Thursday, February 14, 2008

A long way from Arequipa

Man covered in shoelaces trying to sell them in Arequipa.

Faz, Katharina, Chris, me, Mairead, Greg and Marty in Bothy Hostel.

Restaurant in Arequipa

Spanish speaking bird in Aguas Caliente.

4am on the way to Machupicchu.

Well, there is a lot to say in this post seeing as we have been in at least 4 different places since the last time I wrote.

We took a really cheap bus to Cusco which was not such a good idea. It´s 10(ish) hours from Arequipa to Cusco and being an overnight bus I really wanted to sleep. Unfortunately there was no leg room and the windows didn´t close properly and at midnight, 3000 metres up, it is not warm. So I think all of us (Katharina, Chris, Marty, Greg and I) each got about an hours sleep and arrived in Cusco at 6 or 7am.

We got ourselves a hotel really cheaply from a woman at the bus station and lugged all our stuff back there and then headed out to book tickets to Aguas Calientes and Machupicchu (I keep finding new ways to spell these places. Machupicchu is right and Cusco is without a z). I was wrong before when I said that Ollaytantambo was the last stop before Machupicchu (which shall lovingly be known as MP from now on in this post), it is actually Aguas Caliente. So we booked a train for 6.50 the next morning.

We got some breakfast (which we think made Chris, Katharina and I sick) and wandered around for a bit. Having had no sleep though I was a tad grumpy so went home for a very early siesta.

That night we went out for a few drinks to Mama Africa but the dodgy food kicked in for me and I went home. I have been such a piker this trip. Stupid sickness.

So, the next morning I was feeling fine and we all wandered down to the train station and began our journey through the valleys of the Andes towards MP.

The train takes 4 hours (and is pretty expensive) to get to Aguas Calientes but the view is beautiful. A lot of farmland and enormous mountains and the Urubamba river following the train for a lot of the way. When we first left Cusco the train goes backwards and forwards up the first hill and then the same on the way down. It is quite bizarre. Rather than turning corners they just reverse onto the next bit of track. Chris and Katharina were really unwell on the trip. No fun being sick and travelling.

Anyway, we arrived in Aguas Calientes which was described in the Lonely Planet as the ugliest and most expensive town in South America so our expectations weren´t high. But once we got there and got ourselves a hostel we went for a wander (Chris and Katharina still weren´t well so stayed at the hostel) and it´s really not that bad. It´s tiny and it is very expensive because everyone who goes to MP has to go through there so they can get away with the extortionate prices but it´s quite amazing because on all sides of the town (it´s really just 3 streets going up a hill and a train station and lots of restaurants) there are looming, vertical cliffs. It looks as though it is completely enclosed. It´s quite a daunting feeling being that encapsulated in the Andes.

The restaurant staff are relentless. They will see you sitting down and eating at the restaurant next door and as soon as you leave they yell, "Pizza? Pizza? Come and eat here! Just a drink!?" and it goes on as you pss every restaurant. It´s crazy. Or they hear you say, "No, thanks, I´ve eaten" at one place and the next people will still ask. Crazy. It would drive me insane after more than a few days. Someone said you need a t-shirt with¨"No, gracias" on it for Cusco. The same goes for Aguas Calientes but I think it would need to be a big flashing neon light.

We booked our ticket for MP and decided that the best (well, the most rewarding/exciting) option would be to get up at 4am and walk from the town to the ruins. Marty had done this last time and said that it wasn´t that difficut and it was only about an hour. An hour up rugged stairs. Chris and Katha decided to get the bus at 5.30 and meet us up there if they were feeling better that morning.

Up we got at 4am and got all our stuff ready. Off we tottered in the pitch blackness on the road beside the Urubamba. We got to the entrance, showed our tickets and were let loose upon the hill. The staris are just rocks most of the way. Not stairs like I had imagined and it was really tough going. Marty and Greg being insanely fit and healthy seemed to be OK but I struggled. It just seemed like an endless uphill battle. But halfway up we stopped and admired the emerging light over the cloud filled valleys and that was amazing.

We finally got to the top just before 6am. and there were a few people around. The actual ruins didn´t open til 6 so we sat for a few minutes to catch our breath. The whole hill was covered in mist giving the impression that the ground wasn´t very far below. We started walking around a bit and we decided to walk up Waynapicchu, the big hill at the far end of all the famous photos of MP. The sign at the entrance said the walk was only for the fit and healthy... my heart dropped. But I hadn´t gone all that way to wimp out. So we started up the next mountain. That walk was even rougher than the walk from Aguas so by the time we reached the top (another hour later) I was ready to cry. By it was well worth the pain (that pain is still lingering in my calves 4 days later!).

It was still cloudy when we got to the top but while we were sitting up there MP emerged from the mist and it was one of the most amazing things I´ve ever seen. There are no rails or barriers anywhere at the site and Waynapicchu is 2,634m up. The contructions (god knows how they built them) literally just fall away to nothing. 634m straight down to the river. Nothing to break your fall.

The climb back down is almost as difficult as the one up and slightly more scary as you can see the nothingness below. We walked around for about 6 hours altogether and by the end of it we were knackered. The last part of the trip we went to the Inca Bridge which we weren´t planning to do but I´m so glad we did. It´s spectacular. A tiny narrow track that loks like it´s glued the the side of an emormous vertical cliff face. I can´t believe they used it as a regular track. They must have lost a lot of people to the Urubamba below!

To be brief, it was beyond words. The perfect construction of all the buildings at the site is just unbelievable. I keep imagining the first Inca to have arrived there and upon reaching the top (of MP let alone Waynapicchu) saying, "Right guys, this looks like a good spot. Go and grab those enormous stones and start building temples". Mind blowing.

Marty, Greg and I couldn´t face walking back down from MP so we got a bus and all instantly fell asleep (it´s only 10 mins to Aguas). Katha and Chris walked down because they hadn´t walked up and we all regouped in Aguas and boarded the train back to Cusco.

I slept for some of the trip but towards the end, on the way down the hill to Cusco doing the backwards/forwards thing again, I joined a converstaion that Marty and Greg and an Australian with a very large camera had started with a very interesting American living in Costa Rica. He was talking about his work as a psychiatrist and the problems with drugs and the laws surrounding them.

We got back to Cusco and had some food before heading back to the same hotel. We all passed out I think we were so exhausted from the day´s hike. And all very smelly as well. A shower was a pleasant relief!

The next day we booked a bus to Lima (a comfy one this time!) for that night. We wandered around the city a bit more and took some photos. It started raining so we holed up in a funny little cafe full of kids´toys and had a bit of food before the 18 hour bus ride. Kath and Chris had left for Puno that morning so we had bid our farewells and swapped contacts etc. It had been really good travelling with them.

Although the bus was comfy, the road most definitely was not. I didn´t sleep much on that bus either. Most of the road was unpaved and it went from 3300m at Cuso up to 4300m and then down to sea level. My ears were quite sore and it sounded ike I was talking underwater by the time we arrived in Nasca. We didn´t stop there as we decided it was better to spend an extra day in Puerto Huarmey where Marty spent 5 months on his last trip over here. We drove straight over one of the Nasca Lines and the English couple, Faz and Mairead had emailed and said it was spectacular but also one of the most terrifying trips they´ve ever been on. So we gave it a miss.

Now we´re in Lima and are staying with Jordana and her mum. We caught up with Faz and Mairead briefly last night and had a few beers and some food with them but they were heading to Cusco today so it was fairly short lived.

I have now been in this internet cafe for 3 hours and I think I should leave. My back is sore and I´m a bit peckish. But that is a ´brief´ rundown of what we´ve been up to for the past week. It has been an exciting one!

Hope everyone is well. I can´t believe I only have about 12 days before I head back to NZ. The time has gone so fast!

See you all soon,

Kerry x

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