Cusco

The next morning we spent some time seeing the sites in cusco: Sacsayhuamán (the remains of a massive Inca fortress); Q’enqo (an inca temple); and the moon temple (there are a few of these in the vicinity of the fortress). 
The moon temple is a sacred place dating back to inca time and assigned to the subject of fertility. There is excavation work going on and areas cordoned off including the main altar. Nonetheless, when the moon is full, local shamans still practising the old ways will sneak in carry out their ceremonies.


The temple is effectively two main caves in the stone where a lot of carving has gone on inside. The altar sits under a small hole and so at night at the right time, the moonlight comes through and illuminates it. Infertile women were apparently brought here to attain a “cure” and also animal sacrifices were made.


Standing on top of the temple you have a great view all around the area and can see a couple “checkpoints” on the inca trail, these were effectively small settlements spaced 30km apart which provided refuge for runners who were transporting goods to the incas.


We had a fairly chilled afternoon enjoying a beer on a balcony overlooking the main plaza drenched in sun that had proven elusive ever since we first got to cusco. I had apparently fallen out of the rhythm of ritual sun cream application and resultantly “picked up a bit of colour” here. We then went to a ceviche restaurant “punto del mar” quite away from the main touristy drag and had some ceviche to rival (or even beat) that which we had in Arequipa. I decided to risk a full meal of just ceviche type food, which as a fish hater don’t think I’ve ever really done before, and was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the lot. I think it’s because it is so fresh and with such strong and tasty seasoning that it is pretty much free from the “fishy” taste I can’t usually stand, so I’m a convert!
That night we went to a new place called Perú bar and had a pisco sour class! The owner David talked us through what goes into one (turns out this includes roughly 3.3 shots of 42% pisco… and it’s not even a big glass!) with the help of couple of his staff, then we had a go at making and drinking our own.

He showed us the top held of his bar and talked us through the various different marinating flavours he had including loads of fruit, and Ricardo even made one with chilli pisco which genuinely works in my opinion! We basically got to choose our own, I made mine with a eucalyptus pisco but still reckon the original one made in the demo was the best of the lot! All this for pretty much what you would spend on one drink in a club so highly recommend. We then had a few drinks and headed out to a couple of clubs (mama Africa and mythology) both very touristy but fun and free entry. The latter was even offering salsa classes in one section until 4 am in the morning!
I had a fairly slow start to the next morning and decided to have a wander round by myself whilst the others visited a couple of sites with an early bus that I was never really going make. I reckoned now would be a good time to look at some museums and learn something on the pan pipes I’d bought a while back and never really used. However, it wasn’t long that I realised they were pretty much all shut (save the chocolate and coca museums) as it was Sunday, and not working on the sabbath is observed a lot more than the London I’m used to!
So with a bit of FOMO given the others were all doing stuff and I wouldn’t be able to hit the items top of my list in the city I headed towards the coca museum in the San Blas Plaza when suddenly I heard someone calling my name. After spinning around staring at people for longer than it probably should have taken… I eventually identified Ricardo sitting on a bench massaging some fragrant green goo into his knee which was damaged from Ju-Jitsu sparring. It turns out this was a coca leaf preparation designed to soothe and heal joint pains and the like. Both my knees were also apparently still sore from the trek as I’d realised even from the short walk I’d done so far today, so I could readily empathise and tried some myself when he offered it to me, before animatedly saying

A friend of mine knows a spot up in the mountains with an ice cold pool that is meant to be therapeutic, so a few of us are going… do you wanna come?

It sounded pretty cool (sorry…!) and I wasn’t particularly enthused with my existing plans so I quickly agreed, grabbed some warmer clothing as well as some swim shorts… making a conscious effort not to think too much about how sensible it was.

With met up with two of Ricardos friends, Manuel and his girlfriend from the states, Dana. She had pretty much done what I was doing then gone home for a bit and decided the latter just wasn’t for her and so has lived in Cusco for about two years now. We waited for another friend who was giving us a lift whilst Ricardo passed the time flagpoling on road signs… until it started pouring it down (great!…). We eventually made it up to our destination, after navigating a certain hurdle as someone had unhelpfully padlocked and chained the road we were trying to get through. Rude!

We watched some ice man videos on YouTube to psych up, and Mani took us through some breathing exercises designed to prepare your body for the extreme cold, which was at the very least a good way of taking your mind off it. He and Ricardo had done it before and were pretty relaxed about it while Dana and I (both our first time for anything like this) were quietly panicking in the back of the car, but both determined to see it through. It was really cold and rainy outside so we opted for the breathing exercises inside, whilst Ricardo did them standing just outside the pool. When we finished the prep we jumped out and clambered over the pool… it was freezing just walking in the rain in swim shorts so again took some effort not to think too hard about the craziness of it. The result was the occasional maniacal titter, but all too quickly we were there by the pool and paddled in to just above our knees. The unduly optimistic thought flashed through my mind that was where it ended, but nope it was time to sit down in the icy water and submerge fully. The idea is you need to think that you just aren’t there, and imagine yourself warm. Most importantly you need to keep calm and control your breathing. To be honest, it does work, and I felt like I was able to stay in quite a while before I lost focus and it became impossible to visualise myself elsewhere… in reality it couldn’t have been much more than a minute though! I scampered out with a new appreciation for the relatively warm air temperature, and was passed a cup of extremely welcome, hot tea by Dana who had got out already.

Next was Mani, then Ricardo who both put in quite a stint (and apparently out of their group of friends up to ten minutes in can be done). It was an adrenaline rush and we spent a while excitedly reflecting on the experience and the apparent health benefits… before eventually realising it was really cold and we should probably get out of here, and had a leisurely lunch with more ceviche and hot soup. They were good people and we talked about future plans and how we’d ended up where were so far. They’ve got a restaurant and some property they are looking to make an Airbnb business from, and Dana make some cool jewellery out of colourful things found in the jungle… you can find see on Instagram:

https://instagram.com/p/BZRXUldFVM-/
It was a very cool day and particularly so as it was spontaneous. At the end of the afternoon they dropped me off at a market I wanted to visit to pick up some souvenirs and then I headed back to the hotel to meet up with everyone and head out for the “final supper” with Melvyn and Anna, our Maltese friends in the group before they split off and headed into the Peruvian jungle. A few of us treated ourselves to Cuy (guinea pig) and I had a delicious cocktail called an Algarrobina that is sweet with a taste a bit like baileys and maple syrup. The guinea pig was pretty interesting but genuinely tasty. After taking a leg piece I went for the head. Sabine braved an ear, expecting it to be crispy like the skin and panicked a bit when finding it was all squidgy. Unfortunately this happened directly over my water glass and so I was faced with a bobbing piece of guinea pig in my drink.. i resorted to drinking from the bottle…back to mine…It was a bit gross thinking about it so I tried to employ some “mind over matter” techniques from earlier which again worked pretty well until one point where the jaw flopped open and I was staring down the gob and full set of teeth for this little beasty. I closed it back up and managed a little more before passing to Ricardo, who deftly got to work finishing it off. I’d heard the brain was meant to be a good bit so enquired as to how that was got at… “brain? You have to crack the skull”. Yup, ok that’s definitely enough of that… I left him to it and focused instead on a nice rocotto relleno I’d ordered as I’d enjoyed the last one so much.
We spent most of the next day travelling by bus to Puno, and got a glimpse of the impressive lake Titicaca en route. It’s the highest navigable lake in the world at an altitude of around 3,800 metres and is huge! Something like 160km long and 85km wide. We would be spending our next two days exploring it but for today we just got dinner and picked up some gifts for the families we would be staying with on one of the lakes islands (sugar, pasta, oats etc). I’d been having stomach issues for about a week so Ricardo also recommended I got some tablets called bianos, so I took these and got an early night.


We breakfasted the next day and got on our boat to the floating Uros islands and were greeted by some of the locals that lived there. It was a beautiful day (at last!!) and made for a pleasant boat trip and wander around these man made habitations before a three hour stint back in the boat to reach amantani island.


Camisaraki uden – how are you today

Waliki – I am very well

Sumach – delicious!

We were staying with a local “Indian” family tonight and had the head of our household waiting for us at the harbour to take us back to his place for some lunch ahead of us rejoining the wider group (we joined others for a group of about thirty for these two days) for a hike up to the Pachamama and Pachatata temples.

Then later it was dinner, dressing in tradicional garbs and off to the party.

Off to the jungle soon!

The Salcantay Trek

The salcantay trek in my tour was a 4 day hike interspersed with the odd stop for extra activities/ cultural visits. It goes slightly higher than the classic inca trail, with arguably better views but fewer inca heritage sites.

The first day was an early start at 3am, jumping in a bus to take us to our start point followed by a very long morning’s ascent to the cold and snowy peak as we walked up with stunning views of the salcantay mountain itself. The rest of the days 22km hike was spent gradually going downhill to our destination passing through some breathtaking jungle scenes. I did a real mischief to my knee at some point, took some painkillers and got as far as I could before they put me on a horse to take me through the last hour or so! It was really annoying about the knee, but also quite cool being on a horse. The campsite was beautiful and we ate really well before going to bed at 8pm – no drink allowed tonight as at altitude still.


The second day had a more civilised starting time but was still pretty bad knee-wise and I didn’t get very far before needing to jump in a car to get to the days lunchtime stop. On the short run down after overtaking the hikers that set off before us we saw a mountain fox scampering down the road and stopped by one of the houses. Here our cook went in and came back with a huge sack of granadillas (like passion fruit). I gave him a puzzled look and he told me they were for his children… to which i said “cuantos hijos tienes?! (How many kids do you have?!… the sack must had close to fifty fruit in). Apparently he gives them these on a daily basis and the sack should last a month! Fortunately the afternoon’s activities were light and I was able to get involved.

First we had short tour around the coffee plantation process, the business was a cooperative run entirely by the women of the area. Then we had a game of “sapo” where I tied with Mike a fellow compatriot in the group, our new joiner Sabine lost and was to buy the beers tonight, but won the next round comfortably!

Some Quechua words:

Sulpaiki waykicha = thanks my friend

Allin puchao/tutay = good morning/afternoon

Jakuchis = let’s go

Iman Sutiyki = what’s your name

Allillanchu = how are you

(Inti) Raimi = (sun) party
We learned a bit more about frank our guide for this bit and his aspirations to start his own company that he can run and his kids after him to follow his footsteps. We went down to the campfire, had some “inca tequila” or Cañoso (sugar cane spirit), then danced. The girl behind tried to teach me some salsa but not too sure how well that went! I also had a good chat with our cook so got lots of Spanish practice in. Despite many rounds of beer and shots amongst 6 of us from 5pm until about 2am the total came to less than £40!


Up early a few hours later to go zip lining across The Valley which was awesome. The best one for me was the third line which was really long and you could go upside down the whole way! We then finished off the last 12k or so of our trekking and arrived at aguas calientes for our stop overnight before heading up to Machu Picchu. Shortly after I got to my room I developed a splitting headache which I put down to the altitude which somehow hadn’t affected me much until now and we had been almost twice this altitude before. I have dinner a miss and got to bed early for some much needed rest.


We were up at 4am to get in the queue for a bus up to the entrance, thankfully we didn’t have to hike up this bit… and managed to arrive pretty early before many people had made it in and it got crowded later. From about 8.30 the fog descended and you could barely see 15 metres in front of you and it stayed like that until left… as such my resentment for the early start soon melted away as I realised it was actually extremely lucky for us. I think you can just about go around by yourself and appreciate the awesome scenes (they may be changing that soon), but I would not recommend it as you will only get half the experience. Our guide Frank took us round all the key spots and explained their significance which I found really interesting and brought the ruins to life for me. In quite a few circumstances I think I would have just thought “ok it’s a rock… cool” but actually it was used for something specific and certain customs were built around it. The incas had a terrible problem with disease here and the whole site was abandoned in a hurry, and with a trained eye assisting you… you can actually see evidence of half finished building work and materials that have been dumped in a hurry during construction.

There’s also an optional part you can do that involves the pleasantly-named “death stair” which is effectively where the brave amongst us can show their mettle by walking up a series of stones effectively jutting out from the side of a cliff. I challenged my cousin to do this when she visited Machu Picchu a few months back (not seriously as it looks pretty damn scary) but nonetheless duly received a video of her doing so! As such I needed to return the favour but it turned out they had closed it off. So thankfully/unfortunately did not partake in this bit – sorry Jo!

We had lunch at a lovely place called Full House Peruvian back in aguas calientes (aguas calientes is very touristy if wondering about the name!) then went for a horrendous pisco sour at a place called Mapacho, but in its defence the beer was good and it sells itself as a craft beer place. Then it was back to Cusco via a comfortable train to Ollantaytambo and taxi for 6 from there. Out for a nice dinner and some Chilean wine at Toqo-Kachin food was lovely but took a while as effectively just one person in the kitchen making the lot!

Pisco (the place), Nazca, Arequipa

5 September – ballestas islands and the desert

A relatively early start after a good night sleep and hot shower involved heading to the port in Paracas to do a boat tour of the ballestas islands and it’s avian inhabitants (pelicans, booby birds, vultures and penguins) during reproductive season which is now, as well as the sea lions! For the pelicans:

  • Yellow head means reproduction
  • White means not reproduction
  • Grey heads means juvenile 

Wingspan can be more than 2 metres making it one of the largest birds here

Whilst we were making our way by boat to the islands we were joined by a couple of curious sea lions and surrounded by what I think were the cormorants which flew alongside us at a similar speed (up to 30mph) and every now and then you saw one dive into the water head first to grab some food. 


We were also shown a curious formation known as the candelabra which is 140m long facing north. It is a bit of a mystery as nobody knows who when or why it was made, there are a few theories on the matter. 


1. Native Peruvians trying to represent the holy plant cactus 500 years old

2. Or made by pirates around 400 years ago to meet here to attack the pisco port

3. Liberty expedition soldiers, leader was a free mason and argument was it was given to the soldiers the wrong way up but it’s kind of similar to free mason

4. Aliens!

There are old reports of it being a metre deep but now it is disappearing as it fills with sand and now only about a foot deep, but as seems to be a theme here there is limited money for such maintenance so it may disappear. 


200-300 workers come to these islands every 12 years to harvest the guano produced by all the birds which makes for good fertiliser and was Perus biggest export for a lot of the 18th and 19th centuries. 

…If you are looking up to the sky, please please please keep your mouth shut…

A nursing sea lion pup fell in and we saw it’s mum jump in after it and lead it out! 



Next we went to a tradicional pisco factory and learned how the famous drink was made. The name comes from an old Quechua word meaning beak as the ceramic pots they make it in resemble beak in shape. It’s made from grapes, effectively distilled wine and the place we went to made both. As a result of the warm climate I understand the wine they make is always relatively sweet and you have to go to chile to get the real dry ones where it’s colder. 

Our guide for the factory, Lucia, brought round after round of various products of the factory including some choice names such as “panty-dropper” and “baby-maker”. Lucia cast a look to Ricardo when checking the size of the measures to which he responded emphatically:

Más, más, emborrachalos (more, more, get them drunk!)

We also got lots of practice with some toasts:

Arriba

A bajo

Al centro 

A dentro

(Up, down, centre, inside!)

Crema bendita

Divino tormento 

Que haces afuera 

Vente para dentro!

(Holy cream, divine storm, what are you doing outside, come inside!)

After merrily having lunch by the Huacachina Oasis we headed out to the desert for some thrilling dune buggy rides as well as my first go at sand boarding. The sand boards didn’t really work for standing up like a snowboard but instead it was all about getting dropped off at the top of massive dune and lying on your belly and bombing straight down. 


We did this for a while interspersed with the occasional drink and updates for Peru’s game today from some very excitable locals. 2-1 up but down to ten men, with 15 minutes to go…! Nail biting stuff as the minutes clicked down impossibly slowly. 

Están comiendo…. (literally: they are eating their underwear, but meaning something like they are on the edge of their seats)

Sufre Perú! (Hold on Perú!) 

Acabó! (It’s finished!)

One of the guys (Chuti) gave us some more drink from his personal supply as we celebrated the victory. I don’t want to speculate on exactly what it was, but can comfortably say that it was more potent than even the 42% liquor from earlier in the day. 
 We headed back to the oasis to pick up our overnight stuff and then again into the desert as night fell and eventually reached camp where two of the locals Chuti and Hugo started setting up the tents and BBQ. 


Me: podemos ayudar? (How can we help)

Chuti: Toma! (Drink!)

Roger that!

They had made what I think was a really nice chilcano basically pisco, lemonade and lots of lime juice with crushed ice. So we had sipped on a couple of these whilst working up an appetite staring at the flames licking at the impressive array of kebabs, chicken pieces, chorizo and potatoes on the grill. Hugo applied a new secret basting he’d apparently been working on and we were ready to eat. 


It was amazing, I ate so much. We passed the rest of the night with music (the odd shape being thrown here and there, sadly Melvyn the Maltese guy’s twerk didn’t make another appearance this time), stargazing, chatting and managed to get some more Spanish in which I’d been missing a bit since leaving Karina in Lima… before turning in. Benefit of being a lone traveller here, my own tent and the best night sleep camping I have ever had! (I avoid tents like the plague and had been dreading it a bit, but it was alright in the end). 

6 September – Nazca lines and Chauchilla (warning, a bit gruesome)

Surprisingly awake and shockingly hangover free, we had breakfast back at Huacachina and headed onward to see the famous Nazca lines vía another comfortable coach. 


After thinking we hit some pretty huge dunes last night…Sierra blanca here (meaning white mountain) standing 2,089m above sea level is the tallest sand dune in the world. 

There is no water in Nazca, but ancestors 1,500 years built the underground aqueducts that are still used today. Mining copper and gold are the main economic activities as well as tourism. 

Nazca lines: essentially these are a vast array of lines across the desert in Nazca. Some of these resemble shapes whereas others are simply dead straight lines that go for vast distances. They are described as being enigmatic as no one really knows how or why they got there or what they mean. However, when you see them the detail of the figures or the perfect geometry is such that can’t help feel there was some kind of of method to the bizarreness. 


1927 the lines were discovered and it was believed that they were religious. It was hypothesised for example that when short of water people gathered and asked the gods for water and also fertility if the fields, the hummingbird (one of the figures drawn) for example is associated with fertility. 

Maria Reiche (a Germán) studied the lines for over 50 years (!) concluding it is an astronomical calendar and can be used to predict weather of the year. for example there are a couple of lines that point directly to the point of sunset:

– 21st June winter solstice 

– 21st December summer solstice 

I admire her perseverance but do wonder when it’s time to draw the line so to speak and move on to other things in life. 

Another theory that people simply did not have the technology to make the lines and so they were made by aliens. I feel that somewhat less effort went in to coming up with this one. 

Later we went for a look around Chauchilla, a huge ancient burial site around 2.5km long and 0.5km wide where you can look around a few open graves and see the mummified remains of people from over a thousand years ago. Graves face the east as sun god was a main good and believed to give new life. Bodies are all in the foetal position as we enter this world in such a position and so it was believed we should do the same for the after life!


Whilst there are many unearthed graves where the bodies apparently remain in good condition, those that are on display outside have been bleached by the sun on them since the grave robbers (Huakeros) got involved and wreaked havoc around 50 years ago. Burial teams included food and drink and valuable pieces depending on the status of the recently deceased that would in theory accompany them to the next life… and these made for easy pickings once initially uncovered in recent times. 

There is a lot of debris all around the site as the robbers would smash any plain items, favouring the intricate and fine pottery instead. What’s more is you also see a load of shattered bone, as sometimes it was possible to find gold inside the actual bodies themselves. For example, our guide told us about how even now his family, when someone dies, put a gold coin in the mouth to pay the toll to get to the after life… reminiscent of other more classically known mythologies too. 

The grave of a noble lord was recently discovered and it was found that when he died his supporters killed his family and some guards and they decided that he’s an important person and would need all this in the next life, so sucked to be them for sure. 

I didn’t have much of an appetite that night for some reason but had a delicious light dinner before we headed off to catch the overnight coach to Arequipa!


7 September – Arequipa

A chilled day in Arequipa to try and relax a bit after the last two nights of it having a bed. I am so tired that I just feel asleep in 10 minutes but then woke myself up snoring so didn’t actually get much rest!

I went out earlier for a wander and picked up some zampoñas (Peruvian pan pipes) as well as visiting the nearby park and taking a quick look at the famous monastery there. I got back to the hotel and eagerly loaded up YouTube to try and learn the song “el condor pasa” – a very popular and traditional song upon which Simon and garfunkel based one of their songs. Alas, I have clearly bought a “recuerdo (souvenir)” version… 

I went back and met up with Ricardo and the others before we headed out in a group to see some specific sites. This is the place Ricardo grew up and so knew the history as well as any tour guide and animatedly told us the heritage of the city plaza de armas, monasterio de catalina and the iglesia de la compañía. 


It’s know as the white city because of the white volcanic rock used in the buildings here… and there was a time where 80% of the city’s population were Spanish. The architecture is heavily influenced by the Spanish as what happened was kids from the settlers would grow up there then go back to Spain to study architecture and craftsmanship but come back to put their skills to use. It can even be seen on some Catholic Churches some inca figures subtly woven in that clearly have nothing to do with Catholicism when pointed out but remained in the hearts and minds of those newly trained kids. 
I bought myself a dashing “chullo” made from baby alpaca wool (not actual from al paca babies but it’s a different cut) ready for the cold heights of the next day. 

We went and visited the markets which are nothing like I have ever seen. The fruit selection is incredible and I had no idea that what we can get in the UK is laughable when compared to what is actually available in other parts of the world. Ricardo picked up a whole load of various different fruit for us to try at dinner. Chirimoya (tasted like custard apple), granadilla (literally grenade because of its look, but is sort of like an orange passion fruit inside) and membrillo (kind of like a slightly dryer apple with a hint of pineapple) were my favourites… hoping that’s not the last time I’ll have them! 
We had lunch at a traditional place (with palomino in the name) that Ricardo know about from childhood that that the tourists don’t really know about. Recotto relleno (stuffed pepper) was so good, basically a red pepper stuffed with especially tasty chilli con carne topped with a chilli and melted cheese. I also tried some pig trotter amongst a couple of other tradicional things! To drink we had chicha except the fermented alcoholic version this time mixed with dark beer, which went down very easily indeed. 
8 September – colca canyon day 1

We rose fairly early and got a bus from Arequipa towards cocoa canyon which would be the basis of the next two days of the tour. We experienced some breathtaking scenery with volcanoes and snow capped mountains following yesterday’s snow. I saw my first volcano where something was actually happening! Fortunately nothing dangerous. 
Chachani 6000+ metres

Misti – still active volcano, and could potentially wreak havoc with the surrounding area. Our jide happily told us that where our hotel was (14km away) it would take 10 minutes for the pyroclastic flow to get us. 

Picchu picchu – I need to find out what this means as it’s name is shared with the famous one we are seeing later on

We also saw Sabancaya active volcano with ash clouds coming out at the time

The Dormant ones erupted a long time ago and that is the best fertiliser, springs are used to irrigate and because of the perfect conditions they can harvest 3 times a year. 

Shanty towns outside the city of Arequipa, properties are deliberately unfinished so that tax does not need to be paid on completed buildings. However our guide Gina told us that people are not poor though as they have business and sometimes several properties. She is clearly anti this way of life and points out the rubbish that is just thrown out of windows, lack of infrastructure and the point that children are not given educational aspirations here as the parents take the view that they are making money in their way without an education so why is it needed? 
We get pulled over for doing nothing more than being an apparent tour bus and after arguing a bit, the driver hands over 10 soles (about £2.50) and the officer goes away… Gina remarks at the clear corruption. 

A question is asked about the impact tourism has on places like this as well as the reserve we are going to. Obviously there is money coming in, but when tourists hand over money to kids who are on the street selling trinkets of for photos. “Education is free and mandatory here [only to a certain age I believe], but doing this the kids grow up thinking this is a job”

She is also environmentally focused and condemns the people offering tourists the chance to hold a bird for example. “Birds should be flying not taking photos” so shan’t be doing any of that then!

We start ascending quickly and Gina passes us some coca leaves and sweets. There are 14 alkaloids in the leaves and these ones don’t have much of the type that is used in cocaine but they do have the others that help for the sickness and stomach settling. General advice for dealing with altitude sickness 

Comer poquito

Caminar despacito 

Dormir soltero…

(Eat little, walk slowly, sleep alone…)

Al paca jerky or dried potatoes forms the basis of what the mountain folk live off. The potatoes they leave out in the cold and the sun and this dries out the potatoes. Once treated, apparently these potatoes can last 50 years! Then you simply put it in water for some days ahead of cooking. 

Quinoa back in the day never used to get eaten but since the first man on the moon ate a similar food it became popular and is now around 12 times more expensive here so is quite a popular crop. 

The al pacas and llamas are friendly and will just chill by the road throwing you the odd stare and in some cases walking over to you… with the vicuñas proving a bit more elusive. We saw lots of flora and fauna specific to each band of altitude and stopped off for an inca tea which is made with coca leaves and two other plants with healing properties. I also treated myself to a “golpe” bar (literally meaning “hit”) which I reckoned would help later if the coca leaves wore off! I guessed it was like a boost bar. 
We stopped off at Corporaque a small village, population around 4,000 making it the largest of the 14 villages situated in the colca valley. The fields where they grow the crops are stunning and in the terraced format that makes for efficient irrigation. Then after headed to the thermal spas for a dip in the 37-39 degree waters heated from the underground lava flows. 
After a quick stop on the way where a local shopkeeper managed to understand me enough to sort out the next week of my phone coverage (success, I didn’t need to borrow a local’s credit card!) we headed to our hotel and dinner. 

9-11 September – Colca canyon day 2 and back to Arequipa then on to Cusco

We woke up early to watch the condors at the condor cross view point and it is quite amazing how big they really are. They simple don’t have the strength to beat their wings enough to reach the necessary altitude for spotting carrion to eat as they are so large. Instead they glide round in circles gaining height by riding the thermal inclines. The canyon is a great spot for this. 

We then headed for a nice walk along the cliff edge and heard a few stories and conjecture for a few deaths at the canyon in recent history which was also pretty gruesome before heading off for lunch and back to Arequipa. 

The next couple of days were fairly chilled out and involved an incredible ceviche restaurant (I loved a couple of pieces despite hating fish it was that good!) as well as the night coach to Cusco at 3,500m up… another rough nights sleep! We walked around a bit to see the city but will be back here in a few days. I am rushing this a bit now so I can go to bed as we are up at 3 to start the salcantay trek tomorrow and I’ll be without internet for some time… hopefully some of the photos upload properly. Next few days will be tough so wish me luck!

Lima and the tour begins

Getting there…

I woke up the day of my departure and rushed to get ready to leave, throwing the last of what was already a substantial suitcase (yes not backpack…) full of gear. Good chance of there being grounds for a lot of “I told you so”s so let’s see how that pans out. I took a few pictures of old Blighty in the morning to share with my new lat am friends, and was pleasantly surprised by what could be achieved in an hour or so wandering around near my place. I was fortunate with the weather and have to laud the views you can get of the key spots in london from the Greenwich observatory so armed with at least some pro- UK propaganda headed home. Then, just in case the sense of pride re England’s green and pleasant lands got too much, a thunderstorm sharply broke out within ten minutes of getting safely back to the flat. 

After a reasonably turbulent journey (literally… and also figuratively due to my poor use of the tube) I landed in Mexico City airport for the first time, arriving at around 4 am, following what could only be described as shameful attempt at doing the sensible thing of sleeping. What I actually did was fill a lot of the time perusing tacky films that I would otherwise be too ashamed to watch but between you and me… thoroughly enjoyed (lego batmaaaan!). 

The CDMX (Mexico City airport) lounge was good value, especially when you’re there for the whole day. I keenly watched and partook in the changing display of goodies on offer at the buffet counter with the occasional nap or Spanish practice …. I (think) I have learned a decent amount of Mexican politics from the range of newspapers they had on offer as well as finishing the first short Spanish book I bought for the trip. Thanks Maryjo for the lengthy Skype here which definitely helped pass the time as well as get some more speaking practice in before it got real!

Quick note as well on the drink selection which was excellent. For my tuppence worth, despite the apparent trend of mezcal becoming more popular, for me it’s still tequila comfortably. The Mexican gent next to me recommended, after I said I wasn’t much a of a mezcal drinker, 400 conejos if anyone is familiar, which was good but not top. 


This was amazing, it’s a single-layer bed of nachos, with a creamy sauce made from beans, onions, and seasoning…sprinkled with cheese and served with black beans, more (crispy) nachos and two hot and delicious sauces. 


Mmm actual Jose Cuervo in Mexico… but of a Guinness in Ireland thing going on here?

2 September – Lima

After arriving at 4 AM in the morning I managed to grab five hours of sleep before waking up to a nice but fairly standard breakfast of eggs and muffins. I must’ve made a mistake in my communication I was the lady in making two portions of scrambled eggs for me… what a shame. And so after a particularly hearty start to the day I set myself the task of sorting out a local Sim card for my phone. I had a chat with the guy at the hostel was lovely to get my bearings then set off for my first venture. This came to a very abrupt halt pretty much straight away as the first thing they asked me for is my passport which I had conveniently left. At my hotel. That aside I had some fun grappling with new Spanish word (if your phone is on locked in Spanish literally it is freed or liberated). After making several signatures (and fingerprints) I got my Sim and proudly returned to the hostel to buy my plan over the Internet. Unfortunately both my Halifax clarity on Monday card were not accepted. After faffing for a bit and managed to get the guy at the hostel lend me his great credit card and pay them in cash… Which was good but the plan I have needs topping up every week so fingers crossed I can find someone that helpful regularly once I start going a bit more off piste…

Shortly after I then met up with my Peruvian friend, Karina, who took me to some local markets where I have my eye on some panpipes which cost about four quid. There were some beautiful colours there and you can buy please clothes made from al paca wool as well! I’m also looking forward to having my first go at bartering here soon. Next chance to public transport for the first time she took me to a competition in a stadium for typical type of dance in Peru called Marinera. It was great to see all the traditional dress and crazy shapes being thrown to the sound of The 30 or so piece military band providing musical support. it’s completely different to anything I’ve seen before, and the number of dancers there was incredible – they danced 3-5 couples at a time doing a three piece stint before the next lot of a seemingly never ending tide of new couples washed onto the floor. I think we were there for an hour or so and then it was the turn of the kids, which I thought was just adorable at first and then was in awe at how skilful they were despite being tiny! They must have started learning the ropes pretty much as soon as they could walk. 

We then risked another bus to get to our next destination, Parque de la reserva… I’m finding these buses a bit crazy as the traffic can be mental and there just aren’t stops. You stand by the road and try and flag one down where some conductor or other is hanging out the vehicle shouting destinations and keeping an eye for would-be passengers. The fare and when you pay it seems entirely arbitrary to start with (on the less official buses… there are different kinds) but was never more than 50p for our relatively short trips. I quickly learnt that they keep track of when you get on and there is a method to it of some kind though still remains grey to em…basically, I’m glad I had Karina to help me through this! I commented at the apparent chaos on roads to which I got the response “Esto, no es nada” (This is nothing!) The park itself was lovely, with a 4 soles fee (basically a quid) to can go round the beautiful grounds and admire the dozen or so fountains (I learned a new word for these: piletas!) 


Dinner was at a Pollería (pardo’s). This basically means chicken-shop and is a well established concept all over South America I am told, so seems I’m going to like it here… accompanied by a drink called a chicha which is made from purple (yes purple, and the drink is deep purple too) maize and sweetened with sugar. This was also my first time of trying two drinks made with the tradicional aqua cita of Peru: Pisco. Pisco sour is quite a thick (espesa) drink, reminiscent of a snowball. It has egg in, it’s sweet, with a touch of citrus. The second is a chilcano which has the same base, no egg and topped up with soda so it’s a lighter (suelta) drink and taller cocktail. Big fan of both, especially the sour and happily it turns out I’m actually going to pisco tomorrow so am sure to find another excuse to have a couple. 

We then walked the streets of Miraflores for another “digestif” or two. We found ourselves in a particularly tourist-trappy area and so agreed on one more bus to get to somewhere a bit different. This turned out to be a great idea and we went to barranco, a short bus ride further south to a bar on a cliff face looking out over the bay, with a beautiful view. I was called a gringo properly for the first by a street seller here… The lack of sleep over the last few days started catching up with me so called it a day around 1 in the morning and hungrily looked forward to the first “full” night in a bed for a while. Almost did the entire day in Spanish which was awesome. 


This pic taken on the bridge of sighs in Lima if my translation is correct… yup, there’s one here too apparently so I know at least four in the world now!

Some Spanish vocabulary for the day:

Betarraga – beetroot

Vainita – green bean

China – 50 céntimos piece (slang)

3 September – meeting the team

My alarm failed to wake me but I just about managed to throw on some clothes and get to the tour kick off briefing… I think they noticed my somewhat dishevelled state but politely glossed over it. This is where I met my fellow travellers and learned I would be fifth-wheeling for a bit with two couples – British and Maltese. 

I also met the guide, Ricardo who is a character but seemed like a sensible and good bloke, with family in Arequipa so of course knows the area extremely well. He gave us the briefing about how the tour works and a quick run through of what we are up to as well as general advice which is obviously gold dust to a first time traveller like me and so I paid attention to add these nuggets of wisdom to what I’d learned from everyone at home already. We then made the “local payment” part of the tour price (a wallet-lightening 700 dollars) and wrapped up. 

…”Wear your backpacks on your front on the buses, These people are quick, they will take your money even quicker than I do”…

Turns out the others had plans already for the afternoon the brits were going to a fancy restaurant (Maido) for a big lunch with a cool 13 different courses. The others by chance going to barranco where I was last night. For me, I decided to chill for a bit and finish waking up then was happily to see Karina again as we had some traditional food for lunch: some delicious beef with a sort of sweet potato puré and rice and guanábana juice. We walked along the sea front, had another chicha in a cafe on the cliff (where there was a famous Peruvian actor apparently) and watched the handgliding a bit (parapente). I also managed to say hi a particularly famous bear… 


Guanábana – if you’re wondering how to pronounce this as you’re not a Spanish speaker think of that silly song by animal in the muppets (mnah-mnah, do doooo do do do). Or perhaps don’t … because that is now stuck in my head every time someone mentions the fruit here. 

After saying goodbye, I went back to the hostel met up with the tour group to head out to dinner. I had a nice chicken salad whilst the others had pollo a la brasa which I’d had the night before and highly recommend. We headed out for a couple of pisco sours which turned into more than a couple and then went dancing until the early hours and met a few of the locals!


My new team for the Peru project… with pisco sours!

4 September 

Just about made it to breakfast at the hotel painfully aware of the alcohol consumed last night. Tempted to go back to bed afterwards but knew we needed to sort our own packed lunch so made my way down the street to the local supermarket and managed the bare minimum Spanish to get my food sorted at the deli counter (got some olives and lovely Chinese style chicken and vegetables that I understand is quite popular in Lima too). 

Then it was a good few hours in transit, most of which I happily spent snoring away in the surprisingly comfortable reclining chairs of the coach. Our accommodation for the night was a small hotel by the sea in Paracas (near Pisco). Pisco is an area ravaged by earthquakes and there was a huge one in recent history that caused a lot of people to move to other places such as here or back to their parents in Lima. 

We wandered around the marina and walked straight past the main drag of restaurants and using Ricardos local knowledge got to a nice restaurant a bit out the way (Misk’i) and had some good old fashioned comfort food to get rid of the last of the hangover whilst having a laugh about the events of the night before. Then a very welcome early night, tomorrow is going to be a big day and fingers crossed we will be seeing some dolphins and sea lions. 
A funky taxi, Peruvian hairless dog, the main drag in Paracas (meaning sandstorm as there are lots around here), the marina with un par de pelicans:


Mission statement!

Buenos Días – So here we go, my own blog! Just a short one to kick off but sure will still manage to be inevitably cringeworthy as these things usually are!

I have been thinking about what I want to get from this and decided it’s a good idea to write it all down. Two reasons for this, the first being so I stay actually stay on track and the second so that anyone who has found their way here has an idea of what to expect. 

I’m just about to embark on what promises to be a trip of a lifetime around South America solo and have been encouraged by friends and family to start a website documenting my travels. Now I’m only taking my iPad rather than a proper laptop in an attempt to travel light, and so it’s not likely to be particularly detailed… I’m confined to a touch screen keyboard or risking the dictation function. So if you are looking for rich prose look elsewhere! Instead what this should be is a quick and dirty record of the places I go and what I get up to, I don’t want to spend much time on it but will try and do at least a couple a week. 

After taking some advice I’ve also bought myself a nice digital SLR camera and so will be looking to bring this to life with pictures and maybe some videos or music specific to where I am…. caveat I am no pro! I may not be very contactable out there with the lack of a functional phone and the time difference so this should work as a place to update everyone who is interested as well as giving me a great souvenir that persists when the trip is done. I might also include some local colloquialisms/phrases for my Spanish speaking friends. 

I fly out at the end of the month so have six more days to squeeze everything in including moving out of the flat and dumping all my stuff somewhere (thanks Sis!), saying the last few goodbyes and of course figuring out what I’m going to take and what I’m going to take it in… will also try and pack in loads Spanish practice. 

So with that just wanted to say thanks for taking a look, and as this is my first time of doing anything like this I welcome any thoughts as we go along about what you think I should include etc. and any questions if something tickles your curiosity. I am hugely excited right now, hope you get to share in as much of that as possible through these posts!

Hasta Luego Amigos! x