Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A trip to darkest Peru - Part 1

You can always tell when you've had a successful holiday by the fact that you feel like you need another one to recover from it once you're back home. This is how I've felt this weekend after spending the whole of last week in Peru, visiting as many Inca sites as possible and then spending two days in the rainforest. It's hardly surprising I've spent most of the past two days fast asleep.

We flew out first thing on the Friday morning, having stolen the boys away from their last day of school before their half-term break - they only do two terms a year here so Easter break is only a single week long. Anyway, for some strange reason, we ended up being put in Business Class for the flight, which was a rather nice surprise and a wonderful way to start the holiday. Maybe some of you are used to flying Business and don't see what the big deal is, but personally, I've never done it before and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, even if I did feel like a complete fraud and was waiting for the cabin staff to come and explain that there had been a terrible mistake and could we all please move back into Cattle Class where we were supposed to be.

No one did, however, so for once I got to eat with a metal knife and fork and then watch a film horizontally. Not quite sure I'd waste several hundred pounds for the privilege in future, but getting to do it free of charge was pretty good fun. Anyway, after a quick stop-off in Lima, we flew to Cusco where I got to experience something else for the first time - having a taxi driver waiting for me, holding up a board with my name on it. Why this should have been so exciting I can't really say, but it certainly beat having to lug all of our luggage into the queue for the bus.

At this point can I just say that over the course of the holiday, we spent a fair amount of time in taxis, coaches and minivans of various descriptions, and every single one of our Peruvian drivers was excellent, sensible and drove sufficiently carefully to make driving around hairpin bends a kilometre above the valley floor and three feet away from a sheer drop all the way down almost bearable - even when we did it in the middle of the night!

Our first port of call was the lovely little town of Ollantaytambo, about an hour-and-a-half's nervous drive from Cusco, where we were settled into El Albergue, possibly the cutest little hotel ever built. It's actually the old railway station, with the waiting room now serving as a small restaurant, but with a large area out back which is a cross between an old Spanish mission and a lush tropical garden. We spent two nights here and wished we'd stayed an extra two, rather than relocate to Cusco later on.

We also met our personal guide, Natividad, who was going to be with us for most of the first four days and who would show us around all the Incan ruins of Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu itself, only leaving us for our afternoon tour of Cusco on the third day.

So, off we went...

Our first stop was Pisac, in Sacred Valley, and after a quick look around the tourist magnet of the main square we made our way up to the ruins on the mountains above. It was a great place to start, with a good (but not too long) walk up to the old settlement itself. At this point we were still suffering the effects of the altitude (nearly 3,000m) and I was finding climbing up the endless flights of stairs somewhat tiring - though possibly it was just my general lack of fitness rather than the thin air which was making me pant so much.

 A well-deserved lunch followed at the beautiful Tunupa restaurant, just outside Urubamba, where we got to wander down by the river, see some alpacas and eat a lot more than we really needed.

Then it was back to Ollantaytambo for an afternoon of more stair climbing and careful walking along precariously positioned paths while trying to keep hold of eager children trying to impersonate mountain goats, their fearlessness matched only by their desire to use the toilet as soon as we were several hundred vertical feet away from the nearest one. After all this, dinner and bed never seemed so wonderful.

Day three involved leaving our wonderful hotel and heading back to Cusco. We stopped off briefly at Chinchero to see some more ruins and, just by chance, to get caught up in a Palm Sunday procession at the local church during which I was inadvertently sprinkled with holy water by an over-zealous priest.

Sadly, I have to say that Cusco was something of a disappointment. It wasn't exactly the city's fault, it's just that several different things conspired to make our stay less than ideal. Firstly, our hotel was nowhere near as nice as the previous one in Ollantaytambo. Secondly, our one meal out there was an over-priced and under-heated disappointment. And thirdly, our guided tour of the sights and sites was nowhere near as good as the ones with Natividad. For a start, we were put in with a larger group, which meant a lot more in the way of waiting around for other people and having to walk at their pace, not our own. Also, David fell fast asleep as soon as he sat down on the coach so Helen had to miss the first two stops of the whirlwind tour (six different places in four hours) while she sat with him on the otherwise empty bus.

 Actually, she didn't miss much. Our first stop was Cusco cathedral, and while I can appreciate that the building was old and grand, I hadn't gone all the way to Peru just to look inside a big church. Our tour guide was - to be quite honest - a bit on the dull side, and I still can't work out how she managed to seem so rushed and stressed while still making the tour way longer than it needed to be. James and I skulked at the back for most of it and when we weren't complaining about being bored, we spent our time discussing various ways in which the rules for Dungeons & Dragons could be improved.

Things picked up a bit after that, however, and we spent the rest of the afternoon back with the Incas. Qorikancha, a temple right in the centre of town, was first on the list, followed by the citadel of Saqsaywaman which overlooks the city from a lofty 3,701m and which is humorously referred to as Sexy Woman by most of the tourists visiting it. It's not a particularly funny joke, and believe me, it becomes even less funny after half an hour of endless repetition. After that it was on and off the bus a couple of times to visit a couple of smaller sites before we finished up at the fort of Pukapukara.

By now the sun was beginning to set, most of the other tourists had disappeared off into their own coaches and headed back to Cusco and we were pretty much left with the place to ourselves. It's not a particularly big site, but it's nicely preserved and standing out on the edge of the brickwork and staring out at the distant mountains as the shadows crawled their way up their sides was a truly wonderful experience.

Shame it was so bitterly cold though, with a biting wind and not nearly enough warm clothes.

Day four, and the main event; Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, due to a touch of bad planning on our part, we had to begin the day at 4:30am with a hurried breakfast, followed by a taxi ride to the coach station and then an hour and forty minutes on the coach just to get us back as far as Ollantaytambo railway station - which had been right outside our hotel front door two days previously! Ah well. The train ride afterwards was fun anyway, and the views were amazing, and after another hour and a half we arrived in Machu Picchu town (also known as Aguas Calientes) and it was time for another nail-biting drive up the side of a mountain, round hairpin bend after hairpin bend with no ground to see out of the window.

Once we arrived there was more climbing to do, this time on foot, up a steep and winding path which offered only tantalizing glimpses of the ruins ahead and by this time I was getting pretty desperate for something to point my camera at. And then, suddenly, there it was. Machu Picchu, in all its glory.

It was so definitely worth the journey. It's an amazing place and would still be amazing even if it was at sea level. The fact that it was built nearly two and a half thousand metres up in the middle of a bunch of practically inaccessible mountains just makes it totally awesome. I took a lot of photos, and some of them even look quite impressive, but photos just can't capture the scope of the place and don't really give a true impression of what it's like to glance over a low wall and see nothing but mountains and a tiny valley floor way, way down below.

A lot of people say you should try to get to Machu Picchu first thing in the morning and watch the sunrise, either from the city itself or, for the more adventurous, from the top of Huayna Picchu (which is the pointy mountain at the top of the city which you can see in all the photos. Machu Picchu itself is a much less imposing mountain around the other side). Well, we didn't do either of these things so I can't say whether it's worth the effort, but what we did do was spend the whole of a long and warm afternoon wandering round the place, and as the afternoon wore on, so the crowds began to disappear until about four-thirty when it was almost deserted, and when the photo opportunities were so much better.

The site closes at five o'clock and we were some of the last people to leave. Then it was back down the hill (only 20 minutes to get down compared with the 30 it took to get up!) and a somewhat dull three hours to kill in Aguas Calientes before our train. We wandered around a bit, ate, and James tried one of the local delicacies.

By the time we got back to our hotel in Cusco it was approaching one o'clock in the morning. So the day was nearly twenty-one hours from start to finish and it was well worth every minute!

And that, dear reader, brings the first half of our holiday to a close. Part two will follow shortly, and may even be out before the end of the week if you're lucky. It doesn't involve any more Incan ruins, but it does contain an awful lot of trees and mud.

See you soon.


At 10 June 2013 at 04:49 , Blogger Luizze Oliveira said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11 June 2013 at 00:09 , Blogger Luizze Oliveira said...

In holiday I like to visit any place with family and get lots of enjoyment. After read this article I feel that peru is also such beautiful destination for travelling.

La Torre Golf Resort


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home