Tag Archives: Peru

Deepest, darkest Peru…

Paying careful attention to driving with the lights on now, we continued on to Cusco .  We found ourselves driving into the city in the dark – again. This time we really had it driven home as to why it is such a bad idea when we passed a horrendous collision between a tractor and a car just minutes after it happened, it was a pretty grisly scene. It renewed our respect for emergency medics now, who can deal with those situations without losing their cool (or their dinner)

We had found out about another overland campsite (Quinta Lala) just on the outskirts of the city on the hill above the Plaza de Armas. The site was very peaceful and had a really nice bunch of other overlanders staying, the campsite owners were lovely too.

Other overland travellers ejoying the peacful campsite at Quinta Lala.
Other overland travellers enjoying the peaceful campsite at Quinta Lala.

Having chatted to people and read the info sheet provided by the campsite we decided we would go to Machu Picchu from Santa Teresa, a 4-5 hour drive away.

There are limited numbers of visitors allowed up to the Machu Picchu each day, and tickets have to be purchased in Cusco before you go – handy, as we happened to be there.   Despite this, the crap ticketing website, and the Ministry of Culture Office making itself hard to find, we were lucky enough to get tickets for the next day.

The drive to Santa Teresa is a five hour drive passing through other sacred valley sites on the way. The road after Ollantaytambo winds its way steeply up to the Araba Malaga pass at 4350m, if you happened to have a road bike it would be an epic climb. We decided to stop just after the pass to take in the amazing views of Nevados Veronica and leave the last little bit of driving to the morning.  Tom was keen on climbing the mountain until we found it was 5822m at the summit… nuff said.

 

Mount Veronica, and a bit of fun with the star trails function on my camera
Mount Veronica, and a bit of fun with the star trails function on my camera

We found out in the morning that the last little bit of the drive was not so little, and in parts very scary! Daylight (and a head for heights) was definitely required for the road between Santa Maria and Santa Teresa, although maybe not seeing the 500m drop into the gorge may have its advantages…  We shot some video, but the tablet is struggling with the edit so here’s some stills from the video, sorry about the quality.

The road ahead blasted from the steep valleys side.
The road ahead blasted from the steep valleys side.
The view down to the river hundreds of meters below.
The view down to the river hundreds of meters below.

We arrived at Santa Teresa much later than expected so had to jump in a taxi to try and perhaps take the train to MP to save a bit of time, only it turns out that there is only one train, which we had already missed.  Marvellous. So it was back to the option of walking there, which turned out to not only save us the cost of a train ticket but was a gorgeous and very easy trail through the forest.  Not so easy was the walk up the steps to the ruins themselves, I think there is something like 1000m of height gain if you walk all the way to the sun gate as we did.

 

Earning my dinner
Earning my dinner

 

It was so worth it.  The ruins are quite spectacular, and we had a good mooch around while discretely earwigging in on tour guides.

 

Worth the hike.
Worth the hike.
Selfies with altitude!
Selfies with altitude!

We decided on catching one of the last busses down to save a bit of time, but cost 25 US each, ouch. We just had to walk the 9km trail along the train line back, we were treated to seeing fireflies come out as night fell which was really magical.  We hadn’t factored in the fact that there was no transport back to Santa Teresa at this hour, but the two hour walk didn’t seem so bad being mostly downhill (especially after a 1300 meters ascent!) and it was a gorgeous moonlit night.  But we weren’t complaining when a bus ferrying a bunch of miners into town offered us a free lift – South American hospitality at its best!

 

Off to The Land of Paddington Bear

As further trips into the hills were off the cards for a while we headed for Peru, because no South American trip would be complete without a visit to Machu Picchu.  We jumped into Steve and headed for Copacobana, a cute little  town on the shores of  Lake Titikaka.  Our ferry crossing was fun!

Realising we we were just about to leave Bolivia for good, we had a peek at the Lonely Planet to see what local specialities and events we mustn’t miss out on.  As it happened we were in time to catch the weekly blessing of the cars, which took place outside the church in the village square and involves decorating your vehicle elaborately with flowers and various nik nacks, including miniature hats, and then queueing up outside the church to wait for the priest to come along and say a few words.  We would have gotten Steve done but it looked quite difficult to manoeuvre him through the complicated one way system and the crowds so we decided we would just have to risk doing without…

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Car awaiting a blessing from the priest of the Copacabana church.

We really wanted to try the local breakfast delicacy of purple api (a thick syrupy drink made from maize, lemon, sugar and cinnamon) and bunuelos (donuts served drenched in syrup). We had seen great big pots of it on the go in the streets of La Paz, but hadn’t known what it was and been a bit scared to try it.  The Lonely Planet suggested trying both at the market in Copa, given the LP’s usually conservative view on risk we thought it was going to be pretty safe.  The atmosphere was fantastic,  you grab seats where you can and share table space with whoever comes along.

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Sunday market in Copacobana

Taking our chances with an unblessed Steve, it was time to cross the border into Peru.  The crossing was uneventful, except for the official who requested a propina (tip), for what we’re not sure and as we had just carefully spent our last bolivianos it meant exchanging our last reserve US dollars.  This was the only time we ever had this happen through countles border crossings during our trip, but there was an unexpected benefit later on that day… 

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Steve crossing the boarder into Peru.

Our first stop in Peru was Puno which was just a quick over night before heading onwards to Cusco. We did have to go out for our first Peruvian meal as the cuisine in Peru is reputed to be excellent. Tom decided that he had to try the Peruvian delicacy of Cuy, otherwise known as guinea pig – squEEEk! It arrived spatchcocked complete with head and teeth. It was actually quite delicious with crispy skin and unlike most unusual meats it did not taste like chicken, it tasted like duck. Tom mused that perhaps all that delicious crispy duck he’d eaten in restaurants may not have been duck after all – it too had been some kind of rodent!

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Tom tucking into some delicious cuy.

The highway from the border to Cusco had a ridiculous number of police checkpoints. It seemed like there was one every half an hour, with vehicles seemingly being stopped at random and therefore it was not that surprising when we were eventually pulled over and  told that our lights were off  following our pit stop for lunch (driving with your lights on at all times of the day being a legal requirement throughout South America).  We were sent on our way after a cursory check of our documents, only to be pulled over AGAIN for the same offence a little while later.  This time the officer checked our documents a bit more thoroughly, and said we had no accident insurance.  Now, we had gone to quite a lot of trouble prior to leaving Chile to secure additional insurance to cover Steve and were armed with a twelve page insurance document (in Spanish) which did just that.  But it was purchased in Chile!  the officer protested.  It’s only valid in Chile!  No!  we cried.  It covers us for accidents outside of Chile!  We specifically asked for that when we bought it!  And then he pointed out the line on page 10 or so, which stated clearly that our van was not insured in other countries.  Even our mediocre Spanish was able to understand that.  Those buggers at Fallabella!  So now we were up for two violations, driving with our lights off and the more serious problem of driving uninsured.  Tom went off in a little huddle with the two officers, who said that they needed a propina of $100 to make this all go away…  Unfortunately for them, thanks to tipping the border official we had absolutely no cash of any sort on us except for £10 and some Canadian dollars, neither of which were acceptable apparently.  After what seemed like quite a while they gave up as we clearly had nothing to give them (except for some small change left over from lunch) and sent us on our way.  We were now really happy we hadn’t pursued the taxi driver who ran into us in La Paz!