Fish Out of Water: Tales of The Writer's travels through South America: Part 3 Peru

Journey into Peru

Chapter 5: Lago Titicaca

We woke up early in La Paz to catch our eight o’clock bus to Copacabana, a town by Lake Titcaca. The bus ride as usual was uneventful but we had to travel on some really bumpy roads. It was unlike some of the other main highways we went on in this country. The route to Copacabana also involved us getting off the bus and boarding a ferry to cross a small strait. The bus would travel on it’s own ferry and meet us on the other side. After another hour we soon reached the charming town of Copacabana. The town was quite small but it offered some amazing seaside views. We checked into our hotel and took our time to look around the city. We had booked a boat ticket, which would take us to Isla Del Sol or Island in the Sun. This island was one of the main tourist sites in Copacabana.

Lake Titicaca

My travel colleagues enjoying the view

After booking the boat ticket and relaxing in the hotel, we went to go try some of the local delicacies. We read in many guidebooks that this part of Bolivia is famous for the trout that is fished from the lake. The hotel owner suggested a small place to us and we went for it. The restaurant was quiet and only had two people running it. The person who greeted us also happened to be the head chef and he suggested some fish options to try. The other person who was there seemed to be a relative of his. The other person was helping to set up our table as well as preparing drinks. Vinay and I decided to order a simple coffee with milk and we soon ended up naming this coffee and not for good reasons. The other person who we named Manuel, after Manuel in Fawlty Towers, had managed to burn the milk and the coffee creating a unique burnt experience. We christened the coffee Manuel’s coffee and no matter how much sugar we put int it still tasted of burnt toast. Thankfully the taste of the fish was just so sublime. It was very rich and very filling. After the delicious fish we retired for the night to get up early for the boat, which would take us to the island.

We woke up the next morning to find that the weather had taken a turn for the worse. It had started to become very cloudy and very windy. While we armed ourselves with wind jackets, it proved to be ineffective. The ride to the island was very cold, windy and wet. It felt like a scene out of Pirates of the Caribbean when they are traveling to an island surrounded by storm clouds. As we got to the island we quickly disembarked and ran into a nearby café to get a small bite and a piping hot cup of coffee.

The boat ride to Isla del Sol

After the coffee the weather started to improve and it became more pleasant to walk around. While we were close to Peru we weren’t out of reach of the loveable Bolivian people who like to tax and charge tourists tariffs. We found out that the island was divided into three zones and we had to buy a ticket for each of the zones. We assumed that our boat ticket would be sufficient to allow us to explore the entire island. We had no choice but to abide by these “rules” but thankfully it didn’t ruin our day on the island. Soon the sun came out along with pristine blue skies.

The views kept getting better and better

The pristine blue sky

We visited some sights which included an old Incan monument and patches of forest which had a large number of eucalyptus trees. After spending the greater part of the afternoon traversing the island we headed back to the ferry terminal to catch the boat back to Copacabana. The clear weather allowed us to see some amazing views which even included some jaw-dropping views of snow-capped mountains. Soon it was time for dinner and the three of us decided to get some fish and some pizza before having an early night to prepare for our first land border.

The stunning views

A glimpse of the snow-capped Andes

Chapter 6: Adios Bolivia, Hola Peru.

We woke up bright and early in order to get breakfast and catch the bus. We were traveling to the city of Cusco. This is where we would spend three days resting and relaxing before the Andean hell week. Before we got to Cusco we first had to take a bus to the town of Puno, just beyond the Peruvian border. Between the town and us was the Bolivian frontier and we had no idea what to expect. After about an hour riding on the bus we soon reached the Bolivian border. We had to disembark and proceed to a little hut which was the checkpoint. The bus drove on further towards the Peruvian checkpoint where it would wait for us. Thankfully leaving Bolivia was significantly easier than entering it. Weirdly the Bolivians still required a photocopy of our passport. Soon after clearing Bolivian immigration we walked across no-mans land into the warm and welcoming of Peru. The immigration on the Peruvian side was a simple process. The polite immigration officer said welcome to Peru and stamped our passports. The bus into Puno took another two hours and soon we reached the bus terminal. We were in for a 9 hour wait as our bus to Cusco would only be leaving in the evening. In the interim we had organized a tour of the famous floating islands.

A welcoming sign

Our walk across no mans land

Soon we got into a small taxi and set off towards the ferry which would take us to the islands. There were roughly 80 islands which made up the floating islands in Puno. The islands had a police station, a hospital and a primary school but all the other schools were on the mainland. Most of the work is on the mainland which is why when we visited the island in the middle of the day there were only women and young children. We also learnt that each island has a president and the men and women on each island rotate the presidency each year. One of the most amusing things on this island is that the president of the island spoke far better English than our guide. She invited us into her house, which was very nice, and despite the hot temperatures outside it was plseantly cool.

Journey to the floating islands

The floating islands

Another view of the islands

Soon we had to return back to the mainland to spend roughly 5 hours to wait for the first of many Cruz Del Sur buses we had booked to travel across this country. We had chosen this specific company as they had incredible reviews on trip advisor they didn’t disappoint. Soon night fell and we boarded the bus to Cusco and we were delighted to see that it had air-conditioning. We had booked the VIP section of the bus, which had plush leather seats, 160 degree recline, and a good entertainment system. I managed to get some good sleep on this bus. I rested well knowing that soon we would be reaching the city of Cusco, the old Incan capital of Peru.

Chapter 7: The calm before the storm

We reached Cusco nice and early and after a cup of coffee we set forth to find the first of three AirBnBs we would be using on this trip. After about an hours walk we soon found the place and the owner was waiting for us. The place was very nice and spacious and joy of joys they had both a washing machine and a dryer. We made a plan of what to do over the next three days. The first plan was to laundry which was of the upmost importance as we had all run out of clean clothes. Then we needed to get some groceries to keep ourselves nice and content. Afterwards we need to get Vinay new trekking shoes as his were broken like my old ones. Then we had to accomplish an important task, finding movie tickets to the new Star Wars movie which thankfully we were able to do.

After accomplishing the tasks we then set about debating what we could do in the town. First we decided to purchase Nerf guns to really pass the time in the flat by pretending we were infiltrating a target base. We realized that since the entire town would be shut on the 25th of December we would spend the 24th in the famous Christmas market. This gave us the opportunity to buy presents for our families. Apart from the hordes of tourists visiting the place it was nice to interact with some of the people. We soon found the perfect gifts for our familes. I got my brother a big poncho with a hood, I got my mother a nice scarf and my father some cocoa powder. The three of us also got ponchos for ourselves. Soon we went back to our flat to prepare a nice pasta dinner and call our parents.

This was the first time that we would be hearing and seeing our familes for the first time since we left. It was so nice to see them again. We caught up with the familes and informed them of all the crazy things that happened over the past week and a half. It was around midnight when we were about were about to sleep but we heard car alarms and we were shocked to find out what it was.

The square in Cusco

A Peruvian style nativity scene

A Peruvian marching band playing Christmas music

My travel colleagues and their new ponchos

Our first bottle of Pisco

Our big Christmas eve dinner with a bottle of Peruvian wine

We stuck our heads outside the window to find that people were lighting fireworks to celebrate Christmas. I quickly read up that it was a Latin American tradition and everybody got involved. We put on our ponchos and went downstairs to see what was happening. It was an amazing sight and what really warmed me was that everybody was getting involved. I saw young kids playing with fireworks which were way too dangerous for them. Amongst the chaos we saw someone shooting fireworks from right outside his house window. There were also a bunch of youths who purchases what looked like flash bang grenades and a big rocket. The whole show of people celebrating and launching rockets into the air lasted for about an hour. We learnt a couple things, firstly the poncho can keep you really warm in these temperatures. Secondly we learnt that in this part of the world, they celebrate the holidays here with a bang.

The next morning we all woke up to a nice heavy breakfast which we specially prepared for Christmas. We also got a bottle of Peruvian bubbly which to my surprise was quite excellent. The rest of the day was spent relaxing.

We did a plethora of Nerf gun battles, laundry and chilling. Then it was our final dinner where Vinay had decided to cook potato wedges with some potatoes we purchased. However we didn’t realize that it may have not been the regular potatoes we are familiar with as it took ages to cook and it was orange. It wasn’t sweet potato either as it didn’t have its distinctive taste. We soon found out that Peru grows over 4000 varieties of potato. So we concluded that we purchased a variety that is unknown to us. We spent the rest of the evening packing and preparing for what I lovingly christened as the Andean Hell Week.

Chapter 8: The aforementioned storm.

We woke up bright and early to a nice breakfast of coffee and eggs. Coffee and eggs soon became a staple breakfast for us three. We couldn’t leave our accommodation or do anything throughout the rest of the day without coffee and eggs. Then we proceeded to do a last minute clean up of the flat before proceeding to the Inca Trail trek. We first had to report to the office of the company we had booked the tour with, Wayki Travel. Their offices were next to the main square where the Christmas market was located. We soon met Liam and Tanya, an Australian couple who would be traveling with us on the trek. We also met our enthusiastic and simply brilliant guide Miguel. He would be joining us tomorrow, as later today we would be doing the porter experience. Miguel told us that we had roughly 3 hours to kill so that gave the three of us time to buy snacks and get a bite of lunch. While trying to find the supermarket, Ethan decided to ask a policewoman for directions. The gestures that Ethan was doing looked like he was more lewd than intended. Vinay and I did the sensible thing and took photos. It provided for some awesome comic relief.

Ethan's amusing adventures with a Police officer

Later we picked up some snacks and found a small restaurant just opposite the office. We got some Mexican food there and a jug of what would be the first of many awesome types of lemonade in this continent. We had no idea why the lemonades here were so tasty and so refreshing. Several gallons of lemonade later we returned to the office to meet up with Tanya and Liam before proceeding to the village. This village is the home for the porters who would be accompaning us on this trip. This was a part aforementioned porter experience. We could get to see where the porters are from and get to know more about their culture. On the way one of the Wayki travel guides, who accompanied us, had brought us to a market to buy some gifts to give to the kids of the village. Liam and Tanya had already brought some colouring books from Australia and colouring penvils. The three of us had to find something to buy in this market. While I was distracted by the variety of tuk tuks they have in this country, Ethan and Vinay managed to pick up some marbles. We also got the parents of the kids a big bag of rice. After we got the gifts we boarded the van and headed towards the village.

Tuk Tuks in Peru

We stopped by to see some quinoa and potato crops and behind it was some gorgeous Andean scenery. After some driving on dirt paths we eventually reached the village.

A farm with a view

A beautiful plant in the village

When we arrived it seemed quite quiet. According to our guide it was not usual to see the village so quiet. We soon found out we had actually arrived on the day of a villagers funeral. We had learnt that whenever someone in the village dies, every adult takes part and it was sweet in a way. It showed togetherness and camaraderie, which showed how close knit these people are. We were showed to a small house which actually belongs to the owner of Wayki Trek as he is originally from this village. The house was quaint with a couple bunk beds, a separate restroom, a small garden, a cow and other examples of wildlife. Later the guide brought us towards a small pitch so that we could play a couple games with the kids. Since this was at high altitude we knew that if there was any activity which involved running we would be out of breath in an instant. The guide had chosen the game stuck in the mud and football. Within five minutes the five of us were desperately trying to find air. After about two hours we took some photos with the kids and reflected upon the insane amount of fun we just had. Some of the kids were really strong and aggressive players. One kid even pushed some of the other kids down when tackling them. The three of us even used some of these dirty tactics on each other. I ended up lifting Ethan out of the way and Vinay and Ethan pulled each other down.

Views from the village

Ethan with his newfound friends

Us three with Tanya, Liam and the kids we played fotball with

Afterwards we went to one of the houses to have dinner. We would be eating in the kitchen and to our surprised we found that the kitchen had little guinea pigs running around everywhere.

Dinner?

It was there that we found out that guinea pig is a delicacy in this part of the world. We also learnt that the villagers in Peru are mostly vegetarian. Because they rely on the animals on the arms to maintain their upkeep they save eating meet for special occasions. They also don’t eat the guinea pig often as it actually doesn’t have much edible meat. We had an incredibly filling and delicious meal which one of the local villagers had made. The dish consisted of fresh cheese, soup with potato and quinoa and a corn snack. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about the traditional music that is played. We also got a live demonstration of some traditional music which was played on the harp. I found out that in recent times, many of the kids don’t learn any instruments as in the primary schools music isn’t taught. As a music student it almost broke my heart almost. This is because I find that music is one of the best ways to learn about cultures and it is almost a universal language. Clichéd that may be but it is, in my opinion, an undeniable fact. After an enjoyable evening we went back to the hut and rested to prepare for the long hikes ahead.

We woke up the next morning bright and early and we were reunited with Miguel. We boarded the vans again to a checkpoint where we would begin the Inca Trail. The weather forecast on the trail was predicted to be raining almost every single day. As a precaution the three of us bought big ponchos to cover the bags and I purchased a small rain cover for my camera backpack. Soon we were off and after clearing the first passport checkpoint we started our four day trek to Machu Picchu. The first day was reasonably level but I was struggling with the up hill sections.

Vinay looking confident on the first day of the trek

The first of many wonderful Incan sites on this adventure

I kept stopping to catch my breath and I was not used to the heavy 20 Kg bag pack. I was half tempted to try and hire a porter to carry the bag but Miguel convinced me otherwise to keep pushing on. This encouagement was also there for the next couple days. After going through some Inca sites and some amazing scenery we finally reached the campsite.

"I spotted a wild Ethan"

Our first meal as a Inca trail trek family

We had agreed that for each of the trekking days we would go to the campsite for lunch. This was done to save time and energy for the porters who would have to set up the tents for lunch each time. The campsite was private and the porters had cooked up a storm for us to eat. The chef had prepared a variety of dishes including pasta and trout and soup. It was incredibly delicious and it showcased what was to come over the following days. Miguel informed us that the chef usually pampers the people who come on this trek. Over the next few days we got things like pancakes, ceviche, eggs and even a special treat for the last day. We spent the rest of the day just relaxing and playing a small game of football and cards. We then took a glacier shower which was incredibly cold. Afterwards we were treated to an amazing dinner then we retired for the night just as the rain was coming in.

The next morning we were woken up at around 5:30 in the morning by one of the porters. He had woken us up with a piping hot cup of coca tea. We had then prepared ourselves for what would be our toughest day of trekking yet. I had readjusted my bag straps and I also filled up my camelback water bottle to the brim. Before we sat down for breakfast, the clouds had cleared and we were in for one hell of a view. After taking many photos and an incredibly filling breakfast we were about to set off. However, Miguel took this time to introduce us formally to the 10 porters who were traveling with us. I was shocked to find out that the oldest one was in his 60s and the youngest porter was just 20 years old. After meeting all the porters and doing some group photos we started our long journey.

I can't think of a better view to wake up to

Some of the exotic wildlife on this trail

The first part of the trek would be up hill where we would reach a lookout point. The lookout point was roughly 4000 metres above sea level. The rest of the trek would be downhill to 2000 metres where our campsite was located. The first part of the trek was exhausting and I was feeling the strain on my shoulders but thankfully I was determined to press onwards. I was able to get some amazing photos of the scenery. The lower sections of the trail looked and felt like a tropical rainforest. It was at that point where I regretted my wardrobe choice of wearing trousers on this trek. It took my roughly 6 hours to get up to the summit where we were all reunited with our group and took some group shots and admired the views.

Our group conquering the highest point of the trail

The view going into the second campsite

We were also fortunate to see a condor flying over us. The guides of the other tour companies were getting excited by sight of these majestic birds. We soon trekked down to the campsite and enjoyed yet another decadent lunch. After the lunch I took the time to explore around the site and took some photos of a waterfall and the valley. Soon it was nighttime and we again tucked in for an early night after an elaborate dinner.

The next morning we woke up to yet another gorgeous morning. After the usual routine of coca tea and breakfast we set off. The first part of the trek was to be uphill. The rest of the journey was a mix of up and down and all downhill towards the campsite. This was located at the bottom of a gorgeous ancient Incan site. Along this trail we had discovered some truly beautiful Incan sites. A lot of the archaeologists believe that majority of the sites along the trail were used to protect Machu Picchu. Most of these sites from the looks of them were actually look out points. We had also learnt that the trail which were walking on was used by not just the people for visiting the Incan city of Machu Picchu. This trail was also used by the messengers. These messengers would run up and down the entire length of the trail just to give important messages. Another interesting fact was that the term Inca is actually only reserved for the nobility. It is also used for the religious figure heads. The actual term for the people who lived during the time of the Inca is Quechua. The Quechua people are still living in South America to this day. In fact all the porters on this trek were Quechua and even the founder of this tour company is Quechua.

Andean beauty

Some of the flora found on this majestic trail

A lot sites that we saw turned out to be farms which were built purely to supply Machu Picchu with food. The farmers had some unique farming techniques which left me speechless. They were able to grow food which was usually designed to be grown at lower/higher altitudes. They also grew food which was meant to be grown had different temperatures. All this was achieved by using varying soil types and innovative construction.

Graceful wildlife

After admiring the large Incan site that overlooked our campsite we descended down the incredibly steep staircase towards the campsite. After what was to be our final decadent lunch, the three of us decided to visit a nearby waterfall to wash in. As expected, even though we were a little under 2000 metres above sea level, the water was incredibly cold. After the “delightful” shower we headed back to camp to have a spot of afternoon tea.

This was something that was had everyday and it was a simple affair. The courses consisted of choices of tea, coffee, cocoa and freshly made popcorn. Roughly an hour later we had come back to the tent to have our final meal. The chef had really gone all out for this final meal. He had not only prepared an excellent soup but also a pizza, ceviche and to top it all off a cake. Since it was almost the new year the porters popped open a bottle of Peruvian bubbly and we all toasted for a solid new year. The tradition when making a toast in the Quechua culture is to pour a little bit into the earth. This signifies as giving something back to nature.

Our exceptionally talented young chef whose ultimate goal is to become a guide

We slept early that night, as we had to wake up at the lovely hour of 3 in the morning. This was done so that we would reach the check point earlier that most of the other tour groups. It would also be the point where we bid farewell to the porters. The porters would be going back to Cusco to prepare for the next set of tourists coming on the trail. This part of the trek would be doddle except for a set of stairs which the guides had christened the “Gringo Killer.” Its namesake comes from the fact that the stair height is quite high and it takes a toll on the knees. After roughly three to four hours of trekking we soon reached the sun gate, the entrance to Machu Picchu. The weather was cloudy at the time so it was a bit difficult to see the site. As we descended towards this massive Incan city the clouds soon cleared up and we could see it in its full.

The famous Incan site in its full

Soon we reached the hordes of tourists that were visiting Machu Picchu. It almost felt like a theme park as it was incredibly packed. This was because of how easy it was to get to Machu Picchu. Most tourists take a train and a bus to come visit the sight instead of taking the four day trek through the Inca trail. Nevertheless our guide Miguel would make sure that this wouldn’t ruin his tour of this remarkable feat. Just like the previous Incan sites we saw along the way the buildings were constructed with stone. The stones used just rest on top of each other. There is no glue or concrete type liquid used to fuse the rocks together. Miguel also told us how the park might be closing in the future. This was due to the geological plates that are shifting the two mountains which look over Machu Picchu away from each other. This is causing gaps to form in the buildings and the structure to weaken. I also speculate that the Government may close the park due to the hordes of tourists that visit every single day. All the walking around does do damage to the soil and ground conditions.

Incan Disneyland

After the informative tour Miguel had brought the three of us to the start point of the Huyana Picchu. This was the smaller of the two mountains that loom over Machu Picchu. It was where we would bid farewell to Miguel, Tanya and Liam. We all exchanged contact information so that we would keep in touch. We ended up being like a little family on this trip and we had grown closer. Liam and Tanya would be climbing Machu Picchu Mountain which is the bigger of the two. While Huyana Picchu is the smaller mountain it is the more difficult climb. It is littered with steep steps along with a system of ropes to assist with the climb. It took us roughly two hours to climb up and down the mountain. It provided for some awesome views of Machu Picchu and the Wayabamba River.

The view from Huyana Picchu

After the climb we took a bus to the town of Aguas Caliente (this means hot water in Spanish) to catch our train. This town is an incredibly touristy town as the main source of income is the Machu Picchu tourist crowds. The tourists have to go through this town in order to reach Machu Picchu. We had time for a spot of lunch before the three-hour train ride back to Cusco. We boarded the train and we had been seated with an American tourist who was doing a small tour of South America. He was telling Vinay and I about some interesting trails and treks to do in North America. He was also telling us about diving sites in Belize, Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia which were worth visiting. While we were chatting with this American gentleman, I realized that the train was running late. This meant that we would barely make the overnight to Arequipa.

Soon we had reached the main train station and a car, which the tour company had organized for us, was waiting for us. The traffic to the Cruz Del Sur bus station was appalling. We miraculously managed to make it with minutes to spare. We boarded the bus and slept knowing that our Andean ordeal is not yet over.

Chapter 9: The storm lingers on.

We woke up at around six in the morning in the charming town of Arequipa. Arequipa is home to three volcanoes which all tower over 5500 metres above sea level. The volcano which we would be climbing would be Misti, the tallest one at 5822 metres. Mentally I felt ready for this climb but physically, I was not. I was still recovering from the Inca Trail. I felt that the altitude would be a problem. While I took altitude sickness pills I was worried about their effectiveness. The coca candies Tanya had given me did not work at all on the Inca Trail. Nevertheless we soon met at the hotel where our guide, Johann, would be picking us up. We had arranged with the hotel to leave most of our clothes in the rain bags at the hotel as it would make our climb easier. It was extremely beneficial for me as I was carrying two bags. After about thirty minutes we had prepped our bags and purchased snacks. By that time we had readied ourselves for the long journey ahead. The first part of our journey would be a car ride all the way to the base of the volcano. Soon we started the long climb which was a two-thousand metre accent all the way to the summit of the volcano.

The mountain in question

One of the many rest stops (mostly due to me)

The climb started off with a moderate gradient which wasn’t too taxing on the body. As we started to get higher, the gradient started to increase. I was slowly starting to feel the effects of altitude sickness. The lack of air was effecting me badly and I was starting to show signs of the sickness. I was having headaches, nausea and irritability. The irritability was a combination of both the altitude sickness and my general attitude. For the past couple of days I was just getting really fed up of being around Ethan and Vinay all the time. It is something that happens when you spend weeks on end with the same people. You end up yearning for some alone time just to gather your thoughts and in my case, gain a new perspective on life. It got to the point when I would hardly talk to them during the Inca Trail. I would spend most of the time taking photos and simply admiring the scenery. I would also shout at them whenever they waited for me. I was remarkably stubborn at the time as I felt that those two waiting for me is a waste of time and they should just carry on. I was considering going silent when I came home and not communicating with anyone. It was so bad that it got to the point where said, “if I die somewhere behind you, just carry on because you two don’t need to give a damn about me. I am just a burden to you two and it was foolish of me to even come.” Thankfully all of this did come to end but that is to come later. The trek carried one and after about nine hours of trekking we reached our campsite. The campsite was at a height of about 4700 metres above sea level. We spent the rest of the day setting up the tent and relaxing. It started to get dark quickly but just as the sun was setting I was able to take some photos. I felt these photos were an accurate representation of the beauty that this area has to offer. Soon it was diner time and Johann managed to prepare an excellent pasta dish along with some Maggi instant soup. It was then time for bed and we would be preparing for an early start tomorrow at around two in the morning.

Our campsite above the clouds

Our exceptional guide Johann

Our last sunset of the year 2015

While getting ready for bed I realised my altitude sickness was getting worse. At around midnight, Johann woke us up to fireworks that were coming from Arequipa. We celebrated the New Year and took some photos.

After fireworks and a couple more hours of sleep we prepared for the last climb. It was quite exhausting and my pace was very slow but I persevered. As we passed 5200 metres the sun was coming out and the tapestry it formed in the sky was incredible. It almost made climbing up to this ridiculous height worth it. It was only by around 10:00 in the morning that we were able to make it to the summit which was marked by a cross. The view in the valley was amazing and it spread out for miles on end. We celebrated both the new year and the completion of the climb with a ‘tot’ of Haig Whiskey that Vinay had brought in a flask. After spending a bit of time taking photos we began the long walk back down but the time wasn’t as long as I thought. After climbing down to a landing our guide pointed at a steep sandy slope and said “watch me” and so we did. He ended up running down the sandy slope and so we followed. It almost felt like downhill skiing and it provided for some truly awesome go pro footage.

The first glimpse of sun in the year 2016

The view from the summit

A couple hours and a few kilos of sand in our shoes later we had soon reached the bottom of the mountain. All that was left was a short walk to the car. We had used this moment to clear out the unholy amount of sand that had collected inside our shoes. After the clearing we proceeded back to the car, drove into to town to collect the rest of our belongings and proceeded to our hostel. At the hostel we each took a long deserved shower and thus completed what was our Andean hell week. However, we had almost forgotten about the Colca Canyon tour that we had booked for the next day. The tour company had arranged to pick us up at three in the morning.

Chapter 10: We caught a break

We were woken up at around quarter to three in the morning to catch the tour bus to the Colca Canyon. These canyons are famous not only for the beautiful views but they are also the home to the Andean Condor. The bus ride to the canyons was about three hours long which was brilliant as it allowed us to catch up on some sleep. Soon we pulled into a small town where the tour company had provided breakfast. It was a simple affair for it consisted of tea or coffee, bread, an assortment of jams and butter and what us three had called squeaky cheese. After the breakfast stop we headed into the canyon to do some condor spotting. This tour was a much needed break as the bus which we were in would be doing most of the transporting and we would hardly have to do any walking. After stopping in a couple towns to take photos and buy drinks we finally made it to the main condor spotting area. We spent a good hour there checking out the scenery and we were in luck. The weather was incredibly clear and we were able to see three condors flying around. I was thankful I brought my zoom lens, as I was able to capture some amazing shots of these majestic birds. After admiring these creatures we boarded the van and headed for lunch. Much like breakfast it was a simple affair which consisted of a buffet spread. After the lunch we headed back into Arequipa. We then went to sleep knowing that we could have a relaxing start to the next day.

A majestic volcano near the Colca Canyon

A variation of the Peruvian tuk tuk

The magnificent Andean Condor

Another magnificent Andean Condor

Alpacas

Vicunas

The next day we woke up with a free day in Arequipa as we had no plans till the evening which is when our bus to Nazca would leave. I found that there was actually a small chocolate factory nearby and I wanted to get my father some cocoa powder. We also took this chance to explore the town square as we were quite close to the historical part of the town. After checking out and locking up our bags we headed over there. The town square was filled with buildings that were of the traditional colonial Spanish style. What was common in these town squares were the fact the largest building was the church. This gives an indication as to how important religion is not just in the colonial times but also to this day. After admiring the sights we proceeded a the chocolate factory. We were told that they have a tour whereby you can make your own chocolate bar. When we arrived the tour was not open but I was still able to purchase cocoa powder from them and their café was open too. We then proceeded to carry on our newfound tradition of playing cards and unique locations. We spent about 3 hours there passing the time while waiting for our night bus. After a couple hot cocoas and ciders and cakes the other two confronted me about my attitude recently. They could already sense that something was not right with me. While I insisted everything was fine they were adamant that something was not right. I eventually told them that I needed some alone time and I needed time to gather my thoughts. They were reasonably understanding of that fact and soon everything seemed to be back to normal. In reality I was still yearning for some time by myself and eventually I got that but in the meantime we still had travelling to do. Soon we collected our bags back from the hostel and proceeded to catch the overnight bus to Nazca. This would be our only journey on a bus company that wasn’t Cruz Del Sur but on Olturusa. When we got on the bus we were pleasantly surprised to find that this was as reliable and as comfortable as our usual ride Cruz Del Sur. This bus also had Wi-Fi so us three were able to communicate with our families too. Soon we would be doing a city hop across some really incredible places and I was looking forward to that.

Chapter 11: Desert exploring and oh God more sand

The comfortable night bus brought us to the town of Nazca at around six in the morning. Nazca is home to the historic Nazca lines. The guide had arranged to meet us at the bus terminal to bring us to the airport where we would take the flight to go see these lines. Once we reached the airport we proceeded to check in and since it was a small place there was a restriction on the luggage we could bring. I only brought my camera bag and the other two just brought their valuables. They also weighed us with whatever baggage we were bringing on to the aircraft. Soon we boarded the aircraft and were up in the air. The flight itself was only about 15 minutes but it offered some great views of the lines. It also provided views of some incredibly tall sand dunes which reached up to two thousand metres in height. Seeing these lines made me question what was the purpose of these lines. I later found out that to this day historians and archaeologists are unsure of the purpose. Most of them believe it serves an astronomical purpose. Maybe one day in the future we will find out what it serves but in the meantime I just simply admired it.

An astronaut

Another set of drawings

The view from our light aircraft

Once we had landed we were sent back to the bus terminal to board our Cruz Del Sur bus to Ica which is home to the oasis at Huccachina. Our bus was not for another three hours. Thankfully the friendly guide for the Nazca tour company was able to get us VIP seats on the bus which was due to leave in thirty minutes. Soon we boarded the 4 hour long bus ride to the town of Ica. The bus ride was uneventful but the scenery consisted of some dunes which were over 2000 metres high. We arrived in Ica and quickly found a taxi to take us to the oasis. In the oasis we would be doing some sand boarding and dune bashing. But the next available tour was only at 4:30. So we found a restaurant and spent the next few hours eating and playing cards with an incredible backdrop.

The road to Ica

The oasis of Huccachina

It was time to get on our car which would be used for dune bashing and we were in for quite a surprise. It was quite an old buggy where the seat belts didn’t fasten properly and the engine was fully exposed. The engine was quite powerful, well it at least sounded powerful as it sounded like a roaring V8.

"Our death trip dune buggy"

The driver seemed to be the most chill guy in the world. He was really chucking the car all over the place and it felt like a roller coaster ride. While he was doing all this he was having a cigarette and smiling throughout. Soon we reached one of the dunes that we would be “sand boarding” on. Over the next hour we would be traveling to different dunes to attempt sand boarding and on each attempt we would fail miserably. However this did provide for some excellent gopro footage. On our last dune which was gigantic the three of us agreed to lie down on the boards and race down. It ended up with Vinay winning and Ethan trying to crash into me and failing and it allowed me to come in second. The tour culminated with the driver bringing us to see the sun set over the horizon and to see it cast a golden light over the oasis. While admiring the scene we had realized that there was less than 30 minutes to catch our bus to Paracas. Thankfully the tour company had arranged a car for us to reach the bus station on time. The driver was driving almost like he had channeled his inner Aryton Senna. He was racing in-between the cars and it was fantastically scary. Miraculously we had made it in one piece and we rushed to check-in and board our one-hour bus ride to the seaside town of Paracas. Much like the end of the Misti climb, our shoes were filled sand. It caused great discomfort all the way to the town of Paracas and our hostel. Thankfully tomorrow would consist of a relaxing tour and a bus ride all the way to the capital city, Lima.

"A scene straight out of Lawrence of Arabia"

Beauty can be found in the most barren of landscapes

Chapter 12: The poor mans Galapagos.

We woke up early as usual to a gorgeous seaside view and a gentle breeze from the sea. Paracas is home to the Ballestas islands which the locals have nicknamed the “Poor mans Galapagos Islands.” The reasoning for this unique name is that while this island is full of wildlife like the original, it can be viewed for a fraction of the cost. However these islands are not home to any giant turtles nor can you actually walk on these islands. Instead the tours of the islands are done primarily by boat and take roughly 3 hours. This includes the time it takes to get from Paracas to the islands. The boat ride was fairly quick as it only took about thirty minutes or so. On the way we saw a large drawing in the sand which looked much like a giant candlestick. Our guide said that it was reminiscent of the Nazca line drawings. Many hypothesize that it was done by the same people. Soon we reached the islands and eventually saw some wildlife. Most of the wildlife that was there on this island consisted of birds and seals. We were fortunate to have excellent and clear weather today. Most of the birds there were seagulls and a different variety of pigeon. On the day that we went there was a particularly aggressive pelican there too. This pelican at one point quickly ate and swallowed an entire seagull. This spectacle made for quite the sight. Among the aggressive pelican and the seals were a group incredibly adorable Fairy Penguins. These little creatures are not as large as their imperial cousins, the emperor penguin but they’re still just as fun and cute. After admiring these animals we soon headed back for Paracas where the three of us had around 6 hours to kill before the night bus to Lima.

The boat ride to the islands

The candlestick

Seals

Fairy penguins

Much like the town of Copacabana in Bolivia, this city was also famous for fish. This didn’t come as much to a surprise given its location by the sea. We went to a one of the popular restaurants to have grab lunch. We had all purchased wasfish and chips along with Limonada, a Peruvian variation on lemonade. We first discovered this delightful beverage in the town of Cusco prior to our trek to Machu Picchu. We later found out that this drink is made with limes and a lot of sugar. What’s interesting about this process is that they blend the limes with the skin still on. Apparently there’s a lot of flavour that is within the skin of the fruit. Whatever these flavours were they made for one hell of a refreshing beverage. After lunch we found a small café that specializes in in frozen smoothies and juices. Ethan and Vinay tucked into a comically large smoothie which consisted of strawberry and mango. I had settled for an equally large glass of Limonada. It helped us to remain nice and content all the way to the late afternoon when we would have to board four hour bus ride to Lima.

It was soon time to board the bus and it was very crowded. This service that travels from Ica to Lima via Paracas is incredibly popular. This is because it caters to the tourists who visit the sights that draw tourists to these cities. Unfortunately we were unable to book our usual VIP seats so we got to try out the regular seats that the company also offers. Much to our surprise these seats almost as comfortable as the VIP seats. Sadly there isn’t as much neither room nor is there as much privacy. Nevertheless it perfectly sufficed for our short hop along the beautiful Peruvian coast. The drive would take us on the Panamerica highway. The Panamerica highway is a 30,000 mile highway system that stretches all the way from Alaska to the tip of Chile. The road provided for some incredibly beautiful scenes and it was hugging the Pacific coast. We followed the highway all the way into the capital Lima and soon it would be the last day in this amazing country.

Chapter 13: The beginning of the end

It was around seven in the evening in the city of Lima and we proceeded straight to our hostel. It was our first time being back in a big city that is similar in population to Singapore. While Ethan preferred his small towns I started to grow interested in this interesting city. We soon reached our hostel and after checking in and sorting out our bags we went to a mall. This mall had a large open air area which had restaurants and cafes that overlook the pacific ocean. After grabbing a small bite to eat along with a drink we headed back to our hostel. At the hostel I made a small plan for us to do before the long arduous bus ride to Quito. After several rounds of cards with Ethan and Vinay and even some of the other travelers we retired to bed.

The next morning we had a leisurely start which started with brunch where the three of us had fed ourselves handsomely. Then we proceed to follow my short plan of action for the day. This mostly involved walking into the much older part of town to see some interesting architecture. I mostly wanted to see this beautiful historic church which looked like it was in the verge of collapsing. We were fortunate to have some brilliant weather today. It allowed for easy exploration of this old neighborhood. Majority of the old buildings were in the traditional colonial style. What I quite liked about this neighborhood was that they utitlised all the old buildings and they didn’t demolish them. In fact there were hardly any new buildings.

Interesting graffiti on the older streets of Lima

The old church in question

"Donde esta la biblioteca"

After spending some time admiring these places we headed back to the hostel to pack up and leave for the bus station. The bus was due to leave at around 3 pm and arrive in the city of Quito, Ecuador 30 hours later. We expected our usual Cruz Del Sur bus to take us all the way up but we were in for a surprise. It was a completely different type of bus which they only use for international journeys. What was more shocking was that people rode this bus all the way from Lima in Peru to Bogota in Colombia. Given that air travel is expensive in this continent many chose the bus. Thankfully we had wifi and very comfortable seats. We were fortunate to be seated in the very first row of the bus which had generous leg room. As the bus pulled out of the massive Cruz Del Sur we settled in to the long drive north not knowing what would be coming our way.

To be continued in Part 4

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