Week 37 - Aguas Caientes to San Pedro de Atecama
Trip Start Aug 01, 2007
67Trip End Dec 19, 2008
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Well, it seems nobody got any sleep last night. It was freezing cold and our guide's ghost tales of Banshees and wild dogs didn't help the girls get any kip. It was a foggy morning as we made our 5.30am ablutions and mumbled good mornings to each other.
A swift breakfast and off we went for what was to be the hardest hike I've ever done. It started off steep and just kept going up and up into the higher altitudes. Some of our group were struggling, especially Susan and Sarah who had only just arrived into high altitudes a few days back. I kind of kept near the back dishing out Coca leaves to chew where needed. The girls were pretty close to giving up but soldiered on.
Eventually after 3 hours of going uphill and with what energy we had left we whooped and hollered when we reached the highest point. There was almost a rebellion and our guide Leo was nearly forcibly thrown over the edge for trying to shorten our break.
Next was a nice downhill stretch but still at a dizzy height so breathing was tough. We now started going into normal altitude and hit some forest areas (mosquitoes everywhere).
It was during some seriously muddy and slippery rock parts that Susan sprained her ankle. We only had about 3 hours of daylight left and a fair distance to cover so it was tough going.
Eventually just as it got dark we made it to the camp after 11 hours of hiking (I felt like I seriously needed a leg replacement op after that). Susan was treated as best we could with the little first aid kit available (toilet paper, bandage and painkillers...Mickey Mouse tour springs to mind).
Dinner was eaten quickly as people needed their rest. There were a few moans about the toughness of the hike (all good natured though) and then bed. Thankfully it’s an easier day and later start tomorrow.
April 12 - Machu picchu hike (final day)
At the human time of 7.30am we all started on the most relaxed day of the hiking. It was through beautiful rolling hills of forest, with huge Andean mountains in the background and fields for resting on.
Arriving at the final part it was time to catch a minibus to an out of the way hostel where it was time for the group to separate. Half the group were doing another day of hiking and the other half heading straight to Aguas Calientes (the base town for Machu picchu.
It was lovely to sit in a soft seat and be driven for a change. Then it was onto a train for the 40 minute ride to Aguas Calientes. Checking into our hostel (designated by our tour group) we were told there were no reservations. Pissed off and exhausted we left our bags, told the owner that our guide should meet us there at 8pm and me, Surekha, Susan and Sarah headed straight to the hot springs. Needless to say we were there for a fair few hours (sharing a bottle of wine sitting in the beautiful soothing waters) and arrived back late for the guide meeting.
Had a pretty decent dinner and then headed to another hostel where everyone crashed out immediately ready for tomorrow’s grand finale...Machu picchu.
April 13 - Machu Picchu
The instructions from our guide were...if you want to walk from the town to the entrance you have to get up and meet him at 4.30am, or by bus at 5.30. Needless to say my measly alarm clock didn't do its job and at 5.15 it was a mad dash to try and catch at least the bus there.
All was good as there were buses flying up there almost every 15 minutes and we met the guide at the entrance.
The views of Machu picchu on entering were really something else (awesome as a good friend of mine would say)...really, really special. The scale of it and the backdrop of the green, huge mountains added to the spectacle. Amazing that such a city could be built so high up and with such amazing views.
It was the kind of place to just sit and contemplate things for hours. After much contemplation me and Surekha had a long walk around the maze-like ruins. Surprisingly it was built pretty late during the 16th century (I always thought it was older).
Although we had brought some snacks proper food was in order. At the entrance restaurant I nearly had a stroke when I saw the price of a sandwich.....$7 (are they barking!?).
After a good 7 hours of beauty and peace it was time to head back to town and catch the 6pm train to Cuzco. All packed and waiting at the train station we bumped into the rest of the hiking gang who did the extra day and had a swift coffee and jokey chat about our trials and tribulations.
The train back was totally packed with tourists which felt kind of weird...mind you Machu picchu was too after 11am (jam packed).
Arrived back at Cuzco at 10pm, bid farewell to the 2 Irish girls and headed straight to sleep at our trusty old hostel.
April 14 - Tacna
Deservedly had a bit of a lie in and then a slap up brekkie. Today's plan was to buy some pressies for back home, chill a bit and then I was to head off on a bus south towards Chile.
Using my credit card to get some money out I was told it wasn't working. Tried numerous others and then panicked (this was my last credit card until my other replacement was re-delivered somewhere). Phoning the company I was told I couldn't get cash until 2 days later (bollocks).
Back at the hostel chilled a bit and chatted to a weird but funny German guy. I'd met him before in the hostel kitchen while he was brewing a weird concoction of cactus, tree root and plants. Tasted like shit but the woman that sold it to him said it was good for something (nobody knows what).
Luckily I could book my bus ticket so armed with some dollars and Soles I bid another sad farewell to Surekha (who, on and off I have travelled with for 3 months..wow), a good friend and travel partner and headed to my bus.
Catching the night bus to Tacna (the Peru/ Chilean border town) was a sad affair. Not just for saying bye to a good friend but also to be leaving what I consider to be real South America. I'm sure Chile's great but it's pricey and more developed than other places.
The bus ride was the usual affair of sleep, contemplation and music. After breakfast the usual round of bingo was announced. Half heartedly I participated and hollered 'Bingo' at the same time as a fellow passenger. The atmosphere was so tense you could have cut it with a knife as we both approached the bingo master (well, not really. Half the people were sleeping or reading a paper). We both picked names from a hat to see who the final winner was and yes, I won. The prize was a return bus ticket anywhere in Peru and seeing as I was off to Chile anyway I gave it to the local fella who was more than pleased (oh, the ticket was non changeable to cash).
Arrived in Tacna at 12.30 and actually liked the place. For a border town it was pretty nice. Checked into a hostel praying I could get some cash either today or tomorrow to pay. Wandered around town, tried the card again but no joy.
Had a few beers in a local bar (well, why not get pissed to forget about the money situation). Some Chileans I chatted to said they come across the border here mainly to get cheap dental and optical work. This is why it looks so modern.
April 16 - Tacna (Peru) to Arica (Chile)
Slept like a log and with hope of my card working headed to the bank. Bless Visa's cotton socks, it worked. Out of curiosity and the fact that I'd had a tooth ache for the last few days I checked a recommended dentist. For the measly price of 50 quid I could get 3 cavities fixed, 2 fillings and my teeth lasered white (cheap as...well, a chip). How could I resist.
I tried to post some gifts for back home but when they demanded $60 for a few light boxes I had to control the swearing side of my brain. Looks like as ever I'm destined to carry post with me...maybe forever.
2 hours later with bright white teeth and no more tooth pain I headed back to the hotel, grabbed my pack and headed to the bus terminal.
Gangs of drivers wait there for people wanting to cross the border easily and I was whisked off into a shared taxi ($5 each) and then onto the border. It all went well until the Chilean customs discovered 2 cute Chilean girls in the taxi were carrying 30 illegal film copies so for a whole hour the car and everyone's luggage was searched thoroughly (dammit!...but luckily I wasn't carrying).
Arrived in Arica (Chile) at 3pm and after asking around for buses realised I was way too early. All buses to my next destination of San Pedro de Atacama only leave at 10pm (shit). So settled down for a long, long wait and did some blogging, writing and reading.
At the punctual time of 9.45pm I started queuing and when a bus assistant asked me what I was doing here I mentioned my 10pm bus. He laughed slightly and then helpfully informed me that Chile is 1 hour ahead of Peru (crap). After waiting for 7 hours I miss my bus...unbelievable. Luckily there was one available bus with another company and after pleading my case they gave me a discount on the ticket. In the end I pretty much paid for 2 tickets...what a waste.
April 17 - San Pedro de Atacama
Arrived in the sweltering heat of San Pedro at 10.30am. What a dry and dusty place this is. Right in the middle of desert with dust flying everywhere. After walking around looking for a cheap place to stay (not easily found here...or in Chile I guess) I found a place on the outskirts of town for $8 a night.
San Pedro is a really charming dusty town. Ok, there are a lot of tourists here but not that bad and the charm of the place outweighs that.
Walked around a bit and tried to get money out for my onward bus ticket to Santiago. Well, just typical. Both (the only 2 in town) ATM machines said my card was invalid.
One of my pre-planned precautions for such an occasion before I left England was to sow some emergency cash into the belt of my pack so out came the 20 quid, straight to the bus company and with ticket in hand I went for a wander.
The main reason I came here was to see the beautiful night sky (especially beautiful here) with a French astrological expert. Sods law he has closed shop for 5 days as its full moon.
Instead made my own tour buying a bottle of wine and wandering out of town with some other hostellers to do hours and hours of star gazing. What a marvellous sight of the huge open sky. I plan to do exactly the same tomorrow night.
Well, the plan for the next week is an unusual one. I have only 4 more days until I fly from Santiago, Chile to New Zealand (April 21st). From there I'm going to catch the cheapest flight and closest destination to a place for 2 weeks of relaxation, beach and peace. Blogging will be stopped for those two weeks to give my fingers, brain and laptop a hard earned break. It’s hard to believe I'm sure but constantly being on the move on buses, arguing with taxi drivers, touts and seeing too many good things can leave you jaded. It will be time to just do absolutely nothing except swim, drink beer and frolic on the beach (bliss). When I arrive at my paradise I'll upload the last 4 days of South America and then chill.