Summer Travels Part 2: Peru

Hello All! Part two is here, beginning from when we arrived in Lima. This part is going to be a big one – we did so much here! Peru was definitely my favourite country to visit, I definitely want to return some day. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this part!

11/01/19 – 13/01/19 – Lima, Peru

We made it to Lima in the early evening of the following day and took a taxi to Miraflores, the area of Lima that our hostel was in. After a short while to recharge (ourselves and our phones), Molly, Josh, Emily and I had a bit of a jaunt around the local area and the shops. I’m pretty sure we all bought some souvenirs from the many shops and the small market in the park.

We also had a look in the local Catholic Church. It was very pretty, but we couldn’t take photos inside – the exact translation of the notice on the church door was ‘You don’t need a phone to talk to God. Please turn it off! Thank you!’. Other shenanigans included Emily buying a rice pudding (it was incredible), and then promptly abandoning it after being chased by a wasp (Josh was less affected even though he had a toffee apple).

I was also delighted to find out that the cat park I wanted to visit in Lima (but was afraid we wouldn’t have time to go), was actually the park in front of our hostel, so I got to meet lots of cats and say hi to them (including the one in the photo outside the shop).

The view from our hostel window

That evening, most of us were pretty knackered from travelling, so we decided to have an early night. The hostel we stayed in had a really good atmosphere, and the kitchen/dining area was great to relax in.

The next day, Hazel, Emily, Josh and I went on a walking tour of Lima. We got the metro from Miraflores to the centre, and were then shown all of the main buildings in Lima, including the Presidential Palace and the main square.

We were told that for years during a celebration, on one day the fountain in the centre of the square would flow Pisco (an alcoholic drink that is Peruvian if you’re in Peru and Chilean if you’re in Chile – quite the point of contention between the two nations). This ended up being stopped after it resulted in chaos due to all the people coming to get drunk on free Pisco.

Afterwards, we were taken to a Church that was the oldest university in South America. Like most Catholic Churches, the inside was extremely ornate and beautiful, even if it did display the skull of one of their saints.

The skull is in a box below the central statue

One of our last stops on the tour was the old train station. After rail travel became too expensive for the general public, it was decommissioned and turned into a library. This was one of my favourite stops on the tour as it was beautiful and the platform outside had been turned into a little seating area for people to do work.

After the tour finished in the local market, we spent the rest of the afternoon pretty much with our tour guide (lucky for him). We ate lunch with him and a small group of people who had been on the tour with us. We tried some Peruvian dishes that I unfortunately can’t remember the names of (they were very tasty though), and afterwards, we shared a taxi with the tour guide too. There was a slight clown car situation going on but we got to Miraflores quickly and all in one piece.

We’d all been taking turns to cook in the hostels to save money, and my turn came around in Lima. Emily, Josh and I went to the supermarket and spent the evening cooking together. Well, Emily and I cooked, Josh hung out with us and made snarky comments about my cooking (if you’ve seen the video you know what I mean). I made stir fried rice with eggs and veggies that went down okay; my main goal was not to make anyone ill which I achieved (I think?), so it was a success from my point of view.

It’s safe to say I don’t have a career as a chef

I was going to go out that evening, we’d planned to go to a dance class, but while waiting for the others to get ready I ended up falling asleep so didn’t go out in the end (I do still want to go to a dance class though and make use of the salsa tips Betta gave me).

The next day we’d planned to leave for Cusco. We ended up splitting in half as Will, Molly and Hazel wanted to do PeruHop whereas the rest of us wanted to go straight to Cusco. So, after Josh got back from bungee jumping (a true daredevil), we went to the bus terminal to catch our bus to Cusco from Lima. We chose to go by bus so we could acclimatise to the altitude gradually… It was also much cheaper than flying.

The faces of two people who have not experienced the Lima-Cusco bus journey yet

This bus journey was horrible, possibly the worst one of the three weeks. Setting off was okay, we (foolishly) thought it was luxurious because of the air conditioning and screens we had. We settled down alright and watched films for the first few hours, (Josh chose ‘Mamma Mia 2’ but didn’t think it was a good as the original), but sleeping was super uncomfortable so we were all tossing and turning.

Since the roads were all winding round/going over mountains, motion sickness was also prevalent for most of the journey. Again, bus toilets are pretty grim, but at least the window view from this one was really pretty (it was also the only place fresh air was coming into the bus). Due to various stops and traffic, the bus journey ended up being 23-24 hours long. I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to walk on solid ground in my life.

All in all, I would give Lima 4/5 llamas. I loved the city and by doing the tour we were able to see a lot more and learn a lot more about the history than if we had just wandered around for a day. The hostel was also one of the top 3 we stayed in, because of the atmosphere. I definitely want to come back because only staying there for one full day wasn’t enough and there’s so much more I want to see. Regardless, I really enjoyed our time there.

14/01/19 – 16/01/19 – Cusco, Peru (Part 1)

We arrived in Cusco at around 6pm the day after we set off and went straight to the hostel from the terminal. Our taxi driver tried to sell us a trip to Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain, and we accepted the leaflet with hesitant smiles (we chose not to go with him). Since we were all exhausted from the bus journey, we stayed in the local area and went to a small cafe for dinner.

On the way back to the hostel, Josh and I were swept up by a woman with a llama who let us take photos of him and then charged us 10 soles for it (we were slightly naive and not thinking straight when we took the photos). Even though it’s not the best photo, I’m sharing it because I paid for it so I’m going to use it as much as I can.

Emily watches on from behind, glad she didn’t get caught up in this llama-nonsense

Our hostel, Loki, was halfway up what seemed like the steepest hill in Cusco and it was only moderately embarrassing how winded I got walking back up it. Once there, we all just crashed.

The next day, we ate breakfast in the hostel (Loki didn’t have a kitchen), before walking further up the hill (rip Imogen’s legs) to the tour place to pay for our tours of Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain. Josh and I went back to the hostel to take out more money since we had to pay with cash, and Josh’s card was promptly swallowed by the machine when he tried to make a second transaction. After a brief panic and a conversation in jumbled Spanish with one of the hostel staff, we all walked to the centre of the old part of Cusco to go to the bank and get Josh’s card back.

Once we found out he could get his card back in the evening, I realised I couldn’t take out more money, so we walked back to the Plaza de Armas and sat down in the square to plan what we’d do for the day. This was probably a mistake, since we were flocked by street vendors selling anything and everything from paintings to selfie sticks and rain ponchos. Josh bought a pretty expensive shoe shining (though to be fair he didn’t know at the time it would cost 110 soles), which I ended up paying for since he didn’t have enough soles.

Josh and I were swept up for the second time that day by a very insistent painter who came to know us as George and Sofia (our names are hard to pronounce for people in South America it turns out). I was able to get away (thank you Emily for saving me), but unfortunately Josh was slightly bullied into buying a painting with more money he didn’t really have. Moral of the story, don’t leave Josh alone with street vendors. Since we were all pretty broke at that point, we found a little bakery and bought vegetarian empanadas for lunch – all of us being desperate not to spend more than 15 soles.

After buying some souvenirs (I now have the worlds softest jumper and we had a really nice chat with the lady who sold it to me), Emily and I walked back to the hostel whilst Josh stayed to pick up his card from the bank. I’m impressed we made it back without getting too lost, considering our phones were dead and we didn’t have a map.

After getting Josh’s card back and finally paying for the tours

That evening we stayed in the hostel (Loki is known as a party hostel so it was pretty lively), and actually ran into the Mexican guy we’d met when crossing the border. We also struck up a conversation with this English guy called Henry who had done the jungle trail to Machu Picchu. He’d actually gone to UEA for university, so it was nice talking to someone who actually knew where Norwich was. We didn’t have a crazy night, because the following day we were travelling to Machu Picchu and had to be up kind of early.

16/01/19 – 17/01/19 – Machu Picchu, Peru

We were picked up the following morning at the top of the hill Loki sat on (my thighs were crying by the time I got on the bus), and we started the 5 hour drive to the hydroelectric plant we were being dropped off at “near” Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu.

The roads were incredible. We drove through a cloud when climbing a mountain, and also through a river. The last hour or so of the journey we we driving on a narrow cliff with a 2km drop; the driver was very flippant about it all (he does the drive so often of course), but this didn’t impress a mother on board. Once we arrived, we ate lunch at the restaurant we were dropped off at and began the walk to Aguas Calientes at 3pm.

A small town we drove through

After the first 10 minutes or so of steep incline, the walk itself was mostly okay – it just seemed to go on forever. It was a very picturesque 10-mile walk through forest, although we kept to the train tracks that lead to Aguas Calientes. It was so humid, by the end of the walk I was completely dripping in sweat (tmi?).

We arrived in Aguas Calientes at around 6pm. The last stretch, from the base of Machu Picchu to the meeting point in Aguas Calientes, was all uphill and was slightly brutal after the 3 hours of walking we’d just done. Once checked into the hostel, we showered and got ready for dinner at 8pm.

During dinner, I had to go buy the bus tickets up to Machu Picchu for Emily and I (Josh was going to walk up). We found out once we got there that you needed the passports of all the passengers to buy their tickets, and I didn’t have Emily’s passport as she had gone straight to bed. I ended up getting back in the line what Josh was a literal angel and ran back up to our hostel, which was very uphill, to grab Emily’s passport and bring it back to me.

The next morning, Emily and I were up and out of the hostel by 5:30am – Josh had left at 4:30 since he was walking up Machu Picchu. We got to watch the sun rise as we waited for the bus, and managed to get on the third bus that arrived. Considering the queue was already massive when we’d got there, it was lucky we arrived earlier than we had to.

By the time we were dropped off at the top of Machu Picchu, it was around 7am. We saw Josh go ahead with the group he had been walking with, whilst we stayed with the tour guide to wait for everyone else to arrive.

Whilst it Machu Picchu was stunning, I found the actual experience (the masses of people taking thousands of photos) pretty overwhelming and at times stressful. Considering it opened at 6am and we were among the first to arrive, it was packed and only continued to get busier as time went on. It was difficult to appreciate Machu Picchu itself whilst trying not to get in anyone else’s photos.

We met up with Josh about half way into our tour. As interesting as it was, I don’t remember too much of what we learned, other than the fact that Machu Picchu is the name of the mountain next to the city and the original name of the city has been lost in time.

Once we left Machu Picchu, we decided to walk down the mountain which was… Interesting. The steps were very steep and seemed never-ending. This, coupled with the humidity and the warmth of the day (it was around 11am at this point), meant that by the time we got to the bottom I was dripping in sweat – again.

Whilst Josh decided to wait for the people he walked up with, Emily and I got a head start on walking back to the pick-up point (Josh still managed to overtake us though). The walk back was so much faster – only around 2 hours – but I’d made the mistake of casually telling Emily “I could really do with 5 minutes of torrential rain” about 15 minutes into the walk. This of course meant that torrential rain came and continued for the majority of the walk back, save for the last 5 minutes.

By the time we reached the hydroelectric plant, we were both soaking wet. I then had to change out of my dripping wet t-shirt and into my t-shirt covered in dried sweat…lovely.

On the bus back I fell asleep pretty immediately, but not before discovering most of my ‘important’ belonging’s I’d had with me (my earphones mainly, but also my passport) had also got wet and therefore didn’t work.

We got back into Cusco at around 10pm and were dropped off in the main square. We ended up getting a taxi back to the hostel (we were dropped off at the top of the hill this time thank goodness), because Emily and I refused to walk back up that hill after the two days we’d just had, much to the confusion of Josh.

I think I’d rate Machu Picchu 3.5/5 llamas. It was beautiful and I’m glad I can say I’ve been there (I’ve got the stamp in my passport to prove it), but I’m not eager to go back again and the amount of people there kind of lessened the wonder of it all.

17/01/19 – 18/01/19 – Cusco, Peru (Part 2)

Back in Cusco, we met up with the other three back in Loki briefly, before going straight to bed pretty much.

Emily and I were supposed to be doing Rainbow Mountain with Josh, but we took a rain check as we were still recovering from Machu Picchu. Instead, we decided to explore more of Cusco since we hadn’t seen too much of it when we first arrived.

Cusco’s Plaza de Armas

Unfortunately, Emily’s card was also swallowed by the ATM machine in the hostel, so we had to start our day by going back to the bank. It also meant that I was the group banker for the day, which was fun.

Once we’d sorted out the card fiasco (we had to go back to the bank in the evening), we decided to go on a walking tour of Cusco. Our tour guide was called Marco – what a character! He was very interesting, knowing a lot about the indigenous populations of Peru and the Incas as well (did you know that the Inca wasn’t the name of the indigenous population but the leader of the Incan empire?). He also told us of his time growing up in the jungle of Peru, as well as the hallucinogenic properties the San Pedro cactus juice (don’t worry Mum, I didn’t try it). On our tour we met these two guys called Luke and Martin (this is relevant later), who told us when they did Rainbow Mountain, two girls were really ill due to the altitude – it’s safe to say Emily and I were glad we skipped out.

The last leg of our tour involved going up a hill to see the Cristo Blanco that looks down over the colonial centre of Cusco. We didn’t get to stay there too long as it started raining, but the view of Cusco from the base of the statue was incredible.

On the way back down, we stopped at an Alpaca wool shop to learn about the dyeing process and to try some coca mate (a sort of herbal tea that eases the symptoms of altitude sickness) when the altitude sickness hit. After telling Emily ‘I think I’m going to faint’, I was sat down on a sofa with a bottle of water, more coca mate, and at the end of the talk the owner of the shop came over with some crushed herbs in his hands that I was told to sniff. I felt better pretty soon after that, and after purchasing a few items, we left the hill behind and soon ended the tour.

Quinoa is a staple food in Peru, and so when we stopped off at this restaurant called ‘Organika’, we both ordered salads with quinoa and oh. My. Goodness. They were incredible. Just thinking about the mozzarella and quinoa makes me emotional (I think I’d be happy to go back to Cusco just to go to that restaurant again).

On a whim, we decided to visit the Cathedral Basilica in the Plaza de Armas and paid for a tour guide inside, which turned out to be a great decision on Emily’s part. It was honestly one of, if not the most gorgeous Catholic Church I’ve ever been to. As the Spanish Conquistadors tried to convert the Incan people to Christianity, the artwork and architecture within the cathedral has a lot of Incan influences. For example, the crucifixes designed by the Incan people show Jesus wearing a skirt, as the Incan emperors would wear skirts, and looking down, as the Incan people worshipped Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). We also saw a painting of the last supper where the last meal was guinea pig (a traditional dish in Peru), and instead of wine, Jesus and his Disciples drank chica morada (a fermented corn drink…I don’t really like it). In the same picture, Judas has the face of Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador who captured and killed the Incan emperor Atahualpa.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any photos of the inside of the cathedral as photography was prohibited. Regardless, this was one of my favourite parts of seeing Cusco.

Once out of the cathedral we went to sit down in the square, but not before being stopped by two separate children (aged around 8/9) who asked us to buy a llama key ring. Earlier in the day we had already bought 8 key rings as presents for people, but we now have two more so it’s a case of first come first served, if you want one of course.

After buying a few more bits and pieces, as well as getting Emily’s card back from the bank, we headed back to the hostel to meet Josh (he had an incredible time) and rest up for a bit before leaving to catch our bus to La Paz.

In hindsight, I do wish we could have stayed an extra night (or five), because the atmosphere of the hostel was really great (this Loki was one of my favourite hostels) and we were all knackered. Unfortunately, Josh has booked something in La Paz on the 20th so it wasn’t possible, otherwise we would have stayed.

After saying goodbye to Molly and Hazel (Will has gone to bed), we hopped in a taxi and made our way to the BoliviaHop bus terminal for the last stretch of our travelling.

I’m going to give Cusco a 4.5/5 llamas. I was pleasantly surprised by the city – I had been thinking of it as a stopover on the way to Machu Picchu – and would definitely love to return and see more of it. This Loki hostel had a really great atmosphere, and although there was no kitchen (originally an issue for us), the food was relatively cheap and wasn’t too bad.

It’s a good thing I’ve split this travel blog up – this part alone is around 4000 words! The next part will be about our time in Bolivia and getting back into Chile. It was definitely an interesting week, mostly positive but with a few…situations that made us feel ready to come home. Travelling is so exhausting!

As of yesterday, Emily and I are back at school. Everything seems so positive and I have a really good feeling about this semester. The children come back on Monday, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them all again. This does mean the third part might be a little delayed, but I am aiming to get it up within the next week. Anyway, I hope you’ve had a good day and have enjoyed this part. Thank you for reading it!

Chao,

Imogen.

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