South America Day 52 – La Paz to Cusco
1st March 2019
Another early start as we head to El Alto Alto at 7 am for our 10.30 flight to Cusco. At almost 3 miles above sea level and with hideous pollution, I’m not looking forward to spending two hours here before our flight, breathing air high in fumes and low in oxygen. It turns out I’m not going to. Our flight on Peruvian Airlines has been cancelled. I say cancelled – the airline ceased operating following a crash. We’re told we need to get Peruvian Airlines to purchase us tickets on Amazonas which departs at 10.15. Two problems; the Peruvian airlines rep cannot be located and the flight is full.
There isn’t another flight today. We can come back tomorrow, but it will cost $828. We contact our waste of space travel agent who suggests we buy overnight bus tickets. I’m not happy (understatement). But there isn’t really an option, so we get a taxi back to the Bus Station which, incidentally, was designed by Gustave Eiffel.
There’s no central system, just lots of little kiosks selling tickets for their own particularly companies. I wander around trying to find something suitable, amongst a lot of Bolivian police dressed in dog costumes – yes really! There are no direct services available, but we are able to catch a local bus to Copacabana and then an overnight bus from there.
At 1.30 pm we crawl out of La Paz (again) in a huge cloud of diesel smoke, luggage bouncing precariously on the roof. And by 1.45 pm we have stopped by the roadside for repairs. We set off again, retracing our route to Copacabana for the second time that week; highway over the plain, ferry across the lake, winding road through the mountains. The lake is much choppier than before. Instead of remaining on the raft with the bus, we have to cross on a ferry. There are a few nervous moments when I can see the raft containing the bus, containing my suitcase, containing all my belongings starts taking on water and I fear I’m going to have to wear the same pants for the next 19 days. At least I’m not on the raft – then I’d new pants straight away!
We arrive in Copacabana at 5 pm, which gives us just enough to complete the requisite paperwork, buy some empanadas and board the second bus for a 6 pm departure.
After the rickety wreck that brought us thus far, we are pleasantly surprised to find that this bus is actually really nice with comfortable reclining seats, heating, blankets etc. It only takes 30 minutes to reach the border and 30 minutes for everyone to clear immigration.
The clocks have gone back, so now it’s 6 pm again and we can reboard our bus, lay back and ‘relax’ (as much as is possible on bouncy third world mountain roads) for the final 11 hours of our journey.
South America Day 53 – Cusco
2nd March 2019
We finally reach Cusco just before 6 am. It has taken 24 hours, 3 taxis, 2 buses and a ferry. We are tired, hungry, thirsty and smelly, so it’s a relief to check into our hotel; Tierra Viva Cusco Centro.
After we have regrouped, we go for a wander round Cusco. It’s very pretty with cobbled streets, plazas and plenty of old churches and other buildings, with pride of place to the imposing Cathedral. But it’s hard work dodging the hundreds of touts and vendors. Especially as my back has not coped well with the 17 hour bus journey.
I go to a pharmacy and ask for something for backache. I am offered some huge pink tablets that look like they could tranquillise an elephant. She’s disappointed when I opt for just Paracetamol.
We round the day off with dinner at Hanz Craft Beer which scores highly on TripAdvisor. It has good food and good beer, but the prices are more than I’d pay in the UK – £10 a pint! What’s that all about? There is a man at the next table who has Luke Skywalker tattooed on one arm and Darth Vader in the other. He can put his arms together and make them fight.
We walk back through the Plaza de Armas. The atmosphere is buzzing. A succession of folk dance groups performs with hordes or tourists stopping to watch, whilst dozen of vendors try to sell their wares. The old man can’t resist a woolly hat. We return to the hotel with me pretending not to know him.
South America Day 54 – Cusco
3rd March 2019
Today we are going on an organised tour of Cusco and surroundings; Circuit No 1. Tickets to attractions are sold in packages, so you can’t pay to visit just one site. Our circuit starts with Sacsayhuamán. This is the bottom of an Incan fort – the Spanish removed the top to build their cathedral.
Next stop, Qenqo – an ancient temple fashioned in a rock formation.
On to Puca Pucara, the ruins of an Incan military site.
Finally, Tambomachay, an Incan baths complete with aqueducts and waterfalls.
And, of course, the obligatory stop at a gift shop which specialises in llama wool products.
At the end of the tour, we are dropped off at the edge of town and have to walk back through the main square. It’s carnage. It’s carnival – this basically means that everyone has either a can of foam or a water pistol and we have run this gauntlet to get back to our hotel; pedestrians, people hanging out of car windows, people on balconies all attack as we walk by.
In the evening, we brave the carnage once more in search of food. We avoid the main square and go to a chicken restaurant nearby; Los Toldos Chicken. In addition to chicken and chips, there is a salad bar. I’m excited. When travelling, it can be difficult to eat healthily. I take plenty of salad. It is laced with more chilli than anything I have ever tried to eat. I’m almost floored by a salad. The rest of the food is very good, though.
We eat our dinner whilst watching gangs of youths hunt each other down in foam warfare. Eventually, we have to leave the restaurant and brave a return up the hill to the hotel. (It takes a while – the old man ordered a half chicken, which was a meal for two and has consumed his body weight in chips).
Then it’s another early night as we have to be at the station by 6 am for our train to Machu Picchu – not that easy with a brass band outside the window!
South America Day 55 – Machu Picchu Pueblo
4th March 2019
Today, we are taking the train to Machu Picchu Pueblo. I’m looking forward to this for two reasons; (1) it’s the start of our visit to Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World and (2) it’s only 2000 m above sea level, that’s a mile lower than anywhere we’ve been in the past ten days.
Train tickets aren’t cheap – we’ve paid almost £300 – yet a big chunk of the journey consists of a bus replacement service due mudslides making the track impassable. We leave at 6.15 am, taking a bus to Ollantaytambo 50 miles away. I’m surprised how much of the bus journey involves climbing (most of the first hour, in fact). After an hour we stop at a viewpoint amidst snow capped mountains.
Then we reboard the bus and begin to descend. An hour later we arrive at Ollantaytambo station to board our train. It’s chaos; a group of elderly American cruisers are wandering up and down the tracks while the train is trying to pull in.
Eventually, the elderly are sufficiently restrained for boarding to commence. It’s a nice train (ought to be for that price) with panoramic windows to the side and in the roof.
Th train departs on time and makes its way down through the Sacred Valley alongside the raging Urubamba River to Machu Picchu Pueblo. We hug the riverbank with mountains rising steeply on either side. The scenery is amazing. On the far bank we can see hikers following the Inca Trail. We are served a sandwich and a weird fruit whilst listening to Andean pipe music. The old man’s attempt to gain entry to his fruit becomes a spectator sport for surrounding passengers.
We reach our destination and walk along the river to our hotel; Tierra Viva Machu Picchu. The river dominates everything – the noise is deafening.
After checking in, we find a riverside restaurant for dinner; Mapacho. The building actually vibrates with the power of the water rushing past. Every now and then the noise and vibrations multiply as another train rattles by. But the view is spectacular and the food is amazing; The Aji de Gallina; ‘Chicken breast sautéed in strips, with a yellow chili sauce served with potato, egg, cheese and black olive‘ is to die for.
After dinner, we walk round the village. It’s not very big, just a few rows of restaurants and an artisanal market to service tourists passing through to the main attraction. Oh, and a railway line, which runs right through the middle of the main road. We purchase the three essentials of any trip; beer, postcards and a fridge magnet. Then it’s back to the hotel for another early night. We have Machu Picchu tickets for 6 am tomorrow.
South America Day 56 – Machu Picchu
5th March 2019
Today we are going to Machu Picchu. We have to get up at 5 am for a second consecutive day, added onto a 17 hour overnight coach journey and I would be flagging, apart from the fact that the drop in altitude has rejuvenated me.
Machu Picchu isn’t cheap; train £268, hotel £73, entry £75 and bus to the entrance £37. That’s £453 for a 4 hour visit. And that doesn’t take into account the the cost of getting to Per, or the cloning of our credit card whilst purchasing the tickets!
We arrive at the bus queue by 5.30 am. It’s very busy but well organised with a constant stream of buses, so we are on our way within 10 minutes, driving the 5 mile uphill zigzag to the entrance, trying to avoid pedestrians not prepared to pay $24 to be driven up a hill.
We reach the site just before it opens at 6 am. It is similarly busy but well organised, so we are in Machu Picchu 10 minutes after sunrise. It’s beautiful; the clouds are half way up the valley with the citadel poking its head above them.
A fact about Machu Picchu; it’s an excellent workout. We are there for four hours, almost all of which involves climbing up or down steep stone steps. We start by climbing to the top for an overview. It’s not too crowded; just us, the first few busloads and several alpacas.
After taking some panoramic photos (and catching our breath) we decide to follow the Inca Bridge; it’s a trail cut into the cliff face. It’s steep and has no railings. The only safety features are a sign saying ‘beware narrow path’ and a man with a broom who chases the alpacas away so they don’t push people over the edge.
The alpacas are unhappy at being kept away and the entrance to the bridge is packed with a dozen attempting to break in. Passing them is a mission. The old man abandons me and a random strangers acts as my llama guard to the trailhead.
Next, the old man sets off up another trail. I point out that the main site is filling up at the rate of one bus load every four minutes, so we should visit there first, before it is heaving. He is not persuaded, so we split up and I descend to the citadel. The clouds have lifted and the sun is out, so it’s a lovely day for wandering around the ancient site marvelling in its construction and the beauty of the surroundings and taking literally hundreds of photos.
Eventually the old man reappears and we visit the last few sites together; the Ceremonial Baths, the Temple of the Three Doorways, the Sacred Plaza and the Temple of the Condor (there are no condors there, only a viscacha – imagine a cut & shut between a rabbit and a squirrel).
We reach the exit of the well-policed one way system – no chance of sneaking back round for another peek. It has taken exactly four hours; our official time allocation.
We take what, if calculated at cost per mile, is probably the world’s most expensive bus back to town and choose a restaurant overlooking the river for brunch.
There are no trains during the day, so even with seriously dragging out brunch, we still have four hours to wait to return to Cusco. We have already checked out or our room, so we set up camp in the hotel foyer where we can keep dry and use the Wifi. Plenty have the same idea so it looks more like a refugee camp than a fancy hotel.
We were so lucky with the weather, we had a gorgeous morning at Machu Picchu but it rains incessantly all afternoon. The noise of the rain clattering on the roof joins the sound of the river roaring past.
Finally it’s time to board our train for the 90 minute journey back to Ollantaytambo. It’s much noisier than the outward journey as the engine strains to pull us uphill. After dinner, we pull into a siding and the three crew allocated to our carriage put on a show; one dresses as an evil spirit and performs a traditional dance, while the others model alpaca wool jumpers and scarves. I wonder if they drew straws for this division of labour?
We reach Ollantaytambo station and transfer to buses for the final two hours of the journey. We depart in convoy, meeting traffic coming the other way in the the narrow cobbled village. Total gridlock ensues. A policeman, who looks about 12 (showing my age) tries to resolve the situation but nobody is listening.
It takes an age before we finally resume or drive Cusco, reaching our hotel at 9 pm for the end of our 16 hour outing. Time for a little sleep before tomorrow morning’s flight to Lima.
South America Day 57 – Miraflores
6th March 2019
Today we are flying to Lima. I’m really looking forward to returning to sea level – very sea level as our hotel is only 400 metres from the ocean.
We are back to flying with LATAM, the only airline we have used in South American without problems. And sure enough, we are due to land at 11.06, and by 11.07 we are sitting in a taxi en route to our hotel.
We are staying in Miraflores, an upmarket suburb by the Pacific. The hotel; Tierra Viva Miraflores Mendiburu is nice but backs onto a scrap metal yard, so is rather noisy during the day. But if you peer over the car wrecks, you can just glimpse the ocean.
After lunch in the neighbouring chicken shop, we go for a walk on the promenade which runs along the cliff top. It’s a pleasant stroll through gardens overlooking the ocean. It’s rather like being in Bournemouth with one major exception; much of the city’s sewage is pumped straight into the water. There’s a whiff on the ocean breeze which is quite unsettling.
We walk as far as the Parque del Amor, a park lined by a mosaic wave wall and dominated by a giant orange sculpture of a couple kissing. Then we return to the hotel via a general store. I want a six-pack of beer so ask for six cans; ‘seis latas’. The assistant looks bemused, I have to point at what I want. He corrects me, and says I want ‘un six-pack’. I ask why it’s not ‘un seis-pack’? He looks at me like I’m completely bonkers, but I think I have a valid point…
South America Day 58 – Lima
7th March 2019
Today we are going sightseeing in Lima. For the first time in days, no early morning alarm or eating breakfast with one eye on the time. We have the luxury of a lie in.
The old man wimps out of using public transport, so we take a taxi into town. We start at the Art Museum (MALI) which takes us on a brief chronological tour of 3000 years of Peruvian art. The Spanish colonial art is fun; indigenous artists weren’t allowed to sign their work, some got round this rule by painting their faces into the picture. It’s like playing a religious game of ‘Where’s Wally’?
Then we walk the length of the old city through Plaza San Martin, past the ornately decorated Basilica la Merced to the Main Square, where we stop to visit the Cathedral and adjoining Archbishop’s Palace.
The Cathedral mixes macabre with gaudy. On entering, you encounter the Chapel of Francisco Pissarro (the Spanish conquistador who conquered Peru). Here, his bones are laid on display together with a description of his various injuries (he was stabbed multiple times by the son of someone he had executed).
We pass several chapels decorated on the theory of ‘more is more’ brightly coloured, festooned with statues and balloons and flowers etc. Then we descend into the crypt with more bones and mummified corpses on display.
Back in the plaza, we pass the Government Palace, where I upset a man with a large gun by taking a photo through the railings, and move swiftly on.
We round our day off with two more churches; Santo Domingo and San Francisco with its bone lined catacombs. We are done for the day, five hours sightseeing in the heat is ample, add on another hour for a taxi ride through Lima’s nightmare traffic back to Miraflores.
We are back in time for dinner; some tasty chicken and veggies from Rasson, before calling it a night with a pack of Oreos and a couple of beers from the corner shop – we know how to live it up!
South America Day 59 – Miraflores
8th March 2019
Today we are having a quiet day, just wandering round Miraflores. We walk along the Malecon for a couple of miles through the line of parks, until we reach Larcomar; a shopping mall built into the cliff side.
On the way, we spot Paddington Bear – who knew he’d made it back to Peru?
Then we walk back through Miraflores via the central park, which might be called Parque Kennedy, or may be named after some random date. Here, dozens of very well fed stray cats live amongst the flower beds.
We stop at Café Buena Vista for a drink and a microwaved empanada. Not the best lunch, but the café is on a cliff overlooking the ocean, so at least it’s not kidding about the view being good.
After an afternoon chill in our room, we go out for dinner. The old man chooses what, according to Tripadvisor, is one of the top restaurant in Lima – Bao? It’s pretentious Chinese ‘street food’. There are no descriptions on the menu. I choose Cosmic Chips – basically chips in a rather unpleasant, massively salty chilli sauce. And some sort of chicken dish, which turns out to be coated in peanuts. It’s the first time since being diagnosed with a nut allergy four years ago that I’ve eaten any type of nuts. It’s not quite how I envisaged testing my allergy to other nuts – in some Peruvian back alley eating hideous food. Luckily, I survive the experience and all that is required is a bag of Oreos to take the taste away. Tomorrow I shall be choosing the restaurant!
South America Day 60 – San Isidro
9th March 2019
I have an interrupted night’s sleep due to:
3 am – texts from daughter number two
4 am – the old man leaves for a boat trip
5 am – the fire alarm goes off. I go down to the foyer in my pyjamas, only to be told not to worry, it’s just someone smoking in bed.
It’s our last day in Peru with its stinking beaches and salty food. I can see why Paddington (a) wanted out and (b) stuck to marmalade sandwiches. The old man has gone on a boat trip to a nearby island. I have opted to stay closer to ‘home’ for a dose of culture. After a few more hours sleep, I get up, have breakfast (jam sandwiches) and set off down the Malecon in the opposite direction to yesterday.
First stop, the Lugar de la Memoria, la Tolerancia y la Inclusión Social (Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion) or LUM for short; a museum dedicated to the victims of state violence in Peru during the 80s and 90s. It’s interesting, but the language is very political and somewhat beyond someone who has only had 20 Spanish lessons.
I walk on through the pleasant suburb of San Isidro with its beautifully manicured gardens until I reach the end of the Malecon, then I find a bakery, buy empanadas and return to the hotel to pack for tomorrow’s flight to Quito.