Peru: Arequipa, Cusco and Machu Picchu

So we were hoping for a super comfy trip to ease the pain from the climb up Huayna Potosi, but, as I was to find, Peruvians like their buses hot. And I mean super-hot. The upper decks resemble saunas and while I strip off my shoes and socks and roll up my trou, the Peruvians and Bolivians cover themselves with blankets, jackets, hats, gloves, you-name-it.. Try and open a window to release some steam and you will get at most 10 minutes before someone senses too much fresh air and swiftly closes it. Other than that the journey was fine with a nice stop at the Bolivia-Peru border to spend my last Bolivian money on some super sweet and tasty tea-in-a-bag.

Drinks in bags.  A South/Central American phenomenon, surely soon to hit the UK:

Arriving in the wee hours in Arequipa we asked the driver to take us to our pre-decided hostel only for him to play silly buggers for a while and claim it didn’t exist and take us to several of his preferred commission based places. Not having any of it we just demanded he take us to Wild Rover (party hostel chain) despite having not really wanted to stay there on the evidence of the La Paz Wild Rover. Didn’t regret staying there in the end as it had a totally different vibe, very relaxed, free pool table and a swimming pool in the courtyard – nice!

Arequipa is a cool ex-colonial town to just stroll around and there are a couple of awesome-looking massive snow-capped volcanoes that tower over the city which you every now and then catch a glimpse of.

We considered what trips, excursions and tours to do in Arequipa but after Huayna Potosi we were in little mood for any activity which involved moving our legs. So from the choices of: river rafting; tour of Colca canyon (2nd deepest canyon in the world); doing a city and Inca tour; amongst other things, we elected for absolutely nothing. So I spent 4 days not really doing much at all, but still really enjoyed my time there. Peru has amazing food so I ate some delicious meals during the four days including: Ceviche (seafood); Mexican (unbelievable guacamole); Chifa (Chinese Peruvian food); and a dish which included fish eggs and tripe at the Arequipa annual food festival – yum!

Cathedral of Arequipa:

Funniest thing I saw was a guy who had ‘blacked’ himself up with boot polish and donned a fake afro, apparently using it as a marketing technique to sell his chewing gum at traffic lights:

So fully rested after the exertions of Bolivia I headed up to Cusco the Inca capital.  The morning I arrived (after another suffocatingly roasting hot bus ride) I decided to kick-start the cultural experience by taking a city tour which gave me some insight into the history of the Incas and the following invasion by the Spanish.  Apparently the Inca’s thought the 180 (!) white-skinned strangers were prophets/gods and therefore welcomed them with open arms, which was the beginning of their downfall.  Guns, Germs & Steel resulted in the deaths of some 8 out of the 12 million in the empire.

Inca building: Sturdy.

Spanish cathedral:

Last Inca King Atahualpa: This guy had over 200 kids and a similar number of concubines.  No wonder it was so easy for the 180 Spanish to conquer the Inca empire; he obviously had his priorities and war wasn’t the main one.

Cusco is the base for tours to Machu Picchu so I duly spent the afternoon I arrived checking out what trip to do. As I hadn’t booked in advance there was little chance of getting on the real Inca trail tour, but also I had no interest to, as it meant walking through hot jungle for 4/5 days, which was not my idea of fun! In the end I opted for the popular Inca Jungle trek which was targeted at the backpacker and didn’t involve too much trekking (and was a lot cheaper than the real Inca trail – $180 vs $500).

So I set off on my 4 day tour and joined a group of 11 consisting of Argentians, French, and Canadians. A nice mix! The first part was a 60km downhill mountain bike ride (sound familiar?) but slightly different to the Bolivian version in that it was a lot faster (90% on asphalt) and we had a lot more freedom to roam. Views were spectacular again and we were treated to a scrumptious Peruvian meal at the bottom.

I cycled down this road:

That afternoon after a quick turnaround in the hostel we were whisked away for a couple of hours of white-water rafting. Disappointing for me, the rapids were just not big enough, and at one point they even navigated around some of the tastiest looking rapids of the day! I guess they have to cater for every type of tourist….

The next day and a half involved trekking through some astounding scenery, and at one-point joining the actual Inca trail (which is a totally connected trail which covered some 6,000km from Colombia down to Argentina. The Inca used it to transmit messages, using a relay system where runners would take the message for a stretch of 10km before passing it on to the next dude meaning apparently they could cover the 6,000km in 12 days!!*). We also saw monkeys, swam in thermal baths as well as eating more delicioso Peruvian dishes along the way.

Pretty much a vertical drop for 200m off the side of the Inca trail.  Wouldn’t like to run 20km/h along here:

Stairs on the side of the mountain:

Some pretty sweet views along the way:

Cheeky monkey:

By the afternoon we arrived in Aguas Calientes which is apparently now called Machu Picchu village, and duly hit up the thermal baths for the 2nd time in two days.

At 4am the next day we were up and making the 2 hour trek up to Machu Picchu in time for sunrise.  As you ascend the millions of steps (well it seems like it) the views start getting more and more spectacular and when you reach the top you are rewarded by a sun-rise over the top of the mountain where the Inca trail actually goes.

Without going into too much detail, as I’m aware this could get lengthy, basically the legend goes: when the Spanish started turning the screw and killing the Inca’s they escaped up the valley (with the illusive Inca gold and treasures) from Cusco to a secret location – Macchu Picchu which was initially a spiritual place and not meant for permanent residency of a large number of people (i.e. the Last Inca’s).  So after several years and running out of food (hard to grow a lot of food on top of a mountain, hence all the terraces you can see in the pics) they moved out (again taking all the booty) to an unknown and undiscovered place, which is still sought out by countless would-be-Indiana-Joneses.  Machu Picchu was never discovered by the Spanish and it was only a stroke of luck that it was ever found earlier this century (before discovery it was covered in thick jungle foliage).

The story is pretty cool and the fact that there is this Inca path along sheer rock faces connecting the whole thing is also cool.  It was kind of fun to walk around the ruins but the highlight was being only one of the 400 to scale Wayna Picchu which gives you the best view.

You may recognise this place (the large booby-shaped rock in the background is Wayna Picchu):

If you follow the Inca trail round the back of Machu Picchu you can see where it follows the edge of a sheer cliff face (you can faintly make out the tree-lined original path on the mid right of the picture – now the path has fallen away and can’t be traversed):

Flying on top of Wayna Picchu (you can just see Machu Picchu below, but I could see the whole thing, and much more ;)):

The way up and down is pretty hairy on Wayna Picchu.

We then wearily made our way down to Aguas Calientes and then after an afternoon resting were given the luxury of the train back which meant we were back in Cusco for 11pm (long day).  After the exploits of the previous 4 days all I could do was undress and collapse into bed.

*Doing the math this meant they would have to run 10km in 30 minutes, putting my 50 minute time a few years back to shame 😦


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Talia
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 01:08:46

    ho!!! leon king!!! i love ur coments of my city…u have a really nice trip to cuzco…the pics r cool… i missing u darlin!!!! loads 🙂
    PD: the fish eggs wasn’t that bad …isn’t it genius???? hahahahahaha 🙂


  2. mum
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 19:33:58

    feel breathless just reading your jungle trek Dom – can’t believe all the amazing trips you are having love from Mumxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


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