Peru and South America as a whole was not 100% what I envisioned, but not in a bad way.
People are generally friendly and a lot of them don’t speak English, which means we’ve had to use a little Spanish which is good.
The cities are dusty and we’ve both developed a cough (chill out Mum and Nisha, it’s nothing serious!). The soles of my feet cracked in Arequipa and Tuls hands look like “old ladies hands”. They’re also mostly layed out in the same way thanks to the Spanish which can sometimes make them look very similar, but the grid system also makes them easy to navigate.
My favourite so far has probably been Cuzco because it seems to have kept its historical importance and character in tact (in the centre at least), as appose to Puno which you would only ever visit for the floating islands (which themselves are quite a tourist trap). Tul’s favourite (and a close second for me) has been Arequipa, mainly for its climate, but also because of the monastery there. The hostel we stayed in was also nice and the owner was amazing.
There are dogs everywhere in Peru which on the whole look dirty but healthy and happy. It seems to be a dog loving place, which I like.
Cost of living is slightly more than we expected but we’ve learnt to live very cheaply. The price of a Snickers is on average about 8 or 10 times more expensive (about £1) than a non-imported chocolate bar. The food here is not great. Lots of alpaca and other meats, and lots of carbs (potatoes, rice, etc). You can find nice street food (empanadas especially) none of which have made us sick (yet!). ‘Menu completo’s’ which are usually a huge bowl of soup with veg and the main course with rice and chips can be found in markets for about 3.50 soles (less than £1). Peru is very proud of it’s many varieties of potatoes and the chips are delicious.
Time slips away from you as the days are hot but the sun goes down early and quickly. If there’s mountain near by which it can hide behind you can notice the sun go down almost in seconds. The nights are cold and if you get caught out at sunset with no warm clothes on it can be an uncomfortable walk home.
People are out to make money everywhere but it’s quite easy after a while to say no. Most of the buskers you see in restaurants (and anywhere else you can think of) assume tourists want to hear pan pipe versions of Hey Jude and Lady Madonna (haven’t heard any Stones versions yet unfortunately).
Standard of living seems to drop drastically when you’re out of city centres and beggars are in every town and city. Shoe shiners are very common and sometimes use the shine box to start a conversation and then ask for money. We made a rule not to give to beggars, but both of us have caved once or twice as it’s sometimes too difficult to say no because some people here are clearly struggling.
The kids are cute and seem quite happy, confident and often boisterous.
The buses are very varied in levels of comfort and expense, but the drivers are invariably mental.
All in all I think we will both think very fondly of Peru. Highlights would have to be the Amazon trip and of course the Inca trail. Also, Cusquena malta is our new favourite beer :)
What was meant to be a 10hr bus journey turned into 17hrs due to a mud slide on the road, plus we were both dubious about going to the jungle at all (mainly because of spiders and snakes), but once we set off up the river in the long boat towards the lodges we were both excited.
The jungle lodges were awesome. I’d never seen anything like them (thy were a bit like massive tree houses) and they reminded Tul of the ones she stayed at in Kenya on safari. The rooms were all sealed off from the inside with mosquito nets which meant we were safe at night (except for the bats apparently sleeping in our porch and the rest of the sounds from the jungle around us). In the lodges gardens we also saw a tarantula in one of the palm trees each night, plus there were always toucans and macaws (one of which took a shine to Tul) around the place.
Was a nice break after the Inca trail (our longest trek through the jungle was a few hours max), and relaxing by the pool and chilling in the hammocks felt amazing.
We were shown around the jungle close to us and taught how all the different plants can be used for medicine and cooking and ate termites which tasted like bark.
We visited Monkey Island which does exactly what it says on the tin. We went on night safari to see caiman and an early morning jaunt to view wild parrots feed on clay which provides essential minerals for their digestion.
What took us both most by surprise though was a small boat trip on lake Sandovale. This place felt like being on a cloud. We were lucky enough to see a family of giant otters pop their heads out of the water around our boat before disappearing and reappearing on the other side of the lake. We also saw a spider monkey which the tour guide tempted out of the jungle with a banana (so much so that I thought it was going to jump into the boat). And then from being blistering hot sunshine we could hear the rain storm getting closer before we were in the middle of it. Still on the other side of the lake you could see the sun shining, while we were getting drenched, it felt incredible. We also saw the head of a 4 metre long caimen sticking out of the water.
We were sad to leave the jungle behind and both wished we’d stayed longer, but maybe we’ll see what Bolivia has to offer in the way of Amazon jungle…
Panoramic view from the floating islands in Peru.
We came to Arequipa only as a means to get out to do a 3 day trek of the Cola Canyon but we’ve fallen in love and have ended up staying for an extra week.
Known as the ‘White City’ because of the white sillar stone in which most of the buildings have been built, Arequipa could be my favourite city in Peru. There’s a very relaxed and tranquil feel here (unlike in Lima and Cusco) and with lots going on back at home it’s been a great place to reflect on everything.
Out hostel has a great little roof terrace which is higher than any of the other buildings around us so we’ve been able to enjoy some breathtaking and dramatic views of the city and its dozen churches! We’re also surrounded by amazing snowcapped mountains and El Misti, a dormant volcano, which seem to glow each evening as the sun sets. There are some lovely little secret courtyards dotted all over the city which are hiding in between the streets and buildings. They’re so quaint – as is the impressive, working Monasterio de Santa Catalina – and both give Arequipa a European feel to it.
The canyon itself was tough (not sure why I suggested it to Sam so soon after the Inca trail!!) but it was an amazing experience and we had the chance to stay at a homestay in a little village in the Colca valley. We’ve put some pictures up of our little mud hut which was quite an experience – particularly once I’d spotted a little scorpion that was sheltering in with us for the night…
The weather here is hot which is a welcome change from Cusco and we’ve been basking in the sunshine at every opportunity because we’re off to Bolivia in a week which will be highs of 10 and lows of -4…
Now though – with our limbs rested, our skin tanned and Sam’s mohican in place (video of my butchering skills to follow soon) – we’re off to Lake Titicaca tomorrow in search of the floating islands…
One of our luxuries have been the laundry service that every hostel offers here in Peru. You can drop off your washing in the morning and for £1 a kilo, everything is returned to your room that same afternoon – washed and smelling of roses! What’s more it comes vacuum packed so it’s perfect for when you’re trying to cram everything back into your backpack for the next place. Sam thinks I’m crazy at how excited I get whenever I see the beautiful compact parcel of clothes waiting for us in the evenings but just look…
There’s a mud slide on the road and our 10hr bus journey has been stationary for almost 5hrs.
We’re about 2.5 hours out of Puerto Maldonado in the middle of the Amazon and despite it being the dry season it is bucketing down. We were meant to be meeting our Amazon tour guide over 3 hours ago to take us for a welcome cocktail in our Amazonian lodge.
We’ve adopted a saying from our Inca tour guide though – “such is the adventure”. We’ve been in good spirits since the bus stopped and have a deck of cards, music and our Kindles.
However, we haven’t eaten in over 12hrs and I’m pretty sure I’m going to need the loo soon and the toilets are rank.
Let’s hope our mood keeps up.
Things I like about Tul:
1. She’s insisting on calling our trip our ‘honey sunny’ as its happening before the wedding as opposed to after it.
2. Last week she asked a Spanish speaking Peruvian tour operator “Hablas Espaniol?”.
3. She’s putting up with the smell of my feet on this bus in which we’ve now been stationary for 6.5hrs.
Things I don’t like about Tul:
1. I haven’t beaten her at cards since last week.
One week in and we’re already getting stuck in! The inca trail pilgrimage in search of Machu Picchu was our first adventure (and my own personal challenge).
We set off by bus at 5am from Cusco, and having already battled with altitude sickness the two days prior, the early start was tough and did nothing to settle my nausea.
We began the trek by about 9am by which point my nerves had turned into excitement and I was ready for the challenge ahead – 45km trek in the brown Andes and Amazon jungle.
The first day if the trail is described as ‘easy’, the second as ‘a challenge’, the third as ‘unforgettable’ and the fourth as ‘unique’. For me however, I found the first day the toughest both mentally and physically! I was definitely out of my comfort zone and the prospect of 3 more days of inca steps was not something I had prepared myself for. The excitement I had quickly turned into fear and I began questioning why hadn’t we just got the train up?!
It was the amazing breath-taking views of the snow capped mountains and Rio de Urubamba that kept me going. And of course Sam’s patience and encouragement. After my first day of moaning and being a general grump, the second day was much more bearable and fun – despite the 1000m climb to Dead Woman’s pass! Sam kindly walked at my snail’s pace (despite him being able to go four times my speed!) and bit by bit we conquered the trail. I am grateful to our guide Isaac who stayed back with me and made sure I was ok! He was a character and always full of positive energy. We learnt a lot from him about the Incas, Pachamama (mother earth) and coca leaves.
Day three was the best day all round. It was a tough 16km trek but it offered us the most incredible views of the Amazon and the mountain vistas that surrounded us. We were quite literally in the clouds and feeling jubilant!
Our group was great. There were 8 of us- Erin & Michelle (the girls from Calgary), Simon & Kendi (the boys from New York) and Andy & Naomi (the couple from Southampton). We bonded very quickly – we couldn’t stop discussing how horrendous the toilets were. Like people talk about the weather, we talked about toilets – at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was an obsession and in a way more of a conquest overcoming them than the Inca Trail itself! I still shudder writing this…
The site of Machu Picchu from Intipunku (the sun gate) on day 4 at 7am was magic. It was one of the most amazing and breathtaking views I’ve seen and you quickly realise how worth the previous 3 days are just to see the lost city highlighted by the sun’s rays, emerging from the morning’s marshmallow clouds.
We did it!
And that’s the main thing. At the end of day one, due to our tour guide giving us “an extra hour” of hiking, Tul was struggling and neither of us were sure if we’d be able to carry on the next day.
In the morning though, once we were above the forest and dead woman’s pass (the highest point of the trail) was in sight, it was obvious we were both going to manage the entire trek and I’m really proud of her for persevering with it because I could see how difficult she was finding it (she wouldn’t even let me carry her day pack).
Day 3 was incredible and we could both see the hard work paid off. The Brown Andes turned into the Green Andes and most of the day was spent in the high Amazon jungle walking a path of about a metre wide often with a shear cliff face on one side. It was also the first day that the whole group managed to keep together. I also developed a taste for coca leaves which was keeping my energy levels up.
We were lucky to have a great group of people. 1 other couple (Andy and Naomi), 2 lads from New York (Simon and Kendi) and 2 girls from Canada (Erin and Michelle, who were hilarious and left us a note and some goodies for us in Aguas Calientes).
In the evenings we played the card game ‘shithead’, but when our guide played with us he insisted on calling it ‘Chilean head’ (very PC).
Day 4 was a short 5k hike up to the Sun Gate where we saw Machu Picchu for the first time which was awesome. When we arrived in Machu Picchu we had a 2 hour tour which after everything else was actually quite tiring, but it was amazing just to be there.
Day 5, Tul was my wingman for Huanya Picchu, the small mountain overlooking Machu Picchu. She negotiated our bus tickets in Spanish, made sure I was at the foot of the mountain in time for my ticketed time slot and was there to meet me when I’d finished. If she’d have been with me she could have made sure I didn’t take a wrong turn at the first junction on the mountain but I don’t suppose I can blame her for that. I did it in good time, climbing it in 35mins and coming down in less than 20.
We were sorry to leave Machu Picchu but both felt good coming back into Cuzco as I think we both now have a soft spot for it. The heavy Peruvian food is starting to get a bit much now though.
The Inca trail was everything I hoped for and I’m really glad we both made it. However, I think Tul might use the fact that we successfully completed it as a reason to celebrate for the next week…
The company we booked through is www.sastravelperu.com and is not the cheapest around but would recommend them for the Inca trail and/or the Amazon expedition in Corto Maltes lodges.