If I wanted to buy a postcard......

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Peru  ,
Sunday, August 29, 2004

Imagine walking out of your house and going through the following routine at least twenty times a day: No gracias, I don't want to buy a postcard. No gracias, I don't want to buy any finger puppets. No gracias, I'm wearing trainers and I don't want to have them shined. No gracias, I don't want to come into your restaurant. No gracias, I don't want to take a picture of you and your baby holding a baby alpaca. No gracias, I don't want to buy any sodding panpipes. No gracias, shove it up your assias.

Welcome to Cusco, easily the most annoying, touristy town on my travels so far - Siem Reap eat your heart out. At first I was polite to the never-ending procession of kids coming up to me with the endless questions, but it didn't take long for me to welcome back Callous Westerner (last seen in Asia). Now I just rip up their postcards, spit in their shoeshine boxes and punch their alpacas. You'd be surprised how much better it makes you feel.

Everybody who comes to Peru visits Cusco as it is the closest town to Machu Picchu, the famed lost city of the Incas. Very similar to the amazing temples of Angkhor Wat in Cambodia, Machu Picchu remained hidden in the Andes for hundreds of years until discovered early in the 20th century and has since become the biggest tourist attraction in South America. Cusco itself was an Incan city, and many of the quaint, narrow cobbled streets remain - but unfortunately they are just wide enough for the Servicio Touristico buses to drive down, with pedestrians squashed against the wall - invariably next to 8-year-olds demanding you to buy postcards.

I arrived here last week in the rain with Pat and Tim, and we eventually found a decent hostel in a quiet part of town. At an altitude of 3,360m (or 11,000 feet) above sea level it has been very cold at night, and you defintely need a couple of days - and pots of coca tea - to get acclimatised. So I've spent a lot of time watching movies in the cafes and drinking those pots of tea as well as the local liqour of choice, pisco sour (when not ripping up postcards, of course). Obviously we had come to see Machu Picchu and there are two ways of doing it: hiking the Inca Trail or taking the train.

The hiking option is a four-day expedition, covering about 25 miles and climbing up as high as 4,200m (14,000 feet). The train takes four hours and you can sleep. Seems like a no-brainer, but such is the popularity of the trail that you have to book at least a month in advance to get a spot (recent environmental concerns have limited the number of hikers to 500 per day, with nearly half of those spots taken by porters). The three of us were hoping to get a cancellation and hop on a tour, but after four days of waiting things didn't look good. Then things started to go wrong with my stomach. I mentioned before about the culinary 'delights' of Peru (when was the last time you saw a Peruvian restaurant?) and my stomach had obviously had enough. I've really missed not playing cricket this summer, but I think I've scored more runs this week then I did all last season. Lying in bed at night sounded as though there was a scuba diver under the mattress. Whoa it was unpleasant, but after a few pills and a day without eating I started to feel better (although I think the real cure was the full English fry-up I had yesterday morning whilst watching the Arsenal extend their unbeaten streak).

Not surprisingly, things weren't looking good to get on a trek and I was planning to give up and take the easy option of the train, but unbelievably we got lucky - or unlucky, if you happen to be my legs. Great. Instead of a couple of nice relaxing train journeys climbing high into the Andes I'm now having to spend the next four days constantly out of breath, freezing as soon as the sun goes down, and probably hungry. Just to see a load of old stones.
Click here to see exactly what I've got myself into. Hopefully I'll have enough energy to write about it if and when I return.
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