“Excuse me, I’ll need to see your onward travel confirmation”. My heart sank a little as the words rolled off the airline check in clerk’s tongue. No boarding pass for me unless I could come up with the goods.
I can’t be the only backpacker in Latin America who takes things as they come.
Through Central America I’d been so careful to make sure that I had proof of onward travel, but this time I’d changed my plans at the last minute and had not been so prepared, then *boom*
So I did what any savvy backpacker would do, sitting on my backpack in a corner of the airport, tapping into the dodgy slow free wi-fi and finding a flight out of Lima to “book”. Luckily, i’d arrived at the airport three hours before my flight so time was on my side.
Rejoining the check-in queue, I was called up to the counter by another clerk, and ironically enough, this time not asked for the booking confirmation. I had a boarding pass and was on my way.
Lima is much like other large Latin American capital cities – busy, rushed, a little bit chaotic and I’d been warned to keep my wits about me as it can be dangerous. You know – being mugged and taken to an ATM with a gun to your head kind of stuff.
Well, somehow I survived the taxi ride from the airport – all I can say is I have never seen those moves pulled in traffic before – each driver nudging their way forward in a contest to see who gets which “lane” first. While there may be lines painted on the road, they are for guidance only, and each man is for his own. Many of the cars are really old, and smashed up in a visual warning not to get too close.
The hostel was near the centre of downtown and I took their free walking tour on the first afternoon, passing by many of the sights, including plaza de armas, the cathedral, and the nunnery. A glimpse of what lies beneath can be seen from inside the cathedral, creepy human skeletons and that unmistakeable stench.
The cathedral itself was different to any I had seen before – the interior architecture having a Peruvian spin. I’m told that when the Spanish invasion occurred, it was a high priority to remove a sense of culture from the people, rapidly constructing churches and cathedrals and taking away the Incan ideals and morals from the people.
Our guide enthusiastically pointed out the food hot spots of the city, and we treated ourselves to the local dessert from a street vendor, mais morado which is a sweet purple coloured dessert made from corn and peaches. The rice pudding was spot on also!
The tour also passed by the South American hotspot for obtaining your fake documentation which ironically is opposite the town judicial area including the city’s biggest couthouse. We were warned however, that not only do shady characters frequent the area and you might get robbed, but the police also target foreigners who attempt to purchase any interesting souvenirs to take back home. Not a good idea…
Back at the hostel I had my first taste of the local drink, the Pisco Sour, one being the usual lemon variety and the other whch had a ginger ale spin. Dinner was Lomo Saltado, a beef dish served with red peppers and rice, which would become a go-to staple over my time in Peru.
Sunday afternoon I headed to Miraflores to catch up with an American couple I had met in Panama. The local bus journey was an experience in itself – jam packed with Peruvians, I am sure I was the only traveller on the bus, though I am almost considered tall as compared to them so for once I can hold my own.
The three of us walked around the local market in Parque Central and down to the beach where the cliffs disappear into the waves. After taking in the sunset, we visited a local brewery and sampled the best craft beers I’d had in quite some time. Dinner however proved to be a slight problem – being Sunday a lot of restaurants were closed – but the usual staple of pollo broaster (roast chicken) didn’t disappoint.
After four days in Lima it was time to move on, and the choice between a 22 hour bus ride or a one hour flight to Cusco wasn’t difficult – and to top it off, flying into Cusco town was quite incredible. The plane cruised down circling around the mountains before descending sharply to drop down onto the runway.
Hardly had our feet touched the ground and we were arranging our trip to Machu Picchu for the next day – no rest for the wicked as they say. You can choose many options to get there, and we opted for the fastest and cheapest – a shuttle to Hydroelectrica, followed by a 3 hour walk along the railway track to reach Aguas Calientes where we would spend the next two nights.
We made the decision to avoid the buses in the morning and hike the 90minutes up to the gate, leaving at around 4 in the morning to get to the bottom gate ready to go when then opened it at 5am. Hundreds commenced the steep climb, single file in the dark over rocks, head torch on to light the way, and soon we were questioning our decision as our legs started to scream and we struggled for breath due to the exercise as well as the altitude. One foot in front of the other, after almost an hour we reached the top and met our guide ready to enter into the ancient Incan city.
Actually, the Incans could have lived there happily every after instead of burning it to the ground fifty years after it was built – the Spaniards would never find Machu Picchu, mostly due to its incredibly remote location and difficult terrain. The city is intorcate and takes advantage of the sun to separate out food production areas from housing and community buildings, as well as the east west temples to the gods.
Seeing one of the seven wonders of the world up close and personal did not disappoint, although the volume of tourists surely did. To hike Wayna Picchu you need to book months in advance. Everywhere you turned there were people which detracted from the magnificence of what was in front of us.
Unfortunately only the day after we were there a German tourist accidentally fell to his death trying to get the perfect selfie, what a way to go.
Taking the morning to explore and take photos, we made our way back down to Aguas Calientes for a well deserved massage, and then a quiet night watching movies in our hotel room.
I’d hoped to make it back to Cusco in time to take the night bus on to Lake Titicaca, but with the gods not smiling on us we were destined to get back too late to make that a reality. After leaving early to try and get an earlier shuttle backour grand plan quickly fell into disrepair as we realised they would only come in the early afternoon after dropping off the next day’s trekkers. We waited under the shade of the trees for quite a few hours, and then had to chaotically figure out which bus was ours when they all rocked up at once with little semblance of any system.
Returning to Cusco for one more day, while Aaron was resting having eaten some dodgy chicken the night before, I met up with Claudia the french canadian and her Peruvian friend to explore. But first, we raided the central market for some bread, cheese, dried fruits and nuts and headed up to the viewpoint high above town.
It was great to experience Peru with a local, as there were many things that he gave us to try including ducks eggs and a pastry square which is a local treat.
Later in the evening we were told that it was the Peruvian way to buy a bottle of wine which you then drink on the way to the restaurant and then you are done – so off to the corner shop we went and they provided us with plastic cups too!
Although I was super impressed with my three course vegetarian dinner for 6 Soles, it turned out later to be a bit dodgy – not the greatest experience when you are taking a night bus into Bolivia!