Guide to Peru

Ok so firstly, I’ve written a few posts about Peru already: Cusco, Peru: The Navel of the WorldThe Orphanage (not the movie)Machu Picchu and final days in CuscoMachu Picchu: Part 2Final days in Cusco, and Lake Titicaca, although I wrote them more as blogs to update people on my progress rather than guides. I thought that because I’d spent quite a bit of time in Peru (just over 2 months) I am qualified to provide a bit of information on it, even if I haven’t travelled everywhere.   When people make the decision to ‘do’ South America, Peru, mainly because of that big town on the mountain, is generally top of their list. For this reason most places are pretty crowded with tourists young and old, long term and short term, which is fine. I’m not going to get all travel hipster on this, as you want to meet other tourists while travelling, although when we were volunteering in Cusco, living in a beat up area far away from all the tourist places, we did get a little snooty over them. Come to think of it however, most volunteers didn’t do anything touristy in there time there, and a few didn’t even do Machu Picchu! They took being a local a little too far. Anyway, every country in South America is diverse, but Peru is super diverse. From the amazon jungle surrounding northern Iquitos to the white beaches of Mancora through the vast, wealthy city of Lima down south to the desert oasis of Huacachina, Nazca lines, Colca Canyon, Incan Jewell of Cusco, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. It has everything, but can be taken slowly or quickly, depending on your time frame and what you want to do… So lets start with

The North:

Image   Now northern Peru is vast and seems overwhelming, but isn’t, it all depends on how long you want to take going down. Now I don’t actually know this area, so what I’m going to recommend is based on what friends have told me:

Mancora Mancora has made its name in Peru for specializing in three things, sun, surfing and soirées (just wanted an excuse to keep the alliteration going. I meant parties). Located right at the tip of Peru, 85 miles from the Ecuadorian border, it’s a tourist hub and is very aware of that. Expect some great nights out, time chilling on beaches and if you’re into surfing, some great waves. Stay at Loki.  

Stock beach photo that could be anywhere in the world. Trust me, google images said it was Mancora.

Los Organos Pretty similar to Mancora but a little less well known, it will doubtlessly provide the same experiences, although apparently is a better place for first time surfers to learn, as the water’s a bit more forgiving. It is also home to Pacifico Adventures Ecoturismo, a company that allows you to head out into the ocean and view humpback whales, dolphins and other marine life in their natural habitat. Trips last about three and a half hours and tickets cost S/. 120 for adults and S/. 100 for children.

Poser

Chicama I’m merely including this for surfers. Chicama is a tiny town that also happens to have a stretch of coast line that has created the longest wave in the world, at 1.6 miles. Pretty narly.

I’m sure someone has come up with some cool Chicama pick-up lines (“That wave’s actually not even the longest thing in town ;D”)

Huanchaco A little north of the city of Trujilo, this beach town is a bit more low key than Mancora, but still has some nice beaches.

You can get photos like this too if you come to Huanchaco

Trujilo- While I’m sure this is a really charming, nice city on its own, it is also close to Northern Peru’s best Pre-Colombian (pre-European influence) archaeological monuments, Chan Chan, the largest adobe (mud-brick) city in the world and Las Huacas del sol y de la Luna (temples of the sun and moon).

Chan Chan (no influence on the can can)

Huarez- Huarez is home to the less expensive and alternative (hipster) trek to the Machu Picchu Inca trail, the Santa Cruz trek. The pictures I’ve seen of it look really awesome, and I think I’d like to do it when I come back to Peru, but here’s an article by someone who did it without a guide. I’d recommend doing an organised trek though, and through this agency http://www.huascaran-peru.com/, it seems 3 days is the minimum. If you have the time and money it looks stunning. Iquitos The best way to visit the Peruvian Amazon rainforest, Iquitos is actually the largest city in the road inaccessible by road, although to be honest, getting there from other parts of Peru or Colombia would be a week long bus ride anyway. So you either have to fly in, or get a boat (fly, it’s relatively cheap). The attraction of the city is obvious, go there to take an Amazon tour, but while there, expect certain things. First, it’ll be hot and humid all year round, with humidity averaging at 90% (that’s very humid). Second, as there are no roads, the city is dominated by motorcycles and motorcarros/rickshaw, so watch out for that. Third, as there are no roads, it’s amenities are also very basic, so don’t expect luxury here. Apart from an Amazon tour, which you can book from your hostel (although this- http://www.dawnontheamazon.com/ looks the best), maybe also check out the Amazonian Manatee (sea cow) Orphanage, and the Monkey island (included in a Dawn on the Amazon tour), but Wikitravel has some useful info on ithttp://wikitravel.org/en/Iquitos, as will lonely planet.

The South:

Image  The South is more my area of Peru. The only bit I didn’t do was the Colca Canyon, but obviously do that if you get down here (I didn’t because I was being good and working so hard at my orphanage).

Lima If you want a bit more of an in depth review of Lima, I have one here. Effectively, while it is a vast, sprawling city, its best bits, and where most tourists go, is Miraflores. An upmarket neighborhood situated on the coastal cliffs that overlook the Pacific, most of the hostels surround Kennedy Park, a large and pleasant park that usually has local music and dancing going on in the evenings, and a large wild (but not feral) cat population. Stay at Flying Dog Hostel if you want to be beside the best sandwich place in Miraflores, or Parawana for a large, well-run party hostel. There’s also some decent paragliding off one of the cliffs, and surfing below on the beaches. Try out ceviche at La Mar on Avenida La Mar. Don’t stay more than a few days though, as there’s not a huge amount to do and it was cloudy all the time I was there. Pisco/Paracas Urgh, Pisco. This complete dive of a town is where I had my passport and camera stolen, so try to spend as little time as possible there. From the bus stop it’s a 15 minute taxi to Paracas, the coastal town which offers boat tours to what Peruvians call the ‘Little Galapagos’, some rock formations that have wildlife and similar geography to the Galapagos. I did the tour and it was pretty cool, but nothing to write home about. I got a cool picture of a sea lion doing an awesome pose, but then my camera got stolen, denying the world some great photography. Go if you’ve got some spare time, and stay at Kokopelli. Ica/Huacachina Ica is similar to Pisco in that it’s effectively a gateway to something more interesting, and what a place Huacachina is. It’s really the closest thing I’ve seen to an oasis, although upon closer inspection it’s a little… artificial. However it’s not the town that makes Huacachina interesting, it’s the desert. You can book a sandboarding/dune buggy tour from your hostel (I stayed at Bananas Hostel, pretty sweet), for about 35 soles, which is about 8 pounds, and it is pure awesomeness from start to finish. The buggies are driven by local guys who evidently get a little bored of what they do, so to spice things up generally seem to drive in a way that the ride feels like a rollercoaster- slowly ascending the dunes before dropping suddenly and careering downwards. Eventually he’ll stop and give you an opportunity to attempt some sandboarding. I’ve never snowboarded so was pretty terrible, but our group quickly worked out that belly-boarding was a lot more fun, although a little painful at times. Advice: Go for the later one, I think it was 4pm, as then you get a sunset at the end. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10152261352773052&set=vb.710168051&type=3&theater Link to a video of it.

Bananas Hostel

Nazca– This depends on if you enjoy seeing far off shapes in the ground. I didn’t have the money to shelve out $80 for a plane ticket to see the lines, but a friend did and gave me the pictures, which is the equivalent of actually doing it.

Cusco At last we’re on to Cusco, the place I lived and worked in for 7 weeks and where the Incans started their vast civilization (no coincidence those two are connected). As well as being the place to visit Machu Picchu from, Cusco is also full of culture and fun. During my stay there for example, there was a festival held every Sunday for 4 weeks based on water fights. As in the entire city would have one massive water fight. Like it was urban warfare with water balloons. So. Much. Fun. Plus there’s some great museums located just off the Plaza de Armas. Check out the Inka Museum, which is in need of renovation but interesting nonetheless, but probably the two best are the Museo de Arte Pre-Colombino and the Centro de Textiles Traditionales del Cusco. The Chocolate and Pisco museums are a decent way to spend some time too. In terms of archaeology, something you’d hope to see when visiting the Incan capital, Cusco is a little weak. The Spanish managed to destroy pretty much everything when they sacked the city, meaning only a walled complex remains on one of the hills above the city named Saksaywaman, part of the attraction being the fact you’ve just been to see sexy woman. HA! Eating in Cusco: If you’re in the plaza and fancy a smoothie and quick sandwich, head to Yajuu! which is pretty cheap and very tasty, with loads of interesting combinations. Two great places for hungover (or otherwise) breakfasts are Jack’s Cafe, which is great but generally has a long queue outside, and Cicciolina, which is a block away. Both aren’t too pricey and serve up top quality food. Others- Chicha, MAP Cafe, Limo, Inka Grill, Greens Vegetarian Food. If you can try out some Cuy, or Guinea Pig. Loveable animals are so much tastier.   Anyway… Drinking: Cusco is a great, great place for nightlife. Did I mention it was great? It is. Pubs- Paddy’s and Norton’s. One’s Irish, one’s English, both were great places for the volunteers to start a night out, or just play some pool and shoot some darts. Bars- Ukuku’s. Wow, we discovered this off Tripadvisor and it immediately became our favorite bar. Decorated with some interesting murals and cool lighting, it begins by playing alternative and pop music in the early evening, before eventually hosting a local band or salsa night. The quality of these varied, but we definitely had some good times in there. There’s also the Muse, a good chill out bar and salsa club on fridays and saturdays, Km 0, El Pisquerito and London Town. If you’re English just go into London town for a laugh. In terms of clubbing, there’s Inka Team and Mama Africa for some Latin infused-pop (Inka Team also does free salsa lessons from 9-11pm) and Mushroom’s (below Mama Africa’s) for electronic. In terms of a rave, The Temple is the place to be. If you’re at Wild Rover, Loki or Milhouse, you should be taken here as part of a night out. If you’re a guy, watch out for over-zealous gringo-hunters. You’ll know when you see them. Booking Machu Picchu and other activities: For the best prices and loads of travel agents, head to Calle Plateros, just off the Plaza. If you’re going to do the Jungle Trek (the one I did, unreally awesome), don’t pay more than $250, for rafting included. I had a friend get everything- rafting, ziplining, biking etc for $170, and he said it was the same experience, so try to shop around a bit. Salkantay will probably be a bit more. From Cusco you can also visit other parts of the nearby Sacred Valley. From that same street you can probably book a general tour that covers most of the sites, but if you want to pick a couple, Ollantaytambo and Pisac are the best.   Cusco will always have a place in my heart for the times I spent at the orphanage there, it’s brilliant weather and the friends I met. If you are thinking of doing some volunteering in Cusco, you can’t go far wrong with Elim, sponsored by Original Volunteers, and run by Jeremy Cuba Escobar (his name on facebook). The work they do there is simply incredibly considering some of the stories of these kids.

Final photo from Cusco on Facebook had this caption: “My final day in Cusco with the boys of Elim, an organisation that takes in children from the street, broken homes, and orphans. It is hard to put into words the job that Jeremy and Nilda are doing, with the help of people like Yeicob, but the effect is evident as soon as you step through the door. These are some of the most happy, thoughtful, and inspiring children you can find, and it´s safe to say the effect they´ve had on me has been far greater than any material gift or entertainment I could bring to them in my 6 weeks. I would recommend anyone visiting Cusco to spend some time there if possible.”

Lake Titicaca The lake is actually split 60/40 with Bolivia, and although both sides are listed by Lonely Planet as essentials to do in South America, if you were to choose one, I’d recommend Isla Del Sol on the Bolivian side. Nevertheless, I had a great experience on my 2 day tour from Puno after a nightbus from Cusco. I think I paid about 180 soles, although you can probably get it for less. Lake Titicaca is a magical place, so serene and calming, and the different cultures on each island are really interesting. Don’t miss it.

So this was my guide to Peru. I know I’ve missed out Arequipa and the Colca Canyon, but I never went there and know everyone else has raved about it, so thought it would be a little excessive to say more. Peru can be a little bit of a shock to the system if you’ve come from the West, but its variation, beauty and people will not disappoint. Enjoy.

Lima

Because I came to the Peruvian capital off getting my passport stolen, I wasn’t a particularly good tourist there. It’s an absolutely huge city, something you don’t realize when you just stay in the tourist area, Miraflores. The actual city stretches out 300 square miles out from the Pacific coast, and it holds nearly 8 million people. Historically, its growth was down to its status as the port the Spanish used to hold then transport the gold and silver they took from Southern Peru and Bolivia, meaning it became a hub of trade and activity.

The area you will most probably be in while visiting is Miraflores, which hugs the cliffs beside the sea, and to many locals and citizens of Peru’s other areas is representative of what is worst about Peru. There you’ll find the most tourists, hundreds of restaurants pandering to them, plenty of flash department stores and all of Lima’s young professionals. As I was told when talking to a man selling maps from Cusco, these people are too rich and pampered to understand the real Peru, and its real problems. They have their wealth and are happy maintaining it. Miraflores really doesn’t conform to other parts of Peru. The cars don’t honk, there are outdoor tennis clubs, outdoor gyms, huge apartment blocks overlooking the sea, and even a shopping centre built into one of the cliffs (Larcomar). There I actually saw Peru’s own Simon Cowell, the ‘harsh’ judge on Peru’s Yo Soy (I am), an X-Factor like competition, standing in a queue to go to a movie.

While it’s in this area where you can eat some amazing ceviche, go paragliding etc, a little inland is where many of the hostels are. There’s a Loki party hostel, which apparently isn’t as good as any of the others, but I stayed at Dragonfly, Parawana, and Flying Dog. Dragonfly wasn’t great, Parawana was a really well run party hostel, and Flying Dog was well situated (as it was by my favourite sandwich place), but a bit more chilled than Parawana. To be honest though, I wasn’t in much of a mood to party while there, and I stayed there with friends, so enjoyed it. These hostels all surround Parque Kennedy (JFK park), which is a great place to get some street food, watch some dancing or live music, and stroke some of the many cats that inhabit it. There’s a church next to the park, and apparently the nuns take care of them, in case you were wondering if they’re diseased or dying or whatever. There’s a tonne of them and they’re kind of cute.

A cat that and a friend and I played a kind of cat-jenga with, using leaves. My cat, nicknamed Zencat, won, and is rumored to still be sitting there with leaves all over its head to this day.

Once I’d sorted my passport out at the embassy, I booked a ticket to Medellin to get to the American embassy, and also booked a place at the paragliding they do off one of the cliffs in Miraflores.

I headed there a couple of hours after I was due, as a friend hadn’t been able to make it, and met the guy who was going to be taking me up.

All the prep was done very quickly, and I paid the 18 or so pounds just before gearing up and being swept off the cliff by the sea winds.

I had people tell me they were really scared about going paragliding, and someone in Medellin in Colombia even said they’d heard of people throwing up during it. I don’t quite understand this, as it’s effectively similar to being a bird. Tranquilo, serene, quiet. You get an awesome view of Miraflores, the sea, the beach, people playing tennis etc. The dude who brought me up (with a go pro attached), was trying to make it into some other extreme sport by shouting WOOOO in my ear, which I thought was a bit exaggerated, as by the end you do get a little bored. Overall though, paragliding is an awesome experience, and can be taken to the next level, as I would find out in Medellin.

 That night I went out with my American friend Rick and various other people from ours and other hostels, and although it was only dinner and pub afterwards, we had a great time. I hadn’t met many Scots in South America up to that point, so took it upon myself to discuss the independence movement with the three that were in attendance, which ended up with me writing something very inappropriate on their flag in the pub. Let’s just say it would confirm any suspicions Alex Salmond has about the English opinion of the movement.

Anyway, Lima’s a nice place, you just can’t stay there more than 3 days or so.

A return to Peru

After flying back from Argentina, I spent three days back in La Paz, Bolivia, not doing a whole lot, before getting a night bus back to Cusco, Peru. There I again stayed at the orphanage (or casa de mi padre) that I had been volunteering at for a little less than 2 months before I left to go travelling.

Cusco, and that place, will always have a special place in my heart. I had some amazing times there, and the work that is done on kids who were drug addicts, lived on the streets, were members of gangs and often were abused, is amazing. When I arrived back I was given a really warm welcome, and immediately asked where my tablet was. I didn’t see it for the next two days. Apart from going out to watch the Champions League Final at our old favorite hang-out, Paddy’s Pub, I mostly spent my two days in Cusco at the orphanage hanging out with the kids. It was strange because when I had left there were about 20 volunteers, a large tight-knit group of friends. When I arrived I was the only volunteer at the boys’ house, and there were just three (English) girls working at the girls’ house.

On the Saturday evening, it was a girl’s birthday, so everyone came to the boys’ house to have a party. I’d attended plenty of these in my previous stint, but this was nice because I was given an official ‘thank you’ by Jeremy, the founder, and a round of applause. We had cake, the kids did some (choreographed) dances and then I led a Macarena, not particularly well, but I still did it.

The next day, we did a World Cup sweepstake, where each boy took a piece of paper out of a hat that had the name of a team on it, and that would be their team for the World Cup. The one that had the winner would get a prize. Watching the most cocky of them, Steven, getting Japan (Japan won’t win it), and the quietest, Lucio, get Brazil, was pretty sweet.

In the evening we continued a Sunday tradition of going to a local pitch to play football, which was a great way to say goodbye. In La Paz, I had got them a sticker book and each boy a pack of Panini World Cup stickers each, so I gave them this, said my goodbyes, and headed for a bus to Ica.

My final post on Facebook about the orphanage: “My final day in Cusco with the boys of Elim, an organisation that takes in children from the street, broken homes, and orphans. It is hard to put into words the job that Jeremy and Nilda are doing, with the help of people like Yeicob, but the effect is evident as soon as you step through the door. These are some of the most happy, thoughtful, and inspiring children you can find, and it´s safe to say the effect they’ve had on me has been far greater than any material gift or entertainment I could bring to them in my 6 weeks. I would recommend anyone visiting Cusco to spend some time there if possible.”

While the bus from La Paz to Cusco wasn’t so bad for a Bolivian bus, it was a welcome return to be back with a good bus company in Cruz Del Sur, which effectively had the ‘cama’ treatment. Pretty much business class.

Map for reference. Ica is south of Lima

When I arrived in Ica I met my American friend Rick, who’d I’d actually met the last time I was in Cusco through two guys I met on my trek to Machu Picchu, and then had met again in La Paz. We took a 15 minute taxi to the town of Huacachina, effectively an ‘oasis’ build in some sand dunes just outside of Ica that has become a tourist trap. It’s a pretty cool place, but don’t stay there more than a day or two. Huacachina, being in a desert, has become the prime location for trying out sandboarding and dune-buggying in Peru. For about 35 soles, or around 15 pounds, you can have a 4 hour experience doing both these activities, although my hostel, Banana hostel (very nice), gave me a room and included activities for 55.

The dune buggy ride is seriously awesome. The buggy can do pretty much anything without flipping over, so the driver tests this principle to the limit, taking you up and down pretty tall and steep dunes at speed. Really fun.

You get about 6 or 7 tries at sandboarding, but after my first, shocking attempt, I decided to do what pretty much everyone else in my group was doing: stomach boarding. As the name suggests, this is where you lay on your stomach and rocket down the dunes until you fall off or come to a halt. Definitely do this if you can, although if you see other people bumping up and down near the bottom, you’re probably going to wake up with some bruises the next day, but it’s so worth it.

While I was in Huacachina I actually managed to meet up with one of my best friends from Utila, Honduras, the first place I did volunteering on this trip, which was cool.

That evening Rick (the American) and I boarded a bus to Nazca, the location of mysterious line patterns carved into the earth by ancient Peruvian people. I opted not to take a flight over the lines, as it was about $75, and gave my camera to Rick instead.

The day after this (don’t spend more than a day there if you wish to do it), we headed back up north to the town of Pisco, where you can get a taxi to nearby Paracas. Here is a national park and also, just off the coast, the islands that are named the ‘Little Galapagos’, due to similar geography, flora and fauna. I took the boat ride and saw a variety of sea birds, penguins, and sea lions, which was cool, although if you’re short on time you can skip this stop off.

While the hostel I stayed in was really cool (Kokopelli), I booked a flight for Cali in Colombia for two days from then, and decided to head back to Pisco and on to Lima to catch the flight. I said goodbye to Rick, and set off for Pisco.

There I decided to take a cheaper bus (National Peru or something), as it was only a 4 hour journey. This would be my downfall. I’d been on cheap buses before, but usually with friends, or at least other gringos on board. This bus had neither. About 15 minutes into the journey, with my bag next to me, I was beginning to drift off, listening to music, when a guy sat next to me, putting my bag in the overhead storage. I stood up and took it from him and put it between my legs, thinking that would quell his attempts to take it. It didn’t. While I was again looking out the window, he must have got his water bottle, uncapped it and soaked the bottom of my bag with it, as he suddenly tapped me, exclaiming “mojado!!!“, ‘wet’. Bewildered, I allowed him to pick it up and dry it off with a towel he’d produced. Watching him the whole time to prevent him from running off with it, he managed to remove both my passport bag and camera from inside and place them in his bag. About 5 minutes later he got off the bus, and that was the last I saw of him. I checked my bag, tried to run after him, and was blocked off by people trying to get on. Not knowing what to do, or if I could trust anyone (no one apart from the ticket inspector was making any kind of attempt to help, especially not the driver), I got him to take me to the nearest station, where I got off with my remaining things, left them at the ticket office (a risk in itself) and headed to the police station.

Using a bit of Google translate, I managed to explain what had happened and describe the guy who did it, but I was informed there was no hope. I was staying calm, but when I remembered that I hadn’t backed up all my recent stuff as my back-up USB had become corrupted, I began to grow more and more despondent. At last I got on a bus up to Lima, in which another man attempted to take my ticket for my larger bag in the bus’s lower hold, and arrived late at night. Much to my chagrin, the idiotic hostel worker who greeted me asked me for my passport after I had just told him it had been stolen, then claimed he couldn’t check me in without it, or my immigration proof. I gave him the photocopy and managed to convince him it would be enough.

A trip to the Embassy the next day revealed the fact that I would be missing my flight on that Saturday as my passport wouldn’t be ready, so I would be staying in Lima at least until the following Monday.

Lake Titicaca

There are two ways to tour Lake Titicaca, from Puno in Peru and from Copacabana in Bolivia. Both have their merits, and both are recommended as one of 10 things you must do in South America by Lonely Planet. I did it from the Puno side, having already booked a tour for about £35 in Cusco, and was met at the bus station at 5:30am by a liaison, who instructed me to get breakfast as we wouldn’t be leaving until 8. This I did, and by 8:30 I was on a boat with various others who would be taking the tour with me. There were about 20 of us who made the 3 hour boat journey to the first island, of varying nationalities, but mostly French. The other primary English speakers were 2 Americans from Philadelphia and 1 from California. The one from California especially stood out because he really was the real deal. He was big on meditation, having done it for 2 months with Columbian hermits, and back home was a ‘trimmer’ in some mountains in Northern California. He’d decided to book this trip 12 days in advance, and had been going for about 5 months, with a few more to go. As soon as we got on the lake he started explaining that this place had a strong positive energy, and that he would try to sneak off at some point and camp on one of the islands for a month. He’d also made his way onto the boat without paying a cent, so that was something.

One thing that did strike me while we were on the boat, cruising to our first destination, was how surreal it was being 3, 000m above sea level and yet being on a body of water this big, effectively an ocean. It felt kind of like we were floating, and if we went far enough into the horizon, we’d simply fall back down to ground level. The lake also has a calmness to it that feels weird. It has the size of a sea, but no waves. So the water, unless it’s windy, is completely still and everywhere is very quiet.

The first island we visited was effectively a large bed of floating reeds tied together, with about 10 reed houses constructed on top. It was inhabited by 5 families of the Aymara people, one of the indigenous groups of the Andes. Our guide, who was actually from one of these islands, explained that they construct new ones every few years as the old one gets worn out and starts sinking. We also got to try out a boat they called the Mercedes for some reason, that was made out of, you guessed it, reeds.

Thankfully we discovered that this wasn’t the island we’d be spending the night on, and we moved on after about an hour. Our island was to be a real island, and a much larger one, inhabited by Quechua speaking people (Incans). There are about 3,000 people on this island, and the families take it in turns to have foreign tourists stay in their homes. I was put in a family with the two guys from Philadelphia, Jake and Joey, and our mama was called Basilia, a large woman we assumed (you can’t tell as they wear so much clothing) who rarely spoke and stared at us much of the time we were out of our room.

Our accommodation was homely and comfortable, and the island was really beautiful, even with storm clouds brewing on the horizon. After some confusion surrounding the toilet, which had no flush – we had to pour more water in to replace the dirty water – lunch was served. Most lunches you get when staying with locals, be it up Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca or the Bolivian salt flats, consist of Quinua soup with potatoes and maybe some other veges, then a main course. I really like Quinua, although it can get a bit old after days on end of having it, but here’s was especially good, especially with maté coca that came with it. Coca is the leaf used to make cocaine, so unsurprisingly it has many traditional health benefits when chewed or drunk as mate (tea): stomach problems? Coca. Headache? Coca. Altitude sickness? Coca. Tired? Coca. Etc. But is really is a big cure of many ailments, and everyone you see has one big cheek from storing it and sucking its nutritious juices for the day ahead.

Lunch was a success, and we complimented her on the food. Maybe it was the compliments, or just something she had to do, but soon afterwards she brought out a bundle containing many hats, llama toys and other assorted trinkets for us to buy. Was followed the most awkward 10 minutes of our lives, as we started complimenting her on her lovely creations, then sat in silence waiting for her to take them away, avoiding all eye contact. It’s funny to think about now but was excruciating then.

After lunch we met up with the others to climb one of the hills, pacha papa, to deposit some coca leaves as an offering to the local God. Most of the others hadn’t broken under their mama’s stare, but 4 Czech men had, and turned up in ridiculous blue and pink traditional hats, much to our amusement.

Climbing the hill was pretty hard, as it always is at that altitude, but surrounded by waving yellow corn fields and stone buildings, we felt as if we were in the dream sequence in Gladiator, when Russell Crowe sees his family again, so started singing the theme tune. Look it up and you’ll get the idea. I think there’s a picture of the corn (or whatever grain it was) on my Facebook.

When we returned, we had some dinner, thankfully this time sans Basilia’s trinkets, and afterwards we’re given some traditional clothes (a hat and poncho) and taken to the town hall for a dance.
This wasn’t salsa or tango, but basically holding hands and running round in circles to some traditional music played by a live band. There were about 70 people there from different tours, including their mamas, so it was pretty fun.

We had a pretty early night, as we were to get up to leave the island at 7:00am. Our breakfast was a pleasant surprise, pancakes, and so happily we made our way down to the boat to say goodbye to Basilia and leave for the next island. We arrived there at about 10 to brilliant sunshine and blue skies. From the jetty we trekked up to a small restaurant with an amazing view of the lake, and at last had some meat (which we’d been waiting for for since we got there) in the form of fried trout. Pretty incredible.

The way back to Puno lulled me to sleep, sitting on the back of the boat in 30 degree hdat , and soon the 3 hours were over and it was time to go. Saying goodbye to the others, who were headed back to Cusco, I booked a bus for the next morning to LA Paz, amend chilled out at the hostel. I’d like to say something nice about Puno, but its main purpose is to get to and from Lake Titicaca, and not much else, so I wouldn’t recommend staying more than a night.

Tours from Copacobana are slightly different. Its a much more pleasant town, far more touristy though, and covered with restaurants. From there you take a short blat ride to the Isla del Sol (island of the sun) and maybe the Isla de la Luna (island of the moon) and do some trekking and watch the sun set/rise. I’ve heard it’s a little bit better than the Peruvian tours, so I’ll have to check it out if I ever come back.

After Puno I was on the road to the capital of Bolivia, La Paz…

 

Me, the Americans, and our Pachamama

Three coca leaves brought up to an Inca temple to bring good health or summink

 

Final days in Cusco

Once I returned from Machu Picchu I had about 4 days left in Cusco, but ended up extending it to 5 because I wanted to see the local team play some football. The day after Machu Picchu I ended up hanging out with Vini in Cusco, getting an alpaca wool jumper, which of course is obligatory, chilling on the roof of his hostel which had a pretty stunning view of the city, and then going to a picnic with some of the volunteers from the orphanage next to the Cristo Blanco which overlooks the city. I think we also managed to go out 5/5 of my last nights, to various bars and clubs and restaurants we hadn’t been to before, which was fun.

The day after that I also met the two Canadians again completely by chance, seeing on in a cafe window, and ended up spending the entire day and well into the night with them, going to places I’d already been merely because hanging out with them was so fun. They’re the sort of funny people that make other people funny around them, rather than those who just take the piss out of others (although of course they can be just as funny) so being around them was and is always a pleasure. I actually ended up going back to their hostel and having a final beer with them before their night bus to La Paz, Bolivia, and met an American guy, strange because he was on a spiritual cleanse where he ate nothing but fruit for 3 days, but also cool because he was a nigger fan of Fulham FC than me. Sometimes I’ve found you meet people who have the strangest yet most relevant connections to you, and you feel you could easily be incredibly close friends if you were at home together. This guy I should be meeting back in La Paz this week anyway.

After the Canadians left on the Friday, a church from New Orleans arrived on the Saturday and showed us the worst film I have ever seen, in every aspect, about God, hell and following the ten commandments to the letter. It made many of us sick to our stomach, especially as afterwards they forced the kids to be cleansed and forgave them of their sins in a preachy, evangelical way. Curious, I tried some of their stuff, including speaking in tongues, but it was all bullshit. We complained about them afterwards to the leader of Elim (where see were working) and I think he agreed with us.

The day after most of the volunteers headed up for a football game at the worse of the two local teams, Ciencialo. We bought traditional (not to Peruvian football) guy faukes like masks in crazy colours, shirts, scarves and headbands and set off on a 45 minute taxi ride to the 5,000 sweater stadium in a beautiful valley nestled in some mountains. Surely the most picturesque stadium I’ve ever been to was the backdrop for one of the best football games I’ve ever been to. The first half was dull, and we sat with some rather dull fans, all in our crazy masks and getting weird looks from the fans in both sides of the stadium, evidently thinking go themselves what these loco gringos were doing. However when we, over in with some Ultras in the second half, things got better. We joined in with their songs (ciencialo, ciencialo, que corazon, que corazon, ciencialo, ciencialo, que paccion, que paccion – what heart, what passion) had streamers, confetti, giant flags and banners and we jumping around and going crazy the whole game. This was drawing a lot more attention from the crowd, many of whom got up and watched us and took pictures. We were obviously a novelty. Anyway, the game finished 3-0 to Ciencialo, and was amazing. First a penalty, then a scruffy goal, then an absolute screamer from the player with my shirt’s number (8), causing me to run to the front and take off my shirt. It was crazy, and after the game, one of us, Pierre, a Belgian, was interviewed by the radio commentator on his thoughts. I have pictures of it on Facebook, plus videos that will make it into my overall compilation. It was an amazing last day.

Knowing that I was coming back, the goodbyes we’re heartfelt but subdued from the kids, and for the volunteers, we went out for Chinese with my backpacks, ready for my overnight bus to Puno and Lake Titicaca. Eventually we also managed to foot in a trip to McDonalds for a Mcflurry and a games of pool at Norton’s English pub. I left Cusco at 10 that night knowing I would return to a place that had come to feel like a home away from home (especially with so many Brits!).

Machu Picchu Part 2

At last I’ve reached an area with half decent internet and some time off to write some more stuff, but apologies for the lack of updates, even 3 weeks after MP! Bolivia has some of the worst internet I’ve ever experienced, so even loading up emails or Facebook takes about 10 minutes. Of course it makes up for it in other ways, as you’ll see later.

Anyway, on the third day of our Machu Picchu we set off at around 8 to go to a ziplining experience, where we would be taken 4km down a valley by 6 different ziplines of varying lengths and speeds. We were given a harness, carabinas, and a glove to break with, and then set off up one of the valley sides to the first line with a few other people from different groups.

The first line we were merely expected to sit back and relax as we were taken across the valley to a landing spot on the other side. We were advised not to use the break glove as it would slow us down too much, but some people did anyway and managed to get stuck half way across, so were expected to pull themselves along to the other side. The first one calmed everyone’s nerves, and soon we were getting into poses as we whizzed across the valley on each line, sometimes as spiderman, hanging upsidedown and looking at the floor 80ft beneath us, or spread out like superman, although I was the only one who actually did the real superman pose, one arm out front, one by my side. It’s all about the details with these things. There were two girls there from Sweden who didn’t look like they were having fun. They stood there next to each other not talking to anyone and just hanging limp from the line everytime, which was a source of amusement for some of us.
If you want to see some photos of the ziplining, they’re on my Facebook, but maybe when I get to Buenos Aires I’ll try to upload them here.

After we finished the ziplining we continued trekking until we reached the train tracks that take people to Aguas Calientas, the town directly below Machu Picchu, where we stopped at a trekker restaurant for lunch. It was there that you can just see the tip of one of the stone buildings in Machu Picchu on one of the mountains, but it seemed a long way off.
Almost as soon as we left we were greeted by torrential rain for the next hour and a half of walking, but I suppose it wouldn’t be a jungle trek without some tropical rain. At last, feeling exhausted, we arrived in Aguas Calientas and our hostel for the night. To everyone’s great joy we were greeted by WiFi and hot showers, and so chilled out there for a while. Dinner and snack buying was done relatively early, and so by about 10 I think I was sleeping soundly, ready for the 4am start the next day.

4am starts aren’t too nice at the best of times, such as when you’re about to set off for a holiday flight, or if its Christmas (maybe that’s the exception), but when you’re about to hike uphill for an hour OK OK in the darkness its really quite hard to wake up. But wake and dress we did, and by 4:30 we were ready to set off. Spirits were relatively high, as this was the climax of the whole 4 days, and for the first couple of hundred steps there was even conversation. However as the group spread out, with the guys pulling ahead stolidly and the girls lagging behind, an air of determination surrounded us. Occasionally we would stop to view the rising sun bathing the mountains in weak light, but we had a task to do and stopping was getting in the way of that. When we at last reached the top the relief was palpable, with hugs and high fives abound. I’d say there were less than a hundred people there at 5:45 when we got there, so we got in the queue to be some of the first in.

When the first few of us arrived through the gates and into the city entrance the sun had just risen, so we entered Machu Picchu in awe of the serenity and beauty of the surrounding landscape, which is jaw dropping in itself, and of course the stone structures, preserved from Spanish destruction and centuries of abandonment. When you see pictures of Machu Picchu, you only see it from one or two particular places, and its removed from its historical context, merely a place to take photos and say you’ve been to. I think of course part of the reason for this is the stunning beauty of it, the remarkable and unique preservation, and the effort it takes to reach it. But it also feels, even while you’re there, like it’s been commercialised. Most people arrive from buses, trains, and even we arrived with a prepackaged tour, so it’s lost some of the adventure that Hiram Bingham, the American archaeologist who discovered it in the early 20th century, or even the local farmers who may have passed it occasionally while herding their llamas and alpacas, would have felt upon first viewing. Its perfectly preened, grass cut, docile llamas there for pictures, and guards there to whistle if they see anyone do anything remotely risque (you’ve not allowed to jump for photos). It has become a similar symbol to Che Guevara, something that has been ripped out of its original context – for Che his strong political beliefs and for Machu Picchu its archaeological and historical significance – and turned into teenagers something post on their wall and make peace signs to.

But as I said, we are all part of that, me included, and if you try, you can get away from the tour groups and find a little house overlooking the mountains and jungles that surround the city and try to imagine the rather strange inhabitants of the city. Our tour guide explained that only 500 or so people lived there, split between a higher and lower caste. Strangely, a practice went on that didn’t occur in most other areas of the Incan empire, whereby some babies of the higher caste would have their head clamped and elongated as they grew, causing their eventual head to be shaped like an elf. If you go to the interesting Incan museum in Cusco, you can actually see some of these skulls preserved. Another interesting piece of archaeology on Machu Picchu is that despite a 500 person population, only 125 graves were found, suggesting that the rest left. My guess was that these eleven higher caste people, with a squashed pre-frontal cortex, managed to ruin society to such an extent that everyone else threw themselves off the mountain. But whatever the case, even though it was eventually abandoned, Machu Picchu was never discovered by the Spanish, despite many attempts to follow Incan messengers and scouts back from Cusco and nearby towns.

From 7-8 was my slot to climb the mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu, Huyana Picchu, and so I set off for another gruelling climb an hour after the last, this time alone (most of the others hadn’t managed to get one of the 400 passes to climb the mountain that day). More buildings are up on Huyana, evidently for the higher caste or priest caste to live in as the view overlooks the city (meant to be shaped like a condor, although I couldn’t see it), and there are plenty of cool viewpoints to view the surrounding area. When I got to the top I just sat and appreciated being alone for a while, at the top of an Andean mountain, watching the clouds roll in and the jungle however many feat below me. That was until a 25 strong group of Canadians got there, mostly made up of teenagers, which kind of ruined it, but you persevere.

Afterwards I read what Guevara himself wrote of Machu Picchu:
“The most important and irrefutable thing, however, is that here we found the pure expression of the most powerful indigenous race in the Americas — untouched by a conquering civilization and full of immensely evocative treasures… The spectacular landscape circling the fortress supplies an essential backdrop, inspiring dreamers to wander its ruins for the sake of it”

And wander I did. Afterwards I couldn’t find any of my group, so I just spent some time walking through the houses, admiring the view and trying to avoid too many people until about 12 when I left and found some of the Dutch people from the group, who were descending shortly. I decided to wait for a while so I could get a couple of pictures for Fergus’s birthday (which you can see on Facebook) which Vini the Brazilian took for me. Vini’s friends from Brazil (they all live in a small farming village south of Porto Alegre in Southern Brazil) who he had been travelling with had taken the train then bus to Machu Picchu, but wanted to walk down to Aguas Calientes, so I joined them. By about 1 we were back in town, and so decided to get some food at watch some Champions League football in a local restaurant to celebrate. At 7pm was the train back to Ollantaytambo, and from there we took another little mini bus to Cusco. We arrived there about 10pm, and some of us split of to have showers and relax for a bit/sleep, but as my accommodation in Cusco was half an hours walk or a taxi away, I stayed and went to my favourite bar, Ukuku’s, with Vini. After a couple of drinks there I headed to an English pub, Norton’s to meet the rest of the guys, the two Canadians, Steve and Travis, and the Dutch guy Machiel (surely one of the most fun loving and charismatic people I’ve ever met) and we reminisced about the trip into the early hours. By the time I returned to the orphanage I was completely wiped by buzzing after such a brilliant time with a brilliant group of people.

Pics coming with internet soon.

Machu Picchu and final days in Cusco

I haven´t written one of these in a while, but it`ll have to be a bit more brief than some of the others because my days are running out and I still want to do so much more!

For reasons unknown to me, a couple of weeks ago I came down with a stomach bug and fever bad enough to warrant going to a hospital (really a posh travellers´clinic). I spent a day and a night there lying in bed with an IV and oxygen being pumped into my system while I watched, to my relief, a lot of English language Big Bang Theory and movies on the cable TV they had. It wasn´t particularly exciting, although my friends did visit me and bring chocolate, much to the nurse´s chagrin, and when I was released (with an order to not drink alcohol and follow a pretty boring diet) I was rather relieved.

Two days later Marc, Jasmine (a new volunteer) and I climbed one of the hills surrounding Cusco, something I said I´d do in the previous post. It was a relatively tough climb, but completely lacking of fellow tourists/gringos and the view from the top was stunning, far better than that from the white cross (cristo blanco) that overlooks the city on another hill.

Now onto Machu Picchu. I decided to do the Jungle Trek, a four day trek that encompassed mountain biking, zip lining, rafting and jungle hikes, rather than the traditional walking and camping that the Inka Trail consists of. I booked it for about $270, which is pretty good considering it can be upwards of 400 pounds at home. There were 11 of us in the group, 5 Dutch, 2 Columbian, 2 Canadian, a Brazilian and me. The first day we were all picked up in a minivan and driven for about 2 and a half hours to the top of a 4350m mountain called Abra Malaga. From there we took our bikes, of debateable quality but with good brakes, and zoomed down the mountain for another 2 and a half hours into the jungle below, all the while enduring torrential rainfall. While it was enjoyable, the fact that we were all still a new group and hadn´t really communicated yet meant that it was probably the low point of the entire trek. After this we were taken to a nearby town and put up in hostels for the night. My roomate was the Brazilian, Vinicius or Vinni, who spoke no English, only Portugese, Italian and a bit more Spanish than me. While before this would have meant there would be little communication, now my Spanish is much better we became great friends, and I helped translate for him when he was speaking to other English speakers.

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The route

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The next day, after a healthy dinner and breakfast (much to my relief my stomach was OK after that. Stupidly I completely ignored the doctor´s order to not drink and had gone out two days before Machu Picchu began, meaning I was almost in the state I had been in before hospital), Vinni and I (and two other english travellers) partook in the rafting activity that some of the others had done the afternoon before. This was a huge amount of fun. The rapids rose to grade 3.5 (I think) but the guide knew what he was doing and we even got out at one point and clung on to the raft as it took us down more rapids. After this we caught up with our group, who had started the day´s hiking, and began the real jungle trek. This gave us some incredible views, but was pretty exhausting as it was uphill much of the time. Half way through we stopped and sampled some cocoa beans, snake tequila and tried on some traditional Inca dress.

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To cross one gorge a basket contraption was required, where three of us at each time would be pulled across, our legs dangling outside. It also meant we had to wait for around half an hour at the side of the mountain, knowing that one trip would mean a bumpy drop to the valley below.

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We arrived at our final stop just as the sun was setting, at a spectacular hot springs pool complex nestled within a valley. It was exactly what we all needed, and we relaxed our exhausted legs in the hot water while sharing some beers.

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PART 1 OVER

 

The Orphanage (not the movie)

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There are two Original Volunteers sponsored orphanages in Cusco, a boys one and a girls one. The girls one can only take female volunteers, while the boys one can take both male and female, so there are generally more here.
At the time of writing, there are four of us here at the boys, but two went to Machu Picchu this morning, two are currently there, and one is in Bolivia until the weekend. However by this time next week we’ll actually have been reduced to two of us here at the boys: me and a guy from Essex who arrived last week.

This kind of exemplifies the nature of volunteering here. Very much relaxed, allowing people to do their own thing. It means that activities for the kids are usually pretty spontaneous, although I hope we can do some lazer tag with them, and maybe I’ll be able to do a mini movie, although thinking about it that will be pretty hard. Yesterday we did have a pretty action packed day. It was the last day of a couple of Sundays of carnivals to mark lent. On the last one, me and the guy from Essex, Marc, went into town and came out covered in silly string and water after a city wide water fight. This time more planning went in to targeting the boys, and with more of us here, we filled up two bags of about 60 balloons with water, and 20 bottles, covered them in glitter and waited for the boys to leave. The result was carnage. Both on the way out and coming back in, it was like a water version of Stalingrad. We got them, they came up and got us back, so we got them again. I have video evidence which I’ll try to upload, although it’ll be a pretty big file.

A few from the trip to the hot springs

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A healthy green

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A local striking a seductive pose for me.

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Angel, the youngest…

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… Hasn’t earned a reputation for nothing.

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Later we also went and played football against some locals. Although we put up a fight, they managed to win overall, probably due to far superior fitness… and skill.

The boys themselves vary from 9-17 (they usually leave when they’re about 17 or 18, or whenever their parents – yes many have parents – request for their return). The youngest, Anhul is also the cheekiest and cutest, so gets a lot of attention from the volunteers, as does Moises, the second youngest. Both of them look incredibly young for their age (as all the boys do), probably because of a past of poor nutrition and emotional issues at home, and the fact that the national average must be 5ft 5in. The reasons they’re in here vary from person to person. Some were involved in gangs and drugs (I’ve never seen any real gangs though, and we live in one of the poorest areas of the city), many were just neglected at home. You wouldn’t know it though, as they are pretty much all the chirpiest, friendliest, most inquisitive and happy bunch of kids you’ll meet. While it sounds a bit racist, it’s quite easy to mix up people of a different race when you first meet them, especially when they’re all roughly the same age and height. But now I know them all by face, if not name, and can see their different personality characteristics, it’s far easier to interact and have a good time with them.

On Wednesday last week we also took a day long trip to some hot springs up high in the mountains. After waking up at 4 to leave at 5am, we packed 45 or so people into a 35 seater coach and set off on a 9 hour round trip which involved many hyperactive and vomiting children. Once we got there we enjoyed 3 or so hours of hot springs bathing and an anthill volcano before making the return journey. One advantage of this was I met a friend of one of the volunteers who works in film, at home and in Argentina/Chile or had lots of advice and some work opportunities for when I return. Also a very funny Northern guy who ripped into us on the following night out (he says it’s because he hasn’t managed to have English banter in about 5 years.

Generally days where we do a lot with the boys are followed by days of doing not much. This is partly because we’re so exhausted, partly because Marc and I are doing Spanish classes which start from 8am and run until 12, followed by lunch and sometimes a trip to a good gym I’ve found. The Spanish classes are really well taught, much more interactive and well thought out than the ones I had in Utila, which were just from the text book. They also come with an opportunity to do traditional cooking, which I’m doing tomorrow (Marc: “there’s no way they’re gonna force me to cook anything.” Strange man) and Salsa, which we’re going to  do on Friday.

I’m hoping that soon I’ll be able to take the opportunity to get up one of the mountains surrounding the city (Cusco is situated in a valley) to visit the Cristo Blanco (a smaller Rio Statue of Jesus), Saksaywuman Inca temple (yes that’s it’s actual name) and look down on the city from above. I also need to start planning my coming travels, as I want to go back up to visit a friend in Central America, but also want enough time to travel South America. I’ve now been told (by Oscar, the Northern film guy) that going down Patagonia on the Argentinian side then going back up through Chile is the most breathtaking scenery in the world (New Zealand has to be up there, but it’s so expensive!).

Cusco, Peru: The Navel of the World

Ernesto ‘che’ Guevara, who visited Cusco in 1952 as part of his epic journey up South America, wrote extensively and admiringly of Cusco during his time here, describing it as ‘evocative’.

Based on his writing, I don’t think a huge amount has changed in the look of the city. The once great Incan settlement is still buried beneath newer Spanish tiled roof houses, squares and churches, the mountains still surround it imposingly, and the weather is still predominantly grey. This is not to take away from the beauty of the city. From a high point you can observe a sprawling urban mass. Planning has obviously taken place in the construction, yet because of the hills it seems neighbourhoods have simply sprung up where space was available. Indeed when you venture away from the centre you find poorly built roads, houses crumbling or unfinished (tax on finished buildings means they’re often not completed on purpose), stray dogs everywhere (apparently there are more dogs in Cusco than people) and people urinating where they like. It is in one of these suburbs, up one of the surrounding mountains, that the orphanage is situated. At 7:30am on Wednesday I arrived there, after a 25 hour journey that completely exhausted me to the extent that I slept most of the rest of the day. In the evening me and the other volunteers, 5 guys all from the UK, went to dinner for a birthday and ended up heading into town to the two main pubs in the Plaza de Armas, the main square in the city. Both pubs, one a motorcycle enthusiast’s, one ‘the highest 100% Irish pub in the world’, are evidently for Tourists but have great views over the square and aren’t packed with westerners this time of year.

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Our duties at the orphanage mainly revolve around interacting with the orphans at a basic level. Playing with them, playing football, playing on our tablets and iphones with them, watching TV, sometimes eating with them. This is kind of day to day stuff, where we might do stuff 10-12, then 2-5. However sometimes, if they’re free and we’ve got an idea, we can take them swimming, or put on shows or competitions. Today it was a big festival in the city and most of the volunteers went to the pubs to watch the football and get some food. However this festival is one based around water bombs and silly string sprays, and there was no way we were not going to get involved. When we split off to look for a Spanish school, me and one of the other guys kept on getting ambushed, so decided to fight back buy getting equipment of our own and joining in the, massive battle in the centre of the Plaza de Armas. Much fun was had, but on the way back we met a large gang of the orphans skulking around the streets near the orphanage. Using our remaining water bombs we engaged them and everyone got completely soaked. After that we helped them fight other kids on the streets, which they loved.

It feels like our primary role with them is just to be there and give attention and the feeling that they’re loved. Obviously it could be more organised and we could have more official duties, but this does feel like it works, depending on the effort you put in.

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There’s also a lot of free time and time for travel. You’re allowed to travel wherever you like during your time here (doing so you’d still have to pay for accommodation) and many volunteers go down to Lake Titicaca and sometimes further afield. I don’t know where I’ll go yet, or when, or more importantly, when I’ll go to Macchu Picchu, but for the time being I’m going to try to find a good Spanish school with Salsa AMD cooking lessons included, and maybe a gym. Because I’ve been eating too much and not really working it off, although the altitude does punish you in the first few days.

Guevara writes a long and detailed history of the city which I can’t really comment on at the moment as I haven’t been to any museums yet. I would recommend reading his book though, as he writes really well and the section on Cusco is brilliant. As a basic outline though, in Inca Mythology  someone called Mama Oclo into the soil at the site of the city and it sank, signifying this as the place selected by their main god, Viracocha, to be the home of his chosen people. From here Incans built a glorious city and expanded outwards, building an empire from Ecuador to Chile, becoming the greatest and largest ancient civilisation of the Americas. However it was not to last. When Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, their thirst for the riches of the Incas brought them to the capital, and it was, despite previous surrender, sacked unceremoniously. Much of the gold that once adorned the temples and palaces of Cusco disappeared back to Spain or went to Lima, which grew to prominence as an transit port for the Spanish. Despite this fall from grace, Cusco still retains a regal, imperious quality. As Guevara states, even if it had no history whatsoever, it would still attract people drawn to its location and architecture. However it inescapably feels like a city once the centre of a civilisation.

Some of the dignity that the Incans held has been lost by modern day Peru (although it’s more likely the fault of globalisation than anything else). Watching TV can be hugely entertaining. The most popular show is Gladiators cum Big Brother, with attractive guys and Girls who look anything but Peruvian (I expect they’re Argentinian). Watching it is incredibly dull. They play the same games in low budget sets for far too long and do it over and over again, day after day. The people are devoid of personality, romances are obviously scripted, and for some reason the Silver team always wins. So basically it sounds like half the shows on British TV I guess. There are also continual adverts for growth hormones from unconvincing doctors attempting to make a profit of the small stature of these people. One plus point is there are loads of movies on normal TV, good ones too, but if you finish it, it becomes obvious its just a guy changing DVDs when he feels like it, which can sometimes be hours after a film has finished.

But who am I to judge? Cusco is remarkable because despite the apparent poverty of many of its civilians, there is virtually no violent crime, and many people are quite friendly.

Hopefully my next update will be after some Spanish lessons and some treks.

Hasta lluego