After extending my time out in the Galapagos it was finally time to leave Ecuador. I now had three less days in Peru and had to be on a flight from Lima 10 days later, meaning I had to hot foot it over the border. I had originally intended to go from the Galapagos back to Quito and to catch a night bus immediately to the town of Cuenca, but as I had less time I decided to get as close to the border as possible. My flight back to Quito stopped at the seaside town of Guayaquil which was fairly close to the border, but when I extended my flight dates I was told that would be $160usd dollars to change to Guayaquil, I declined the offer and decided to get crafty at the airport. I arrived at the counter with my biggest smile and asked if I could pretty please get off at Guayaquill, it’s on the way, and I am but a poor backpacker. Thankfully my charming (probably pathetic) smile charmed the check in lady and she tagged my bags for Guayaquill.
With my first problem solved, the second was to find a bus that went directly to the seaside town of Mancora in Peru, a two hour drive from the border. Alas my brief luck had run out, I could only get a bus to the town just directly over the border, this was not ideal as these towns are not particularly safe, but due to my impending time
constraints I booked it anyway. After a relatively easy border crossing we arrived in the small bus station in Tumbes, the bus was to leave in 45 minutes to either Mancora or my preferred first destination of Trujillo. I figured I may as well get as much travel over and done with so I decided to decline the offer of travelling to Mancora with some nice folk I had met on the bus and instead set out for the bus bound to arrive in Trujillo the next morning. I asked the bus station people where the bus office was and they told me I needed to get a taxi, no problem. I hailed a tuk tuk over and got in, so did the bus office worker who had helped me. Why did he get in? We started to drive off and oh my god I realised it’s going to happen, I am about to get express kidnapped (this is where you get taken to an ATM to take all your money out, as well as them stealing all your belongings). I started to panic, should I jump out of the side of the car and leave my bag, would anyone help me? Frozen in panic I couldn’t decide what to do, and a couple of minutes later we pulled up to the bus stop and the driver handed me my bag. What the hell? Oh turns out the man from the bus station wanted to quote unquote help me get to the bus, eg he wanted payment for help I didn’t need. Having thought the worst was about to happen I was probably a little more short than I could have been with him when I told him no I will not pay you, I did not need your help. I climbed on to a very shabby bus with no toilet, no air con and the added bonus of Steven Seagal movies blaring until 2am until I begged the driver to turn the television off.
We pulled in to Trujillo at 9am and I I practically ran to the McDonald’s, having not eaten a meal since breakfast the day before. After finding a hotel and cleaning myself up I later treated myself to a delicious and healthy lunch of a giant plate of Ceviche
and fried fish, it’s the best food I had had in months.
Trujillo is a town with a lovely Colonial Plaza de Armas and huge yellow cathedral, but I had come for the ruins just outside of the city. The Moche empire had ruled these plains from 100AD – 800AD before the Incas eventually conquered them. The impressive complexes of Chan Chan and Huaca del Sol differ greatly from the previous ruins I had seen as they were built in the Adobe clay style instead of stone. In the huge complex we walked through the temple used for human sacrifice and looked down at the still continuing excavations below.
The following day I continued on to the town of Huaraz high in the Peruvian Andes, I had heard about an amazing hike you could do up to a lake surrounded by Glaciers. Unfortunately as it is rainy season it was hit or miss whether or not it would be able to do the hike but it interested me enough to want to try. I spent the 8 hour trip from Trujillo watching the landscape change from lush green to desert to mountains and as we pulled in to Huaraz late in the afternoon I stepped off the bus in to torrential rain. Not a good sign. Immediately I was approached by a very aggressive taxi driver trying to sell me a hotel and a hiking tour, he was so irritating that I walked away in to the rain to try and find the hostel on my own, probably not the best idea. When I arrived at my hostel I I spoke to some people who had been there for a while and they said the rain tended to only come in the afternoon, the mornings were usually pretty dry, and so I decided to book in to hike to Laguna 69. The following morning I rose at 5am to jump on a bumpy car ride up to the start of the trek, we passed perfectly blue lakes
and small villages on the way before eventually stopping at the mouth of a valley where we would start the hike. I thought because I had done altitude hikes before and had been taking altitude sickness pills the hike would be tough but manageable. The first few hours were a lovely hike through the valley walking next to a crystal clear river and passing small abandoned stone houses before we eventually made it to a huge waterfall fed directly from the glacial lake. I was having trouble breathing as I always do when hiking at altitude but was able to keep up with everyone, but then we started ascending. I was keeping pace for the first couple of hundred metres but gradually started to fall behind, thankfully our guide Lucia noticed I was struggling and dropped back to walk with me. Cant be too much further now right Lucia? Only about another hour and a half. I wanted to die.
Eventually the trail leveled out in to a beautiful valley that looked like the moors of Scotland. I made it! But of course there was the final ascent which Lucia said would only take about 30 minutes. I had to stop every 5 steps and sit down and take a rest, when I was about 100 metres away from the top I started to feel dizzy and thought I was going to faint. I was close to weeping my way through the rest of the journey but eventually without a tear I made it to the top to see.. MIST. Of course. It was Acatenango in Guatemala all over again. Once I finally sat down for a rest I realised how cold it was, freezing in fact. The glaciers were out there, I might not have been able to see them but I could sure feel them. We eventually started to descend and I started to feel less dizzy but additionally very, very tired. I practically crawled back to the car and attempted to sleep on the bumpy ride home before returning to my hostel to eat dinner and go straight to bed to sleep for 12 hours. I woke up with some small pains but not feeling too shabby, another climber gave me some ibuprofen which significantly helped my aches. As I was in Huaraz for only a short amount of time I had intended to go hiking the next day but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead I did some shopping and went on a two hour search for the hats that all the local ladies were wearing, every single one of them I asked said they bought it in the market and every single person in the market said they didn’t sell them there. After being given the wrong directions several times I had given up and decided to go to lunch, but on the way thought I might ask a taxi driver if he knew where they were sold. He didn’t but the man next to me pointed me in the direction of a shop that I eventually found hat nirvana. That night I jumped on a night bus to Lima.
I Arrived in Lima after another restless night on a bus but thankful that my time on night buses was coming to an end. I caught a cab with another couple I had met on the bus to my hostel, as it was six in the morning I couldn’t check in to my hostel yet so decided to wile the day away going on a walking tour through Lima. After learning the history of Lima and drinking various pisco sours myself and a few people from the walking tour decided to return to the catacombs under the local cathedral we had visited on the tour. The bones were piled in order of type and made a macabre pattern of skulls glowing under candlelight. After the tour I decided to forego my usual early night to go to a local park that had giant water displays colliding with colours.
The next day I wandered down to the waterfront to collect my Peru Rail tickets for Machu Pichu and check out the coast followed by meeting up with one of the folks from the walking tour and devouring some delicious antichucho skewers of tender beef hearts. The next day I went to Huaca Puchana an important adobe complex that had been used by many different tribes including the Incas, afterwards I caught a cab to the unique Larco museum containing pre-colombian artifacts including a large collection of erotic ceramics depicting the sex life of the living and dead Incas.
I had really wanted to see some mummies in Lima and as my previous museum outings had failed to supply me with any I made a final ditch attempt at the museum of anthropology. As I have found the hard way often displays are advertised on the internet are no longer in the museum, so unfortunately that day I didn’t see any mummies. I did however get see some skulls that had undergone skull moulding to become more elongated and others that had holes from trepanning or drilling in to the skull. The people who underwent trepanning had their wounds sealed with gold and were able to live full healthy lives afterwards. All I could think of with while looking at the skulls is ALIENS!
The next morning I rose at 4am to catch my flight to Cusco, I arrived without a plan to get to my hostel and so approached a girl on her own to ask if she would like to share a cab, thankfully she already had a cab picking her up for free from her hostel so I was able to get a free ride in to the city. Afterwards we decided to climb the looming mountain behind Cusco to see some Incan ruins, unfortunately in order to be able to enter you need an expensive ticket covering all the ruins except Machu Pichu. We decided to skip this to wander through the markets searching out local hand made crafts followed by lunch and a well earned nap. I wanted to organise as much as I could before I left for Machu Pichu so I ran around trying to book my bus tickets for Bolivia before having a delicious Alpaca steak for dinner and an early night.
The next morning I packed up leaving my large pack in Cusco and jumped in to a shared cab to Ollantaytambo for my train to Machu Pichu. Ollantaytambo had some impressive ruins of it’s own but again I had to have bought one of the expensive tourist tickets to enter, thankfully I could see the outer ruins standing at the bottom looking up. I devoured a delicious quinoa salad before jumping on the train to Agua Calientes, the town at the bottom of Machu Pichu. The luxurious train was more similar to an airline, offering complimentary drinks and snacks as we chugged our way alongside the swollen river watching the Peruvian countryside littered with numerous ancient ruins go by. The town of Aguas Caliente with a scrappy market made from lean to corrugated iron sat next to overpriced tourist restaurants is not going to win any beauty awards. I sought out the only hostel in town and was able to secure a bed, I wandered around the town before having dinner and settling in for an early night.
The next morning I rose at 4am to prepare for the early breakfast the hostel offered. After devouring some eggs and coffee I set out at 4.45am to climb the Incan steps leading to the entrance of Machu Pichu. Through a comedy of errors my first torch was broken, the second torch was lost in a hostel and when I finally found somewhere to hire me a torch I didn’t have any money with me and the shop was about to close. The hostel staff assured me that I wouldn’t need one as the sun rose at 5am, and plus there would be plenty of people doing the walk up with me. As I walked along the path to the start of the steps all I could see was a million people waiting for the bus up to Machu Pichu and no one walking towards the steps. Hmmmm. I waited for a few minutes and eventually a couple came hurtling past me at full speed in the direction of the path, I sprinted after them and asked if I could walk with them. Sure! But they had to be there in 15 minutes, so I ran the whole way to the start of the steps trying to use their head lamps to see and not trip up and fall in to the river below. We made the start of the steps at lightning speed but once we got there I couldn’t keep up with their pace and I was left in the dust. Thankfully I could see more people starting the climb and joined up with a mother daughter team from Canada. Around this time the sun started to rise through the jungle and I was able to appreciate how beautiful it was through my many stops on the way to the top. Eventually we all pulled up to the entrance around 6.40am. No time to be tired, I had tickets at 7am to climb Huayna Pichu, the sacred mountain set behind the ruins. I started the walk straight up through huge steps, about every 5 minutes I stopped to curse myself for always signing up to do mountain hikes. I hate mountain hikes. To make it worse as I was climbing the mountain was covered by mist, I could see it now, I am going to get to the top and not see a thing. Somehow I kept pushing myself and I eventually made it close to the top where I could sit on a precipice and see… mist. Damn. A few minutes past and the mist cleared to reveal Machu Pichu below. Well I made it this far, I may as well make it to the top, so I continued on the steps, squeezed through a cave, scrambled over rocks and rickety wooden stairs and made it a collection of rocks where you could see both Machu Pichu and an incredible 360 degrees view around the valley. I curled around the other side of the mountain and started to descend giant steps with no hand rail and a sharp drop to the right. My legs were already aching by the time I started to descend through the mountain and when I finally got back to the Machu Pichu base I was exhausted and starving.
You cant eat in the ruins so I ducked out for an incredibly overpriced mid morning lunch and rest before returning to actually explore the ruins. By this point I had seen so many pre-colombian ruins I was pretty jaded, and quite frankly hard to impress. Thankfully Machu Pichu lived up to the hype; with it’s size and grandeur hard to comprehend how they built the complex without machines. I spent another few hours walking through the ruins and spying on the cute little alpacas who lived their wandering around like they owned the place. I decided to forgo the bus back down and walked all the way back, I probably should have caught the bus. By the time I got back to my hostel I had been walking for 8 hours and was so tired I couldn’t even be bothered eating. As I had already checked out I curled up on a bean bag and fell asleep in the hostel lobby until my train back to Ollantaytambo and then bus to Cusco. I woke up the following morning with intense hunger pains, I probably should have eaten something. I decided to take it easy that day having had several early mornings, so spent the day planning the last few weeks of my trip before finally getting some inspiration to leave the hostel and visited the Inka museum. They had an impressive collection of scale versions of the other ruins I had missed, as well as a timeline of the area relating to the Inkas and finally mummies! The mummies were all sitting in a crouched position, some were in pots, and some had children with them. Finally after a terrible meal at a vegan restaurant I jumped on my final night bus to Bolivia!