|Lima shopping arcade|
However, it was also during my extended Mancorian break that I became steadily more aware of just how much more there was to see in Peru, and this finally provided the extra shove I needed to get off the beach, get fully dressed again, and get out of town.
The capital, Lima, isn't generally considered to be one of Peru's highlights, but the sheer size of the country (third-biggest on the continent) along with my increasingly stubborn no-fly policy meant that Lima was a sensible place to spend a night or two en-route to the bigger attractions in the South. Lima has something of a reputation among SAm travellers as a dangerous badland (similar to Ecuador's capital, Quito) but I found nothing to support these allegations. Sure, you need to take some precautions and use a little common sense - avoid certain areas, no flashing of valuables, no walking alone at night, only taking official taxis, and just generally being vigilant and aware of your surroundings at all times - but that's often all that's necessary to ensure you have no negative experiences in these 'big, scary' cities. I often think that people travelling solely in the Southern portion of Latin America would benefit from a taste of CAm capitals; that'll make them appreciate the relative safety of the South.
By now, almost half of my time allotted for Peruvian exploration had passed and I'd still not made any real progress towards the only attraction I was initially aware of; Machu Picchu. Nearly all visitors to MP come via the attractive, colonial city of Cuzco - at a respectable altitude of 3300m and South America's oldest continuously inhabitated city. In truth, most people are only really drawn into town by the magnetism of nearby Machu Picchu, but there is plenty else to keep you occupied if you've a few days to kill before your tour - vast plazas, numerous museums and a smattering of other more low-key inca sites just outside town.
|Cuzco main square|
As soon as Monday rolled around though, just like having a proper job again, the frivolity was over and it was time to get back to business; my mind now firmly focused on Machu Picchu. But how exactly to get there? With my great ignorance of Peruvian travel and tourism, I hadn't realised quite how far from Cuzco the ancient Inca citadel and one of the official 'New Seven Wonders of the World' is located. It's actually situated on a remote mountaintop, deep in the Sacred Valley and over 100km from Cuzco. The reason that Cuzco is seen as the entry point for MP is that the majority of agencies offering the famous 4 day 'Inca Trail' trek to MP are based here, and most tours set off from the city. It's undoubtable that the Inca Trail is a highlight for many travellers on the continent - a 40km long path, winding up and down mountainsides, peaking at 4200m, past numerous smaller inca temple sites, and finally reaching the main attraction before sunrise on the fourth day - and I'm sure I would have loved it too. But, with the huge popularity of this route and the general over-tourism at MP, the costs for this excursion have become frankly extortionate. I was quoted prices over $500 for the tour and, with my significantly-diminished budget after 7 months of travelling, that was just too much for me.
So, to find another way.... the cheapest way.... by local bus, right? Well, it also turns out that Aquas Calientes (the actual entry town to MP, the 'real Cuzco' you might say) is unreachable by road - it's either walking or train. Brilliant! I love train travel, and there's hardly any other opportunities for such a mode of transport in LAm. However, my locomotive dream was also soon shattered - the authorities haven't just overpriced the Inca Trail; a train from Cuzco to AC costs around $100, and that's before you've even shelled out for the entry price to the site itself (around $60). Luckily, it wasn't just me who was having trouble swallowing MP prices and it didn't take long to assemble a rag-tag motley crue of other budget-conscious travellers.
|Walking to Aquas Calientes|
Still alive, 2 1/2 hours later, we arrived at 'Hydroelectrica' - like the name suggests, this is a dam, but also marks the end of road transportation towards AC and MP. Our arrival happened to be perfectly-timed to catch the last train to AC - only $18 from here, but we'd so far only spent $6 each, so this would quadruple the day's expenses. Instead, we opted to simply walk the final 20km. Backpacks on, serene, secluded nature, walking along train tracks and alongside a river at the bottom of a lush valley, we felt like proper old-school travellers (even as the sun set and the encroaching darkness added a definite edge to the proceedings; we were never 100% sure how much further it was to AC). Finally, 11 hours (but only $6 down) since leaving Cuzco, we stumbled into AC with just enough time to book MP tickets for the following day.
|V.foggy Machu Picchu|
Our early start turned out to be of no real benefit either - thick fog enveloped the entire MP complex for the first two hours after our arrival. We were all very tired, increasingly disheartened, and beginning to think our whole extended endeavour may have been a colossal waste of time. However, a little after 8am, the thick blanket of clouds slowly began to shift - first allowing only short glimpses through to sections of indistinguishable stone, before rolling back to hide the treasures contained within once more, until, finally, the fog morphed into only wisps of mist and eventually dispersed completely to reveal MP in all it's glory.
|Canyon tour gang|
|Crowds at Condor Lookout|
|Descending to Oasis|
|First on top of the Canyon! - 6.30am|
Back in civilisation, I enjoyed one more impromptu evening of drinking with Lee - Aussie guy who I first joined for a Mexican road trip right at the start of the trip and met again during Halloween in Colombia - before preparing for my Peruvian exit. Next on the radar: Bolivia. Another slight enigma, but I'd heard only glowing reports from other travellers about what is generally thought to be the cheapest country on the continent. Border-bound, my bank balance and I were very much looking forward to the next chapter.... until next time! :)
More photos (Especially MP!) below....
|Walking to Aquas Calientes in the fading light...|
|Hola Machu Picchu!!|
|Machu Picchu (just like the other big photo above, but improved by the absence of my ugly mug...)|
|Preparing to climb Huayna Picchu (Mountain in background... Remo in foreground)|
|View down over MP from top of HP (winding path on left provided the 1 1/2 hour early morning uphill hike...)|
|On top of Huayna Picchu|
|Myself on top of HP (looking far less stylish than the previous fellow!)|
|More Machu Picchu ruins|
|The MP gang - Suzanne, Remo & Mathius|
|Enjoying the Colca Canyon view|
|Starting the Canyon hike|
|View down to the Oasis - our intended destination|
|Down in the bottom of the Colca Canyon|
|Colca Canyon - showing the stark juxtaposition in terrain (left and right)|
|Arrival at the Oasis|
|Well-deserved break at the Oasis|
|Photo showing the path for climbing back out of the Canyon... :-s|
|Made it to the top!|
|One last Canyon lookout point|
|....and a local youngster... :)|