September 17, 2011
So yeah, farewelled London via an excellent wee burner party Thameside, last tube to Heathrow, waiting around, then 15 hours or so later I landed in Peru. Still haven’t figured out sleeping on planes.
Lima is easily my least favourite place I have traveled to so far. Possibly compounded by my first real bout of jet lag, a sort of brain dead tiredness for a couple of days, and my lamentable lack of Spanish, but still. Lima is different. I was staying with a cool person via CS in Callao, which may not be one of the best neighbourhoods. At least, I hope not, since it was characterised by giant iron gates capable of locking off entire streets, and armed, flak-jacketed security guards in front of lots of stores, and just a general sense of 10 million people being ground down into a feral paranoid mess in a big dirty city, and that maybe being out after dark wasn´t such a smart thing. The place felt besieged. Just not the way you want your city to go. Apparently most of it is a hangover from the Shining Path terrorism a couple of decades ago, but obviously all is not well in an ongoing capacity.
A couple of days of that was more than enough. Future recommendation: get an onward flight out as soon as you land. Be jetlagged somewhere else. Got a 21 hour bus to Cusco. Peru does nature big. The Andes are pretty choice, and driving through them kinda makes the bus worth it, rather than flying. Plus the random glimpses of life in the middle of nowhere. So many unknown stories.
Cusco is way nicer than Lima. A cute little mountain city. They aren´t kidding about the altitude. Wheezed my way to a hostel with someone I met on the bus, an Austrian-Iraqi who thankfully spoke Spanish fluently. (Couldn´t find a local host in Cusco, which rendered me inescapably a tourist for the first time, and I stayed in my first hostel of the trip, which is a totally different sort of vibe and experience from going solo or couchsurfing.) Next day, went for a hike in the local mountains, which was a bit brutal on the way up, unacclimated heart at a sprint. Inca ruins abound, the ones we saw were only discovered a couple of years ago. And it was great to get the hell out of cities and into nature. Had been far too long. (Europe does not have nature – some nice parks, yeah, but not nature – and that absence has had a definite and subtle warping effect on Europeans.)
You know that almost cliched idea of South America, where there is a festival every day, with everyone dressed up in bright colours, parading about, dancing and brass and flute bands playing? It is actually like that here. We arrived during the Nativity Festival of the Virgin, or something, which seems to mean days of that sort of thing. After dinner last night, I just followed the ruckus and found another small night procession for Santa Teresa. The community thing underlying this place must be huge and awesome. It would be great to get inside the culture more, but with the language gap it is much harder. So here I am tourist guy.
Went to Machu Picchu via the cheapest route, which turns out to be driving in a van to the end of the road, walking the last 9 kilometres, sleeping in Aguas Caliente, getting up at 4am and walking up to Machu Picchu. Being the start of rainy season, it was wet and misty in the morning, and burned off to be blistering by 10. I stayed an extra night in Aguas Caliente, which meant I got to spend all day at Machu Picchu, rather than having to leave at midday to get the van back. The downside was that the next day when I walked back, there was no van waiting for me, since clusterfuck is their middle name. Luckily some other random minibus took me. I don´t actually recommend this method of getting to MP; at least, the organisers are disorganised bastards, everything included is the lowest quality they can get away with, and if they didn´t write it on your receipt, you don´t get it, no matter what they said when you signed up. So beware any Machu Picchu by car 2D/1N deals, since they all fold into each other. The one good thing was the guide at MP, who knew his shit. But if you do do it, definitely stay the extra night, as the ruins are big. I also climbed mountain Machu Picchu, the big ass mountain the city is nestled in the slope of, which was epic but hard going. My legs felt it for days.
Machu Picchu itself is pretty choice, bigger than I expected, and worth getting to. Particularly the mountains surrounding, which the Inca regarded as having spirits/being gods, and I could feel why. And the big stone altar on the highest temple. Lay your hands on that sucker. Yup. (Also, weird numbers of people took photos of me at Machu Picchu. Clearly, hair is more interesting than ancient rocks?)
Other than that, random hanging out with randoms, wandering Cusco. Spent a couple of days in the Sacred Valley, stayed in Urubamba with a CSer there, explored the ruins at Ollantaytambo and Pisac. Pisac is also pretty huge, spread out over a couple of mountain sides. But I have definitely had enough walking up giant stone staircases in the mountains and looking at ruins for a while.
The crafts are amazing, and for the first time I have succumbed to buying cool stuff, because it is too cheap and cool not to. The Peruvians are way nicer and more chilled out salespeople than the Moroccans. Peru in general is far less foreign than Morocco. Cusco is cool. I would definitely like to explore further in South America, but won´t have the time on this venture. Bolivia and Columbia are getting the good rap from fellow travelers.
Hopefully will be heading into the jungle for a week in the next couple of days…