks, beanie & gloves & a woollen jumper inside my sleeping bag. It was ridiculous.
The third day was a whole lot more of down hill, so if your knees weren't hurting already from the day before, they definitely were by the time you got to the next camp site. To make it even better it was still pissing down & all I had were my jeans, which I was afraid would never dry, so I borrowed some shorts from Michelle, a fabulous Irish girl with legs up to her ears. The shorts, needless to say, were shorter than anything I have worn since I was about 12 & looked really great with my rain jacket & beanie. Very embarrassing, but as mum always said ¨it isn't a fashion parade Cinny¨.
All the way along the trail there were millions of Inca sites & I think my favourite was on this day. This might have had something to do with the fact that the sun had come out by then, so it looked really beautiful. It was also the end point for the day after 10 hours, so that could have been a contributing factor.
On the third night there was a lodge near our camp site that had a bar. This was fabulous &, although we all had to get up at 4am the next morning to start walking again, we thought it our duty to play drinking games with our gang, which was hilarious & maybe just a little bit stupid at altitude. After like 1 & 1/2 beers we were all drunk, which only made ¨na ha na ha¨ a million times more funny.
By coincidence, Rob & Andrew the Aussies, were also doing the trail on the same days as us, with a different tour company, so we had to have a few drinks with them & their new found friends (one of which was even less prepared than me, wearing Dunlop Volleys). This drinking made for a great sleep, after I passed out, in my tent on the edge of a cliff. Very safe I'm sure.
Waking up at 4 was definitely not the highlight of the trip, especially considering it was raining even heavier that day & my head was a little hazy. Every other morning our porters woke us up with a cup of tea, which was a highlight, but on the last day they didn't & I think that's the only day that we all really needed it. (The porters were amazing by the way, they were all carrying at least 20kg on their backs & wearing sandals & they would run past you up the steepest of steep paths - seriously amazing. There was one guy that was 72 & still doing it! Made you feel just slightly lame for struggling up the hills with your day pack.) It was raining so hard, it was ridiculous. We only had to walk for 2 1/2 hours that morning however, which was nice, before we got to the sun gate, which I hear has a great view of Machu Picchu, but it was so cloudy & raining that we could hardly see our hands in front of us, so that totally sucks!
Then we walked down to the actual site & had a 4 hour tour. It was amazing, even in the clouds. It is huge with many temples to all the different sacred things in the Inca religion, like water, sun & condors.
After the tour we headed straight to a town called Aguas Calientes that has hot springs. It was awesome after 4 days of hiking, sweating & no showers, to wash for one & to relax our very sore muscles in a nice hot pool.
Then after lunch we headed back to Cusco on a train & a bus. By this stage me & Alison had managed to get some kind of horrid head-cold flu thing & once we got onto the bus, I got bus sick too, so once we got back to our hostel I had a spew & a nap, so that we could meet the rest of our group later that night for ¨yey we made it¨ drinks. I tried really hard to be able to celebrate but after I couldn't hold my first drink down, I was on the lemonade for the rest of the night, while hopped up on cold & flu tablets. It was still lots of fun though, we meet some really great people on the trek & it was a nice little farewell.
Our last hurrah in Peru was Amber's birthday. We had all been looking forward to a big celebration as Amber's birthday was the first one on our trip & our first chance to celebrate such an event with her in a couple of years. We started the day with our favourite breakfasts at Jack's, then sent Amber off for a birthday massage. Later that evening we headed to the hostel bar for a few drinks, had dinner & some Chilean wine (the only kind that seems to be any good in this part of the world), then back to our hostel to continue the fun. The hostel staff had grown fond of Amber by this stage so many birthday shots were brought her way. It was a telltale sign that the evening was going to be messy when someone suggested that Amber take her shot with no hands, & she thought it was a good idea. After Amber had been bombarded with about 7 different shots in the space of 40 minutes, it was all over red rover for her. Being true friends we decided that we should continue to celebrate in Amber's honour, so after putting her to bed (& after Alison broke a window) we headed off to a local club called Mama Africas. For some reason all the clubs here were named after other countries - weird. The night was long & hilarious, the music selection left a little to be desired, I think they had a steady rotation of 8 songs that were repeated all night, but half our hostel was there & it was fun dancing terribly to terrible music. The night was made even funnier when Amber awoke the next morning to find a plastic bag of vomit hanging from the post of her bed. I think that's a sign of a good birthday, don't you?
Then began one of the longest days on record, waiting for a 10pm bus to Copacabana, Bolivia.