A Travellerspoint blog

Puno & the Floating Island Tour

sunny 27 °C

Having arrived in Puno, E-J was still struggling form the Inca Trail and was in need of some well earned sleep! With the local annual fiesta occurring that week and the relentless street processions, Puno didn’t seem like the best place to be!

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Having found accommodation, we battled our way through the street processions and hundreds of people, to book a two-day island tour to the Uros Islands (the Floating Islands), the Amantani Island (where we stay with a local family) and the Taquile island.

The night before our tour we decided to enjoy a good meal. Sam tucked into some juicy Alpaca meat; concerned that this may be the last good meal he ate for forty-eight hours!

Rising early morning, we headed for the Puno docks and boarded are sixteen-man boat. The Uros Islands were our first stop and after a pleasant thirty-minute trip, E-J took in the Floating Islands, whilst Sam rested his eyes!

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We also took one of the local reed boats across to another floating island. Sam found all of this very unpleasant and commercial, what with being crammed on a tiny boat with sixteen other tourists and the fact that the boat was called Titanic… however, E-J seemed to love every minute!

We then boarded the boat for another three-hour journey, until we reached the Amantani Island. Although it felt very far away, it was only 30 kilometres, but the rough boat journey seemed to make it take forever! By lunchtime we had found our destination and were introduced to our hosts for the evening, Patrick and Anastasia. Our slight concern was that they spoke little Spanish (though neither did we) so there would be a lot of communication via gesture and hand movement... Their main language was Quechua, which can only be described as sounding very similar to the language of Donald Duck!

When we arrived at their farm, we quickly helped peel potatoes, which were to be used for lunch. At this point we were slightly concerned about the purple-patched potatoes, as we really didn’t fancy an uncomfortable night with very limited bathroom facilities! For lunch, we had potato soup, followed by rice, meat in breadcrumbs with potatoes, which was more than enough carbs!

In the afternoon, we met with our guide again and were told about the area and the history of the families who lived on the island.

As the sun went down, E-J climbed up the 1000 feet hill, to the point of 4200m above sea level to catch a beautiful sunset. Sam meanwhile, enjoyed a rather breathless game of football with the locals.

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In the evening (after E-J had discovered she had seriously scorched her face in the sun, with the stupid lack of sun block) we sat in our hosts’ kitchen/bedroom and enjoyed a meal of (once again) potato soup, rice, chicken and potatoes! After the evening meal, we were quickly changed into the local, authentic dress and headed for the town hall for some local dancing!

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We were quickly escorted onto the dance floor by our hosts and to the sounds of a local band. Being swung around in a huge group can only be described as a Peruvian conga and with the aid of a few beers this continued on into the night, until we were completely worn out by 11pm. We both slept extremely well that night!

In the morning, there was just enough time for a quick pancake breakfast before saying our goodbyes and heading back onto the boat.

An hour later we arrived onto the Island of Taquile. Taquile is an incredibly honest place where there is no crime, so no one locks their houses and there are no police. Also, it is common for the locals to be married before 20 and if the girls exceed this age, they are looked upon as being a bit of a spinster! After a stroll around the island and taking in the beautiful surroundings, we enjoyed a lovely, fresh trout lunch.

We then had a four-hour boat trip back to Puno and by the time we arrived back, we were both absolutely shattered and enjoyed a quiet night in, watching terrible Peruvian television!

Sam’s Comments: Fantastic trip, great family, only problem was the Frenchman who took offense to one of my mistimed football tackles!

E-J’s Comments: I really enjoyed the experience, although a little skeptical side of me can’t help thinking that maybe it is all a bit of a tourist scam and the Amantani people don’t actually live in this basic accommodation that they entertain us in, but have a large pad behind this with all the modern compliances and possibly even a plasma screen! This may also explain why they kept leaving the room whenever they had to get something...

Posted by E-J 10:05 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

The Inca Trail

sunny 28 °C

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Day 1
At 5:25 am our guide Puma, greeted us at our hostel. From here we got on the bus to see the sixteen people we would be spending the next four days with, and then sat in silence along with the rest of the group until we reached Ollantaytambo. In Ollantaytambo, we had breakfast before beginning the trail.

After breakfast and almost at the beginning of the trail our bus suddenly broke down and we were stranded on the side of the road for a good forty minutes. This allowed us time to get to know the group and realise that we had a guide who was incredibly passionate about his job and teaching the past to his fellow travellers. The group was a mixture of all ages, people from England, America, Canada, South Africa and Australia. Immediately, we sussed out the rotten eggs, a couple who seemed to complain about everything before the tour had even begun, as well as interrupting everyone mid sentence and laughing in Sam’s face, when Sam politely asked the man if he had been to Cape Town much (having married a South African). But, refusing to allow them to taint our experiences of the Inca Trail, we kept positive and excited about what lay ahead. E-J’s only concern was about the hygiene of the loos for the next four days!

After Sam politely declined the offer of Marijuana at the start, we eased into the first day. We were incredibly lucky with the weather as there was beaming sunshine when really, it should be the wet season. We started at 2600m and ascended to 3000m. There were a couple of up and down hills but nothing to really challenge us. The only challenge Sam experienced, was when we reached the first set of ruins and he was unable to stay awake during the guide’s enthusiastic explanation about their history. Despite thinking he’d got away with it by wearing his dark sunglasses, as he lay sprawled on the grown, everyone in the group noticed!

After a three-hour hike, we reached the destination where we were to have lunch and as explained in the guidebook, the porters had erected a tent to fit sixteen people for lunch and the cook had prepared an amazing three-course meal. We then continued our hike for another two and half hours, feeling rather full after such an indulgent quantity of food. At around Five thirty we reached our campsite, called Wayllabamba (in Quechua means 'grassy plain’) and were shown to our already erected tents, which E-J was very pleased to see, were clean, big and bug free.

That night we were treated to another filling three-course meal and Sam alone decided to have a beer with this. The rain began to pour and we began to worry that this might be what the rest of the trip would be like, so decided to get an early night ready for our 5am wake up the next morning.

Day 2
We were woken up by the porters and a cup of coca tea at 5am and relieved to see that the sun was shinning outside. After a quick and delicious three course meal we packed our belongings together and began the walk, which we knew was going to be the hardest of all four days. The first part of the walk was relatively pleasant, as we walked through the beautiful landscape and over a couple of small streams. As we reached the first meeting point, the lady from the unpleasant couple was struggling terribly (having caught some bug overnight) and Sam being the gentleman that he was, offered to take her bag for her. E-J, although realising this was the right thing to do, was a little concerned that this now meant she would have to carry a load of stuff, but refusing to allow any bad feeling to ruin the day, kept a smile on her face.

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It was only two hours later, when we were in the middle of the first hard section, that E-J’s affections for Sam weren’t as loving as usual. Seeing Sam bouncing up the steps with absolutely no effort, as she struggled to pull herself up slowly, step by step, only seemed to frustrate her, especially since she had be so concerned about him and his asthma at the beginning. As he would continually, loving ask 'How are you doing? Do you want a rest? ¨, E-J would bite back with the comments, ' I’m fine, stop patronising me!’ When we finally reached Dead Woman’s Pass at 4200m, E-J was incredibly apologetic for her earlier tantrums at Sam and tried to justify them, by suggesting that it was a good test of the relationship!

At the Dead Woman’s Pass, as the group were all reunited together, our guide performed a ceremony on the top of the mountain thanking Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) for the wonderful weather she had given us so far and hoping for more. We all then toasted each other with a shot of Sambuca and the guide played a little tune on his flute.

After this, the next part of the day was a two to three hour descent down to the campsite, called Pacaymayo. We were all in need of a beer and when finally arriving, we were informed that this would have to wait until tomorrow’s campsite. Sam was not best pleased with this!

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We then had a delicious tea, followed by a three-course meal only a couple of hours later. It’s true what people say about the Inca trail, you really do end up putting on weight!

Day 3
The next day we awoke, all a bit stiff but excited to be only a day away from Machu Picchu. This was to be the longest trek of 15 km, but also we were to walk through the most beautiful sights. The first part of the day was a steep ascent up to some Inca ruins, which were once used as a look out point for the Incas. After this, the majority of the rest of the day was flat or down stairs, ending with what is know as the “Gringo Killer”, as the stairs descend 1000m. E-J found this day the most pleasant as we passed through waterfalls, caves and the most unbelievable scenery. Sadly however, these pictures can only be captured in our heads as the battery on the camera was starting to run out, and we wanted to make sure we had it for Machu Picchu.

When we finally reached the campsite, we made our way to the Inca ruins, Winay Wayna, just next to it. Our guide explained that these were his favourite and it was fascinating to see how the Incas took great appreciation of the mountains’ shape and would literally shape their city into the natural curves of the them.

After a small talk from our guide, we headed to the bar at the campsite for a quick beer or two before having our final three-course meal. We then headed back to the bar for a few more drinks, to ensure we slept well.

Sam could have easily been on a drinking mission, but E-J and her words of wisdom reminded him that we would be getting up at 3:45am the next day so by 10pm we retreated to bed.

Day 4
Woken at 3:45am in the pitch black, we managed to gather our things together and rush a quick breakfast before heading to the gates for the final part of the trek. Desperate to be the first to get to the starting point, we all literally ran down to the gates and with great excitement, discovered that we would be the first to start the one-hour trek to the Sungates. However, this also meant we had to wait a good forty minutes before the gates would open. When we finally set off, we could see queues and queues of groups behind us and we felt the pressure to stay in front. Somehow E-J found herself at the front of the group, behind the guide and feeling the responsibility of keeping the group first, she tried to keep a steady pace, striding to the gates. As our trek began, a few sneaky characters started to overtake us and before we knew it we were practically running to the Sungates. After forty-five minutes and a steep ascent up the final steps, we finally arrived at our destination. Excited and exhausted to be one of the first to reach the first lookout, where you see Machu Picchu, we suddenly found ourselves confronted with a mass of white cloud! Bloody typical...! We spent 10 minutes resting and gaining our breath before we started to descend down to Machu Picchu and to the famous lookout point where all the photos are taken. Forty minutes later we had arrived at our destination, dirty, hot and tired. As we stood there, the clouds began to part and the most impressive, mesmerising sight of Machu Picchu began to reveal itself. The clouds around Machu Picchu seemed to give it more of a dramatic effect and seeing it properly for the first time was everything and more we had hoped for.

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We then made our way through Machu Picchu with the guide, with explanations about the Sun Temple, the way the rocks were made and the bedrooms for the priests and other details.

Seven of our group not exhausted enough, decided to walk up Wanya Picchu, which is the big mountain at the back of Machu Picchu. The ascent was supposed to take an hour and as we began climbing up, we realised how steep and precarious some of the steps were. Sam, having been very patient with E-J throughout the entire Inca Trail, always keeping behind her and offering kind words of support, decided to take this opportunity to challenge himself, so raced up to the top with some fellow Inca Trail trekkers. Twenty minutes later, he sat on the rocks at the very top waiting for E-J to arrive another forty minutes later.

The view from the top was spectacular and as we looked down at Machu Picchu, it all seemed so small. What was so amazing about Wanya Picchu was when you reached the top, you were literally balancing on a couple of rocks with a very steep drop, and what added to the slight fear factor was the fact that the space at the top was relatively small and yet more and more people were coming up and pushing their way past others!

Below is the view of Machu Picchu from the top of Wanya Picchu.
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After descending Wanya Picchu, Sam headed to the cafe at the bottom while E-J determined to get her perfect postcard picture of Machu Picchu, climbed up to the lookout place again to take the photo of what is at the top of this entry.

We then all got a bus down to Agua Caliente, where we had a quick lunch followed by goodbyes and thank yous to the guide. We then caught a four-hour train back to Cusco (which seemed to take forever!) and finally arrived back at our hostel at 10pm at night, absolutely shattered!

Sam’s Comments: Waiting to start the last day, had the air of waiting for Willy Wonker to open his chocolate factory, everyone was far too excited! Racing up Wanya Picchu was definitely a mad piece of exercise, but great fun!!

E-J’s Comments: This has been an amazing experience, which will stay with me forever. I just need to learn to control my tongue, when Sam tries to offer encouraging words of advice!

Posted by E-J 15:19 Archived in Peru Comments (5)

Cusco

rain 20 °C

We caught a night bus from Arequipa to Cusco and upon arriving into Cusco we headed to our pre-booked hostel and went to sleep for the first few, early hours of the morning.

Once awake, we decided to explore Cusco. Sam was awake and fired up from the power nap, E-J on the other hand, seemed to be more spaced out than ever, which she thought was due to the high altitude.

As we had five days in Cusco before the Inca trail we decided to take the first day easy. We walked the streets, finding a better and cheaper hostel to stay in and looked into a couple of possible tours as well as getting the final details from our tour company about the Inca Trail.

The following day, E-J started to feel really ill and with the most excruciating stomach cramps, had to return to the hostel and spend the rest of the day in bed with a fever. Sam on the other hand felt fine and with his first time to explore somewhere alone, spent the rest of the day shopping for bargains and wandering the streets.

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Being a Saturday, we had hoped to party in Cusco, but with E-J sick in bed we resorted to an early night.

The next day, we took a tour of the Sacred Valley, which began with a one hour bus trip to Pisac Market, followed by a quick excursion of the ruins, a quick stop at Urubamba for lunch, then onto the ruins of Ollantaytambo and finally to Chinchero market.

On arriving in Pisac market, we were overwhelmed by the commercial setting and after a brief walk through it, were pleased to be back on the bus. We then reached Pisac Ruins and began to walk to the top of them. It was during the walk that E-J realised that she was still not 100%, with the colour draining from her face and her lips turning white, Sam realised that there was definitely something wrong. Running to the Guide for help, the Guide simply turned to Sam and said, “it’s ok, we’ll go back down in 10 minutes.” Realising that the Guide was pretty useless, Sam returned to E-J, reassuring her and getting her to drink water, so that she was able to gain her full consciousness again. We then slowly returned back to the bus.

On the way to Chinchero market, we saw the most spectacular views of the Andes and mountainous landscape. We then arrived at Chinchero, to barter a few good buys. This market was very impressive and is known for being a traditional and an authentic place. After picking up a few good deals, we headed back to Cusco to enjoy a traditional Peruvian meal.

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The next day we had a lazy day around Cusco, preparing ourselves for the Inca Trail. We also bumped into a few friends that we had met recently and arranged to go for a meal and a few drinks with them. The "happy hour" was exploited excessively!

The following day was the day before the Inca Trail, so we decided to go for a big English breakfast. This had nothing to do with the beers consumed the night before. Usually, when we’re abroad the last thing you want to do is eat the same old food you eat everyday in England, but having been away for over a month now, nothing was better than a good, old traditional, English fry up!

After that, the rest of the day was again, low key and after another enjoyable evening with Tobias and Lou, we prepared ourselves for the 5:20 call the following morning for the Inca Trail.

Sam’s Comments: Cusco was beautiful, with great food. However, Locals only speak to you to sell you something!

E-J's Comments: I’ve enjoyed the colonial style of Cusco, but haven’t enjoyed the way that it has become so commercial. Within every three minutes someone runs up to you trying to sell you something and after the sixth person it gets a bit much. I’m sure that, the fact that I have been bed bound has not also helped my opinions, but hopefully the Inca Trail is going to be an unforgettable experience.

Posted by E-J 14:17 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Colca Canyon

sunny 29 °C

Accompanied by our friends, Dave and Michelle, we met our group of trekkers and boarded the full, local bus at six-thirty in the morning and headed for the Colca Canyon. With an hundred mile bus journey ahead of us we were not too excited by the start!

As we left Arequipa we realised that the bus was not direct and every five minutes the bus driver seemed to stop for anyone, so that before long the thirty-seater bus had an additional twenty people standing in the isle.

With Panpipes being played by a beggar throughout the journey, the thought of a quick powernap was quickly eliminated.

After two and a half hours we stopped for a "five" minute toilet break, in Chivay. An hour later we set off again and finally arrived to sit down for lunch in Cabanaconde. At this point any excitement of trekking down to the deepest canyon in the world was lost on Sam, who was not too happy after the uncomfortable trip. E-J as usual was full of conversation with the group and sat down indulging in interests with everyone.

After lunch we put are backpacks on and started to descend two thousand four hundred metres down the Canyon. As we started to descend, we soon embraced the landscape. With the hot sun on our backs we saw an Andean Condor swop down the valley and throughout this journey we regularly stopped to take in the amazing surroundings, this was not to everyone’s liking and our guide soon got tired of waiting for us!

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After a few little trips from E-J down the steep paths, we finally arrived at our camp, San Juan de Chuccho (2300m), where we were shown to our beds carved out of oak wood. We skipped the cold showers and all opted for a well-deserved beer instead.

After an enjoyable meal washed down with a few beers and plenty of games of cards, it was time to give our feet a rest and go to sleep, ready for an early start the next day.

The second day was a two and half hour walk to the camp of Sangalle and after a few more slips from E-J we arrived all ready to jump in to the Oasis pool. Then after a long lunch, we had the luxury of resting in the sun at the bottom of the Canyon, which involved drinking a few cool beers and resting in the hammocks, watching a beautiful sunset.

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After another three course evening meal we all knew that an early night was required, as the two thirty in morning start was not going to be pleasant. We therefore all set off to our bamboo huts to get ready for bed. With the basic toilet facilities requiring you to pin down the outside with a sheet of tarpaulin, Sam decided to water the vegetation.

Suddenly, an uproar of screams and shouts could be heard and Sam thought he had been caught in the act, only to discover that a bush fire had started fifteen metres away. With the locals in complete panic, Sam and Dave started filling up pans of water to help reduce the fire. Despite the girls’ attempts to help, they were told to not get involved, much to all of their frustration. After forty minutes the flames were extinguished and the fire, under control.

At two forty-five and with very little sleep, we started to climb three thousand, two hundred and thirty metres to the top. With only steep narrow paths to follow, it became hard work in the dark and Sam started to regret only letting E-J buy one head torch for the trip! As the sun rose over the mountains the views became more and more impressive and the thought of breakfast eased the pain in our aching legs.

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The feeling of arriving at the top was euphoric, although some were more worn out than others! After breakfast, we headed in the direction of the Cruz del Condor to view the local wildlife. At this point fatigue was setting in and any interest in the wildlife along with the surroundings was starting to diminish. A trip to the hot springs of Calera was next to replenish the body followed by a painful two and half bus journey back to Arequipa.

Sams Comments: No Fireman Sam jokes!

E-J Comments: It suddenly dawned on me just how unfit I am and I am going to seriously struggle on the Inca Trail. Though, I am relieved to have Fireman Sam with me!

Posted by E-J 13:22 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Arequipa

sunny 29 °C

Having all been reunited, (the boys clearly with their tails between their legs) we set about finding accommodation. After viewing four Hostels, which resembled something similar to a prison cell, we finally found a good place in the city centre.

After a two-hour power nap, we made our way to another hostel, which Sam had located to watch the Rugby World Cup Final. Disappointed with the result, we headed back into town to drown our sorrows.

By the end of the evening it was safe to say that Michelle and E-J were over refreshed and so the boys took comfort in finding the best Kebab house in Peru!

The next day was a national census and the whole city was completely shut down. The streets of Arequipa were desolate apart from the occasional tourist and this enabled us to really explore the city and take in the beauty of the architecture. Arequipa is known as the White City, due to the colour of its buildings.

The only place open to the public was the Santa Catalina Monastery. E-J decided to explore it, while Sam thought at five pounds this was too expensive, so set off for a walk!

Santa Catalina Monastery is the size of a whole block and is like a city within a city. It has the most vibrantly coloured walls in bright blues, reds, oranges and white. It is also full of religious murals, which have been restored. It was an amazing place to visit with all its small rooms and secret gardens.

After this, we spent the rest of the day walking around Arequipa, taking in the sites. Then in the evening we booked our three-day trek to the Colca Canyon and had an early night.

Sam’s Comments: E-J eating a kebab was a great sight after singing down the streets of Arequipa in the early hours of the morning!

E-J’s Comments: I loved Arequipa. It has definitely been my favourite city so far. The place has the most amazing architecture and I felt it had a much safer feel to it than any of the previous cities we have visited so far. I loved the monastery, it was a place full of vibrancy.

Posted by E-J 13:19 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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