True Peru – Peru

True Peru

Peru

An exuberant Dave in sheer disbelief at stunning Macchu Picchu
An exuberant Dave in sheer disbelief at stunning Macchu Picchu
Our Peruvian jaunt started from the south, entering from the desert ridden north of Chile. The original plan was to go into Bolivia, then Peru, but the small civil war in Bolivia put us off a little.
Crammed into an old Chevrolet (Peru has random cars, VW Beetles, Chevvies, Cadillacs, Peugot 206’s, weird, very weird) with 5 Peruvians we crossed into Peru with relative ease. Our first impressions of Peru were of dry, featureless, grey moonscape. To conclude, the whole area needs a good drink. After a small initiation into Long Distance Bus Racing around hairpins (vertical drops for extra buzz) we arrived into Peru’s second city – Arequipa. Although still very ‘lip smackingly’ dry and dusty there was something worth looking at; El Misti, a huge ‘live’ volcano over 6,000.

Arequipa city fills a natural bowl which looks fantastic at night and alarmingly, most crumbly hotels have rooftop terraces where you can watch sunset surrounded by other peoples drying underwear and bed linen. An odd yet spectacular sight.

We quickly discovered the local cafes, which charge around 3 soles for soup & main & a coca leaf tea (brilliant for altitude sickness). This works out at 40p. The local ‘sopa and segunda’ establishments became our premier choice of eatery most nights, we’ve only eaten in these dives/hives of activity and the stomach has survived most of them!

Once Peruvianised we took a 3 day trek to the bottom of Colca Canyon, a staggering 3,700m deep. Again, very dry and dusty which made the discovery of a lush green oasis complete with spring water swimming pools and leafy trees seem incredibly bizarre. I also saw my first Alpaca, kind of like a goat/sheep/big deer looking thing that keeps the locals employed by producing ‘better wool than cashmir’ which in turn they knit into anything they can.

The tour guide bullied us into waking at 3am and setting off from the valley floor (without breakfast!) in order to reach a connecting bus to the Flying Condor Tourist show. It’s hard to ignore the ‘Canon Chests’ – my term for dosy Westerners oblivious to the mugging threat as they waltz around with $1000 Canon & Sony Camcorders swinging freely for all to see. Even so, Condors soaring skyward in the early morning ‘thermals’ is an awesome sight.

We headed further north in search for more consistent greenery but only found Nasca. We did the obligatory flight in a model aeroplane over the Nasca Lines….strange ‘geoglyphs’ in the middle of one the driest places on earth, allegedly made to attract rain from the gods (I´d just move house personally to somewhere far more MOIST!). The early Nascans were also buried nearby in an eerie tomb yard, we took a tour, in a stretched cadillac, with a Peruvian bloke who made up for his lack of English by SHOUTING THE INFORMATION AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE, yeah amigo, because we understand it much better now! We got the jist anyhow.

The next stop was Ica, home of huge Arabian’esque dunes, and the scene of some hair raising dune buggying and sand boarding (sand in every possible nook and cranny), before heading to Poor Mans Galapogos Islands, which was a disappointing blend of thousands of birds, sea lions and the sea.
By this time we’d hooked up with a lad from Leeds who was traveling with a Peruvian girl. It was his idea for the four of us to visit Chincha on the way to Lima. Chincha is devoid of beauty. The whole coast of Peru is under a hazy fog for 3 months of the year (because of the Humbolt Current for all you geographers) and regardless of climate looks dreary anyway. Introduce Chincha to the view and you have a Peruvian Hull. The eccentric hotel owner, dissuaded us to visit the intended Afro Peruvian community, in his own unique style: ‘because they only come out at night and you’ll be robbed’, a tad racist. Instead he took us round lovely Chincha in a collection of different taxis, all mini Daewoo’s not built for 6, but this is Peru. He laboriously told us his plans for further commercial expansion over neat Pisco (40% liquor and mandarins to help with the taste). When the scruffy, shuffling Del Boy moved onto his life passion of Global Politics and how he loved Kentucky we made excuses and hid in the room all night whilst he smoked dope in his office .

An altitude affected Dave putting on a brave face at 5,400m on Pastarouri Glacier
An altitude affected Dave putting on a brave face at 5,400m on Pastarouri Glacier
Peru’s capital, Lima, a place worthy of transit only.

Huaraz in the middle of the Peruvian Andes is awesome. The Cordillera Blanca mountain range makes humans feel pretty insignificant; Huascaran at 6750m is Peru’s biggest and looks wicked on photos. Perhaps a little sadistically we splashed for a huge four day trek. The highlights of the Santa Cruz circuit included tiny villages full of smiles and dogs, huge peaks, glacial lakes, sore lungs at altitude, al fresco pooing, frost on the tent in the mornings, the hardest porters you’ve ever seen (they mock westerners who wear boots and gloves) and an awesome pass at 4750m!

Also using Huaraz as a base we had a look at Pastoruri Glacier. I nearly collapsed at 5,200m while my girlfriend persisted up the glacier in trainers and made it to 5,400m. Obviously I do have excuses which I don’t feel I need to share! I need photos to describe the view up there, ‘marvelloso’ basically.

The altitude was stupendous. It made the sky a dark yet vibrant blue, the clouds almost touchable and the mountains domineering. Nevertheless, life at this kind of altitude, jaw dropping scenery or not, meant the slightest physical movement provoked intense nausea. I tried to emulate the hardy locals by munching on coca leaf all day to offset the vomit. I returned to Huaraz with green teeth.

We sat on a bus for 2 days and via Lima reached Cusco, cultural home of Peru. This means incredible quantities of woolly hats and foreigners by the bucket load. The Incas made the place their capital (Cusco still has the authentic Incan feel, it’s remarkable) before the Spaniards arrived and gutted the place in about 1580AD. I don’t feel sorry for the Incas though, true they were great builders, town planners, plumbers and fashion designers but to build their empire they murdered thousands as well! Oooh Inca this and that, no, they were just as bad as the Spanish hundreds of years later!

We whiled away a week in the Sacred Inca Valley visiting random salt pans, experimental farming terraces and lots of mountain top ruins (local women are very determined sales folk).

We popped onto the tourist express to Macchu Picchu and found our seats amidst a sea of chattering Americans. Perhaps foolishly we walked up to the famous ruins at 4am for sunrise. It was well worth it. The jaw dropping sight of the ruins and the deafening silence at 6.49am will be an experience I’ll never forget and easily qualifies as one of the best days on this trip. The ruins sit perched on the crest of thick forest clad mountain, with Huayna Picchu (another mountain we climbed), towering above. The ruins were forgotten and therefore untouched by the Spanish invaders. They sit in the centre of a huge (mega huge) circle of mountains, in fact there’s so much spiritual significance and Incan factoids that you can do your own google search!

Crazy fools camping at over 4000m on the Santa Cruz trek near Huaraz
Crazy fools camping at over 4000m on the Santa Cruz trek near Huaraz
We also partook in a swift Lake Titicaca trip. The floating reed islands were definitely the highlight, although in true tour group fashion we only had an hour. People live on piled up (1m thick) reeds and travel about on reed boats, my foot nearly went through on numerous occasions. They have a post office and telephone which made for probably my best photo ever! On Islas Amantani we stayed with a family, an experience marred the by hard sell of the island. Again we suffered from woolly hat syndrome. The Grandad, who only spoke Quechuan, came and stood in the room for at least 10mins trying to sell us a dirty white scarf for the price of a hotel room on the mainland! After much NO GRACIAS AMIGO, he grumbled off, probably off his face on coca. We later cruised around the lake looking across to Bolivia, our next stop!

Geographically Peru is one of the most diverse and stunning countries I’ve been to. However Peru is also one of the poorest countries I’ve ever been to. Most people beam smiles at you, its weird, your walking round with their entire annual salary in your pocket but, despite charming people, giggly kids and shoeless families you cant buy ‘agua’ off them all, nor can you go on every cyclo taxi or eat in every run down restaurant. I can handle the shouts of ‘Mr Mr’ or ‘Only 1 Sol’, but its embarrassing at times. England is a ridiculously easy country to live in. Peruvians have amazed me with their entrepreneurial creativity to earn cash – one lady had a blanket on the street selling the ‘squirter’ bits from Mr Muscle Furniture Polish! Another hombre stood all day by weighing scales, teenage one-man-band musicians’ serenaded people in restaurants and I even saw a blind woman running a thriving counterfeit DVD stall. The local markets are also fascinating, they sell everything from amputated chicken feet to repulsive delicacies such as cattle snouts. The essence of Peru – its people and its panorama – could make your jaw drop every day.

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