More in Cusco

So this weekend was the final weekend my friends from Oxford were here in Peru. On Saturday we went to a locals Market in Cusco but didn’t buy much the best bargain was a set of playing cards for 2 soles (US$0.67). After that we went to McDonalds for a late lunch where I had 99% of my FDA fat and salt allowances.

Then on Sunday we went to Pisac so we could visit the fortress. On the way we took the collectivo and unlike before we had to queue up for tickets. Also apparently seats we assigned but at least 50% of the bus was ignoring them so that was fun. I also had a chat with an American family travelling the world which was interesting. After getting to Pisac first we had a wander aroud the Sunday Market, which as well as the mass produced souviners had some more interesting hand made ones as well including a rug I bought. After that we took a taxi up to the fortress above Pisac and then had a wander around the extensive and interesting fortress and terraces before walking back down to the village. From the village we then caught the collectivo back to Cusco which was uneventful.

Then on Monday morning we did some last minute souviner shopping and went to some mediocre museums before having some food. While eating I got my shoes shined. As we were continually accosted by people trying to sell us stuff and the show shiners practically make you tell them to fuck off before they’ll go away so I jokingly suggested the price of 10 centivos (US$0.03). However he did a good job and applied some setting chemical so I was going to pay the original price of 1 sole (US$0.33). However he kept insisting on 15 soles (US$5) which was outrageous and in the end I paid him 2 soles (US$0.67) which he accepted. The sad thing is that I’d have had less trouble giving the original price than by trying to be generous. In fairness however he did do a better job than I could manage myself.

After that fun we got a taxi to the bus station so my friends could get their 20 hour bus to Lima for their flight home. As they don’t enjoy Hollywood blockbusters as much as me I don’t think they’ll enjoy themselves too much on the bus but I hope it’s OK.

Machu Picchu

Firstly a note. This is a double post and the story on the rest of the Sacred Valley was posted at the same time.

After breakfast at the train station we got ok the train. The train didn’t have much legroom (little more than the bus yesterday) but we did get a window positioned next to every seat. At first we got to see the rubbish produced by the citizens of Cusco. I wish they’d add a US$1 surcharge to the US$48 each way ticket price and pay people to clean it up as it’s disgusting. After that we got to see the tight valley the train winds through to reach the Sacred Valley including several switchbacks; especially as we left Cusco. After about 2 hours we again reached Ollyatambo and afterwards headed through the lush farmland of the Sacred Valley. After a while this gave way to the most virgin jungle I had yet seen as we wound our way along the track to Machu Picchu station.

After our journey we arrived into London Paddington Machu Picchu station (if you treat it like London and march straight through you can get the first waiting bus. Keep your guidebook handy for the route through the inevitable Market.) then you are taken to Machu Pichu itself. This meant we got to the top very quickly so we got a lot of time at the top.

It doesn’t exactly have a wow moment like Iguazu does but overall it is incredible and an amazing location to build a city surrounded by mountain peaks and also very challenging to reach. The bus up has to practically hug the cliff on the 30 minute journey to Machu Picchu itself. The highlight for me was the absolutely spectacular views in all directions of the surrounding mountains.

In the city itself we had a wander around and saw the usual half constructed buildings that are present at the other inca sites. The city also is clearly unfinished in places and large boulders take their place among the buildings. Basically the Spanish conquered the incas at the height of their empire so the city wasn’t finished. The centre of the city was a slanted rock which had no shadow on the equinox days which everyone seemed to want to pretend to touch.

After seeing most of the city which includes ledges for growing food for around a 3 hour trip we walked up a path for 30 minutes to get amazing views of Machu Picchu from above. It was as high as the mountain limited to 400 people so the view was pretty amazing, probably as good to be honest. Overall Machu Picchu was definitely well worth seeing and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

PS there are lots of trains from Ollyatambo to Machu Pichu. If you want to spend longer on the mountain but still do it in one day get the bus to Ollyatambo the previous evening and stay in a hotel there and then get the train to Machu Picchu from there and then get the train all the way back to Cusco in the evening. If you don’t stay there you’ll have to get up even earlier as it takes 2 hours to get there from Cusco however you do it. Alternatively you can get a late train from Ollyatambo to the village at the end of the train line which lets you walk up one of the mountains to overlook Machu Picchu whose numbers are limited to 400/day and you have to get entry at 7am.

PPS I’ll be adding photos in the next few days of the site to Flickr and I’ll link them from the story.

The Sacred Valley

So on Tuesday evening we went off to the Pre Columbian art museum in Cusco which had some more pottery of different Peruvian cultures as well as wood and metalwork. I have to admit the pottery was the best however. The museum was run by the same people who ran the pottery museum in Lima and it was also excellent.

Then on Wednesday we went to Pisac at one end of the Sacred Valley and attempted a walk into the mountains along the river. This ended fairly quickly in failure as we only had a 1km=1cm map as that was the best available (even that cost nearly US$20) and the path itself wasn’t clear at all and we kept getting distracted by sheep tracks. Maybe a GPS would have made it more possible. Regardless we did get to see some amazing views of the valley and it was a tough walk so I shouldn’t complain too much. In the evening we went to a small restaurant with excellent food but unfortunately the worlds slowest service.

On Thursday we had some chores to complete in the morning but we also headed off to the Sacred Valley to the other end that is accessable by road to the town of Ollyatambo. This took 2 hours each way by bus and collectivo but still coat less than $2. It was pretty efficient and we didn’t stop much and it was a great way to see the locals. I wish my Spanish was up to conversation too. The only problem with the bus was the lack of legroom but I didn’t have a problem. There are definitely advantages to being short!
At Ollyatambo there was an attractive town which we looked around as well as more terraces and an Inca fort. The inca fort was very interesting and we spent over an hour looking around it. They had also partly reconstructed the fort so you could see what it used to be like. Hopefully they don’t go too far with this though. This end of the valley was also much more tropical than at Pisac which as it was only 30km away was surprising. This was clearly an important valley for the incas. Then we got ready for Machu Picchu the next day for which we had to get up at 5am for the train.

Cusco

So after a bus ride from Arequipa that at 10 hours was entirely too short, and on twisty and bumpy roads we arrived in Cusco yesterday. I say the bus journey was too short as we then didn’t get enough time for sleep on the bus and it arrived to early in the morning, though admittedly it was streets ahead of Vietnam Railways arrival into Hanoi at 4.30am last year.

Cusco is really the tourist centre of Peru and it is a beautiful city, it is an old town, with very narrow streets and it is fun watching the taxis charge at each other before one gives in an reverses out again. Really its a city for walking, even given the height of 3500m. Apon arrival first we went to the South America Explorers Club to pick up a walking map. After getting that and a cheap lunch we had a wander around the centre and visited the very beautiful cathedral. There was even a free and very good audio tour of the cathedrals (I’m something of a fan of audio tours, they tell you a lot more than just wandering round on your own)

After that we went to dinner at a place called the Bagdad Cafe and had some excellent food. However in mine, which was a local speciality that was basically pork soup there was a chili. Unfortunately even though the dish was fairly spicy I didn’t realise it was a chili and thought the spice was in the sauce itself and it was a sweet pepper. So I took a big bite and then my mouth was feeling incredibly spicy. This was to an insane extent and I downed most of a bottle of beer, had some bread, and also quite a bit of sugar, as well as a 500ml bottle of water to return the level of spice to a sane level (i.e that of a medium curry like a Chicken Tikka Masala).

Then this morning I had a bit of Diarrhea, probably due to the spice, so I’ve stayed at the hostel while my friends go up to see some Inca sites nearby. I am already feeling a lot better though, and am shortly going to get some lunch.

The Colca Canyon and Arequipa

So on Thursday after our first day in Arequipa we went on the bike ride. We did get up at 6am and after breakfast we went to the bike shop. Then after they got the bikes and we got up the mountain we then had to cycle down. None of us had ever cycled on a non-metalled before and the others both fell off and we all had a fair few near misses. The main challenge was staying on when the road became either sandy or bumpy with rocks and you had to keep a good grip of the handlebars. Regarldess of the falling off we all enjoyed it and the scenery on the way down was amazing. By the time a had finished it was also nearly dark so that took the whole day.

The next day we got up at 6am again and headed out on a tour to the Colca canyon. This involved a 4 hour drive over the mountains and we stopped off on the way to see wildlife including llamas and alpacas. We also went up to nearly 5000m above sea level to the roof of the Andes. The height was in fact fine though we all had minor effects as we drank lots of coca tea, which helps with the altitude. Coca is the plant that contains Cocaine but is entirely legal here and it also doesn’t contain very much of the drug. Later in the day we had lunch at our hotel which was very good before setting off on a walk and then going to some excellent hot springs. I was a little disappointed that the pools were all the same temperature but that was a minor issue.

Then we went back to our hotel for dinner and an early night as we were getting up really early at 5am the next day so we could go and see Condors.

So after waking at 5am and having breakfast we left the hotel at 6am and headed towards the canyon seeing more amazing scenery. At 8.30 we went on a walk towards the condor viewing place and at 9am we weren’t disappointed by the view of the birds. Given my cameras 10x optical zoom we also got some great shots of the birds. After that we headed back to Arequipa for an early night and for one last day in the town. We are leaving tonight for Cuzco which should be great but first we are having a lazy morning by staying in bed a little later than 6am!

Rest of the time in Lima and Arequipa

So I spent another couple of days in Lima with my friends. My friend Danny was supposed to arrive at 11pm on Saturday night, but his plane was via Miami so was unsurprisingly 2 hours late. (Flightstats.com gives Miami airport a 30% on time rating with American Airways who he was flying with.). Then my other friend Jamie’s flight was on time so I didn’t get much sleep that night.

After procrastinating getting out of bed we went to the supermarket and then to a museum on pottery called Larco Hererra, this museum had a lot of interesting stuff from the Incas and before in Peru, it also had an interesting collection of erotic pottery. This was especially interesting as it didn’t just refer to fertility and also showed purely pleasureable sex.

After that we headed to the city centre and had roast chicken for lunch (along with cake this is one of the most popular dishes in Peru). We then looked around the city centre and went to the San Francisco church on a gudied tour around the building which included a look around the catacombs where they used to bury the dead in Lima.

The next day we tried to book our bus ticket with Cruz Del Sur to Nazca, unfortunately they had sold out so we went to Arequipa instead at 7.30pm. In the meantime we went to the national museum which included some more pottery and an interesting exhibition on the bloody history of Peru in the late 20th century. This was fairly unbiased and was critical of the government as well as the marxist rebels. After that we went to Miraflores to see a pre-inca pyrimid and headed down to the coast. Miraflores is the rich part of town and the buildings remind me of Singapore.

After that we headed back to the bus terminal to get our bus to Arequipa. The bus was quite good, but we only got “semi cama” seats, unlike the cama ones I got in Argentina with Via Barroliche. The first film was Charlies Angels Full Throttle and only in Spanish, though we saw Ratatollie the next day, which was also shown with English subtitles. It was pretty good. Its also cool that Pixar seems to convert all its films into Spanish as Wall E is also translated.

Then we arrived in Arequipa this morning and had a look around the town, it has a lot of white buildings made of silar which are very beautiful. We went to the Santa Catalina monestory which was good but expensive ($10). I had a good time as I went on a guided tour which my friends didn’t want to as it was extra ($7). Then for supper I had guinea-pig which is a local speciality.

Tomorrow we are up at 6am for a bike ride before it gets too hot so I’m now off to bed.

Lima, Lima, Lima

So after 3 weeks in Argentina I am now in Lima. My flight from Buenos Aires last night was excellent and I watched “Great Expectations” starring Gwyneth Paltrow as well as the first episode of Prison Break, which looks like a good series.

After arriving at Lima Airport I got a taxi to the centre to find a room, and spent the night in a 3* hotel in the city centre. As I was taken by a taxi driver it was expensive at US$40 (I did save some money by refusing the first offer of US$70 accommodation and going to Miraflores which is apparently expensive but where tourists generally stay), but as the bus back into BA and accommodation at a hostel would have cost about the same it was money well spent. The accommodation was also pretty nice and included breakfast.

Then this morning I got a taxi to my new accommodation where I was supposed to be staying and after sorting out a few details and picking up a SIM card for US$6. I had a wander around the area. Lima is very poor, and unlike anywhere else I’ve been people were offering mobile phones for making calls. Though to be fair in Argentina there are lots of places offering long distance calls as well as internet access.

At lunchtime I grabbed some delicous food which only cost US$2, which was a nice change on BA, where I seemed to spend US$10 on every meal. That also included the US$0.33 tip, which was rather high, though I didn’t have any smaller coins to leave, and the food was very nice.

In the afternoon I had a wander around. Some of the streets near my hostel are being rebuilt so that was fun, but it was interesting to see the good architecture. Then for dinner I wandered up to Plaza San Martin which is very posh and had a chat with a Peruvian who wanted to practice his English which was interesting. I then grabbed some dinner from a Chinese takeway, which as it was in a posher part of town was more expensive than lunch but still good.

Then I headed back to the hostel to wait for my friends flights from England and write this post.

Final post from BA

So my last few days weren’t particularly eventful. But I don’t think I’ve really given much of a feel for BA in my previous posts (aside from discussing poverty) so here it is.

On Wednesday I had a bit of a lazy day as I was still tired. I also had a look around Palmero Hollywood but there wasn’t much to see there really. I had some more steak in the evening which was also excellent.

On Thursday I had another Spanish lesson and I learnt lots of Spanish including describing where you live and countries in general. I also managed to have the worst four cheeses pizza ever. Pizza is usually good here but they chose the worst possible combination of cheeses for this one.

Then in the evening I headed for an “authentic” Argentinian meal at Burger King. It was in fact fairly authentic. Firstly they failed to understand my accent at first when asking for the BK Argento (this is the equivalent of the Angus burger in the UK and the US) otherwise the menu is the same so it’s difficult to see the confusion. This happens regularly here. Though I have to admit I was guilty of it myself when picking up my washing. Sometimes they even get their English speaking friend to come to understand your mispronuonsiations. In Oxford this would be like not understanding the Welsh – and god help the Glasweigens. They also didn’t accept credit cards. They aren’t used much here outside of high end stores, which is actually a little strange as quite a lot of the money is fake. Anyhow the good stuff starts now as the burger was in fact excellent. The best burger I’ve ever had at a fast food chain, hands down. This is also typical as the beef here is excellent.

On Friday I got up fairly late and headed to my Spanish lesson at Milhouse on the as usual jam packed Subte. They are expanding the network almost as fast as Beijing before the Olympics though so hopefully that’ll improve matters. After my Spanish lesson I hung around the hostel and chatted with people and went out for some steak (which was only as good as in England) with a girl from Oregon in the US who was very nice and had a lot to say too.

Then this morning after getting a taxi back to my accommodation at midnight I slept in until 9am and then packed and went back into town for my final Spanish lesson before having some Milanesa (with veal) for lunch (this is meat made very thin and covered n breadcrumbs.)

Well it’s off to Peru in a few hours where I meet my friends from England. I suspect the blog posts will slow down for a few weeks as I’ll have them to talk to instead on buses and other places where I write this. I’ll definitely be spending less time on the rest of the Internet. I’ve made too many forum posts in the past few days. But as I’ve been not feeling 100% I didn’t feel like going out and socializing until Friday.

Facebook lameness

So I was trying to do a Facebook search for some people I’d met while travelling whom I didn’t have full details for and I found you can’t do Facebook advanced search anymore. Now I know that this is down to perverts using advanced search to find women to send innapproppriate messages or even penis pictures to (I know some women online whom I’ve met in person and they do recieve stuff like this. I’m not just being paranoid.). But it’s a damn shame that it’s blocked for the rest of us who aren’t perverts.

At the same time I also tried searching for my website on Facebook and that doesn’t work. Sorry to those people whom I gave my website out as “contact information” the link on the about/contact page of this site *does* link to my Facebook profile correctly (I’ve checked it today) so you can use that if you want.

In other news I seem to be scared of social interaction today. I’m not 16 anymore. This is lame.

More Spanish, MABLA and Tigre

So yesterday I actually did something a little more interesting than just resting.

Firstly I went to the police station to report the theft of my camera. This took about an hour. After that I grabbed some lunch before my Spanish lesson in the early afternoon I made some more progress and was able to figure out the menu of the Chinese restaurant I went to in the evening. I have also learnt some Spanish chat up lines including the classic Do you come here often? Which is ¿Venís siempre acá? en Español. I haven’t (yet :p) asked my teacher whether it’s also a double endentre in Spanish or whether that is only in English.

Anyhow in the afternoon after my Spanish lesson I headed to Palmero, one of the districts I had previously missed here in Buenos Aires. In palmero I went an saw a museum of modern art called MALBA which was a modern art museum that was free to students! Anyhow they had an interesting exhibit by Félix González-Torres. This was an interactive exhibit and I got to pick up various bits and pieces including free sweets from around the gallery. It was quite interesting actually. They also had some other galleries which were also worth seeing. One of the most interesting pictures was one of the centre of BA in the 1930’s it looked gorgeous, and is definitely somewhere I’d have liked to live at that time.

After that I headed back to my accommodation. On the train I was accosted by the usual people trying to beg or sell crap that I don’t want. It is incredibly irritating and I just ignore them as I learnt last year in south-east Asia. The Buenos Aires citizens aren’t as cold-hearted as me though; maybe there is no money from the government for these people, which given Argentina is the 31st (23rd by PPP) richest country in the world there really should be. I suppose there are lots of people digging through rubbish in the streets which I didn’t see in south-east Asia so there is clearly a very serious poverty issue here. There is also a lot of guilt about the problem. Begging isn’t just confined to the streets and public transport here. It is also even happens in coffee shops.

Then this morning I got up fairly early and headed to the Tigre delta outside BA as my Spanish lesson isn’t until 6pm. I went on the train which wasn’t particularly crowded and was also only a little more expensive than a Subte ride which in itself is very cheap (US$0.30). Once I got to the delta I booked myself on a boat tour of the delta and then went off to have some lunch. For lunch I had some Milanese which is beef in breadcrumbs and is a speciality of the region which was nice. I also had some (freshly squeezed – and therefore expensive at US$2.60) orange juice for my fruit portion of the day. It’s actually hard to eat enough fruit here as most of the stuff in the supermarkets seems to have lots of blemishes. So much so that you aren’t sure if its fit to eat or maybe that’s just Tesco brainwashing me.

Then i wet on the boat tour. The boat tour itself was only OK, there was no commentrary (even in Spanish) and it was pretty expensive at US$10 for a 2 hour trip. I did finally get to see some people who looked like they had money on the boat; given the poverty in the centre it was kind of uncomfortable, though certainly to an extent I was looking at a mirror back of myself. The trip itself did seem to be an expensive camera photoshoot of the delta and posed people on the boat so I guess I missed out on the full experience as I didn’t have a camera.

Then I headed back to Buenos Aires for my Spanish lesson. The journey wasn’t entirely uneventful. I had to jump the barrier at the train station as it wouldn’t accept my ticket and I had to block the door of the Subte train as I was too far back to get off (the stop for Milhouse is one after the busiest station on the Subte system) before I had my Spanish lesson at the hostel. After that I headed back to my accommodation on the edge of the city and I had dinner at the local Italian (which was very nice) before going to bed after a long day.