So we arrived in Cusco and managed to haggle a good deal on a room for 3. The hostel was nice, still got the comedy electric showers where you get a shock if you touch anything (the other shock being that it actually works at all). We're in the centre of town but off the main drag. With plenty of steps to take your breath away, literally with the altitude which thankfully we are getting used too.
Which is good as we are ready for our next pivotal moment in our journey - Machu Picchu.
Very briefly, this is 'relic' city built by ancient Inca tribes. It is regarded as one of the new 7 wonders of the world as it is at the top of a mountain and no one can be sure of its origninal purpose. Today of course, its purpose is to generate revenue for the country by charging tourists extortionate prices for guided treks to the ruins.
Though such a trek (4-5 days up and down mountainous jungle) would have been amazing, we agreed that it was beyond our budget and I was unsure my achilles-heal would have managed the entire route.
And so, the following morning we set off at at 5.30am to catch a bus to Santa Maria from the Western Terminal (via a rushed taxi journey after discovering this is not the main one in town). We waited for the bus to be full before setting off and heading for our 5 hour journey, (which will actually take us 6.5 hours because of road works).
When we arrived at Santa Maria there were alot of Collectivos (cars and mini-vans that transport for next to nothing but cram people in wherever they can). Luckily for us, on our arrival, there was one heading immediately to Sta Theresa which needed 3 people so we haggled for a good price as we we're in demand. Deal done and we're all aboard we seem to be on the party bus with a pumping CD circa 1980 playing out. The whole bus began to sing along to the lions sleep tonight, a classic! or as it turned out, a distraction.
We bounced through hot, dusty villages until we hit the mountains. The road was now a loose gravel, single track which we were travelling on,at break neck speed. Gravel turned to rocks and as we climbed the mountains, the gentle bends in the valley turned into a hair-pin fight with physics to avoid being flung to the valley floor. Still singing along on our party bus we whizzed through the rocky terrain playing "chicken" with other cars...thankfully we won every time!
That done it was time to head to the Machu Picchu tourist office where we neeeded to buy our pass to get into the ruins and past the check point guards. Off we went to get ourtickets at the not so bargain price of s/126, (FYI if you are a student with a student card it's half price).
From Aguas Calientes, there is a very regular bus service winding up the side of the mountain to Machu Picchu and it was this bus that Letty was going to take at 5.30am which only takes 30mins so she got a lie in.
As we walked through town and along the valley base it was so quiet and peacful; there were maybe another 5 people with the same idea as us as we crossed the river bridge and arrived at the base of the mountain. Path turned to stone turned to steps turned to BIG steps! Despite the early hour, the air was warm and this combination quickly got the heart going.
6am and we'd made it to the top with the most amazing views on either side of us and into the valley below. When we got to the top we joined the queue of people who had stayed at the [exceptionally expensive] hotel that is right by the entrance to the ruins. just as we joined the back of the queue, Letty arrived on the bus... perfect timing.
10am (our alotted time for climbing wanu picchu) arrived quickly so we we're in the queue once more and ready to go on our second hike of the day and all before lunch! We made our way to the front, signing in so they know who's up and down. There was a sign giving a guide time of how long it should take you. Apparently it would take 1 hours. Obviously Katy seeing this took it as a challenged and bounded up in 28 mins myslef and Letty a respectable 35mins,i think you'll agree.
Alarm set for 5am > Ear plugs in, out like a light > 6am Alarm goes off...
We got to the end of the tracks and it was a hive of activity. People selling everything from cold drinks to scrawny chickens. We were in no need for either, so carried on along to find ourselves some wheels. Thankfully there was a guy with a car. We haggled a price then hopped in and sped off along the now flooded, wet, loose gravel, single track. No music this time so we all focused on the views as they suddenly dropped down on one side and looming sheer rock faces on the other that were so close, if needed we could of touched them. But we were reassured by the fact that we’d already survived the journey going the other way.
Along the way we got overtaken by 2 Aussies on motorbikes, Letty and I were very jealous but ten minutes later, rounding a corner we saw a plume of dust: Aussie down! And quite bloody with a broken bike. So Katy got out her first aid kit and administrated antiseptic wipes, Savlon and water. They were fine if a little dented.
Back in Cusco and back to our hostel, unpacked, showered, electric shock included in the price, then a long overdue visit to the laundry before heading to the much recommended Jacks. And what a fabulous treat it was, the food was delicious, everything we could ever dream off. And i'm not just saying that because we were starving and tired. I had a steak sandwich and the girls had huge burgers. Everyone happy and tired we headed back and slept.
The following morning we got up and collected our laundry, clean clothes is such a treat these days. Then we ventured to Jacks for breakfast as it was so nice last night, and the breakfasts were everything we could’ve dreamed of (again), I had a massive full english, Letty had museli and Blackcurrant Jam & Toast and Katy got museli & fruit. We know we should eat like a local and we have most of the time, but then sometimes you just can't handle stale white bread rolls and jam again.
A nice chilled day today just being tourists, visiting the markets and looking around town, which is a beautiful place to be. We went to a big artisan market where Letty haggeled like a native and managed to get everything she wanted (for ocho), packed up and sent off to France for Christmas pressies. Katy got a scarf for the bus journey as the nights are pretty chilly on the buses. It was nice to not have a move on today and just chill for a change as it take it's toll on these old bones… not complaining, just saying. That evening we found a lovely little pizza restaurant which was off the main touristy drag in Cusco. It was so nice, like sitting in someone’s kitchen while they cook and it tasted great… it was hard to leave to go out into the cold night back to hostel.
The following day we got up, popped down to Jacks for a final breakfast - it would of been a shame not to and Letty wouldn’t shut up about the homemade jam!(have you recreated it yet L?). Packed our bags, put them in storage at the hostel and headed down to the buses to get our tickets to Puno (“Puno! Puno! Puno!” ... blasting from every ticket office in the bus station). We managed to get night tickets for 11.30pm so we had a whole day to explore more and get things sorted out for our next trip. Unfortunately I wasn't feeling too good, so I wasn't going anywhere without a bathroom, also the weather had turned and was now cold and wet. So we moved into McCoy's an English cafe with free wifi and spent the whole afternoon there with the odd cup of tea. Katy had a lovely Skype chat with Miss Chandler and then it was time to leave and go. The girls had a last visit to Jacks, Katy had spyed they had carrot cake on the menu and as this is her favourite cake we headed there for our last time. Letty had toast & jam... I just watched :(
So we headed out to find food instead. We found the tourist street, (it had previously been hidden by protestors). We had a great meal with live music but it wasn’t enough to change my mind… 24 hours in Puno is 23 hours too long. Bolivia: here we come.