Posts Tagged ‘Peru’

Magical Machu Picchu

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

Traditionally “the” way to arrive at Machu Picchu is by trekking the Inca Trail. However this is expensive and needs to be booked usually months in advance. Since I didn’t want to be tied down to a specific date for Machu Picchu and wasn’t too fussed about trekking the Inca Trail anyway I opted for the lazy option – train to Aguas Calientes and bus up the hill to Machu Picchu.

Many people have described the bus ride up and down the hill between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu as one of the scariest bus journeys in existence with lunatic drivers and precipitous drops off the side of the road. They’re all sensationalist melodramatics. However, travellers of a nervous disposition might be wise to be on one of the first two or three buses up the hill in the morning, that way there is no chance of meeting another bus coming the other way. The bus ride takes about thirty minutes or it’s possible to hike up the hill instead in about 60-90 minutes.

I was on the first bus up the hill in the morning and when we arrived at the gate for Machu Pichu there were already about 40 keen trekkers waiting in line. They opened the gates at 6am and we streamed in clutching our maps and spread out to get a bit of the magic to ourselves. Clouds caressed the site, the stone paths were slick from the mist and footsteps and other sounds were muffled. Ghostly ruins appeared out of the murk as I got closer to them.  A few vicuanas (similar to llamas) grazed the grass.

By 7am the cloud had lifted and thinned a bit but visibility was still less than 100m. I was one of thefirst group of 200 people with a ticket for Wayna Picchu, the peak at the northern end of the site. They slowly let us onto the path up the path. It took about 45 minutes to walk up the rough, steep path to the top, about 300m above the level of Machu Pichhu. The main site was still invisible, enveloped in cloud. As the sun warmed the atmosphere the cloud level went up and Machu Picchu appeared slowly over the course of an hour or so. I perched on a rock at the top of Wayna Picchu and watched the scene unfold. It was a magical experience, one I won’t forget in a hurry and one of the highlights of my trip so far.

As usual, there are some photos at Flickr.

Puno and Lake Titicaca

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

A ten hour overnight bus ride got me from Arequipa to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. More than anywhere else I’ve seen in Peru, Puno exemplifies the incomplete building style seen throughout the country. Descending from the hills above the city I was greeted by a mess of red and brown roofs and unrendered brick buildings with steel re-bar poking out all over.

Some of the buildings are still under construction, although there’s precious little evidence of the builders actually building. Others are as finished as they’re going to get. British brickies would cringe with embarrassment at the finish. Mortar is obviously cheaper than bricks because the joins are much thicker than in Europe. Many are built of mud bricks. These at least don’t have re-bar poking out of the roofs or walls. This is the new, expanding part of the city. The historic centre is rather more complete but still not very pretty.

Lake Titicaca is famed as the highest navigable lake in the world. Puno is at 3822m asl. One of the attractions is a visit to the Uros floating islands. These are made of reeds and are anchored in place to stop the wind blowing them all across the lake to Bolivia. The islanders make almost everything from reeds; their islands, their houses, their boats. Their income comes from fishing and tourism. It’s possible to stay overnight with the islanders but the tour I took included an overnight home-stay on Amantani. Amantani is a solid island further out into the lake with a population of about 4000 people spread over ten villages. The island is run as a cooperative and the villages take it in turns to host the tourists who come every day. If you wanted to buy alpaca scarves or jumpers the prices here were the lowest I’ve seen in Peru – S/.35 (about £8) for an alpaca hoodie. I don’t know if they were genuine alpaca but they looked nice and felt very soft. Next morning our boat took us to Taquile island for more sightseeing and lunch before returning us to Puno in the afternoon.

There are a handful of photos in my Puno set at Flickr. There’ll be more when I get an internet connection fast enough to upload the rest.

Trekking Colca Canyon

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

One of the most popular tours available in Arequipa is a Colca Canyon trek. There are options for two, three or four day treks. The afternoon I arrived in Arequipa I didn’t fancy the thought of getting up at 3am next morning to do a three day trek. I chose instead to spend the day in Arequipa and do just a two day trek. It actually follows the same route as the three day trek but covers two thirds of the distance on the first day and the final third on the second day.

It still involved a 3am start on the first day. True to form the 03:00-03:30 minibus pick-up actually happened at 03:45. I could have had almost an extra hour in bed…

Colca Canyon is the deepest in the world and is several hours drive from Arequipa. Our first stop after about three hours was for breakfast. Roughly an hour later we reached Cruz del Condor on the canyon rim, often a good place to see condors. We joined many other bus loads of tourists, lined up along the edge of the canyon with cameras at the ready. On a good day there are fifteen to twenty birds seen. We only saw four. The guides said this was probably because a helicopter had entered the canyon the previous day and disturbed the birds. Helicopters don’t normally enter the canyon but this one had to recover the body of a boy who was lost there 200 days previously. We may have only seen four but they were magnificent. Once again a longer lens would have been very useful. The birds soared effortlessly along the canyon wall, riding the thermals. The thing that impressed me most was the size of the shadow they cast on the sloping canyon rim.

Some distance further along the road to Cabanaconde the bus dropped us off and we split into groups depending on whether we were doing the two or three day trek. There were four others in my group, Rick, Marika, Annie and Laetitia. Huber, our guide, explained the itinerary to us and we set off. We descended about 1200m vertically into the canyon and travelled about seven kilometres before reaching San Juan de Chuccho, the village where we stopped for lunch. The three day trekkers spent the afternoon and stayed the night there. Us more hardy, or foolish, two-day trekkers continued for another three and a half hours along the canyon to Sangalle for our dinner and overnight stop. Sangalle is also known as “the Oasis”.

During the wet season from December to March the terraces are full of crops and the dead looking scrub and cacti turn a wonderful green. At this time of year the canyon looks pretty barren.“The Oasis” is the exception. Water from a geothermal spring above the level of the river supplies a small oasis where there are trees, bushes and lush green grass all year round. We arrived hot and sweaty and caked in dust. There are a few “resorts” here. There is no electricity, the accommodation is extremely basic and the spring provides the running water for the showers and swimming pools. Unfortunately by the time the water reaches the resorts it has cooled from about 35 degrees to only 18-20 degrees. If not for this then “the Oasis” would be an idyllic spot and no-one would ever want to leave. The three-day trekkers get to spend the whole afternoon of their second day here.

We were up at 5am next morning for the eight kilometer trek out of the canyon to Cabanaconde. The trick is to do as much of the 1200m ascent before the sun comes over the canyon rim as possible. Most people took between two and two and a half hours to reach the canyon rim. The slowest struggled out in about three hours. The fastest took only an hour and a half; obviously younger and fitter than me. After breakfast in Cabanaconde the minibus drove us to hot baths a short distance from Chivay. There were five separate pools, four outdoors and one indoors which really were hot – between 35 and 42 degrees. We spent an hour there, two or three hours and a massage would have been really nice. After lunch in Chivay we drove back to Arequipa with a couple of photo stops.

Our guide, Huber, was very entertaining and informative and the whole tour was really good. The first day was very long and quite tiring. For anyone reading this and considering doing a Colca Canyon trek I’d recommend doing the three day one. There are dozens of agencies offering basically the same tours for almost identical prices. The differences are in the choice of operator and quality of services included. I booked through my hostel (Sol de Oro) and happily recommend them and the operator they used (I did email the hostel and ask which operator it was; they answered a different question. So much for my Spanish.)