(WRITTEN BEFORE THE INCA TRAIL)
Tis the eve of our Inca trail and I never managed to shake away my sickness. Yesterday I couldn’t avoid it any longer and the hostel called a doctor to come see me in our room. Basically he knew straight away what I had and has given me medication to fix it. I have to take 3 different sets of pills until the 28th but he’s given me the green light to hike the trail. I somehow contracted a type of gastroenteritis during the salt flats tour through eating fresh vegetables. Andy didn’t get it because he didn’t eat the veges! That’s what I get for being a healthy eater… anyway, the doc said I have to stay away from fresh fruit and veges for a while.
Since the last post, we hung out in Bolivia for a while. From Uyuni, we headed to La Paz. La Paz was crazy shit. I thought I would be unphased by it since I have already experienced similar cities like Bangkok and Mumbai. But La Paz was something else. With dizzying steep streets, insane traffic which produced a constant smell of smog, the narrow footpaths, the indigenous Aimara women carrying their babies on their backs in colourful tapestry cloths, the police as traffic light replacements blowing their whistles in incomprehensible messages and us, totally in the middle of it all. I got my camera fixed and we ate a very disappointing meal at an Indian restaurant. I got Paneer Saag and the curry was half melted Mozerella cheese. GROSS.
It came time to say goodbye to La Paz as we caught a 3 and a half hour public bus to Copacabana (it cost us $3!!!!!). It was another experience. As soon as we got out of the cab, we were accosted by people trying to sell us bus tickets. The taxi driver opened the boot and some guys just took our backpacks out and loaded them into their bus. There was another lady standing there telling us to take our backpacks out because her company was better. It was pure confusion. But we made it to Copa in one piece with all our belongings.
(CURRENTLY IN LIMA AIRPORT WAITING ON OUR CONNECTION TO RIO DE JANEIRO)
Yes, I am fail. I never finished this entry before we went on the Inca trail so I’ll just continue from where I left off. ..
Copacabana is a small, touristy town on the shores of Lake Titicaca – on the Bolivian side. We could actually afford to stay in a simple hotel and ate like kings. Everything was just so so cheap. We took a boat out to Isla del Sol, which is an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca and is the birthplace of the Inca creation myth. It is where they believed the sun and moon were born. There was some random old guy who acted as if he was our guide even though not even the Spanish speakers could really comprehend what he was saying. He just used a bit of broken mirror to point things out on rocks and then demanded his fee at the end of this “tour”. We didn’t really see any exciting ruins but it was a nice day out.
Next, we headed for Puno, this time a city on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. We only stayed a full day (the town itself was pretty much a hole) but did a trip out to the famous Floating Reed Islands. Back in the day, the indigenous people built islands out of the reeds that grew in the lake and made their lives out of fishing and trading with the people from the mainland. Nowadays, however, it has become shockingly commercialised. There are some 50+ reed islands on the Lake and every tourist group is taken to 2 of them. It was cool to start off. We disembarked on the island and they explained to us how the islands are constructed. Then we were taken by one of the eager indigenous ladies to her house. She sat us down for about 2 mins and explained how we were going to buy her craftwork. Then she led us to her little stall and bullied us to buy something she had made. It wasn’t cheap but Andy and I both bought something because they only live off tourism now. It did leave me a bit shocked at that kind of behaviour – they are desperate and aggressive to sell. But little did we know, it was a foreword to how Cusco was only to be like.
We took a bus to Cusco the next day. We opted for a service that had stops along the way at interesting sites to make the trip less tedious. As is our luck with transport…somehow the company had given the wrong name to the person who came to pick us up from our hostel. He ended coming back half an hour later and by that time, our bus had already left! The taxi driver had to chase down the coach as it left the city and we hopped onto it, immensely relieved. Turns out Peru is not nearly as cheap as Bolivia and although food and accommodation is affordable, the tourist activities aren’t as much. We arrived in Cusco and didn’t think it lived up to the all the rage about it. People say it’s a beautiful colonial city, but it is still quite run down. We spent the first days preparing for the Inca trail. We were on the Inca trail for 4 days and it was definitely an experience. Despite my sickness, I managed to do it well. It wasn’t much in terms but actual distance of the tramp but the altitude combined with steep climbing definitely took its toll! On the second day we continuously climbed 1,200m and reached over 4,000m above sea level. On the third day, it was a constant battle with steep uphill and downhill but was compensated with Incan ruins and the fact that we were hiking the original trail laid down by the Incas over 500 years ago. Our guides were locals (but spoke really good English) and were mega knowledgeable and passionate about the surroundings and history. We had a group of all English-speakers with people from USA, England, Canada and a Malaysian couple who live in Auckland! On Christmas day we woke at 4am, gobbled down a quick breakfast and started the hike to reach Machu Picchu as early as possible. It is the rainy season in this regions at the moment and we had had rain all the days. The rain, however, held off as Machu Picchu came into sight. We got our classic photos and the drizzle began but it didn’t matter too much. We got guided through the ruins and given the back story and then got left for some free time. As you can imagine, Machu Picchu is awfully touristy and the site got quite crowded. But you can’t blame people for wanting to see it…it is perhaps the most impressive Incan site with loads of interesting symbolism and architecture. Very special place.
On the conclusion of the trail, we returned to Cusco where we spent another few days, recovering and relaxing. I got a massage (SO CHEAP) to relieve the stress but Andrew chickened out, put off by the idea of some random person touching him. We explored different areas of Cusco and the city really grew on us. Despite being very touristy and getting accosted by street sellers every time to turn the corner, Cusco has personality and flair. We were imagining the drive back home Auckland airport and passing through all the lifeless and bland suburbs of Auckland city. I guess everywhere has its pros and cons…
Our New Years Eve involved a lucky evening at the casino and then joining the masses in the Plaza de Armas. Everything and everyone was decked out in yellow, the Peruvian colour for good luck that has become a NYE custom. There were loads of people selling yellow masks, crowns, ties, leis …everything! There was a stage set up with a band and singer to entertain the crowds as local ladies and kids went around selling six packs of the local beer (which is REALLY good by the way). There were young people recklessly lighting fireworks and at one stage I was actually scared. We celebrated with everyone as midnight neared and the official, jazzy fireworks started going off. There wasn’t a countdown, we had no idea when it struck 12 but suddenly we were totally covered in champagne and beer. We assumed the New Year had arrived when everyone started running around the Plaza. Turns out it is custom to run 2 laps in order to run away from the year before and toward the coming one. We had planned to go out afterwards but like New Zealand, the weather packed up and a thunderstorm began!
I’m at a Starbucks in Lima airport at the moment. We had a 1hr and 15min flight from Cusco to Lima and have a 10hr stopover here waiting for our connecting flight to Rio de Janeiro. It hasn’t been bad so far. I’ve been learning Portuguese from our phrasebook and if you buy something at Starbucks you get to sit and use Wifi for however long you want and they don’t even kick you out! So another 3 or so hours to go until we check in …
I don’t know what to expect from Rio de Janeiro. It’s meant to be one of the best cities in the world but we also heard it’s something like the mugging capital of the world. It will be the first and only country on the trip where none of us know how to speak the language and all we have is a pathetic substitute which is a phrasebook! But I can’t help but be excited! I can’t wait to get back down to sea level, I can’t wait to go to the beach! We’ve also procured an additional leg to the trip. We’re taking a detour after Rio and instead of heading straight to Iguazu falls, we’re going to explore the southern Pantanal in central Brazil. The Pantanal region is the largest wetland in the world and rivals the Amazon rainforest in terms of biodiversity. Apparently the rainy season, in opposition to the Amazon, is the high season in the Pantanal because the land mammals are more confined to highlands making them easier to spot and the birds come to breed. We are soo excited to see wildlife…which is something huge South America has to offer and what we’ve missed so far being in harsh regions such as the desert and high altitude mountainous areas. We’ll be doing a 3 day trip there before heading south Argentina-way.
And that’s the haps so far. I’m feeling a lot better vis-a-vis my illness so hopefully it stays that way. I’ve reached the home stretch of my overseas trip and home awaits in 3 weeks. We’ll definitely try and make the most of it.