|April 18, 2010
We had another early start today for another flight, this time to Cusco. The guy at reception in our hostel this morning was useless and barely spoke English. Despite asking for a taxi last night the hostel had not booked one for us. When it came to paying the bill, too, he seemed clueless managing to forget the deposit which we’d paid (which I reminded him about) and also forgetting the taxi we needed to pay for from the airport (which I reminded him about twice and he still forgot – I wasn’t going to remind him a third time!). For once everything at the airport was smooth and easy – we checked in, paid our departure tax and cleared security with no hassle and no annoyances from any rude or ignorant people.
The flight is only just over an hour long so it flew by. The landing in Cusco is quite different as the city is 3,300m above sea level. This means the descent doesn’t take as long and you get clear views of the city as you start to descend. Also, the flight path takes planes almost directly over the airstrip before the plane does a quick U-turn around a nearby mountain before you come into land!
We had a lift from our hostel there to collect us at the airport (this one free) and it was nice being back somewhere I had fond memories of. The altitude hit both Elizabeth and I almost immediately though – I had quite a dry mouth and Elizabeth felt a bit of a headache. Once at the hostel we checked in to our lovely double room with ensuite (a luxury, I promise you) and the owner bought us both cups of coca tea. We lazed around for a while and got a little more used to the thin air before deciding we wanted to go and get some lunch. Our hostel is high on a hill overlooking the main square which gives it a great vantage point and provides a gentle stroll down to where the main attractions are. Unfortunately, it also means a long trek uphill on the way back but that was for later!
One of the possible side effects of altitude sickness is loss of appetite but neither of us were suffering from that just yet! We reached a small, very busy café called Jack’s and were lucky to find a seat. Wanting something light we both ordered sandwiches but when they turned up the servings were huge, my sandwich coming complete with salad and fries and Elizabeth having a ridiculous amount of bread on one plate! Still, we fought our way through just about all of it and waddled back towards the Plaza des Armes.
We decided to walk around the square just to see what was about and I had remembered a small grocery store on one corner where we picked up some water. Circling the square reminded me just how touristy it is around here with every shop being either a café shoving a menu in your face, a souvenir shop or someone selling tours. We didn’t stop and take much notice of much though as we thought we would have plenty of time to do that tomorrow. The square here is so pretty and open, too, that it was nice to wander around but before long we were back at our road and faced with the hill back! It is amazing how much energy gets sapped out of you just walking up a small hill. Normally we’d have both got up there fine but our hearts were racing and our breathing was heavy.
In the afternoon both of us weren’t feeling great so we ended up sleeping for most of it before waking up and hanging out at the hostel for a while. We didn’t even bother with dinner, preferring to stay wrapped up in bed with some coca tea instead!
April 19, 2010
We woke up this morning and neither of us were feeling too great still but we felt we should get out and try and do something today. We headed out to the Pre-Colombian museum. It was relatively expensive to get in but the exhibits inside were worth it. There were some really cool ceramic bottles and vases in the shapes of llama heads, birds and all kinds of things. The museum did have English signs but they were really badly written. The curator had obviously decided to forego the usual route of telling you the use and significance of a piece and its design, instead preferring to second guess the artist and explain what they were thinking when they designed it. Considering many of these items were made by workman at the request of a higher authority, I doubt very much the “artist” had much say at all in the design! It was also funny seeing the ridiculously long words used, too, which made most sentences almost incomprehensible. Words such as “plasticity” and “globular” in relation to ceramic vases were repeatedly used without really being in context. I sometimes wonder whether museums bother checking their translations, not just for spelling and grammar, but for whether they actually make sense. I’m afraid to say, I lost interest in reading half way through but enjoyed looking at the displays nonetheless.
Having skipped breakfast we were both hungry and so we tried to find a restaurant we wanted to try. Upon reaching the address it was nowhere to be seen so we ended up in The Real McCoy, an ashamedly English style bar! Their lunchtime set menu was just over $5 each and included soup, a main course (I had spaghetti bolognaise and Elizabeth had lasagna) and a drink. It was pretty good value for such a touristy town.
After lunch we had a walk around the square and into some souvenir shops. We didn’t really need anything but we ended up buying a small ceramic ornament and a new journal for Elizabeth. She has been hand-writing her journal since we left Bermuda and we have been buying her journals in all sorts of places as we’ve been travelling. We haven’t bought one in every place but so far I reckon she has ones from Jordan, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia, New Zealand and now Peru. This isn’t including the one she started with either! We also got some postcards to send home and some dinner for tonight – given we have an early start tomorrow and we aren’t feeling great we decided to get some “safe” food for tonight to have at the hostel.
The afternoon was again spent lazing around, after the long walk back up the hill. I don’t feel too bad lazing around in Cusco as the main reason we have come here is to go to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu and that is where we are heading tomorrow. I’d rather we were well and fit for that excursion given how much the tours cost. Elizabeth seems to be suffering from the altitude a little bit and the tour might actually help her as the sites in the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu itself are at a lower altitude than here.
Our tour guide met us this evening at the hostel and after being an hour late turning up he didn’t speak English and therefore was a useless contact for us to talk about the tour with. He gave us our train tickets and left which was not helpful. We also found out our train back was much later than expected. I emailed the tour company and was hopeful they would sort the situation out. We were also praying that guy wasn’t our guide for the whole two-day tour!
April 20, 2010
Today we headed out on our two day tour which included the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. Our “pickup” arrived and this was actually the same bloke from last night meeting us at the hotel and making us walk down to where the buses left from. We were not impressed so far and after finally boarding the bus and spending about 30 minutes circling the square we were pleased to actually get going. The previous bit about not being picked up was made worse by the fact the bus drove right past our hotel on the way out of the city!
On the way out of the city we drove past the ruins at Sacsayhuaman. We got a great view from the roadside and the site here is huge. However, this wasn’t on our itinerary so we carried on. After a brief stop for no apparent reason, we stopped at the Pisac market where we had a walk around without being too bothered about actually buying anything.
The first decent stop was at the Pisac ruins and it was cool to be walking around places I’d seen back in 2006 and had enjoyed back then. This time wasn’t as great though as our guide wasn’t very good and was very dull. He was doing the tour in two languages and after spending ages talking in Spanish he’d spend 10 seconds giving an English version. It was very annoying and both of us felt that we weren’t learning a whole lot of background about the area.
The next stop was lunch in Urubamba and this was actually decent. It was included which was lucky as it was quite an inflated price for Peru. It was a buffet and after tucking into some decent salads, both Elizabeth and I tried a stew which had alpaca in it. It was really like beef but apparently better for you and we both enjoyed it, probably over-eating a bit as we hadn’t had much the last few days!
The final stop of the day for us was at Ollantaytambo. I remembered the big terraces here from before and after feeling a bit rough the past few days wasn’t looking forward to climbing them. However, once they were in sight I reckoned I had to do it again and get some pictures from the top. Once more, the guide was rubbish, preferring to pick out shapes of faces in the hillside than actually tell us much about the site. Elizabeth and I decided to walk off on our own and get some pictures instead of listen to any more drivel.
After Ollantaytambo we got a car to take us to Piscacucho to get the train to Aguas Calientes. The car got held up for about an hour as the road to Piscacucho is only wide enough for one lane of traffic and, well, we just had to sit around! Finally at Piscacucho we got on the train and the quick journey to Aguas flew by. We were met at the station by a representative from our hotel and we were taken there. The hotel was REALLY basic and we had to change rooms as the first one had no running water. The second wasn’t much better with the shower curtain showing a thick layer of mould! This was probably the worst hotel we’ve stayed in so far on our entire trip! Just after we’d checked in a guide came to give us our tickets for tomorrow at Machu Picchu. Like the one last night, he hardly spoke English but did tell us we would have a better guide tomorrow! I hope so!
We had an early start to Machu Picchu so we both got an early night although the proximity of the hotel to the train tracks meant it was fairly disturbed all through the night!
April 21, 2010
When the alarm went off at 4.30am we were both way too tired to be getting up but get up we did. We had to catch a bus at 5.30am which meant joining the queue before 5am. There was quite a long queue already but by 5.30 we were on a bus and on the way to the entrance. We were supposed to meet our tour guide at 6.30am but as we were a bit early we headed in and got some quick pictures beforehand. The view was really restricted by the mist and fog so early on and it was impossible to make out much of the site at all.
We met our guide outside and his English had not improved since last night and his instructions to follow were not helpful either given that he wasn’t actually leading the group but stayed at the back! Once inside this time though the weather was brightening up and once we got to the top of the terraces, Elizabeth got her first view of Machu Picchu and I remembered just how amazing it is, too!
Thankfully at this point our guides were switched and we were greeted by Jose who spoke very good English. He gave us a good history about the site and its discovery although it did go on a little too long. The group had trouble understanding where Hiram Bingham, the American who claimed to discover MP, was from. It sounded like he was saying “Jail” but he actually meant “Yale”. Jose found it quite funny too and soon tried to pronounce it differently and even commenting that Hiram Bingham didn’t come from a prison! It later turned out that Jose had only done five English tours and he apologised about being nervous at the beginning but quite honestly he was an excellent and informative guide. Given what we had dealt with so far, it was a relief to be able to understand him!
Walking around the site was as amazing as I remember and the detail given by the guide was actually interesting and kept us amused for the full two hours of the tour. The coolest thing about this visit was the timing – my last visit had been the middle of the day when the ruins are packed whereas this time there were a lot less people around and we were able to get some amazing views and pictures. Also, the fog and mist kept rolling in and out almost all morning so some of the views with the buildings peaking through the fog make the place look really mysterious and give it an extra dimension from the place I saw before. This was definitely a better visit and hopefully my pictures are better, too!
The tour was done by around 9am and we had a short walk around before heading out and trying to decide what to do. Our tour company had messed up our train tickets and had got us onto a train at 9.45pm despite saying it would be around 7pm. This gave us over 12 hours to waste in a tiny little town with nothing much to do so we had requested the tour company change them. Over the course of the past 2 days we got various mixed messages ranging from someone had new train tickets for us to someone is going to get us new tickets to there was no chance of changing them! All we could really gather was that any new tickets would appear at our hotel so we headed back there to check. When we arrived we found out that there were no new tickets yet but that someone had been there earlier trying to get some of our details. After a number of phone calls where we were still told different things by a range of different people (including one person who we didn’t even know and still don’t know who they are) a man turned up with new tickets for us. It was a relief but we still had to wait until about 5.30pm for our train but it was 4 hours less than expected! The journey back also takes over 4 hours so the late departure would’ve had us back in Cusco at 2am and we have an early flight so it would’ve meant no sleep. Even with hours to waste in Aguas Calientes it was better than zero sleep two nights in a row!
Anyway, after an early lunch we had a walk around the market and ended up buying a few small things, once again. Given we’ve hardly eaten in Cusco since we’ve been ill we thought we might as well spend some money on souvenirs instead! The wait around for the train after that dragged on forever but we were so glad when we got on the earlier train as we’d hoped. We got to Piscacucho station and were met by our driver to go back to Cusco. We were on the home straight and were ready for bed. However, the drive is over two hours and again we had to wait for the road to clear.
The drive back should be considered an extreme sporting event, not because of the roads or terrain but because of the driver. We were sharing the minibus with 4 Argentines and on more than one occasion they had to tell the driver to be careful. He was overtaking blindly around corners in the dark, taking corners so quick he often slid off the road and swerving potholes that didn’t exist. I had a front seat view and couldn’t see where the imaginary holes were half the time. Combined with him texting and taking phone calls the entire way I was just glad when we reached our hotel alive!
At our hotel we were met by a representative from our tour company and she apologised for the late meet on the first night plus the train mix up. I also told her about the driver and she said she would talk to his manager. She also gave us $40 as an apology for the problems they had caused and whilst I wasn’t expecting it, it was certainly appreciated and accepted!
After that we both hit the sack with another 4.30am start tomorrow for an 8am flight to Lima before heading onto Buenos Aires. The whole tour was certainly an experience but nothing can detract from how amazing Machu Picchu is!
April 22, 2010
A crazy early start again this morning and it felt so stupid given that after an hour flight to Lima we’d have 13 hours to wait for our next flight! Still, our taxi turned up at 5.30am and on arrival at the airport we found out they had no x-ray machines and luggage would be searched by hand. This had to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen for a while, particularly for such a large tourist destination. The guard who searched my bag claimed they cannot afford scanning equipment at the airport and some airlines don’t even do hand searches! Thankfully that was the only stupidity we encountered until we were called for a “final call” for our flight about an hour before it was due to take off! When we boarded early we asked the bloke and he just looked at his watch and shrugged. I guess the last few days haven’t exactly run to plan for getting information!
The 13 hour wait at Lima really dragged and we tried changing location and moving around the airport a fair bit until we could finally check in and get rid of our luggage. After that we were able to go through security and immigration and relax for an hour or so in one of the airport lounges. Before long, it was 11pm and time for the flight to Argentina.
Peru has been a lot of fun and even Lima was better than before whilst Cusco was everything I remembered – it was just a shame we both felt rubbish for a couple of days and couldn’t do much with the altitude. Oh well, another new city to head to next for Elizabeth and one I didn’t explore too much last time around!