23 Apr Peru
From Miami airport we flew into Lima for a one-night stay before flying to Cusco, and grabbed a cab to our airport. We learned some road rules:
- Driving is not for wimps. First principle is that driving is a game of bluff/chicken/intimidation.
- You must have faith that as you hurtle into the side of a car crossing in front of you, it will somehow get out of the way. It’s all about split second timing and hair trigger reactions.
- If you can’t get into a line of traffic, point your nose into the lane to intimidate oncoming drivers to pause long enough for you to lunge in front of them. (Note, there is no guarantee anyone will actually be the slightest bit intimidated.)
- Who ever gets anywhere first will claim right of way
- A give way sign means let them see you before you lunge in front of them
- In approaching an intersection, don’t worry about things such as left turning or right turning lanes. Take whichever lane will get you closest to the front, then drive in any direction you wish, don’t worry about cutting across rows of traffic in order to turn, just blow the horn, indicate, and keep driving like you’re the man.
- At blocked/gridlocked intersections, after waiting perhaps 5 minutes, force you way through the traffic turning in front of you, blowing your horn to show you mean business. The drivers behind you will stick extremely closely to your ass in order to follow you through.
- Boldly change lanes any time you want, regardless of whether there is another vehicle already there.
- Blow that horn baby!
Chatting with numbers of fellow travellers since this experience, without exception they’ve said they’d never drive in Peru. We sure wouldn’t! The following video IS NOT an exaggerated example – it’s pretty much standard driving in Lima.
Anyway, we couldn’t wait to get out of Lima and onto Cusco airport the next day. Another crazy cab ride back to the airport and we were off.
From Cusco airport, we went off to Machu Picchu. Because of the time of year the train didn’t actually depart from Cusco so we had to take a cab from Cusco airport to Olantaytamba in order to catch the train into the Machu Picchu national park and the town of Aguas Calientes at the base of the Machu Picchu tourism experience.
Aguas Calientes is a tourist town but a very beautiful one that provided a great experience. It would have been lovely to stay there a little longer if we’d had better accommodation, but in any case we were booked on the train back to Olantaytamba >> Cusco and just soaked up all we could while there, especially the Pisco Sours.
The Pisco Sours we had in Peru beat everywhere else hands down.
Our accommodation in Aguas Calientes was not good. The hotel staff were really great but it was essentially a backpacker lodging. There was absolutely no hot water, despite our being told to wait 5 or 10 minutes it would come on. We waited over 20 minutes and it didn’t. However this very friendly guy gave us great advice about getting up early (4.30 am and get going to the bus straight away) and how to join the lines, timing on the mountain, etc, and even prepped us breakfast to take. Super helpful and friendly place to stay.
Machu Picchu itself was everything you might imagine and more. We booked entry to Wayna Picchu as well, which is a tall mountain right next to Machu Picchu that gives amazing views. There is a ruined temple up top, caves, and other things to see. However it is a brutal climb, almost vertical in places, with limited handrails. At times you’re crawling on all four just to stay on the narrow “path”. John made it to the top but Christine only got around two thirds of the way before dizziness and blurred vision made it dangerous to continue.
After we came down from Wayna Picchu we took our time to really enjoy the world-famous Machu Picchu site and marvelled at what a job has been done on the restoration. This whole vast area must have been completely overtaken by jungle, and yet here it is now on such breathtaking display.
From Machu Picchu we travelled back to Cusco, this time staying overnight.
The following morning there was an earthquake during breakfast and the whole breakfast floor swayed. We looked at each other across the table with a WTF expression before noticing other guests calmly making their way to the large pillars around the room, backs firmly against these large pylons that were designated “safe zone”.
Apparently this is very normal, and explains the sheer mass of ruined buildings and reconstruction which is evident everywhere.
Next day we caught a tour bus on to Puno, with several very interesting stops along the way to see Incan, Pre-Incan and Spanish influences. Unfortunately Christine came down with altitude sickness and by the time we got to Puno wasn’t in good shape. Finally a doctor was called who gave an injection and pills and also oxygen. It killed the smashing headache pretty fast and after a good night’s sleep it was on to the floating villages on Lake Titicaca the next day.
Advice re altitude sickness: it can happen to anyone, no matter how fit. Christine’s sister Megan was on a Peruvian trek at the same time and told how fellow trekkers were fainting on the trail and had to be given oxygen. The worst affected was apparently a super-fit young guy. It probably is best to work up to the higher altitudes over several days if possible, to give the body time to produce more red blood cells to make up for the lack of oxygen. It really is a crummy illness to have and takes some time to get over.
The floating villages are very touristy but in a nice sort of way. The money paid for the tour helps the villagers to maintain themselves and their schools, and we got the impression we were invited to experience a genuine lifestyle, not just a tourist show. We learned how the islands are constructed and maintained, how food is cooked safely (a flat stone separates the fireplace from the dry reeds below) and how many alpaca blankets are necessary to stay warm in bed at night.
If anything I wish we’d bought some alpaca or llama products.
The trucha frita (fried trout) is just superb throughout South America and we enjoyed this on the island we visited as well. The bano (loo) cost 100 pesos to visit (BYOTP) and was sensibly located well away from the main village area.
We really enjoyed comparing notes with tourists from around the world and all in all it was one of those days we look back on with real pleasure.
From Puno we got a taxi to the airport and an evening flight to Lima, a 3-hour layover and an overnight flight to Mendoza. Urrk.