Peru: Arequipa, Cusco & The Lost City of the Incas
Trip Start Feb 04, 2008
36Trip End Feb 03, 2009
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After a hollywoodesque border crossing from Chile into Peru in a beaten up Cadillac with some locals, we hopped on a coach to Arequipa, the second largest city. The difference between the countries is very noticable straight away. With Perus worse economy comes the more stereotypical south america. A poorer general infastructure makes the travelling a little trickier, but with a little patience and ever better bartering skills it has soon become a magical experience
However what Peru lacks in modern riches it more than makes up for it in its historic riches. The cities buildings are the prettiest so far (although they are more than a little rough outside of the centres) and the scenery far more lush than most of the places we have been so far. I have swiftly become addicted to the national fizzy beverage Inca Kola, that is luminescent yellow and actually tastes of bubble gum. Sarah has now seen the light/future too and we are slaves to the yellow drink.
Peru has very quickly agreed with us both and the fact that everything is half the price of Chile has helped. Litre of good beer in a restaurant......50p! Although the one disappointment is that wine is very pricey mainly as it is of Chilean origin and therefore taxed heavily. We have also discovered the set menus in the cafes frequented by locals. Of course it is possible to stick to the main tourist areas and have pizza with Hank the Yank, but take a few paces off the beaten track and you can get two courses of Peruvian fare for 3 Sol which equates to around 60p! If you dont mind eating with the locals in a room with nothing more than tables and chairs this is definately the way to do it. The food is hearty, plentiful and the people watching is superb
Arequipa was much prettier than we imagined, and there was a real buzz about the centre. We managed to cram the most important historical and cultural sights into the short time we were there; the Inca museum and the Santa Catalina Monastery. The University museum provided a fascinating glimpse into the Inca way of life and their strong beliefs in ceremonial sacrifice to appease the Mountain Gods. We saw one of the 500 year old ´íce-mummies´ - a 12 year old boy - who had been left at the icy summit to die on one of Arequipa´s surrounding peaks. After an insight into the Inca´s traditions we experienced the colonial Spanish influence in the city and visited the enormous Santa Catalina Monastery. The monastery occupies a whole block of Arequipa´s centre and is guarded by imposing high walls. It is practically a citadel within a city. The maze-like structure was full of narrow twisting streets, tiny fruit filled plazas, beautiful courtyards and constant reminders of the piety of the inhabitants. It was like stepping back in time. We even managed to get a good dose of 16th century religious painting, which was a nice suprise (for me maybe)! Approximately 90 nuns still live in parts of the monastery, a stark and humbling reminder of the still strong devotion to God. It´s crazy to think that around the 1500´s the Incas were still ritualistically sacrificing children for their gods when the Spanish invaded. Only 70 years later the Spanish established Santa Catalina, a Catholic place of worship, and the culture, practise, and ultimately the future of the Incas was doomed. All in all, a fascinating place.... Back to you Danny Boy...
An overnight bus from Arequipa landed us in Cusco at 6am and we were welcomed to the city warmly by 4 drunken Peruvians falling out of a bar with fists flying at each other
The main reason for visiting Cusco is as a jumping off point for Machu Picchu, although the city itself is very pretty. As we didnt have the funds or time to trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (it is perhaps the most commercial trek in south america and therefore the most expensive) we booked train tickets for the following day. In hindsight we are really glad we took this option. A 4 hour train ride out of Cusco and through the mountians took us to Agua Calientes, the nearest town to the site. We booked into a hostel that night and set off at 7am for the 2 hour trek to Machu Picchu. Buses are available but the trek up there instead made us appreciate it more. And what a place it is. Postcards really do not do it justice. The lush mountains and low cloud add an enchanting dimension to it and never before have i felt so much like Indiana Jones (Sarah was Shortround!). The main mountain that rises from behind the typical postcard view of the site is actually called Huayna Picchu and they limit numbers each day due to the nature of the trail up it and the stability of it. Basically an hour of steps clinging to the side of the mountain with the occasional rail for support and a drop of 2000m on the other! It was hard work and in parts technical, however the views from the top were unbelievable
After wandering around the ruins for a few hours it was time to head back down to the town in time to catch the last train back to Cusco. All in all a superb part of our journey and we both feel privaleged to have seen such a place.
Finally, we stopped at Puno - a city on the edge of Lake Titicaca. From here we met with a few friends we had made in Arica and shared a few drinks. We also managed to get a boat out to Úros - a floating island 30 mins off the shore which is made entirely of the reeds which grow in the Lake. The island is still home to 7 families, who welcomed us warmly. A random day out! Puno also gave us the chance to savour Peru´s delicacy - guinea pig. Vegetarians I apologise in advance.... We ordered one baked and one fried (I was hoping all traces of the cute animal would not be visible)... they arrived whole, complete with teeth, eyes, everything! I tried to disassociate myself with images of mine and my brother´s childhood pet, but Dan insisted on making his guinea pig appear to look over his plate and talk to me. Boys will be boys! Anyway, we both enjoyed the picky little feast.... but I think for me it was the first and last time.
Next stop, Bolivia....
More photos to follow when we can find a half decent connection!