Once the formalities of the locals vs gringoes footy match were out of the way (the locals beat us, but then, I was playing so we were definitely at a disadvantage!), we were all assigned to our families. Sam and I stayed with a couple called Sixto and Rebecca
. They were very welcoming, although we hardly saw Rebecca. Conversation was quite limited as they don't speak English and Sam and I only speak phrasebook Spanish. I think I did quite well for about 45 minutes, but I found it quite difficult to concentrate after that and my brain was hurting so much I was struggling to understand the more basic words. But by this time it was time to get ready for the party the village had thrown for us. This involved dressing in the traditional dress of the island, which for the girls involves wearing 5 skirts (yes, 5!), a belt, a jacket, a sash, a bowler hat and a dangly thing from the wrist. The locals did a demonstration of traditional dancing and then got us up to join in. For the most part, the girls had to swing our hips about to make the skirts flare up and display all 5 layers. We also had to swing the wrist dangly thing about. It was all good fun, but under all those layers it got a little bit hot!
Next stop on the tour was Cuzco, which where you go if you're going to Machu Picchu. It´s a lovely little town; very touristy but very pretty. Our first night there was St Patrick's Day and having 2 Irish people in the group, we were obliged to go to the local Irish pub! A good time was had by all, although Sam's night finished at about 9:30pm when she needed a MacDonalds and bed!
Also in Cuzco, we celebrated my birthday on the 19th
. It was strange to celebrate my birthday with people I´d only known for a week (except Sam) and to not have my friends and family around, but everyone made a big effort and I was really touched. Most of us went horse-riding during the day, and we all went out in the evening together. It started with the rest of the group singing happy birthday to me in the lobby of the hotel (in front of lots of other guests), accompanied by a home-made "Happy Birthday Vicky" sign. Then we went to a very cool restaurant, where they'd put balloons out for us and Lila had got a birthday cake for me. After dinner, it was off to a club and we staggered home at around 4:30am! It was so nice that people made the effort; hair-straighteners were used, dresses were worn and the restaurant was more expensive than we would usually go for. It was a really good night!
It was a good job as well, because we had to start preparing for the Inca Trail. On Saturday (21st March), we made our way through the Sacred Valley to Ollayantambo, the starting point of the Inca Trail. We saw quite a few archaelogical sites and plenty of Inca ruins. We also heard a lot from our guide about the terrible things the Spanish did, you can still feel the resentment from the Peruvians towards the Spanish. But when you consider that before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, the population of Peru was approximately 12 million, and by the time they'd conquered Peru, the Inca population was 1 million, you start to appreciate why there are still bad feelings.
By the evening of the 21st, we were all feeling a little nervous. I was worried that I would find it too heavy going. It's 45km across 4 days, which isn't that far really. But it's at high altitude, some of it is over 4000m above sea level, and there's a fair bit of uphill hiking. Then you've got the fact that it's approaching the end of the rainy season, and we'd be camping for 3 nights with no proper washing facilities, and I'm not a happy camper! I'll let you know how we all got on in the next installment!
I met up with Sam on 12th March and we met the rest of the tour group the following day. There are 9 of us in total, 7 from England and 2 from Ireland, and a Peruvian tour leader called Lila. Luckily, we've all been getting on well - no weirdoes and no miserable people. The first trip we made together was to cross the border into Peru to a town called Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Puno´s not a great town, you only really go there to visit the lake, which I believe is the highest navigable lake in the world. There are some islands you can visit, and we stayed with families on one of the islands overnight.