05.04.2016 - 05.04.2016
Peru at last! Not because anything before this has been arduous or dreadful, but because Peru was the first place I planned on travelling to and where I'd built the rest of my trip around. It has felt like a long time coming and I'm very glad to finally be here!
Thankfully when I arrived in Lima, it was nighttime, so I didn't have too much to worry about with the temperature difference from Ushuaia. What did concern me was the driver that was supposed to pick me up wasn't there. But, like Venezuela, I didn't panic. I just chilled out with this Aussie fellow who was about 20 hours late arriving in Peru due to a flight cancellation. It should go without saying (though I'm going to) that his ride wasn't waiting for him. So, after we figured out our hostels were roughly in the same area, we hitched a ride and made our own way to Miraflores.
Miraflores is a great little district of Lima. Without having explored much of Lima (yet - I'm told our tour is coming back this way!) I can tell you that Miraflores is a great place. Sadly I did not get enough time here, but the 5km walk along the coastline was fantastic. They're built great communal gardens where you can play tennis, ride bikes, skate, exercise, walk and train dogs, sit and read, enjoy a coffee, surf, or even go windsurfing! It's colourful and it's very fun. They also have quite a sizeable shopping mall on the cliff face that overlooks the Pacific Ocean - plenty of designer products and places to eat.
I'd happily have stayed longer but now I had to fly off to Cusco to meet the (unfortunate) people who would be (stuck) with me for the next 8 weeks. Sorry that I didn't even realise I was on the plane with Georgie - my bad!
The usual meet and great unused and I think it's fair to say we all got on really well from the outset, even if I'm a granddad in comparison to their age group! Almost immediately after getting to the hostel we started playing cards and it turned out a great way to get to know everyone. Mafia. That's the game we played; I'd never played it before but I think it's fair to say that now I am obsessed! I could go into the details of my excitement regarding this game but it would take to long. Suffice to say, Aaron is always neutral; Tom is always suspicious; I can read Eleanor, Katie, and Georgie like a book; Sarah has crazy deductive abilties; and Sam nor Alex are ever the killers.
Cusco is a wonderful city. Seems like I feel that what about every place I visit but I guess it's hard not to be impressed when there's a lot going on. The city itself is at a higher altitude than Machu Piccu and, being a city built on a mountain, has very steep steps and climbs - it takes you a couple of days to get used to the extra effort required. What you would climb at a lower altitude without breaking a sweat (well, for most people...) will leave you gasping for breath here.
You should check out the Chocolate Museum, which is far better than I thought it would be (and I already was giddy with excitement). The chocolate is phenomenally tasty and the tour is really interesting. You can actually be involved in the process of making chocolate but you have to book ahead for this - sadly we did not. If you're lucky your tour guide might even kiss you on the cheek! You can try a far amount of chocolate flavoured jams and liquors. There are also plenty of non-chocolate chocolate products to buy: like chocolate moisturiser, cocoa butter, and chocolate condoms...
The food in Cusco - well, in Peru in general I think - is brilliant, especially if you don't mind trying new (and admittedly, disgusting sounding) things. Cuy (pronounced coo-ee) is Guinea pig; not a pet here but a common dish - it tastes a little like chicken. Cuy is so common to the locals and strange to most tourists that they have Cuy-themed t-shirts: like "Cuynnibal" spoofing Hannibal; "Game of Cuy" spoofing, well, you should know this; and "Cuy Wars: The Cuy Awakens" (I think you get the gist).
Anticucho is grilled cow's heart. Which probably sounds of interest to those into organ meat, but it pretty much tastes like one of the nicest steaks you've ever had. For about 2 soles (which is less than 50p) you can get a kebab of meat with a potato on top! Well worth a try.
There is tamales, which is a maize desert type thing. You can have it sweet or salty but it doesn't really matter as they're both nice, and for only 1 sol. Causa is a phenomenally tasty dish, which is like a savoury square cake consisting of a layer of potato, thin layer of avocado, another layer of potato, chicken, and a sliced/boiled egg on top!
You can also try a juice made with blended frog. I couldn't taste any of the frog but it felt awesome to try it anyway.
Shop around the markets and stalls and streets and you'll find a near endless supply of places to eat and drink. Which, of course, I love to do!
Then there are the markets. They all basically sell the same things (alpaca related items, shirts, flutes, pipes, souvenirs, basic crap) but that doesn't mean you can't pick up a bargain. I went a little overboard by getting three alpaca tops but I refuse to have regrets! Just remember to haggle. You can sometimes get an item for half the original price, and often it's just fun to watch Eleanor steadfastly refuse to settle on a deal even if it means to pay 1 sol more!
We all separated after the second night and went to stay with Peruvian families. Aaron and I came to stay with Patty and Marco, and their kids Lucas, Flavia, and Emie. This was to help us learn and improve our Spanish (not sure it worked for me!) and to get a bit of a flavour for the local culture. Everyday from 8:30 to 1pm we all had Spanish lessons at the local language school. Although I can't say I was really bothered by the end of the week, it was fun at the start, and despite my stubbornness a little bit of Spanish even snuck into my vocabulary. Just not for long!
To get us a little more acclimatised for our trek to Machu Piccu (although Cusco is at a higher altitude than the big MP, our trek would take us close to 5000 metres before we got to our destination) our guides Frank and Stefan took us to a place high in the hills of Cusco - Devil's Balcony.
The Devil's Balcony is a little cave that forms a natural looking balcony, which overlooks a sheer drop to the river below. It has some fantastic views of the region and the city below. It's a great hike and a nice way to get acclimatised, but it does feel as though the trail to MP is going to be a looooooong few days.
Of great interest to me, on the way down, we walked to the statue of Jesus that overlooks the city.
By pure coincidence, by Irish friend I met in Colombia, Eamon, was in Cusco. So thankfully we got to have a couple of drinks together, as well as sharing a few completely inappropriate jokes! Hopefully I'll see this crazy Irishman in Dublin sometime.
I hope you're wondering how my singing voice is doing since leaving the island...
Well that's good! Because I'm glad to report that all 17 of us went to a karaoke bar in Cusco and absolutely smashed the tunes. Okay, so some were better than others, and some others (just me) were awful. I really can't remember every single song that we sang, but there was a lot. From Tenacious D's Tribute and Wonderboy, to Total Eclipse of My Heart, to Rage Against the Machine, to Justin Bieber, Pink, the Stereophonics, Beyoncé, Shania, and far too many more. And, of course, all of the group joined me on stage for Bohemian Rhapsody - standard!
It was an epic night, one so good I didn't even begrudge the 4-hour-sleep hangover in the morning. I did, however, with the upmost maturity, give up on even trying in Spanish the following morning. But it was so worth it, and amazing to have such a great time with people who were strangers only a few days earlier.
We're due to visit an Alpaca farm tomorrow, and then on Sunday we'll leave to start our 4 day trek to Machu Piccu! Ordinarily, I would wait until our last night in Cusco before posting this (as it satisfies my OCD to have a specific blog post for each location) BUT I doubt I'll have access to wifi from Saturday morning onwards, so here you are. Consider it an early present, and if you're stupid enough to have read this far then maybe you'll even believe it's a present!
Anyway, onwards to Machu Piccu. I have to admit to being a little giddy with excitement. MP has been on my to-do list for years and years, and now it's happening. I may even arrive on my birthday, or the day after.
This, I cannot wait for...
From the back row, left to right:
Sarah (from Spanish), Emma, Aaron, Sam, Bryony, Sara, Alex, Ellie, Katie, Georgie, Maurice (from Spanish)
Rashid, Tom, Sarra, Yas