Two has become three. My friend Matt has joined us for three weeks as we make our way around South America. We last saw Matt when we travelled together in Italy and Spain. I’m pleased that he was happy to join us once again because it gives me an opportunity to use some Australian humour – Anna doesn’t really appreciate my Aussie jokes.
Our departure from the Galapagos Islands wasn’t too smooth as flight delays meant we had to be changed to another airline so we’d make our connection to Lima. It was a little stressful at the time but overall it was a blessing because we ended up with shorter flights as we went through Guayaquil not Quito. It was a full day journey though so by the time we arrived in Lima it was quite late and bed was calling.
Matt was joining us the next day (Tuesday) so we didn’t do too much. We had to check out of our hotel and kill some time before checking into the 2 bedroom apartment that we had arranged. We were staying in the Miraflores district which is where all the tourists stay (they call it Fancytown). Matt arrived around 6.30pm after his 30 hour journey from Sydney so he was pretty exhausted but he had enough energy for dinner before retiring to bed. There is a university in Miraflores which means there are plenty of good cheap eateries around.
The next day we had quite the sleep in and decided we should get out and do something. We had never really planned to see Lima but the opportunity came up so we decided to take it. Reading the Lonely Planet guide on the historical centre of Lima reminded us of what it was like in Morocco – really crowded, protect your valuables etc. We slimmed down our holdings to just some cash in the pocket and our cameras but we were very surprised when the taxi dropped us off and everything appeared normal. I’m not saying that there aren’t any pickpockets or suspicious characters around Lima but we didn’t see any.
We strolled around the historic centre for a couple of hours and noted the distinct Spanish influence but also noticed that many of the historic buildings are gone. Lima has had its fair share of earthquakes over the years so many buildings have been replaced with modern equivalents. After some aimless wandering we decided to taxi back to Miraflores to a shopping centre that is built into the cliffs overlooking the coast. The beaches didn’t look too flash with polluted water and no sand but the design of the shopping centre in the cliff was rather clever. We walked back to the apartment and went for a dip in the pool to cool down. Our airport transfer was booked for 7:30am the next morning, so we went for Peruvian food nearby to try Ceviche and then had a quiet night.
Our early rise was a waste because our flight to Cuzco ended up being delayed by an hour, which seems to be a reoccurring theme in South America. Once we arrived in Cuzco we had to negotiate a two hour taxi ride to Ollantaytambo which is in the Sacred Valley. The drive was a little wild as we made our way through the mountains along wet slippery roads but the taxi driver seemed to know what he was doing. We made the journey in 1 hour 40 minutes so the constant honking and brave overtaking manoeuvres paid off. The scenery in Peru is incredible though. The mountain ranges are so big and looking up from the valley floor is breathtaking. When we arrived at our accommodation we were amazed with the stunning scenery outside our rooms. The town itself was a beautiful historic village made up of pedestrian cobblestone lanes.
The next morning we explored the Incan ruins of Ollantaytambo. The are built up the side of the mountain on the edge of the village and are accessible by foot. Climbing up the ruins provided a stunning view over the town and some insight into how these historic townships were designed. Being surrounded by grand mountains, plenty of water was available by channeling streams through the village and even having water sources run through the houses. The iconic flat tiered gardens featured for crop production as well as providing a strategic defence system. We were able to explore all morning before it started to rain around lunchtime. Our train to Machu Picchu was at 3:30pm so we stayed at the hotel until a break in the weather provided an opportunity to make the dash to the station.
When we were in Sri Lanka we caught some of the mountain trains that were noisy, rattlely and barely had standing room only. I guess I expected that the trains here in Peru would be similar. Matt booked us on a train called the Vistadome because it had a glass ceiling for panoramic views and then they even provided a meal service. This was definitely 5 star service for Anna and I, but we better not get used to it. The 1.5 hour journey was very scenic and the glass ceiling meant that it didn’t matter what side of the train you were on, you could see all of the action.
Our arrival into Machu Picchu Pueblo was a little chaotic as the train station leads you straight into the markets so you have no idea where you are and people are moving everywhere. We managed to find our hotel but then finding our room was a further challenge. The hotel is made up of a series of different buildings that make their way up the hillside with various connecting staircases. The town is essentially the gateway to Machu Picchu itself so it’s full of hotels, hostels and restaurants. The town is down in the valley on the river with Machu Picchu being up in the clouds above.
We made an early rise this morning so that we could get up to the site before the bulk of the visitors arrive. Most of the tours stay further away and arrive at around 10am, so we were on the bus at 8am this morning which gave us a good 1.5 hours of reduced crowds. The 30 minute bus ride up the mountain was an adventure in itself as we rounded countless hairpins and snaked our way up. Once we arrived we decided to hike up to the Sun Gate first while we were full of energy. It was about a 1.5 hour round trip but it was quite the incline. The view of the ruins made it totally worthwhile as we stopped at numerous vantage points along the way. Once we returned to the ruins we decided to do another hike out to the Incan Drawbridge which was only 30 minutes each way, but it did have a number of sharp drops along the narrow trail. The drawbridge is closed off to visitors after a guest fell and died a few years ago.
Back at the ruins we made our way around the site checking out the various buildings and taking stock of the explanations on what the buildings were used for. The most interesting part of Machu Picchu is that nobody knows things for certain. It was abandoned for such a long period and historians believe that much of the Incan history was documented on silver and gold plates, but they were the first things to be looted. Between reading the Lonely Planet guide and covertly listening in on paid tour guides giving explanations we managed to scrape together how the Incans did things. The scenery just blows you away though. Everywhere we turned there was another photo opportunity. Anna definitely had her work cut out for her this week as she culled and edited the hundreds of photos.
After spending about 6 hours up the top we decided to board the bus to head back to town. We were contemplating going to the thermal baths nearby but we decided that the blog wasn’t going to write itself so we decided to relax at our hotel for a few hours and knock it over. The sun was pretty fierce up there so resting in the shade is nice way to cool down. One thing I’m very grateful for is the weather we’ve had over the past couple of days. Considering it’s the wet season, we were very lucky to have a full day at Machu Picchu without a drop of rain and nice clear conditions for photos. I think we’ve been very lucky.
So tomorrow we’re heading back to Cuzco for 2 nights before we fly back to Lima and then onto Iguassu Falls on the Argentina/Brazil border. Then Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for Carnival.
Fail of the Week
When we first arrived in Lima we needed to buy some dinner and drinking water. We were quite tired so we wanted something light for dinner and the flash supermarket next door had pre-made salads that looked quite nice. Well we should’ve taken the travel doctor’s advice when she said “no salads in South America” because there was a disagreement and two doses of Imodium was the answer. Anna was fine but she’s tougher than me.
Meal of the Week
Since Matt was more awake for his second night in Lima we went out for some Peruvian food. We had Ceviche for entree which was splendid and then we had a random assortment of mains from Italian to Chinese. Best part were the 1 litre beers for AUD4.