Lima - Cusco - Aguas Calientas/Machu Picchu - Cusco
31.07.2010 20 °C
As you can see from the long list of recent destinations, it´s been a while since I´ve managed to get to a computer (and have long enough/not be too tired to write an entry).
Anyway, in order to get through what is quite a substantial backlog of events, I´ll sum up the things I remember about my short time in Lima. So, in no particular order...
1) The ubiquitous Mitsubishi vans that pass as local buses in Lima. Despite being relatively battered, which didn´t really inspire confidence, there was at least some attempt to deflect attention from this by their garish colour schemes and incongruous set of names (local streets mixed with what I would consider somewhat optimistic destinations - Santiago de Chile, Caracas etc). Despite this, the conductor still felt it necessary to hang out of an open side door, yelling the real destinations to any potential passengers, even people just waiting to cross the road...
2) That´s it. I´m afraid my memory really is that bad...
So, moving swiftly on to Cusco. After retrieving my bag at the airport, we flew to Cusco. Our flight was quick but held up in Lima by a mother who decided to stand up and make some milk for her bawling kid while we were on the runway. Her retort to the steward who told her to sit down was devastating in its simple logic: "but if I sit down, she´ll start crying again..."
Anyway, we arrived in Cusco to very warm weather and a distinct lack of oxygen. Unfortunately, I over-compensated by drinking far too much coca tea (that´s right, folks - nothing less than the unrefined version of the drug you may or may not hoof up your nostrils from time to time) and was out of action for the rest of the day. On the second day, we managed to walk around a bit, which definitely confirmed that Cusco is my new favourite destination in South America so far (out of two). We also managed to rack up a hit for local cuisine - feasting on Quinoa soup and stir-fried Alpaca meat (for those interested, quite a strong ´dark´meat that is tougher than beef but more tender/less gristly than horse) for the bargain price of 2 pounds.
Cusco itself is a lot more picturesque (but consequently more touristy) than Lima. There´s a strange mix of colonial architecture in the balconied buildings and grand churches that surround the square (which in turn have been built/adapted from original Inca buildings) and Inca walls that still line many streets, having been built with impossibly large stones). You´ll also be pleased to hear that Cusco boasts the highest Irish pub in the world and two German eateries (which Patricia ´co-erced´me into going to. Good Kasekuchen apparently...).
And so finally on to Machu Picchu. Despite the best efforts of tour operators/staff at hostels, we managed to get a reasonable train deal to Aguas Calientas, the closest town to Machu Picchu. Although works have meant the train journey was cut short (we started the journey at Ollantaytambo, roughly halfway between Cusco and Machu Picchu), it was by far the highlight of the trip, slowly travelling through Andean valleys in a special ´Vistadome´car, whose skylights helped to remind you that there was still some sky, however little of it, as well as the mountains towering up on either side. In some ways, it was more exhilarating than Machu Picchu itself, precisely because I didn´t expect to be exhilarated.
What was at the end of the line was far less exhilarating, though. Aguas Calientas is, in short, a shithole. We got off the train to be met by street hawkers and venders which continued ad nauseum until we found somewhere we could lock ourselves into. I don´t think I´ve ever seen a town so devoted to tourism in its tackiest, most exploitative incarnation. Anywhere you go, you have to repeat the endless mantra of ´No gracias, I don´t want an alpaca hat/three course meal/Inca doll´. We found a reasonable hostel away from the centre which, although cheap, meant we were in an area that resembled whichever country the US is bombing at the moment ("Mmmm, political" says Patricia). However, this isn´t to say I slept anymore than I would have done if we had set up camp in the middle of the artisan market, having to listen to some guide loudly tell the family next door about their tour of Machu Picchu the next day. Anyway, up at four to be greeted by crowds of people who had exactly the same idea, then queuing and more queuing, then bussed up to the site for about 6.30. Although many tours were loudly in full swing by this time, we found a spot away from the crowds and enjoyed the quality of the morning light (which, in all seriousness, completely transformed Machu Picchu). I was suitably impressed, although Patricia´s verdict fluctuated throughout the day, from describing this ancient Inca site as ´just a bunch of stones´to conceding that the craftmanship required to build it was ´quite good´. Although I think she´d agree with me that the highlight of the day for her was watching two Alpacas in the throes of passion (well, one at least - the other wasn´t so willing), then being able to stroke the perpetrator (no, not like that...you and your filthy minds...).
Anyway, time to go. If you want to hear me rant some more about Machu Picchu, then let me know. Otherwise ignore me and I´m sure I´ll tell you anyway. Off to Puno and Lake Titicaca (no sniggering at the back please) tomorrow morning - hopefully I´ll update this more regularly than before.
I´ve asked Patricia if she wants to write anything, but she´s turned away from her adoring public I´m afraid - just a "hello" to tide you over...
See you soon,
James and Patricia