20.05.2019 - 01.06.2019 20 °C
My first few days in Peru were pretty uneventful. Lima is a heavily populated capital city and there isn't a whole lot to do. There appears to be a problem with air pollution and even though I spent a week in total here I never managed to catch a glimpse of blue in the sky. After the long flight from Tokyo I was content to do some badly needed laundry, sleep in and gorge myself on 'laptop tv' knowing that my 18 day tour with Intrepid Travel was going to be action packed. This was my first time travelling with Intrepid and I was looking forward to experiencing group travel and distracting myself from thinking too much about the fact that Alberto was no longer with me. Given that we're moving back to Dublin rather than Spain it was only right that he should spend this time with his family. This was my third genuine attempt to visit South America... the first time I backpacked I ran out of money and the second time a job came up in Sydney cutting our previous travels short so it's been a case of third time's a charm.
Friday 24th was the first day of the trip. There were 12 of us in total, an ideal number with an eclectic mix of personalities, ages and nationalities. It didn't take long for us to bond and before we knew it we felt like a family on the road. It's true what they say, every stranger is just a friend you haven't yet met. The group was predominantly Aussie and Kiwi... these very familiar accents were a welcome reminder of my former home. Our guide Cris is Peruvian and it was great to spend time with a native with so much local and national knowledge. In the first few days I contracted a serious dose of food poisoning but she was wonderful in arranging a doctor to visit and ensuring I was looked after. We travelled on every major mode of transport you can think of and Cris took care of everything so it was a welcome change being able to set back and literally enjoy the ride.
After our welcome meeting and introductions we took a taxi to the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco. Photographs were mostly prohibited but this is one of the best religious attractions I have ever visited. I must admit I'm not a fan of religion but from a historical point of view it was fascinating to almost travel back in time to the 18th century exploring its church, convent and a library that wouldn't be out of place in Hogwarts' school of wizardry. The catacombs underneath were pretty spooky and we were allowed to capture some of it which you'll see below. I've never seen so many skeleton pieces and bones anywhere else.
Afterwards we were taken on a walking tour around some of the city and it was a good chance to observe some of Lima's best architecture.
The next morning we had an early start for our flight to Cusco. I was happy to be leaving Lima and looking forward to experiencing the 'real Peru', at least from a tourism perspective. We were told by Cris that the weather here is far better and we certainly weren't disappointed. Despite being almost winter it was hot outside of the shade and on recommendation I purchased my first ever bottle of factor 100 (!) given our high altitude of 3,450m and intensity of the sun. Alex H. if you're reading this you'd be proud. We spent our afternoon walking on foot and paid a visit to a chocolate museum where we had the chance to sample some of Peru's finest which was delicious.
On Sunday we took a coach through the Sacred Valley on the outskirts of Cusco. This lush valley was known as Wilcamayo to the Incas and has long been the main source of food for the high Andes. We visited a small community in the valley to learn about their lifestyle. It also involved the whole group dressing up in traditional clothing... how authentic do we look?!
Later that afternoon we boarded a train to Aguas Caliantes and its scenery on the way was just beautiful and reminiscent of Jurassic Park. Aguas Caliantes is nestled in a cloud forest at the foot of Machu Picchu and from there we made the short trip early the following morning. Machu Picchu is best known as one of the 'New Seven Wonders of the World'. Spectacular just about does Machu Picchu justice and I couldn't have been more excited to visit it in person. Built in the 15th century the 'lost city of the Incas' is the best known site of the Inca civilization and was abandoned a century later at the time of the Spanish conquest.
Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its three primary structures are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. Most of the outlying buildings have been reconstructed in order to give tourists a better idea of how they originally appeared.
After the buzz of Peru's star attraction we had a change of pace the day after with a free day to ourselves. Most of the group took on additional sightseeing but myself and Omar from the group decided to spend the day with the Peruvian Shamans where we took part in a number of spiritual rituals including an Ayahuasca Ceremony. For those of you that know me, ask me again in person and I'll tell you all about it. It's a difficult one to explain in writing but suffice to say it was a fascinating journey of self-reflection and gratitude for everyone I have in my life. For me the opportunity to experience this ancient Peruvian tradition was too good to miss but I'll caution it's not for everyone and thorough research is strongly advised.
Our next stop was Puno. The highlight was without a doubt the evening with a dinner and dancing show followed a trip to the local bar and several hours of karaoke. Well of course! I also tried some Guinea Pig. It was not good. Our penultimate day was spent on Lake Titicaca. We were collected from our hotels on a rickshaw before we took a tour of the lake by motor boat.
From here we were able to visit the Uros floating islands. Using the versatile totora reeds found in the shallows of the lake, the Uros originally built their islands to isolate themselves from rival tribes. Their live their lives in a completely different way to us so it was really interesting to learn about their lifestyle from how they build their islands and boats to food and relationships.
That night we took part in a homestay with a rural Peruvian community nearby. We were split up into different groups and met by our 'Mama' on arrival.
The accommodation was basic as expected but I had my own room and that day we helped Mama by moving bricks and picking vegetables. That evening we met up at the community leader's home for a few games of volleyball followed by dinner which we helped to prepare. After a couple of rounds of the card game 'Shithead' featuring 14 players (!) it was time for bed.
The temperature drops quite significantly at this altitude but thanks to a combination of leftover Diamox from Nepal and perhaps my recent trekking experience breathing was generally fine. You could definitely notice the difference in oxygen in the air and any physical activity required a lot more effort. The next morning we had a 6.30am start to help Mama prepare breakfast and wash up after.
I really enjoyed the homestay and love the fact that Intrepid Travel partner with rural communities and allow us to give back. On our final day in Peru we visited an ancient burial ground which was also used by the Incans and the area offered breathtaking landscape views.
Most of our group would soon be heading back to their home countries so that evening we got together for the final few hours. We had fun at the local casino enjoying black jack and the free drinks on offer. Peru has been the surprise package of the last ten weeks and I look forward to visiting again with Alberto and hopefully taking part in the Inca trail hike. The Peruvians are simply wonderful people and I couldn't have asked for a better group of strangers (now friends) to travel with. I'm onto the final lap now and next up is Argentina. Hasta luego amigos.