5th May 2011 – Update from Peru
Everything has been so good so far. Its been almost 4 weeks and we’ve done so much. The Peruvian people are lovely and relaxed and insanely talented with weaving and handicrafts. The Peruvian ladies (they are incredibly little women) mostly still wear their traditional dress of full skirts and braided hair, and carry their babies wrapped in colourful cloth on their backs. It’s quite a sight.
The food, and everything actually has been REALLY cheap. Most nights we’ve had a 3 course meal (set menus are everywhere) for A$5 each. Sometimes as cheap as A$3 but we get a bit worried how our bodies will respond the next day. Nothing too bad so far. The weather has been really good to us and although the temperatures had been changing as we moved through the country, we’ve had clear skies and are only now experiencing Australian winter equivalent. Before now it has been in the 20’s, and i’ve been very happy about that!
Our Spanish is getting better slowly but we need to keep pushing ourselves as we have 6 more weeks to go on this continent. It’s a constant battle but this is just part of the adventure. I’ve lost track of how many photos I’ve taken but I think I’ll end up with roughly 10,000 by the end of the trip. Hmmm… Might need to slow down. Still trying to get my confidence up asking locals if I can photograph them but hopefully I’ll get better at that. Overall I’m happy with what I’ve got, but of course want to get some crackers. We’ll see if I can put my creative boots on. Rohan gets a bit sick of waiting around for me, but that’s something he’s just learnt to live with.
No hiccups so far and we are both in one piece. My ankle is still doing it’s job after lots if trekking and I think we both have done enough exercise for one trip. First trek was 2 days in the Colca Canyon. We took a bus from Araquipa to the canyon to see the condors (massive birds with up to a 3m wing span). Absolutely incredible how they just glide with the winds that push up from the canyon. After that we were dropped off at a lookout where the guide pointed out the route we would take for the trek. That’s when I started to get a little nervous. The scenery was spectacular but as I discovered as a newbie to the hiking scene, you spend a hell of a lot of time staring at the path. Especially me, so that I didn’t do any ankle injuries. We went through small villages in the canyon that were mostly self sufficient and have no road access, only the path we were on. So there were donkeys passing and carrying their loads of supplies from villages outside of the canyon. We did 20km the first day, arrived at dark to the oasis at the bottom then got up at 5am the next morning to do a 3 hour hike directly up the canyon wall. Was still dark when we left so we were never able to see the beautiful oasis where we stayed, which was dissapointing. Tired and incredibly sore, I can’t believe I actually made it. Rohan had no trouble, and carried my pack up on the 2nd day for me. Swore I’d never do it again except that we already had the Inca Trail booked to start 2 days later.
We flew from Araquipa to Cusco and spent a couple of day acclimatising to the new altitude. After only just starting to be able to walk like a normal person, we met up with a group we’d be doing the Inca Trail with. A little nervous again, but looking back it was easier than the Colca Canyon trek. Definitely had really tough spots, and the altitude was a bit of an issue making it hard to catch your breath. But the changing scenery and the fact that Machu Picchu was at the end waiting for us was what kept us going. The porters were amazing people and ran ahead of us carrying 25kg each, in sandals! They set up and packed up between us trekking and we were treated to a 2 course breakfast, 2 course lunch, afternoon tea, and 3 course dinner buffet style. The food was amazing! And I definitely put on weight rather than lose it. 5 star camping!
All of the porters on the trail are farmers from nearby villages and they will only be porters for 4 or so years, as any longer would give them health problems due to the climatic conditions and the weights in which they carry. They then go back to farming. Its better pay for them and their families so they tough it out. The oldest porter was 54! Thankfully these days this is regulated, as the porters would just keep doing it for as long as their bodies allowed if they could.
We have learnt so much history in the past few weeks about the Andean culture and the Inca civilisation. It is fascinating and incredible how they built there empires in the middle of the mountains and I am in awe. We started the final day of the trail before dawn and arrived at Intipunku (Sun Gate), on the 4th day of the trek to watch the sun rise over ‘the lost city of the incas’. It was something we will both never forget. Arriving at Machu Picchu was a dream come true for me, and to be there with Rohan and just sit together in silence and look over the incredible landscape was just amazing.
Apart from our insanely active week of trekking, we’ve also seen the coast from Lima to Pisco and taken a boat trip out to the Ballestas Islands to see native birds, penguins, and sea lions. We also crossed desert to Nazca to go sandboarding and to see the Nazca lines. While planning for the trip this was something I hadn’t really cared if we saw or not, but looking back it was an absolute highlight. To see these mysterious ancient lines in the desert (made between 100 and 700AD) was an incredible sight. Huge! And no one knows exactly why, or how they were made, and how they are still visible after all of this time. They are best viewed from the air but we just went up a tower instead as I didn’t like the idea of flying in a small planes in Peru. Still got a great view though.
We have mostly bussed our way across the country and the scenery changed spectacularly along the way. The first part of the trip up until Araquipa was mostly desert, which I had no idea Peru had so much of. And after that we entered the Andes region which changed to lush mountains and much cooler temperatures. From Cusco to Puno there were snow capped mountains on either side, and grassy hills a little closer to the road with people farming. Animals were fenced in by rock walls instead of wire. Children played soccer around cows as they grazed on their playing field, and we passed llama and alpacas, pigs, sheep, donkeys and cows. Small communities built along the roadsides had houses made from their own surrounding land using adobe mud bricks. These were everywhere in Peru. There was also heaps of election signs painted on walls along the sides of the road. This was a constant.
Our last few days in Peru were spent around Lake Titicaca where we were based in Puno, a city which was located on the edge of the Peruvian side of the lake. Not alot to do, but at the time a festival was on and they had a huge market with side by side stalls selling minatures of food, houses, trucks, stacks of money etc. Weird. As it turns out 1000’s of locals go to these markets and buy what they wish for, get it blessed, then put it in their homes for their wish to come true the following year. So if they wish to build a house they can go and buy a minature wheelbarrow with minature building equipment (about the size of your fist or smaller) then get it blessed by the shaman that sold the item to them. This happens with incense and a live armadillo which is rubbed on the item then on the person. Poor little fella didn’t look happy at all. Animal cruelty. Then they take the same item and line up in a massive line to get into a church to have it blessed by a priest as well. It’s quite common for the locals to follow the Andean traditions as well as Catholic traditions. I guess to cover all bases. It was crazy and hectic and we had to get out of there after a while.
We had a homestay in a local community out on Amantani Island on the lake. The 3 hour boat ride was beautiful and relaxing. Our mumma, Lizet, was 28 and had a cute little 2 year old daughter. We tried our hardest to break the awkward silence and language barrier by singing ‘open shut them’ and switching open and shut to Spanish words. I don’t know if we succeeded or not but the little girl was giggling at us. We did ok. We also met up with the locals late in the afternoon for a soccer game which was cool. Rohan had a run, but suffered a bit as not used to playing in altitude. Locals won of course. We played volleyball too which was fun and I had a go. These guys were loving it, just a average afternoon for them though. It was a really normal break for us to just hang out.
We’ve done so much more than i’ve written about obviously, but this is long enough so I’ll wrap it up. We’ve eaten alpaca, drank national drinks Inka Cola and Pisco Sour, had coca tea, and taken in too much information – like Australia exported gum trees to Peru so that the root system will help stop erosion in the hill areas. Interesting fact. And we’ve met some wonderful people who we’ll hopefully meet up again further along our travels. Suffering a little from a night out last night with some people we met on Inca Trail. Great night at some local bars, drinking weird liquor made from 20 different medicinal plant roots that looked like beer but we were fooled. Not too bad though, just quite strong and didn’t take long to get light headed. So off to sleep now.