Peru on Tour
Our tour officially begins with a briefing in our hotel in Lima in the evening where we get to meet a few of our tour group. The nature of the tour is such that we will pick up new members as we travel along, we are told amongst other things that it’ll be a 4am start - as we eventually find out, the first of many, something about these tour planners I feel like they are morning people.
Day one - The Sacred Valley
We wake early and hop on a bus to the airport bound for Cusco, we had been warned about the altitude, Cusco sits at about 3400m above sea level, to put that in perspective Mt Cook in New Zealand is 2800m. Upon arrival we feel the thin air as soon as we step off the air bridge, you involuntarily do small gasps between breaths just to get a little more oxygen. There are bowls of Cocoa leaves (yes that leaf) laid out on offer that we are told if we chew it will minimise the effects - to me it just tastes like chewing dry grass. I did eventually get a taste for the cocoa tea, which resembles a sort of green tea.
I assumed we’d be landing and checking into our hotel to acclimatize, wrong, this tour is a breakneck pace. We are piled straight into a bus on out on our first days touring. Todays itinerary is exploring the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The first stop is an Alpaca/Llama farm where we learn about the differences, history etc blah blah, but we also got to pat and feed the Llamas which I was far more interested in than the gift shop.
Back on the bus and we trundle down the road for a few photo Ops before making our way to our first ‘Incan Complex’, this was one of the ‘Tambo’ fortresses set up to make it harder for invaders to reach Cusco - Spoiler alert, it didn’t slow down the Spanish. It was here that we really got our first appreciation of the altitude. Even walking on the flat was a struggle and needed to be done slowly, but the fortress was not built on the flat, upward slopes gave way to steep winding steps. One of our group bailed and went back to the bus, another actually fainted, I was standing behind her and was able to catch her as she fell. Feeling pretty ill myself I needed to turn around half way through the ascent and turn back - this turned out to be fortunate as we had actually taken a wrong turn and would have been on that path for over an hour rather than the intended fifteen minutes. On our return to the bus, the driver, be it for his own entertainment or ours had put a pipe flute rendition of ‘take my breath away’ on over the sound system - Touche.
Our next and final destination, Ollantaytambo is another ‘Tambo’ but this one a little more in tact and with a sordid past involving forbidden love when denied resulted in war. Despite being left unfinished on account of the Spanish coming and ruining the Inca party it was a very impressive construction. Exhausted we fell into a sleep coma knowing the next day would be even more taxing.
Day two - Machu Picchu
Day two of our tour (Day two!.. of fifteen!!! I’m exhausted, this is going to kill me), we leave our bags at our hotel and haul ourselves - early of course to the train station to catch our train up the mountain to Machu Picchu - unlike some of our yet to be met tour group, we took the easy option of a nice comfortable train up the mountain rather than hiking the 4 days along the Inca trail. Once we arrive in Machu Picchu town we board buses up the winding path to the Incan complex. Due to the massive numbers of visitors to one of the wonders of the world still standing (circa 5000 people per day during peak season) groups are split into morning and afternoon admissions, we were in the afternoon group but one of the first in for the group. This meant that although busy, it wasn’t overwhelmingly busy. The first view you get as you scale the steps is the quintessential postcard view of the complex. After many photo opportunities our guide proceeded to take us right through the city explaining each part.
The whole experience was about 4 hours - to be honest, prior to visiting this was not my most anticipated stop on the tour, I feel its a box to be ticked but its more of a photo-op rather than a true cultural experience. But after experiencing the grandure and scale of the place, and the fact that it was all for nothing as the place was abandoned and scuttled rather than fall into the hands of the spanish made it a surprisingly interesting and worthwhile experience - I also got some amazing shots for Instagram.
We descend from Machu Picchu back down to the town where we have 4 hours to kill. Di and I decide we are truly deserving of a beverage or two, or three. More drinks are procured for the train ride back, and even more for the bus back to Cusco (I’m a little hazy on how we managed to obtain our luggage). By the time we get into Cusco I am well and truly ready for bed. Di on the other hand is ready to party and somehow manages to convince me to come along. What followed was a blurry night of shots, Pisco and dodgy night clubs ending up at 4am back at the hotel
Day three - Rest at last
I wake to one of the worst hang overs I have had in a number of years (I blame the altitude). Di who may have possibly been more boozed than me is struggles far more - initially my lack of sympathy for overindulgence gives way as it turns out she has managed to contract a bout of Gastro (combined with a hangover and altitude sickness made for a particularly unhappy camper) - possibly from the unsanitary conditions from said dodgy club bathrooms. We take the day very easily but do get out to see Cusco, perhaps one of the most picturesque towns I have visited, I make a note that I should come back some day under better conditions.
Day four - Travel day to Puno
Our first all travel day is the 8 hour bus ride from Cusco to Puno on the banks of lake Titikaka, we were lucky to have a first class double decker bus with toilets and business class equivalent seats - a standard that as it turns our we should not be getting used to. Most of the ride was split between looking after Di and looking out the window at the jaw dropping scenery, spotting Llama’s in the countryside and VW Beatles in the towns (long story).
We arrive into Puno early evening when our guide now feels appropriate to mention that today is one of the biggest parties of the year (Thanks Christian) and there will be fireworks and bands until dawn - as it turns out right next to our hotel window. This is something I would love to hear if I didn’t have a 5am start to start the next days activities. We go out for dinner and manage a few drinks at a bar where we can see the festivities but our heart is not in it after the previous Cusco rampage so we retire relatively early only to lie awake listening to the party going on below.
Day five - Out on the Lake
Yet another early start to head out on Lake Titikaka, we were originally intended to be picked up by Tuktuk drivers but apparently they all partook in the festivities a little too much the night before and we had to use a regular bus. We board our vessel and are greeted by a smiling Ukelele player who plays two quick out of tune songs, then asks for a tip and jumps onto another boat just as we are pulling away.
Our first stop is the Uros people who live on floating islands in the middle of the lake, they have preserved their way of life despite pressures of progress and the draw of the younger men to the main/dry land. Yes they have maintained however it is very much propped up by tourism and the dollars brought in, so it did have a little inauthentic feel about it.
From the floating islands we are told it is a 2 & 1/2 hour boat ride to the island of Taquile where we will hike the island and have lunch. Half way into the journey our boat unexpectedly stops, after about half an hour of tinkering with the engine it is decided that we must abandon ship. As luck would have it another boat (friendly to our boat captain) was in the area and gave us a ride to the island.
The island was beautiful and serene, however it was now that whatever stomach bug had been afflicting Di took hold of me and I progressively felt worse and worse. By the time we left the island a few hours later I needed to lie down for the rest of the afternoon.
Day six - Bolivian bound
A night populated by frequent visits to the bathroom meant that I was dreading the thought of spending the next eight hours on a bus with no access to facilities. I even went as far as to see if there was an airline service between Puno and La Paz (there wasn’t), nothing for it but to medicate and hope for the best. As it turned out the trip was uneventful save for watching our double decker bus precariously float on a small barge (sans passengers thankfully) to reach the bolivian side of the lake.
So it was exhausted, dehydrated and with an explosive constitution that I entered into the Bolivian portion of the trip - This is where things start to get exciting.