Travel Mumblings

June 18, 2008

Nazca, Arequipa & Puno

Filed under: peru — Tags: , , , , — paulparkie @ 13:18

We ‘ummed’ and ‘aahed’ about taking the huge diversion to Nazca for quite a while. The only thing of note to see there were the lines in the desert. The Nazca lines are a bunch of geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert, a high arid plateau that stretches more than 80 km. They are largely believed to have been created by the Nazca culture between 200 BCE and 700 CE. There are hundreds of individual figures, ranging in complexity from simple lines to stylized hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks or orcas, llamas, and lizards. Admittedly they do look pretty cool, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else in the world where there were big-ass drawings in the sand… so be decided to go check them out.

june-24-paul-29The bus journey was mammoth and we decided to take the overnight bus to arrive at 6am the next day. The bus depot on arrival was manic. Touts trying to sell tours were all locked behind a gate shouting and gesticulating to us, trying to sell us their tour. It was actually completely intimidating, so Jayde and I pretending to ‘sort out our packs’ until they;d calmed down and dispersed a little. When we eventually left, a guy approached us and said he’d arrange a flight and accommodation for us. We were pretty tired from the bus ride, but he was pretty adamant that we go see the lines that morning.

We ended up just dumping our bags at the hostel and heading straight out to the airstrip. We got there about 7am. Still no sleep, or breakfast for that matter! Apparently we had to wait for the sun to burn of the early-morning haze. After an excruciatingly long wait, we finally took off in a 3 seater plane around 12 midday. The guy in front of me was sick almost straight away. Brilliant. We did get thrown around a lot being such a small craft, and we banked round each geoglyph twice, so I spent half my time just starring at the horizon trying to keep my stomach where it should be.

The ‘lines’ were pretty impressive, but to be honest, they weren’t worth the extra 700 miles we’d added onto to our trip to get here. The plane ride didn’t really offer up anything that we hadn’t already seen from pictures on the internet or in books. We were quite disappointed. We had planned on staying a couple of days in Nazi, but it really was lacking for anything else worth seeing. There was some kind of mummy museum this guy tried selling us tickets for, but it was an hours drive, and the thought of any more travel didn’t sit well with us. We made plans to leave the next day for Arequipa.

Arequipa is famous for it’s canyon, which is reputably deeper than the Grand Canyon. We were quite excited to get there and do some more trekking. However, after trailing around a bunch of trekking agencies it soon became clear that the Colca Canyon that Arequipa is ‘famous’ for is actually a further 100 miles (4.5 hour) bus ride away! Huh. So, after a quick lunch and chat about our plans, we decided our time could be better spent in Bolivia. Arequipa did have a  great Plaza de Armas though and we spent a nice afternoon just wandering the old city and not traveling! We made plans to leave the next day to Puno.

june-24-paul-76Puno sits on the North-Western shores of Lake Titicaca. It sits 3,812 m above sea level making it one of the highest commercially navigable lakes in the world. By volume of water it is also the largest lake in South America. So, it’s big. The town of Puno is slightly more Westernized than anywhere we’d been in a while… we even managed to have a beer in a bar and watch the football! In the morning we visited the floating islands which were pretty special. They’re basically just islands made from reeds. Pretty cool really. They showed us how they made them, and sang us a few songs and made us some bread. Apparently, each island (about 42 altogether) is a family group, and if they have any disagreements, then they just cut the island in half, and float away to find new moorings! Easy life hey?

june-24-paul-79We then took the boat 35km East to Taquille Island which seemed to take forever It’s narrow and long and was used as a prison during the Spanish Colony and into the 20th century, but now it’s just home to about 3000 Tackle people, who from what I can gather are governed by their own rules… and slightly communist ones at that! All the little eateries have to serve the same food on the same day and charge the same price, so that there’s no competition. And apparently (if I understood correctly), the different hats that each person wears is a sign of their ‘readiness to mate’… haha …. well at least, whether they’re married, single and desperate, single and happy etc. Strange, but I guess it saves the small talk! “Wow, hey… I see by your hat that you’re single and desperate! No way… me too!”

It was a pretty island though. We hiked from one side to the other and were collected by the boat for our return to Puno. The sunset was amazing. Like seriously one of the most amazing I’ve ever seen! We spent a couple of days in Puno, and it being our last stop in Peru, treated ourselves to a ‘posh meal’ on our last night, which I don’t think cost anymore than $5 each, including wine!

June 13, 2008

Cusco & Machu Picchu

Filed under: peru — Tags: , , , , — paulparkie @ 16:57

From Huaraz, we took the easier, less stressful bus journey to Lima. Rather than spend half a night in a hostel, we decided to just head straight for the airport and ‘sleep’ (pah) there until our flight at 05:40. Lima isn’t a nice city. It’s loud and noisy and smelly, though I guess you could say that about most big cities! It was strange being in the airport. We saw things we had grown unaccustomed to, like Burger King and Pizza Hut… it was all a very Westernised affair, which by no means is a good thing, but it did make killing the 8 hours until our flight easier!

Cusco is a beautiful city. It’s just a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets lined with proud, old buildings, and the Plaza de Armas was one of the most impressive we’ve seen. We just spent the day getting lost really, exploring all the quieter back streets and markets. The amount of street sellers here selling the usual tat and trinkets was amazing… I almost lost it a couple of times with them constantly skulking round me. We had a early start the next day for our Inca Trail trek, so we just grabbed a few last-minute supplies before dinner. I’d seen ‘cuy’ on the menu in lots of places, but it was always surprisingly expensive, for what essentially is guinea pig… you can pick them up in a pet shop back home for a couple of pounds! Anyhow, we’d been recommended a restaurant in Cusco, so decided to plump for a cuy pate… which  was actually awesome. Not sure I could eat it back home, (I can just imagine the conversation in the pet shop… “Do you want this wrapped, or is it to eat now?” ha), but I’ll definitely be eating it again out here!

june-12-paul-013We left early on the next morning and were taken on the bus to Ollantaytambo, where we left on foot up the Sacred Valley. Leaving km 82, as it’s called, where we had to pass through ‘Passport Control’! I kid you not. It’s gone mentally tourist orientated in some places… where else, apart from entering a country do you need to get you r passport stamped? Anyhow, we crossed and climbed away from the Vilcanota River, we passed many ruins and had amazing views down the Urubamba valley. After about a 10km we arrived at Wayllabamba (3,000m). The name in Quechua means ‘grassy plain’.  We camped here for our first night.

The second day (apparently the most difficult), we hiked through steepening woods and increasingly spectacular terrain that brought us to the treeline and a meadow known as Llulluchapampa (3,680m). From there it was a 1½ hour climb to the first and highest pass of the trail (Abra de Huarmihuañusca or ‘Dead Woman’s Pass) at 4,200m. We sat at the top for a while watching other hikers sweating up the trail as the mentalist porters flew past them carrying loads as big as them! I shared my sherbert lemons with the porters. Keep in their good books! ha. Then it was a slog down the other side to Pacamayo (3,600m), where we camped.

On day three, the scenery changed from mountains to cloud forests. june-12-paul-0841It was weird how quickly everything changed. We saw loads more ruins… almost to the point where I was bored of them to be honest, which sounds terrible… but there was just so freakin’ many, and our guide wanted to stop and tell us the exact history behind every single one! Still, Phuyupatamarca, was easily the most impressive Inca ruin so far. The name means ‘Town in the Clouds’. We spent the night at Wiñay Wayna, and I had a shower… and a beer! Amazing.

We woke at 04:30 and hiked the final 1 ½ hours to Machu Picchu hoping to be at the Sun Gate for sun rise. Pah. When we got there we couldn’t see anything. Cloud/mist/whatever the smeg it was, filled the whole valley. Balls! Disappointed was not the word. We couldn’t believe we’d invested all that time and effort to not be able to see anything! We sulked our way down to Machu Picchu and the lo-and-behold the sun started breaking through and we got some awesome photos of the mist burning off the ruins… it looked so mystical! Completely made everything worthwhile. The day there was amazing, we had clear blue skies by  09:00 and we even were lucky enough to be able to climb Wayna Picchu (they limit the number of people allowed up each day). In trying to preserve it, and rightly so, they have little men with whistles running round, keeping people of grassy areas and certain parts of the ruins. One of the funniest things I saw was a bunch of hippies peacefully doing yoga on a quiet patch of grass get whistled at and chased away by two guards! ha.

Wow. So there you have it. One of the most amazing experiences of my life, summed up in a few paragraphs. My words, nor my photos will ever do it justice. It really is one of those places that you just have to go and see for yourself.

June 5, 2008

Huaraz

Filed under: peru — Tags: , , , , — paulparkie @ 18:55

From Mancora, we headed to Huaraz… a cool town sat right slap bang in the middle of the Andes. The last part of the bus journey here was the most ‘chicken-bus’ we’ve experienced so far. For what was probably only a 6th of the journey distance between Mancora and Huaraz, it took us about half the journey time! Even when the bus seemed full, the driver was stopping at nondescript little villages in the middle of nowhere to take on more passengers. The central aisle was rammed full with women, bags of grain, screaming children and a goat. The roads were similar to what we’d call a bridleway with crazy-big drops falling away to the valley bottom, though thankfully our driver wasn’t as suicidal as some we’d had, and he took his time. We arrived in Huaraz late and didn’t really notice the magnificence of our setting until morning light. The views from the town were amazing… the sheer number of peaks… +5000m that we could see from our hostel terrace was unbelievable.

Hike to base camp. It would have been sacrilege to visit there and not climbed something. So after talking to a bunch of guides and climbing companies, we decided on attempting to climb Mount Pisco (5762m)… it´s not the highest peak in the area, but it´s sat right in the middle of a bunch of +6000m peaks, so the views from the top are unmatchable.

After acclimatising in the town for a day or two, we did an acclimatisation hike to Laguna Churup (4450m), it was a great hike with plenty of psycho dogs thrown into the mix. Both Jayde and I managed with no problems so we were both confident that we were ready for our bigger climb!

It was a three day trip… the first day we drove for 2 hours into the Cordileria Blanca and then had a 3 hour hike to base camp (4400m). We had donkeys… yey. Two donkeys carried our mess tent, cooking supplies, climbing equipment etc… which made the hike to base camp pretty easy really… we just had to carry our day-packs. The views on the hike up were amazing… the weather was perfect and we could see Pisco’s summit towering above us. It was actually quite unreal to think that in the early hours of the following morning we’d be standing on top of it!Hike to base camp

We lucked out big-time that on our summit day there was only us and a Belgium couple planning to summit. So we had base camp to ourselves which Roger, our guide said was pretty unusual. We didn’t have long before nightfall. Just enough time to pitch our tents and have a quick explore of the area. Roger cooked us epic meals! More than any of us could eat, but he ensured us that we’d need the energy in the morning. We went to bed early and were woken for the climb around 01:00. It was cold and dark. We had another massive breakfast, and left camp at 01:40 for the hike across the moraine. It was pretty scary to hear the size of some of the rockfalls, and I wasn’t sure if I was happier not being able to see them or not. Anyhow, none of them fell on us so we made it across safely! We reached the snowline around 04:00 and put on our crampons and harnesses etc. The rest of the climb from here on was hard. Probably the hardest thing I’ve done. A strong wind relentlessly whipped up loose ice particles to blast any exposed skin and the air became notably thinner. Sunrise was amazing though. Definitely one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever witnessed and provided more than enough inspiration to continue.

Our climbing grew slower and more laborious the higher we went, but having the summit in sight kept us pushing on. Our last big test was a 30m ice wall we had to climb to reach the summit of Mt Pisco. That done, the feeling of reaching the top was one of sheer elation. It was 08:45 – we’d been climbing for 7 hours. The highest I’ve ever been in my life! Boom! Summit of Mt PiscoIt was pretty freaking cold though and the wind was even stronger up there, so there there was much speedy rejoicing, the customary photos were taken and then we headed back down. By now, the sun was higher in the sky, the wind had died down and it was easier going, though a few falls quickly gave me the reality check that I was still bloody high, and I should not relax too much. On the lower slopes before we got back to the morraine, Roger showed us a few self-arrest techniques which were good to know, and fun to practise.

We made it back to camp tired but happy at 13:30 and went to bed. The rest of the day was spent sleeping and eating and sleeping before heading back down to ‘Donkey Land’ to meet our lift back to Huaraz. The only other thing we did in Huaraz was visit the hot springs which were a wierd brown colour. The were hot though, I’ll give them that. The bizarre thing about our visit there was that Peruvians were completely baffled by breast-stoke. They all seemed to use a cross between very bad frontcrawl and drowning, so when they saw us moving through the water without making the usual spashes and without looking like we needed a life buoy tossed to us, they started asking questions. ‘Frog Man’ they called me (if my Spanish translation is accurate), ha… so I spent the rest of the afternoon teaching Peruvians breast-stroke, which was harder than you might think, in brown water!

May 29, 2008

Border Crossing and Mancora

Filed under: peru — Tags: , , , — paulparkie @ 15:19

So, they show dead people on the back of papers here. No sport. Just pictures of people that have died (usually horrifically) in the past 24 hours. It´s creepy. They have like ´before and after´shots!  One photo, the ´before´ probably borrowed from their mother´s mantelpiece of them smiling, or playing on that rope swing they made last summer – aah those were the days. And the other photo, the ´after´, shows them mangled in a car wreck… or semi-decapitated with an Incan replica war axe. They don´t hold back. Anyhow, just thought you´d like to know that too, cause it´s put me off my breakfast more than once. The couple of days between leaving Banós and arriving in Mancora (Peru) were pretty crappy really. Just spent on buses, or waiting at bus stations slagging off buses.

Long, long road
Long, long road

The Pan America… the main road… no, the ´highway´ from Banós to Machala was not smooth, and was riddled with pot holes, and our ´express´ bus seemed to stop at every non-descript house and shack en-route to drop someone off, or pick-up a bag of chickens. We finally arrived in a hot and sticky Machala at 12 midnight and checked into a hostel. I fell straight asleep and left Jayde swatting bugs. We left early the next morning for the border. We knew it wasn´t going to be an easy day. The Western Ecuador-Peru border crossing has a reputation for the hardest border crossing in the whole of South America… yey.  Here goes. We took a bus to the Ecuadorian passport control, 3 miles from the border, where we had to get our passports stamped to say we were leaving Ecuador. Then, after fighting off several requests from dodgy guys saying they´ll take us across the border in their cars, we caught the next bus to take us across the actual border. Only it didn´t. Unbeknown to us, it stopped a little further down the road and everyone had to get off. My Spanish wasn´t good enough to understand why. And after seeing where we were getting off, the best I could muster, was to throw the sweaty driver a look of utter exasperation and to say rude things about his mother under my breath. We´d been dropped of in the middle of a market in a throng of mayhem, with people, rickshaws, animals, and scared gringos everywhere!  The border crossing turned out to be a market between the two countries. A smegging market! Not even a nice market. They had now ´Olive´ Lady! In the end, after walking/creeping down some pretty sketchy side streets… after being shouted at and cajoled by every-other toothless market trader to ´sample their wares´… we got taken across by a dodgy guy who didn´t appear to have enough gas in his car… it cost us $35, but we were safe and unscathed, if a little stressed. Mancora was different to where we´d been so far… a small beach town in Northern Peru. It was good just to relax for a few days… spend some time on the beach and eat lots of Ceviche. Hmmmm… so good. Our three days there coincided with the annual ´Grasshopper Hatching´ which was hilarious.

Mancora
Mancora

For a start, our accomodation of choice was a beach hut. A beach hut where the walls didn´t meet the ceiling… and the door didn´t fit the door frame. So even though we were under a mosquito net, every few minutes we´d hear another mammoth grasshopper land on it… it was quite a weird feeling. The bloody things were everywhere!   Eating in a restaurant one night, I was wetting myself watching a guy and his missus trying to enjoy a romantic meal in a restaurant by the sea front. There was a pretty steady flow of grasshoppers flying in through the open front of the restaurant. So this guy and girl, were sat at a nice table, with nice cutlery, a nice wine and great food in front of them. But… they had napkins covering their wine glasses and the canter. They both, incessantly were looking around to see where the next airborne assault would come from… and after every mouthful of food they´d sit there chewing it, whilst slumped forward and covering their plate with their hands… I almost couldn´t eat for laughing. Until one landed on me. Then I yelped like a girl.

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