Since I first learned about Peru at a young age, I’d been hooked. I’d learned about the Inca, and of the great speeds and distances that they could run, their Nazca lines, tales of their Sun God and of course the Kon-Tiki expedition. All when doing a school project at around the age of 8 or 10. It enthralled me. I felt a connection with something that I couldn’t see or touch, but I just remember that it had made me feel really alive. I went into this more in an earlier blog Peru. A primal awakening.
The time to visit Peru had come. Although at a time much later in my life.
I’d backpacked around China the previous year, so I was now feeling more like an intrepid explorer, instead of a sun, sea and sand, two weeks in Spain kinda tourist. I now felt I was brazen enough to wing it around Peru.
Earlier in the year I’d also taken my youngest son to Transylvania, to visit Dracula’s castle in Bran (I know, I know. Castle Bran wasn’t actually Dracula’s castle, but it was the one used in the films, and the one my son would be most familiar with). But why bore him with facts?
That trip had really opened my eyes to how we, the masses are guided towards particular destinations, yet there are other beautiful places like Transylvania which are barely mentioned or advertised. To be honest though, this adds to it’s charm.
I remember telling a Canadian friend of mine that we were going to Transylvania, and she was amazed, asking “Is that really a place? I didn’t know it really existed!”
Transylvania is stunning! To me it was like stepping into a fairy tale. If you’ve never been and could do with a bit of Wow factor in your life. Look into visiting. You won’t regret it.
But I’m wandering, this tale is not about that particular trip.
Back to topic. Peru.
I’d finally decided that now was my time to go and meet Peru.
I booked the flights
.I was going with my then fiancé, Mike (name changed). I was nervous about the trip, but obviously very excited. I avidly researched online. Planning our route and itinerary, reading about possible day trips we could go on, and looking at different hostels/bed and breakfasts in each of the places we planned to visit.
As our flight would land in Lima, this would be our first port of call. Where better to start than the capital city! We chose a backpackers hostel in Barranco. It was close to the sea and they offered an airport pick up.
I reserved a double room with a sea view.
Just to make matters even more exciting, our flight included an overnight stopover at Newark airport in New Jersey, close neighbour of New York city. How much better could life get?
I booked a room online for the night at Newark airport, and found that from there we could take a 30 minute train journey on the air train into Manhattan.
We made our way around as much of Manhattan as we could that evening, cramming in as many places as possible. I remember it was baltic cold.
Having flown there from Scotland in February, you would think we would have been accustomed to Winter conditions, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt cold like that. I honestly thought my eyeballs might freeze in their sockets while peering out at the statue of liberty and the Hudson river from the top of the Empire state building. Earlier in the evening, we’d walked through central park, to Time square and enjoyed a bit of a laugh with a local police man.
Next morning we were back on the plane and the excitement really started to build.
We were met as planned by a Peruvian chap at Lima airport. I’d noticed him standing holding a piece of cardboard with a name on it, and I eventually realised it was my name, just very badly spelled.
Soon we were in the car and on our way, driving along a coastal road to Barranco, with the Pacific ocean glimmering in the moonlight alongside us.
The moon was high in the sky, allowing our eyes to soak up everything as we passed. This was my first view of the Pacific and the temperature was thankfully so very much warmer than in New York.
I was in my element. Those tribal drums were beating louder, and my soul was dancing along to the rhythm.
I couldn’t have been happier with the choice of hostel. Our room had French windows looking out onto the Pacific ocean, and the whole atmosphere of the place was homely and friendly. If I have the opportunity to visit Peru again, I would definitely stay there.
Barranco itself, is a really nice area. There’s almost a sleepy feel to it, but there’s lots going on. Really nice cafes and bars, and one particular cafe/bar I liked used an old railway carriage as it’s kitchen area with tables and chairs on a patio for diners. This was where we first tried coca tea. A local cure all, and definitely, as we later found, the best tonic for altitude sickness.
We had great fun at the beach. We chose a beach more used by locals, rather than the one the tourists use, and it was definitely the best choice.
We also visited a small fishing village. We just happened across it when out for a wander, and we sat at a picnic type bench and ate deep fried squid tentacles in batter with french fries, elbow to elbow with some locals.
Pelicans wander and swoop around the beach, and perch on the small, brightly coloured fishing boats bobbing in the bay. I believe that Pelicans might be the Peruvian equivalent of Scottish seagulls. To me though, it was all very new and exciting and I loved seeing Pelicans like this, in their natural habitat.
From Barranco, we took a taxi into Lima and caught a coach to Ica. From there we took a taxi to Huacachina, our next stop.
When we got off the coach, we came across William. Local taxi driver, tourist guide and comedian.
His wife worked as a receptionist in the hotel we were staying in at Huacachina and his best friend Jimmy was also a local taxi driver. William talked us in to allowing him to show us around the town of Ica the following day, and it was worth every penny. He showed us local cotton fields, gave interesting stories about some local architecture, and bought us Cuban cigars at a local tobacconist so that as tourists, we wouldn’t be charged a higher price. He was a character and I wonder if he’s still there, going through the same routine with other tourists.
Huacachina is a natural oasis in the desert. I have to be honest, despite my lifelong interest in Peru, I hadn’t even known that it had a desert! But apparently it has some of the highest sand dunes in the world, and I went flying down them on a sand board, on my belly.
Chalk the board first I was instructed. Otherwise it won’t glide.
I think I may have over chalked the board. The speed I was moving at nearly took the skin right off my face!
But it was epic! Because of my small stature, I flew down those dunes at probably twice the speed of anyone else in our group, but the adrenalin rush was amazing.
We also went dune buggy racing through the dunes. This was a crazy experience. We’d be speeding along with miles of sand in front of us as far as the eye could see, only to be suddenly jolted forward as we came to an abrupt stop. Then we could now see that actually there was a very steep downward slope, like the edge of a steep hill only a few feet ahead. This was not seen by the naked eye while riding along. It could be a very dangerous experience to the untrained driver as the dunes are constantly shifting. The driver’s experience was essential.
While staying at Huacachina we arranged a day trip to fly over the Nazca lines. It was a long drive, around 2 hours as I remember, and it was Jimmy, William’s friend who was driving us. Sadly Jimmy’s knowledge of English was next to none, but as I already spoke a little Spanish, it wasn’t too much of an issue.
The flight was fantastic, at least to me!
Poor Mike hadn’t been feeling great since Lima, and had been putting a brave face on things. We think he picked up an ear infection at the beach and he’d bought some ear drops from a local pharmacy. Now at Nazca, the extreme heat was really dragging him down and he told me later that the flight had actually frightened the life out of him!
It was a small aircraft, only six seats for passengers, and there were four of us. Another young couple and us. Throughout the flight the aircraft would bank, and sometimes quite drastically. The pilot would do this so that we could get the best view of the ancient symbols on the ground below. It was all very exciting to me, but to Mike, it was a living nightmare, I only later found.
When we were back on the ground and eventually back in Jimmy’s car heading back to Huacachina, Mike began to feel more and more ill. His temperature was rocketing, and he couldn’t even sip the bottled water I offered. He told me in panic that his throat was closing and he was struggling to breathe. .
This was now an emergency
I told Jimmy and he stepped on the gas. I knew he’d been aware something wasn’t right, but couldn’t understand any of what was being said. He phoned ahead to the hotel, who called him back a few minutes later with the address of a doctor in Ica we should go to. They’d already arranged it with the doctor to be waiting for us.
We arrived at the surgery and the doctor and his nurse came rushing out to meet us. Between us we got Mike inside and onto a bed (such as they have in a doctor’s consultation room). By this time, Mike was sweating profusely. Without exaggeration, the water was pouring off the sides of the bed and forming puddles on the floor!
The doctor questioned me briefly as to what had happened, and soon explained that he was going to inject Mike with an oil. He said that as the oil is thicker than blood, it would cause him to be in a lot of pain but after around 10 minutes, his temperature would be back to almost normal. At that point Mike’s body temperature was half a degree away from the point of no return!
I gave my consent to the injection. To this day I do not know what that was in the syringe, but I really think it should be more available. Within only a few short minutes, Mike was sitting up in bed talking again. Oblivious to where he was or how he’d got there. The bill was the equivalent of 70 GBP and it saved Mike’s life.
Soon we left again with Mike walking with my support. I was amused to hear that the doctor and his nurse had believed we were father and daughter, Mike and I. This strangely became a regular thing. We went shopping in Lima one day near the end of the holiday, and the sales assistant took the piece of clothing from me as I left the changing room and said “Papa?” She was intending on taking the piece of clothing to my father to pay for it! I’m still laughing now as I think back to the look on Mike’s face when I told him.
When we came out from the doctor’s surgery, we found Jimmy still standing there waiting for us.
I was touched.
He was so concerned. I couldn’t believe he’d waited there all that time. We thanked him before getting in the car for the drive back to Huacachina, and of course tipped him well.
When we arrived, the hotel staff had already been to our room on the first floor, taken our bags and moved them to a room on the ground floor to make it easier for Mike. They then brought him coca tea and arranged with the kitchen for chicken soup to be brought to the room. They also chapped on the door every hour for the rest of the evening to ensure he was okay. They made us feel like family.
We were supposed to be taking a coach the following morning from Ica to Arequipa, but this had to be cancelled. Mike wasn’t yet fit to travel.
We stayed on in Huacachina for another two days until he felt fit enough to move on.
Arequipa was a very short visit. The city itself is beautiful. It has some absolutely stunning architecture, which has resulted in it being more famously known as The White City. There are numerous day trips to various exciting locations, but sadly we didn’t get to experience any of them.
The hostel we had chosen was a huge let down. We weren’t met at the bus station as arranged, and the only member of staff on duty throughout our short stay was a young boy of around 14 years. The place wasn’t clean and there was one particular guest who was so threatening that we decided to leave the very next morning. We booked on a coach to Puno and scampered.
The bus to Puno climbed higher and higher in altitude, through the altiplano and up mountainous winding roads. I remember looking out the window on one particular steep bend and seeing snow on the roadside. That did not bode well! Mike enjoyed watching a movie on the bus, and it felt good to see him laughing again.
At last, after around 7 hours we arrived in Puno.
Puno is a whole new experience for anyone I’d say. This is where we saw the real Peru. It’s not touristy in any shape or fashion. Our hostel was great. Each floor was set out like an apartment, with a living area and 4 bedroom leading from it. Very homely.
However, the entire time in Puno was marred by a terrible bout of altitude sickness. My head was agony, all day and night. I honestly felt I would either die in my sleep or my head would just explode in the night. It was awful! No amount of paracetamol would touch it, and the only thing that helped was coca tea.
Puno has a great and colourful market, selling everything on earth you could possibly imagine. It’s immense, and I don’t think we managed to cover even half of it.
We stayed in Puno for 4 days. Another couple had a room on our floor. I didn’t trust them. The guy was Irish and the girl was Chilean. They were heading to Chile after Puno and tried to talk us into joining them. Mike went up to the roof terrace with them to smoke a joint and came back with seeds. \i wasn’t amused. I didn’t like the idea of him having them while we were travelling. Knowing at some point we’d be going through an airport. My fears were not unfounded! As you’ll find out.
The couple left one morning along with all the DVDs from the sitting room on our floor. We had to let the staff know about this so that we didn’t get the blame.
Lake Titicaca. Even saying the name takes me back to the school project. It’s believed that the first Inca’s emerged from the lake.
A local taxi driver informed me when explaining that both Bolivia and Peru share Lake Titicaca, that Peru has the Titi and Bolivia has the caca!
There’s a tribe of people who live on the Uros islands on the lake. They live on these floating islands made entirely of reeds. Their magnificent boats are made of reeds, their homes, made of reeds and they eat….reeds. Truly amazing to see. My only regret is that the pounding, and relentless headache detracted from the fun.
On our last night in Puno we went out for dinner. There’s a main street with lots of nice restaurants and it’s pedestrianised.
We headed there, Still with our bursting headaches. There was some sort of fiesta going on, and all the local children were spraying each other with spray foam. They didn’t spray their parents and the adults didn’t appear to be a part of it.
As we walked up the street choosing a restaurant to eat in, a young kid sprayed me with foam. This was deemed okay because I was a gringo. They found it amusing. I didn’t! I have to admit I wasn’t in the best of spirits due to the relentless pain in my head. I remember being pouty and being told off by Mike. We found a restaurant and enjoyed a meal. My spirits began to lift. I asked what he thought of the idea of tooling up with spray foam and blasting the little shits. He was up for it.
Well, what an absolutely brilliant time we had. We bought two giant cans of spray foam each and started spraying every kid we saw! They loved it! At first they were shocked that we were joining in but they soon started attacking us with foam. We ran up and down that street trying to avoid their spray attacks, and spraying every child holding a spray can that we saw. Before long, more and more parents were joining in. Soon it was pandemonium. No one was safe from the foam. Everyone in the street was running around like crazy people, ducking and diving and spraying each other. Everyone looked like big white blancmanges. It was hysterical.
Eventually it got late and with tears of laughter still in my eyes, we made our way back to the hostel to collect our belongings before heading to the bus station for our overnight bus to Cusco.
While walking, I realised my headache had completely disappeared, and so had Mike’s. To this day that was one of the best nights of my life.
Overnight bus to Cusco.
We’d walked to the bus station earlier that day to buy our bus tickets. I remember things were a bit frosty between us, no doubt due to the altitude head agony we were both experiencing. Mike wasn’t comfortable about walking in this part of town. We had to walk along a long street that was lined with mechanics workshops. Nothing else, and on both sides of the street for it’s full length, that’s all there was. Guys busy banging on vehicle exhaust pipes and welding things. I found it quite interesting and didn’t feel in any way threatened.
We reached the bus station and I remember there were a number of different kiosks all advertising buses to Cusco with various prices. Mike told me just to choose one, as I stood there pondering which one to go to. I went to a kiosk advertising a bus priced at $5. I was intrigued. “Surely that can’t be right?” I remember thinking. But sure enough, I bought the tickets and they were $5 each.
We arrived that evening for the bus.
Have you ever watched a movie where there was a bus in some distant country going from one city to another, and local people are all piling on with chickens and goats, sacks of goodness knows what, and boxes of fruit and vegetables etc?
We were on that bus.
I sat in my seat on the bus as more and more people piled on.
Local ladies with huge sacks strapped to their back, struggled along the aisle and had to hop over children that were lying on the floor. In the aisle!!
People were having to step over them as they carried their goat to their seat at the back of the bus. I stood up at one point to help this larger lady as she fought her way along the aisle stepping over children and balancing a chicken under one arm. She had a really big red scarf strapped to her back full of…something. I lifted the red sack a little higher, trying to help with the weight of it and to lift it slightly, so allowing it to pass over the top of the seats. Then I felt something inside move. A small human leg fell out the side.
There was a child in there!
It was a very interesting night, and probably the best $5 I’ve ever spent!
Beautiful Cusco. The Lion city, as it was known by the Incas.
Cusco is Peru’s ancient capital. It’s a shame it isn’t any longer. Nothing at all against Lima. I loved Lima. Honest! But Cusco for me holds the very essence of Peru.
We’d booked our train tickets from Cusco to Machu Picchu before even leaving Scotland. Our 4 nights in Barranco and our Machu Picchu tickets were the only two things we’d booked in advance.
Oh the disappointment we were soon to face.
We had a print out of the purchase we had made online for the tickets, and we were to take this to the train station in Cusco when we arrived, to receive our actual tickets.
This we did.
We made our way through the town and found the train station, excitedly anticipating our journey, only to find that the local farmers were protesting and the train for that day was cancelled!
Horrified is an under statement. But, we were able to go the next day, so we sat in the town square with a big Cuban cigar to drown our sorrows.
We decided that this would be a good opportunity to walk up to Sacsyhuaman. An absolutely mind boggling site. The enormity of the stones used to build this temple is astounding. How they were carried up to the site is completely incomprehensible.
Train to Mach Picchu.
The big day arrived. This would be the highlight of my life and the train trip in itself was to be an absolute delight.
Travelling through the Andes on a steam train with a glass roof. I just couldn’t wait.
It didn’t disappoint.
What a journey. Passing towns and villages along the way. Locals lining up at every stop, and even at points when the train had to slow down, offering up foods for purchase at the train windows. It was an awesome trip.
We arrived in Machu Picchu town, or Aguas Calientes in heavy rain fall. A girl was there to meet us with a huge umbrella and to take us to our hostel.
We crossed the wooden bridge that crosses the rapid river Aguas Calientes to the other side of the small town. The hostel was nice enough, no complaints, but there was some confusion over our booking as we’d been supposed to arrive the day before. It turned out fine.
We were shown to our room and Mike wanted to rest for a while. He made tea, and then another, and then another. Can you imagine my state of mind at that point? All I wanted to do was to get outside and explore. To experience being there, in that place. In the end he lost his temper, and I ventured out alone.
I found the ticket office that sold entry tickets to Machu Picchu and enquired about the bus times up the mountain for the next morning. I was given the times, but also advised that I might prefer to walk. The girl told me that the walk up through the Andes early in the morning is spectacular with lots of birds and wildlife.
I decided that that’s what I would do.
When I went back to the room, there was no Mike. This wasn’t unusual. I knew he’d be off looking for booze.
He returned much later, drunk.
I set my alarm for 5am and went to sleep, ignoring him.
The walk up to Machu Picchu the next morning was as promised, spectacular. The scenery was, well, unexplainable really. I can see it in my mind, but to try to put it into words. I don’t think that I can.
It was, as I say, simply spectacular.
I felt spirits in the air. It felt like every peak was alive. Like every mountain I could see was watching me, was aware of my presence. Trust me, I know it sounds bizarre, like I must be some sort of hippy freak, but no, I’m you. Just a regular person, but there was nothing regular about those mountains. The whole experience of that walk was nothing short of surreal.
Just look at my photo of Machu Picchu in my previous post “Peru, a primal awakening” Does the image of the mountain not seem like a spirit? Like it’s holding out it’s arms protecting the buildings below?
That’s all I see when I look at it.
I walked up through the mountains and eventually reached my destination. I’d made it. It was a beautiful sunny morning. The rain clouds had cleared away from the night before, and the sky was fresh and blue.
The views were breathtaking and yes, there were birds everywhere. I was walking in heaven.
I meandered through Machu Picchu alone. I’d left Mike snoring in bed. After his behaviour the previous evening, I wasn’t letting him ruin this day for me. He could make his own way up there, just as I had done. I knew we’d meet up later at some point. We were booked on the train back to Cusco that evening.
I wasn’t quite sure which direction to head in when I first arrived. I had a map, but wasn’t sure of which route to take. In the end, I made the very intellectual decision to just follow the electric blue butterflies that were fluttering around me everywhere I went, making me feel a bit like Snow white.
So this is what I did. I walked in the same direction as the butterflies, and I let them guide me.
So many beautiful Llamas. They were everywhere, and quite tame. I over indulged with the photos.
I met this guy. He was young, far too young for me. Probably in his early to mid twenties, and I didn’t even think of him in “that way” but he was absolutely stunning to look at. Tall, slim, tanned, piercing eyes and shoulder length blond, wavy hair. Dressed in knee length shorts and a T shirt. Not unlike a surfer type dude.
I was so taken by how handsome he was that I wanted to ask if I could take his photo, but I didn’t. I later wished I had.
He just started chatting to me, and asked if I was there alone. He told me that he was. He didn’t seem in any way creepy. I know it may have read that way. Asking if I were there alone, but he seemed warm and friendly. He was just chatting and being sociable.
We decided to walk to the Inca bridge together.
We started to walk along the narrow path, and met a good few people coming back. The path had been too narrow for them, being on the edge of a steep cliff and they’d chickened out and turned back,
We carried on. The path was very narrow in parts, having eroded away, and being on the edge of a mountain, it was quite startling looking down. Thousands of feet down! We kept going,
When we got to the end of the path we saw the Inca bridge. We stood there looking at it in wonder and discussed how impressive it was that the Inca people had built Machu Picchu city by carrying everything necessary along that narrow mountainous path and over the Inca bridge. All the huge rocks needed and all tools. It really is remarkable. I took a couple of photos and carried on talking, but when I turned around he was gone. Completely gone!
I looked all around.
It’s difficult to describe the location where we stood. The narrow path we had walked along led to this small clearing. In front of me there was a sheer drop and across the mountain was the Inca bridge. There was nowhere he could have gone. I’d only heard his voice seconds before and there was no way he could have made his way along the path again and out of sight before I had turned around. Why would he have done that anyway without even a goodbye? He just vanished into thin air, and I’ve told very few people this story.
He might have been an angel? Or a ghost perhaps.I made my way back along the path, looking all the way in the hope of catching sight of him, but I never saw him again.
I spent the rest of the day taking photos, many of Llamas, and just breathing in the air. I walked across every inch of the ancient city, marvelling at the very notion of being there.
Eventually I began the descent back down through the Andes to town.
I strolled through the market area and crossed the bridge. I remember being lost in my own thoughts as I walked, but something made me look up. A man and woman were walking toward me. crossing the bridge but in the opposite direction. The man looked at me with a strange expression. I dropped my eyes. The woman was white, but he was native. Peruvian I assume. His face though. I don’t know why he looked at me in that way… Surprised. We passed each other, but I had to look back. It was a bit confusing. He was looking back too. I kept walking.
I can still see his face. I could point him out in a line up if asked, and I saw him for only a couple of seconds. Ten years ago.
Isn’t life odd at times?
i was sitting on the train now, and starting to worry that Mike would miss it.
He arrived, and plonked himself down in the seat opposite me, drunk.
Sacrilege to come to a place like this and get wasted, I thought. But each to his own.
We spent another couple of days in Cusco and then decided to fly back to Lima to spend our last few days sunning ourselves on the beach. This time we decided to stay in Miraflores, another part of Lima.
Going through the security area at the airport was an experience I’ll never forget.
It seems that it’s quite common for men carrying drugs to allow their woman to carry them, believing that she won’t be searched by security guards!
I was surrounded. My bag was taken apart. My underwear and personal items were scattered across the desk as four men with rifles stood over me.
“You like to smoke?” One asked me, smiling.
“No” I looked at him straight in the face, answering as sincerely as I could.
“Are you carrying anything you’d like us to know about?”
“No” I replied. Again as sincerely as my face could muster.
I was honestly crapping myself as Mike sat on a chair un-harrassed and not surrounded by men with rifles and leering faces.
They let me go. They had no choice as they found nothing. There was nothing to find.
Mike and his bloody seeds. I found that it’s not illegal to carry seeds, but his having them obviously raised suspicion. They would have been seen on the scanners.
Strangely enough, we’re not together any more.
We did remain friends though.
There’s so much of Peru that I didn’t manage to see. Three weeks is a good amount of time to cover a good distance and see many things, but to also visit the north of the country, I would have needed around six week I reckon.
It was a fantastic adventure and I hope I’ll get the chance to go back some day and do it all again.