Lost in Lima, Hot in Huacachina and Chaos in Cusco

Trip Start Sep 02, 2006
Trip End Sep 01, 2007

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Thursday, March 8, 2007

Well I managed to get to Lima safely from Mexico and Tony did likewise from the States. However his luggage did not have as successful a trip and arrived 2 days late. So Tony was forced to wear my paisley pattern shirts for a few days and we had to change our original plans of flying straight to Cusco to staying around the Lima area.

Lima is a hole by the way and fortunately for us a local girl (who had also lost her luggage) told us we would be better off in Miraflores - and she was dead right. Miraflores is an upmarket suburb of Lima which overlooks the Pacific ocean and is rather fancy. Bit like myself... Now the way to Miraflores is anything but fancy and was my first sight of how in South American cities there are lots of poor areas surrounding the fortunate few who are clearly making money (honey).

Main attractions of Miraflores seem to be the Pacific Ocean (and surfing) and a pre-Inca site slap bang in the middle of the suburb called Huaca Pucllana. Being too jet lagged (and lazy) to trapse down to the ocean we plumped for Huaca Pucllana. It was rather surreal seeing this adobe pyramid stretching through the middle of Miraflores. Really interesting though and the guides were excellent. It also has the fugliest dog I have ever seen. It may not have been blessed with the best looks but him and his running mate were really friendly.

To celebrate Tonyīs start of his vacation we had a cocktail or two and got a tad inebriated in a swanky bar that looked like a posh house with (oddly) a massive metal bed sculpture in the front garden. I realised that it was time to go home when I picked up a drink and complained to Tony that my gin and tonic tasted funny. Not surprising really as I had picked up Tonyīs whisky...

5 hours and one mild hangover later our bus rolled into the town of Ica (south of Lima). Ica much like Lima centre itself is a hole though I am convinced that it has more taxis than the whole of Chicago. Itīs not a big place but you will never ever have any trouble finding a taxi. Presumably as it is a holiday resort.

Fortunately we hadnīt made the bus journey to get to Ica, but rather to visit Huacachina which is a lagoon oasis about 2 miles outside of Ica in the sand dunes that surround Ica. Personally I never even knew Peru had a desert let alone muckle 400 feet high sand dunes. Well it does.

Huacachina is a wee place of only about 20 buildings surrounding the lagoon which is meant to have therepautic properties. We went there to (therepautically) sand board and go dune buggying. Both of which were great fun though sand boarding (I think) is much more difficult than snow boarding (as sand is not all that slidey, though my Bambi-like balance probably did not help the matter).

Tony at this point managed to continue his bout of bad luck as after his Day 1 of losing his luggage (and getting sunburnt at Huaca Pucllana) he followed it up with sunstroke on Day 2. Night of Day 2 was equally as eventful for him as he drove the big white porcelian bus for the majority of the night and just had enough strength on Day 3 to top us his sunstroke in the blistering sun of the dunes.

His grand finale was a frantic request for the dune buggy to stop while he redecorated the sand dunes with his stomach contents and for good measure added a new design to his trainers too. Poor lad, bad enough having to endure my company (and wardrobe) let alone being ill too.

For those of you sick puppies who are taking some enjoyment out of Tony being under the weather. Yes that includes you Sprunty...Donīt worry his run of (bad) luck was to continue...

Not much fancying a 24 hour bus journey to Cusco we sensibly stumped up $70 and instead took the one hour flight from Lima to there. Cusco is probably the #1 tourist destination in South America. The reason being that is the gateway to Machu Picchu - and was the reason we were going there.

Even if you donīt make it to Machu Picchu (though youīd be crazy not to) Cusco is worth a visit on its own. It is surrounded by green rolling hills and much of its Spanish colonial past is still evident with the churches and stone architecture, intertwined between cobbled streets. There are also great day trips to parts of the Sacred Valley which are easily managed and is a good spot to experience the dress and customs of the Andean people.

There are a couple of downsides in that as itīs such a tourist destination you are constantly asked if you want to buy tours, clothes, finger puppets - you name it. Bit annoying to begin with however you soon get immune to it. Also itīs at an altitude of 3,300m above sea level, so altitude sickness can be a real issue.

Being sensible, young(ish) men we took this into consideration and thought weīd rested enough before exerting ourselves. However as in reality we are not all that sensible and are too quick to forget that we aren`t 21 any longer we only rested for about half a day and (stupidly in hindsight) decided to hike up to Sacsayhuaman fortress.

This is worth going to and stands above Cusco about an hourīs hike up some seriously steep terrain. However, no problem to us two happy wanderers...we think...as we purposefully strode up the hill. Clearly having to make multiple stops to take massive gulps of air was not a good enough indicator to us that we were over doing it. The indicator for me that I had been a bit daft was getting back down and not being able to stop violently shivering, even after tucking myself into bed at 8.30pm fully clothed with extra blankets on my bed...

And this started our 3 day bout of illness, which culminated in Tony visiting the local clinic and testing for dysentry and stomach parasite - nice! Personally I was pulling for dysentry...and was not disappointed as it appears he got the double Peruvian whammy of dysentry and stomach parasite - jackpot!

Again poor sod, he really was riding that wave of bad luck. Unfortunately he did not get to ride the white water rafting wave on the trip we had paid for. *Sorry Tony mate that we missed it - we`ll need to do it some other time.*

We thought we were also going to have to miss our hike on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu - our main reason for coming to Peru - and tried to change our trip to only a 2 day hike. However the powers at be said...tough!

Thankfully the multiple pills Tony was popping seemed to do the trick and we were fit enough to (gingerly) embark on the 4 day Inca Trail hike.

There are cheaper alternative hikes to get to Machu Picchu but hey we are Flash Harrys and realistically probably arenīt going to be back there again so why scrimp over a few dollars?

The Inca Trail is the classic way to get to Machu Picchu and was getting so popular that there is now a 500 people a day restriction for those entering the trail so as to protect it from erosion - 300 of these are porters and guides.

For those short of time (or energy) you can get the train there as there is no restriction on the number people actually entering Machu Picchu - just those going on the Inca Trail. Mind you itīs not a cheap day trip as itīs at least $135. Our 4 day trip was $200 which seemed a much better deal and we loved it. Easily one of the top things Iīve experienced on my trip.

You rest your weary bones each night in a tent under the stars, surrounded by magnificent flora and fauna and after devouring a much needed hearty meal. Itīs really a 3 day hike as the 4th day involves a ridiculously early start (4.30am) to arrive an hour later near Machu Picchu to watch the sunrise and enjoy the rest of the day wandering around it.

The hike itself is not that tough apart from the 700m ascent on the 2nd day over (the spookily named) Dead Womanīs Pass. 

The ultimate destination of reaching Machu Picchu is clearly the reason for taking the Inca Trail, however overall the walk itself was really good and much better than I expected.  You got to see other Inca ruins along the way and see a variety of different landscapes. My favourite being on the 3rd day where we descended 1km through the cloud forest. Even the persistent rain that day didnīt bother me.

On the 4th day we awoke blearly eyed at 4.30am looking forward to our walk to the Sun Gate to witness Machu Picchu appearing magically in front of us at sunrise. However, no dice...the Sun Gate was not so sunny and instead had mist surrounding it so you could only see about 5 yards in front of your face.

I admit at this point I was not feeling my normal chirpy self and a bit down hearted. So I plodded down towards to Machu Picchu, but then woe behold the mist started to rise and we got our first glimpse of Machu Picchu and a llama to boot - not going to be such a bad day after all lads!

In fact it was an absolute blinder of a day. The sun shone most of the time, so much so that Tony even got sunburnt again! {He had to turn his black jacket inside out so the white lining was showing to stop the slow cooking process...again poor chap}

Regardless we both had a great day with our guide telling us all about Machu Picchu and showing us around. It is 500 years old and is in remarkable condition, however it really is the setting which makes this a true wonder of the world.  How beautiful is that?

It was a small city (about 800 people they think) and only survived because when the Spanish were raping, pillaging and burning everything in sight they missed Machu Picchu and just walked on past it. Not really that surprising as it is about 500m vertically up from the river basin below and the wily old Incas delibrately destroyed much of the Inca Trail to make sure the Spanish could not find it. 
Tired but happy we said adieu to Machu Picchu and took the train back towards Cusco, had a couple of drinks, passed out asleep and in the morning Tony (sadly) departed.

A great couple of weeks with a great friend of mine, but as we all know all good things have to come to an end. I am just glad that I had the opportunity to have and share the experience.

My other memories of Lima, Huacachina and Cusco were:

(1) The name Inca originally didnīt directly refer to the race of the people but over time has been adopted to describe them. Originally the name īIncaī was reserved only for the King.

(2) The porters on the Inca Trail are crazily strong and...short. They have to transport all the tents, food etc along the trail and you`d quite often hear a pitter patter of their feet behind you as they swept past you running along carrying their mandatory 50kgs. For a few dollars more a day they will also carry your bags too!

(3) Apparently the best month to hike the Inca Trail is May, however as it`s so popular then you need to book 3 months in advance. You probably need to do the same during June-September too. Rest of the year I reckon you can just turn up a few days in advance and you`ll have no problems. However, note it`s mandatory to book at least 3 days in advance or the nice people from the Peruvian authorities won`t let you on the trail. Also in February it is closed all month for maintenance.

You might want to hurry to go as there is a strong rumour they are going to increase the cost of entering the trail from $40 to a whopping $150 a pop.

(4) There is a lodge right at the entrance of the Machu Picchu grounds. The nice people from the Orient Express charge $640 per person per night for the experience. Also they will allow you to part with $600 too if you want to do the Cusco-Machu Picchu round trip in the luxury of an Orient Express train.

(5) Back in the 70s the future (and now current) King and Queen of Spain tried to visit Machu Picchu but they said they couldnīt get there as there was no place to land their helicopter... my heart bleeds. Clearly they had a lot of clout with the government as to accommodate their wishes they cut down a 2m high stone pinnacle which is thought to have been used as the central meeting point of Machu Picchu - sacrilegious.

(6) Peru has a number of culinary delicacies. I did enjoy the ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime juice) but shied away from the cuy (roasted guinea pig). They make good chips/fries too, and so they should as they apparently have 3,400 different types of tatties.

(7) Hiram Bingham īdiscoveredī Machu Picchu in 1911. Discovered is a rather loose term as there were 2 farmers living there when he turned up.

Our guide did not have the greatest respect for Mr Bingham because he thought that a circular building with unusually shaped carved windows was not of any interest. Probably a store room or something.

However when the Peruvian scientists came in they quickly identified it as a complex astronomical device where at the Spring and Autumn equinoxes light would shine through the Sun Gate about 750m away then through the perfectly aligned windows onto a central platform.

Also he repeatedly implied that Bingham looted the place as when asked whether he found any gold or silver at Machu Picchu he said `who me, oh no not me sir I didn`t find any`. Which seemed a little odd as the farmers said they gave him some gold brooches...

Apparently Yale university still have more than their fair share of artefacts from Machu Picchu which the Peruvian government are trying to get back.

(8) After finishing our dune buggying it took us about 8 hours before we got back to our hotel in Lima where I decided to go for a shower. Much to my astonishment when I looked into the mirror, I found out that half of my face had about an inch of sand stuck on it for my sand dune fun... Apparently Tony noted it but did not think that I would be bothered about people staring and laughing at me for 8 hours like I was some sort of professional soap dodger...cheers buster.

(9) I don`t think everyone in the Andes is gay however the Andean flag is a rainbow flag similar to that flying over boy`s towns worldwide.

(10) I regularly enjoyed a local drink called Inca Kola - a Peruvian wannabe version of Irn Bru and tastes really similar but is yellow instead of the (correct) rusty orange colour favoured by Scotlandīs national soft drink.

(11) The Inca Trail is about the length of a marathon. It took us 3 days to complete it however they actually run a marathon along it each year - nutcases. The top professional long distance runners of South America run it in their flashiest gear, however last year it was won by a 45yr old Inca Trail porter who ran in sandals, shorts, a woolly jumper and hat while chewing coca leaves!

He completed the mountainous course in an astonishing 3hrs 45 mins - a full 25 mins ahead of his nearest (woeful) challenger. Apparently he was quite chuffed with it but said next year he expected to do it in 3hrs 30mins as next time he won`t stop again to talk to his mates and have a cup of tea...

(12) Tony and I initially being disappointed then downright pissed off with some members of our Inca Trail group. There were 14 of us tourists, and 13 porters who lugged 50kgs each of the required food and equipment for 3 full days. Despite the porterīs great efforts, the group as whole refused to tip more than 20 soles (less than $7) per person to be split amongst all the porters.

That is less than 0.5 soles ($0.20) per day for their hard work. Flipping disgusting so we chucked in double and it still seems shamefully little.

(13) When standing at our hotel desk one time I got to experience the most inappropriate phone ring I`ve ever heard. Let`s put it this way, at first hearing it sounded like the night porter`s phone contained a young lady in it who was partaking in a certain act and enjoying it a lot, time and time again...

(14) Their is a cool area in Cusco called San Blas. It`s the artsy quarter with super steep streets and lots of galleries. I actually bought a painting or rather Tony did then found out later what it was of and promptly sold it to me.

It depicts the Yuwar Feast. This feast is celebrated by trapping a condor, then there are bullfights with the condor at the back and later the condor is released and the dancers celebrate in the streets. Granted not to everyoneīs taste.

(15) To try and help avoid altitude sickness we drunk loads and loads of Mate de Coca. Which is a tea made from coca leaves. Chewing coca leaves also works a treat as I welcomely found out when trotting up Dead Womanīs Pass. All the porters chew madly on these as it helps you work for longer without rest, food or water.

(16) Ordering something unknown from a chicken restuarant, but thinking what the heck I will try anything once. Well I have no intention of eating chicken`s balls again.

(17) Finally succumbing to reality and getting my mop cut. It hadnīt been chopped for over 3.5 months and it badly needed some scissor action on it. Most of the Peruvian barbers seemed to specialise in the short, back and sides so I plumped for a `salon` and after seeing their hair model magazine which possessed not one haircut which had seen the 90s let alone this century I pleaded with them to only take a couple of inches off all round and please, please, please do not touch my rat`s tail...

So 20 minutes later and a few prayers later, I parted with $3 and left quite happily...but mostly relieved.

(18) Our Inca Trail guides told us that South Americans don`t walk much and definitely nothing compared to most of the European visitors. I think they are right as the 3 (athletically looking) Argentinians and 1 Brazilian were always miles behind the rest of us motley crew of English, Czechs and a solitary Scot.

(19) After speaking to a few other people it appears that like India, everyone seems to get sick in Peru for some reason. Unlike India it doesnīt seem to suffer from awful hygiene but there certainly must be something that makes lots of people poorly.

(20) All over Peru Machu Pichu is (quite rightly) being very actively promoted to be one of the īNew 7 Wonders of the Worldīand currently it looks like itīll just about make it. If you want to vote for it and others then click on this link. http://www.new7wonders.com/index.php

Currently most of them I agree with however I am a little surprised that Angkor is not making the list and the Acropolis, Colosseum and Chichen Itza are...
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vicbaker on

7 Wonders? Where Blackpool Tower??
Well, I just voted for Angkor, as well as Stonehenge, and MP of course. But you never know, if you don't get that rat's tail cut, it might be making it onto the list itself at this rate!!

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