We were on our way to the Inca capital of Cusco. There was not much sleep to be had on the 15 hour long bus trip. The bus was slowly circling its way up steep, winding mountain roads, all the way up to 4500 meters altitude then down again to 3000 meters altitude. I got ready to sleep (without falling asleep) at 01.00, and at 06.40 the brilliant bus guys put on the most annoying lambada music imaginable. It was even more annoying that a mindless (smoked too much marijuana?) rastaman behind us began to sing along to the songs.
Every hope of sleep was crushed at that moment. I thought maybe the bus guys woke us because breakfast was ready, but it did not arrive. I'm not impressed. The best about the bus trip was that we sat on the second floor of the bus with the large panorama window in front of us with views over the landscape. Since then we have tried to get these seats on all of the buses we take. , In fact I am now sitting and writing this blog on a bus with panoramic views of the Atacama desert in Chile. We stopped along the road by a small shed where some locals made local breakfast. Me and Torunn chose to starve rather than eat fried pig fat served with guts. We had a cup of tea for breakfast (they had no coffee of course) while we looked at all the guinea pigs that were running across the kitchen floor to get some salad on the other side of the room. We arrived to Cuzco at 1 in the afternoom and went straight to the hostel where we were sleeping for the rest of the day. The philosophy to "save" a day by taking the night bus does not always work. Our hostel was great. It was located on the hillside in San Blas, with views across the old town from a giant window in the dining room. There were several days where we just sat all day in the dining room and read books while we gazed out at the view.
It was a lovely view, that simply never gets old. Cusco was just as infected by gringos as I had expected. We did not encounter a single other backpacker that had not been, or was going to Cuzco. Anyway, we had no illusions about anything else before arriving. One of the days we were there we were on a so-called "free" walking tour. There were about 30 other tourists who had been thinking the same, so it was a bit like queueing behind a guide who played reggae music from a portable speaker so that none of the herd would get lost. It was slightly embarrassing to be a part of the herd. It was not the most impressive city walk; He took us from one shop to the next, where he shamefully promoted the wonderful products they sold. We visited one place that sold lamas made of silver, a shop selling various lama / alpacca / Vicuna clothing, 3 restaurants that gave us samples and explained how good and cheap the food was, a chocolate parlor that gave us tastings, a liquor museum and a tattoo parlor. We did not learn very much about the city, However, he had added a couple of stops with some details about the Inca. And at the end of the trip there was a semi-mandatory tip, and we were informed that only banknotes (of which the smallest is worth about 30 Norwegian kroner(14$) ") was accepted. The next time we will probably go on a city walk that actually costs money…instead of a commercialised trip that costs a fortune in tips. We ate a lot of alpaca steak, and even an alpaca burger at a place. It was absolutely lovely meat, almost as tender as the ostrich steak we had in South Africa last year. Although most restaurants in the city operate at tourist prices it is possible to find a good deal. We had a meal that started with a glass of wine and a large portion of meat soup, continued with alpaca steak with garnish and then pancake with honey and freshly squeezed lime juice for dessert. The whole thing cost 35 Norwegian kroner(14$) ".
The next day we found a reasonably cheap place to have compulsory Peru meal - roasted guinea pig ! It took a small eternity before the partially charred rodent landed on our table. Those who have said that they resemble a rat on the plate are right. It was served with a little salad, and some bad pastry with some nasty stuff inside. The guinea pig was a bit small for both of us, but we had ordered some other Peruvian dishes as well. I started the carving job, and Torunn and the staff there were very impressed by how gracefully I parted the animal (hmmmm….. red.adm). It was an amazingly small amount of meat on it, and what I did eat was tough, and not particularly good (Torunn disagrees, it was delicious! red.adm). To get a little more taste I went into the belly of the guinea pig and ate a good portion of the green chili sauce that was everywhere (Smart guy… red.adm). It was even more disappointing as it did not taste of anything, at least not like chili. It was then Torunn found out that it actually was not chili sauce, but half-digested grass that had spilled out of the intestines. After that my appetite was not as good. The waitress said there was chili inside! Rip-off! Or maybe she meant that it was the pastry that was served next to the guinea pig that actually had some chili stuff inside. It cost most than 100 kroner for the guinea pig dish, but it was not really worth it for me. It's something you try, just to try it, but I am not tempted to try it again.
Macchu Picchu- Salkantay trail !
We booked the Machu Picchu tour through the hostel. We were very glad that we booked it in advance, as the prices we had seen online was well over twice as much as what we paid. We booked the trip the day before, and it was no problem getting a spot on the tour. It is only the so-called traditional Inca Trail which must be booked months in advance ,as they only allow 500 people per day. We paid only 200$ for a tour called the Salkantay trek. It takes 5 days to reach the ruins. There is another one called the jungle trek, which includes cycling, rafting and ziplining, but that one is only 3 days. We had to get up at 03.30 the first morning just so that a bus could drive us for 3 hours to the start of the path. The bus was loaded full of people who were divided into 2 groups, Luckily we ended up in the smallest group of 13 people.
It was still more than the 8 which we had been told, but promises are broken fast in Peru. The first day we walked uphill for 7 hours before we arrived at the first camp. It was a tricky terrain with green forests one moment, and snow-capped peaks in the next. The only thing we saw of animals were bulls grazing along the road all the way up to the camp. The sun shone all day. The world seems better when the sun shines. We were pleasantly surprised when we found out that they actually sell large beer bottles in the kiosk at the camp, one can not say no to a little party at 3900 meters above sea level after a long day of trekking. We got to know the rest of our group, some jovial, some not so much. There were 2 Canadian girls, 1 Spaniard, 4 British teenagers, a Danish and Swedish couple of medical students and 2 super-cheerful British students in their mid-20s. We were the oldest on the trip, 5 years older than the second-oldest. It gave me a bit of a granddad-feeling, not a feeling I particularly like. We could at least communicate with them entirely at their level, at least I think so. We had the most contact with the two brits Joe and Rob, and with the Danish-Swedish couple Peter and Hedvig. The teens were a little shy and did not say much, which Joe and Rob worked tirelessly to change. Much of the effort was supported by alcohol intake. The second group was much larger than our group; about 19 people. They always arrived long after us to the camps. We felt infinitely happy to be in our group as our guide was pretty laid back, almost a little too laid back. The second group were doing "team building" all the time as if they were participating in the Olympics or something.
There was always lots of group hugs, slogans and clapping from their side of the camp, pretty LAME… We were told that the second day was going to be the toughest day of them all. We had to walk from 3900 meters altitude to 4600 meters early in the morning. It was a good trip with lots of nice scenery and tall mountains with snow. We walked past a giant valley that looked a little out of place. The guide told us that there used to be a glacier there, but not anymore due to global warming. It was very steep, which was quite tough considering that we were on 4000 meters . We beat "team Awesome" to the top by a mile. Along the way we saw lots of little curious furry animals. They were very cute, a close relative of the domesticated chinchilla. There were also many wild horses grazing in the tundra at 4300 meters altitude. After we had reached the top it was 5 hours of walking downhill, which took us down to a so-called "cloud forest". After 9 hours of trekking we were pretty tired and limp when we finally arrived at our camp. It was a pretty idyllic small lawn on top of a green valley. The sun set in a color explosion while large flocks of green parrots were swarming above our tents. We had a well earned giant beer as this campsite fortunately also had a small pub. We got to know our group, and found that we were in a very jovial crowd, especially the brits. Very early the next morning we were awakened by a Peruvian that opened our tent and served us coca tea in bed. After we had packed our bags yet another delicious Peruvian breakfast awaited us. It consisted mostly of pancakes, bread, jam, coffee, tea and sometimes a nasty cake. Day 3 was not too tiring. It started by walking past the "Team Awesome" while they were in the middle of a group hug and motivational speech. Our group was not walking together, everyone walked at their own pace, which is actually the easiest. We walked along a gravel road that was full of landslides. The mountains in this area consists almost entirely of soil and gravel, there are not much mountains really. The consequence of that is that every time it rains a bit the soil collapses and falls into the river in the bottom of the valley.
I walked with Joe the brit, and Peter the Dane. Time passed quickly as we had many interesting discussions. We discussed religion, which is always fun, especially considering that the Dane had quasi-religious naive views on things, while me and Joe are atheists. I have read the bible, while the Dane had not read it, and does not know how much nonsense it contains. After a while it seemed like he was a little unsure of what he really believed in. After a few hours of walking we arrived to the bottom of the valley where we found lots of fruit trees with bananas, passion fruit, oranges and other delicacies. After we had been served a decent Peruvian lunch we were driven in a jeep to the camp site. Me, Joe and Rob insisted on sitting on the roof during the 1 hour long ride through the jungle. It was a pretty unforgettable experience. We had a contest to see who managed to pick fruit from one of the many wild fruit-trees that we passed. There were bananas, avocadoes, oranges and coffee beans. There were many times that we almost fell out of the jeep when we stretched out for the fruit, but it was just for fun. Our camp was in a small village which was sheltered from the Andes. There we visited some hot springs that were right by the dirty river. It was really great after many days of hiking, and many days of sweating. There were many tourists, almost exclusively people from Salkantay and people from the alternate Jungle Adventure Inca route. We saw a group of gringos coming down a path from the jungle trip, and then straight to the pools. Joe was very quick to leave our group and jump across to the other pool where the girls from the jungle tour was. One of the girls was tall, blonde with huge siliconboobs. She had barely gotten her feet in the pool before Joe honed in on her and turned on the charm. It was not long before Rob was also in place, chatting up her friend. They arranged to meet at the local disco later in the evening, but both Rob and Joe were so drunk that they fell asleep on the couch at the disco. Me and Torunn had a few beers around the fire at our camp site, and then we went to bed tired after a long day. We were, after all, the oldest in the group, which is a slightly depressing thought. The next day we started by walking 3 hours in a valley that took us to a hydropower plant. When we arrived to the checkpoint we found Joe sleeping on a lawn, and our guide, Jorge, sleeping on a bench. Both had a hangover after the party at the disco, and both had hitchhiked to the checkpoint. We had already found out that Jorge was a liar. He claimed that he never drank anything other than water and milk, although we saw him with both beer and liquor the night before. He claimed that he had gone to bed early the night before, even if the others in our group said he was still at the disco when they left at 4 in the morning.
The third lie was that he had done a shortcut…even if we had actually seen him sneak away from our group and into a car at the very beginning of the trek. He was at least nothing like the guide of "Team Awesome" who always walked with the whole group, screamed motivational slogans, and encouraged sing-alongs at all times. We were definitely more like the 'team shabby' or 'team dubious'. After the hydroelectric plant we walked along the train tracks until we got to Aguas Calientes, which is the last town before Macchu Picchu.
It is a very expensive city where virtually all of the locals are living on tourists. The prices for both food and shelter are well over twice as much as the rest of Peru. The morning after was the day that we were finally going to Macchu Picchu, the holy city of the incas. We got up at 4 to meet the rest of the group at 4.20. Since no one was there we decided to just start walking on our own. After all we knew the way, and we needed no guide. At 4.45 we came to the beginning of the mountain we had to climb. There was about 300 other people who were waiting for the guard to open the gate before the actual path to the ruins. They had a pretty idiotic scheme were they did not open the gate until 5, and the first bus leaves at 5.15 from Aguas Calientes. They made it so that the lazy tourists who take the expensive bus to the top of the mountain will arrive before the ones sweating and struggling to get to the top, those who really deserve to arrive to the ruins first. Me and Torunn went straight ahead of the 300 other people who were there as there was no queuing system. We were the first to get on the trail when the guards opened the gate. We were so happy not to have to queue up the narrow path, like the ones behind us had to do. It was still pitch dark outside, but we had headlamps.
We walked quickly up the trail and arrived to the door within 35 minutes, even if they had said it would take an hour. Thanks to our high pace, we actually arrived 5 minutes before the first tourist bus, and 10 minutes before any of the others who had walked. We had to wait at the entrance for 20 minutes before they opened Macchu Picchu. By that time about 500 people had gathered behind us in the queue. When they finally opened we sprinted up to the top of the ruins. The 14th of April 2013 me and Torunn had Macchu Picchu to ourselves for 5 minutes, something that I had never thought that we would be able to do !
The ruins lived up to all expectations, pictures can not describe how cool these ruins are when one actually sits on an Inca staircase and gaze out across the whole place. We have seen many ruins on this journey, but none are as well-kept and majestic as Macchu Picchu. After a while the rest of our group turned up and we got a very quick guided tour with Jorge, who seemed like he was quite happy to get rid of us when he was done. Rob and Joe had a gram of cocaine each that they had decided to take to celebrate that they had arrived to the ruins. They seemed quite sober when we talked to them, so I think they had chosen to save the fun for later in the evening.
Me and Torunn spent 8 hours there, so we got to see the legendary Inca city from every angle imaginable. First we walked up to "the sun gate», then we went to the top of Wayna Picchu, which is the big mountain that lies just north of the ruins. It was actually a lot of work to climb up there, but it was so worth it for the amazing views we got from the top. Luckily we managed to get past all the groups of older people who walked super slow up the staired path. The best lunch ever was when we sat at the absolute highest point on the mountain and enjoyed the view of the fabled Inca city with my feet dangling off the edge. On top of Waynu Picchu were even more ruins, and many steps with grass where they could grow various vegetables. How they managed to carry the stones up there is pretty incomprehensible, the Inca were certainly not lazy people. When we arrived back down to Macchu Picchu we were extremely exhausted, so we slept on the grass with the lamas for an hour, before we started the walk back to Aguas Calientes. We were totally knackered when we returned, this had definitely been the toughest day of the whole trip.
We had some beer and an overpriced meal before we took the tourist train back to Cusco. The locals take another train that runs half an hour earlier and costs 1/5 th of the price. We met Joe, Rob and the British teenagers on the train, and on the bus we had to take after the train. They were in the process of drinking large amounts of rum, and started singing lots of jovial drinking songs and loud discussions which the rest of the people on the bus did not appreciate. The worst part was when they had to pee and decided to stick their dicks out the window of the bus and pee out. Not a good day to drive in the other lane.
Torunn felt pretty bad when we arrived to Cusco, so we decided to drop the party with the rest of the gang. The next day we hardly even bothered leaving the hostel. It was a whole day of just relaxing, no sightseeing whatsoever. In the evening we jumped on a nightbus to Arequipa, a town that is located 10 hours south of Cusco.