Shell & I moved across town to a hostel in Miraflores & went out for a walk in the afternoon, essentially to book a flight for the next day & get all important supplies: wine & cheese. We had a lovely afternoon catching up on the events of the past year.
Isn’t it funny how with some friends, it always feels like it was only yesterday since you saw them last. I love Shell to pieces. We became friends in our last year of uni, so we’ve been friends for more than 20 years now. She’s smart & sassy and super interesting. And she makes me giggle my arse off like a little school kid.
I couldn’t think of anyone I would rather be doing my first multi-day hike with. She’s a total outdoorsy type and has done lots of this sort of thing before. She’s the sort of person who has technical socks in her wardrobe.
And (for the most part) she knows exactly how to manage me with the right balance of genuine encouragement (for those moments when I’m unsure of myself) & gentle mocking (for those moments when I just need a good kick up the arse). I was confident she’d be able to help drag my sorry butt up & down all those big ass hills.
After we knocked off all the wine & cheese – we went out to a hipster Japanese brasserie & celebrated our friendship, our trip, our everything with some very tasty morsels of ceviche, sashimi and the first of many Pisco Sours.
On Thursday, we caught a plane to Cuzco and went to find the Walkon Inn. The LP described it as ‘a short puff up the hill’. At an altitude of 3,400m, it was much more of a big puff up the hill, I’ll tell you that for nothing.
Cuzco was Just. Gorgeous.
It reminded me a lot of Antigua, Guatemala. The big open plaza (which incidentally was the scene of the death of the original Tupac) with its pretty little trees and old wooden benches made way for amorous kissing couples, eager ‘art students’ selling Cuzco School imitations, or people like me having broken conversations with wrinkly old men in faded 3-piece suits.
The grand old cathedral and the beautiful Church of La Compañía corner the square. Touristy tiendas, outdoors equipment stores, and balconied bars take care of the rest. Big old wonky cobblestone streets spider off in all directions, making Cuzco an absolute delight to just get lost in.
We spent a bit of time sorting out our Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. Neither of us knew we needed to make reservations to be one of the 400 they let up daily to Huayna Picchu, which threw a little spanner in the planning. But by the end of the next day, we had booked in a tour for the following week.
We spent a bit of time getting to know Cuzco a bit better. Shell went & saw some of the churches. I just kinda wandered about, spent some time in a cafe, and practiced Spanish on any locals who would afford me the time of day.
Shell took us on a self-guided walking tour of the city & we had a great morning of haggling in the markets for all sorts of mismatching colourful things. (“It goes with your outfit!”) She entertained gorgeous Peruvian kids (who are right up there with Guatemalan kids in terms of Steal Factor) with a wind-up backflipping kangaroo. And we had a cheapo market lunch washed down with our first Inca Kola (tastes just like creaming soda). Soooo good.
We had a few days to kill before our trek so we decided to make our way down to Lake Titicaca – the biggest in all of South America.
On Saturday – we took a very fancy tourist bus down to Puno. It stopped along the way at some historically significant sites: Andahuaylilllas, Raqchi and the Pukara Museum. I’m not sure if I’ve just been travelling too long now but truth be told, I was a little bored.
I think I’m just less into seeing sites and more into having human exchanges. My all-time favourite moments over the last year have been having laughs with locals. Learning a bit about their lives first-hand. Buying something directly off an artisan I’ve shared a box of goon with. Being part of family celebrations. Seeing how someone cooks. Having kids correct my Spanish. Impromptu salsa lessons with Latino men.
Having said that – the tour wasn’t entirely awful. I think I was still a bit tired – one of my personal manifestations of attitude sickness.
That and a loss of appetite. Much to both mine & Michelle’s dismay. It was such a disappointment as we had some truly beautiful meals. We also met some truly lovely people. People who would quite literally cross the road to ask if they could help you.
I had met a few travellers in the past year who had told me that Peru wasn’t all that terrific for food and Peruvians weren’t all that friendly. I really don’t know what Peru they visited because I had a completely different experience.
We got to Puno and I made a phone call to the boss-lady of a family who ran an unusual home-stay, that Shell had read about.
Uros is a group of 50 or so man-made islands constructed of Totora reeds – each one populated with 3 to 5 families. The original inhabitants of the area (who speak Aymara, Quechua and Spanish) built the islands as an escape mechanism from the Conquistadors.
Cristina told me she’d send her son to come collect us from the bus terminal. Shell & I had picked up a lovely young lad from NYC by the name of Jeff & he decided to come along for the ride. We didn’t really know what we getting ourselves into, so it was a bit of blind faith on his part. Turns out, he made the right decision.
Khantati island was one of the highlights of my whole year. It was a bit pricey for a night’s accomm & 3 meals for 165 sols (USD$60). When you can get a room for $7 and a meal for $3 soles. But it was one of those experiences you end up calling ‘priceless’.
The sun had set by the time we got to the water’s edge for our slow motor boat ride to the family’s home. Landing on the island, my feet sank squishily into the reed ground. It was like walking on a foam mattress.
We were greeted by Cristina, who was all decked out in traditional clothing – she was wearing a brown bowler hat which covered her waist-length braids which had pom-poms tied to the bottom of them. She was also wearing a brightly coloured bolero style jacket and a big big skirt with lots of pleats around her generous waistline which made it look, well, even more generous. She was also wearing a massively cheeky grin.
She introduced us to some of her other family members & then showed us our rooms. They were so coooote! Two beds sighing under the weight of masses of brightly coloured blankets.
Not long after, we were sitting on the dining room floor wrapped up in those same brightly coloured blankets, warming ourselves with cocoa leaf tea, waiting for our dinner. The whole meal was divine but the soup was amazing. Soups are a bit of a specialty of Peruvians. Note to self: Must procure a Peruvian cookbook when I get home.
It was freezing cold & there wasn’t much (in fact absolutely nothing) to do on the island, so after a sweet lil exchange of songs with some of Cristina’s family members (get this: they knew Waltzing Matilda!) – we got an early night.
The next morning, the son took us out on a ‘fishing’ trip of sorts. More of a lazy boat ride in a reed canoe in the morning sun with a bit of net chucking. Total catch equated to two tiny fish that were going to be cooked up for the cat. It was a nice way to pass the time.
When we got back he gave us a history lesson on the area & the people. I was surprised to learn that the Uros pre-date the Incans. They had once been on the verge of disappearance but are now thriving on tourism and the sales of their textiles.
I was also interested to learn how they more or less knit these islands together by hand. The islands decompose from the bottom up and so the Uros keep adding layer upon layer. Family disputes are apparently resolved by chopping the island in half and the two parties going their separate ways! That’s one way to do it, I suppose.
After lunch, Shell & i said goodbye to Jeff and made our way to the peninsula of Llachon. It wasn’t far but on the way, I was really struck by how geographically diverse Peru was. It really is a very striking country.
After a knees-up-around-your-ears kind of bus ride, we ambled around the lil village knocking on doors to see if anyone knew of anywhere we could stay the night.
Word must have gotten around – as before you knew it we were being led by a little girl and her younger sister down a dirt road to their father’s house.
The views of the Lake from Magno’s home were in a word – spectacular. We were shown to a tiny little guesthouse with a cold shower (brrr!) bathroom, where we dumped our bags and did a little ‘We’re in Peruuuuuu!’ dance.
Within moments we were surrounded by the Quechua couple’s tribe of gorgeous lil kids & their cousins – with their tassle-eared beanies, rosy cheeks and snotty noses. They wanted to play volleyball with Shell (apparently the national women’s team is a force to be reckoned with) and play horseys on me. I get all the good jobs.
We had a couple of long necks and watched the sun go down. Later we were treated to yet another beautiful meal (again with the amazing soups!) and had yet another early night.
Next morning we went for a walk up to the mirador – the highest point on the peninsula to get a better idea of the sheer scale of the lake. It’s so big, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re looking out at the ocean.
The next day we sadly farewelled the lovely family & caught the long bus back to Cuzco which took forever. We got in late that night.
The day after, we got organised for our trip and in the afternoon we visited Sacsayhuamán (pronounced more or less, Sexy Woman) – which is the former capital of the Incan empire.
“The stones used in the construction of these terraces are among the largest used in any building in pre-hispanic America and display a precision of fitting that is unmatched in the Americas. The stones are so closely spaced that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones.”
The largest limestone block is estimated to be anywhere from 128 tonnes – 200 tonnes in weight. Freaking heavy in other words. It’s quite mind boggling when you start thinking about how these people built such a place without the technologies of today.
It certainly got Shell & I a tad excited about what was to come at Machu Picchu. At 7pm, we had our briefing for the trek which was *interesting* to say the least.
And afterwards we met up with another Michel (you can never have too many) for drinks & dinner. We had met the charming silver-haired surfer at breakfast and bumped into him again up at the ruins. We invited him to join us for dinner.
We were all keen to try Cuy – a Peruvian specialty. Cuy is actually guinea pig & they serve those little buggers whole. It’s most disconcerting to see their little faces and feet. When you can get past that – they’re actually very tasty. Just don’t tell the kids.
We had another drink after dinner before heading back to the hostel to finish packing for our trek. It was a stupid early start the next day, so we were keen to get at least a few hours of shut-eye beforehand.
PS: Am home now but have a few more posts to publish before I wrap this baby up.