Intro Peru 2006
Day 1 May28 2006 Lima Arequipa What a great first impression of Peru flying over the mountains to Arequipa and straight into "Volcano Country" I have been waiting for this moment and have been dreaming about being surrounded by Volcano's, since booking this trip, well I was not disappointed!
After an early morning flight from Lima to Arequipa our adventure was about to begin.
Joining with Sandra, Trevor, Michael and Jonathan, we were on our way to join the rest of our group. It was a peaceful one hour flight and we were even served with a drink and snack for free. This sort of treatment is just a distant memory for us with the rise of low cost airlines where nothing is free. I'm sure they are trying to work out how to charge for the air we breath onboard. It made a refreshing change to be given something for nothing!
El Misti volcano
Safely on the tarmac the doors open and its a this point I felt an official warning should have been given to tell everyone stepping off the plain to prepare for the sight that was about to hit them, thus preventing people ending up in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the aircraft steps.
I can honestly say I was almost a crumpled body at the bottom of the steps, when I stepped out the sight of three gigantic volcano's almost made my heart stop and loose my footing, I was not the only one, all you could hear was gasps of" wow, wow amazing" from travelers arriving at this place for the first time, and clearly coming from places where mountains let alone volcano's are a bit of a premium. There was no rushing people including us off the tarmac, there were photographs been taken at every angle imaginable, and people just standing staring, its a truly stunning spot!
Pichu Pichu 5,664m
This was our first meeting with our tour leaders Dermot and his man in Peru Eduardo.
Introductions complete it was time to load the bikes on top of the vehicle and head for Arequipa, A short drive and we were in the heart of the town at our hostel. This was our chance to meet the rest of the group who had arrived a few days earlier. Mary, Donald, Brian, Marie, William and Garret. We were going to be spending the next two weeks with these people and sharing experiences that we would all have with us for the rest of our lives.
After assembling our bikes which had been transported in tact by Iberia. (This was our biggest fear that they would be dented and bruised, a sigh of relief for sure) An extremely pleasant afternoon was spent sightseeing and the beginning of our acclimatization to altitude. Araquipa sits at 2,235m above sea level this would be a test for us all to see how we coped with the effects of altitude.
A visit to the bustling square with people milling about and enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon the biggest topic of conversation and debate was the forthcoming elections. A couple of hours were spent in the beautiful St Catalina monastery. It is very interesting, no longer used but the up-keep is A1 and a visit must for any visitor to Arequipa. Just time for a few beers before heading back and having our 1st group dinner.
Day 2 May 29 2006 El-Misti This was it our 1st ride and what a way to start! Bikes loaded onto the vehicles to take us high above Arequipa to almost touching distance of El-Misti, it was a narrow winding bumpy ride all the way up, sheer drops and breathtaking views.
No tarmac surface here just loose stone and large rocks caused by rock fall all topped off with a nice layer of gray volcanic ash which is finer than sand and extremely hard to cycle through, if you are unlucky enough to go to your hubs in it! There the odd crevice that had been opened on the track by earth tremors and I had the feeling that there was the possibility that we just might be the vehicle that would just be too heavy to make it over, I found myself holding my breath until I realized the air was thin enough up here without me adding to the stress on my heart! We were treated to tales by Eduardo of the constant stream of lorries that come across the mountain on this track at night carrying contraband from Bolivia with no lights on so they could cross unseen. By all accounts that was a reason the track was so good! I would hate to see what they classed as bad. Well nuts and crazy come to mind I now know there are people out there that will do and risk anything for money.
where's the loo!
Once we all stepped out of the vehicles we all had our first real feeling of the effects of altitude. The most leisurely move and your heart was racing, feeling like you had just run a marathon, its pretty scary I have to say. Lucky we stopped on the way to embark on the famous coca leaf chewing....foul is the one word that can describe it, you shove a bunch of leaves in your mouth then you have to bite off a piece of stone that is suppose to activate the coca leaves and release a "juice" that is suppose to be very beneficial to the effects of altitude. Well at that moment heart thumping and panting for breath I chewed as many leaves as I could I was taking no chances even if the whole of Peru had invented this as a big joke to see how far the "tourists" would go to feel better, I didn't care one bit. Mouth numb (oh yes that's what happens) teeth green and one pant away from throwing up, off we set to embark on this crazy downhill cycle of 35km.
The Fallen Angel Cusco(fish in a bath table)
Disaster, not 10 minutes on the bikes we loose our first team mate. Jonathan took one hell of a tumble and was in a pretty bad way, we think he may have lost control in the volcanic sand. It took a while to get him sorted and into the support vehicle and on his way to the hospital. We were aware that he had a head injury and a broken collarbone, we felt a bit deflated as we continued our cycle and took extra care. It was an amazing feeling cycling in the shadow of the volcano's and every bend brought another amazing scene. Once we reached the bottom and headed back to Arequipa for lunch. The support vehicle carrying Jonathan was a long way behind us, it was difficult trying to get down without causing him more pain than he already felt.
Once we knew he was safely on his way to hospital we all relaxed a little and enjoyed a feast of a lunch and a well earned beer! We were all pretty pleased with how we felt at altitude and none of us suffered anything other than the normal side effects it was looking good.........
Later that afternoon we had a visit to the bike shop in the center. I needed some bearings for my headset, and others from the group brought things like knobbley tyres it was bike heaven! Most of the stuff in the shop cost a fraction of what we pay at home. There are two shops side by side both really well stocked, the story is; the shops are run by sisters who at one time had one shop but found it impossible to work together so each have their own shop side by side.
They get on fine now and both do a roaring trade and are by reputation excellent in their field. That evening we visited Jonathan in hospital he was more comfortable and had been given pain relief. It was sad that it was the end of his cycling so early into the trip. He would have to wait a few days to hear the extent of his injuries.
on a roll
Day 3 May 30 2006 Arequipa Yankie Abruptly at around 5am we were all woken my an earthquake that is the best alarm call I have ever had! It was a strange feeling once it registered what was happening, it only lasted seconds but quiet literally the earth shook.
It was the talking point at breakfast, it is quiet the norm here and people go about their business as if it was as common as a downpour at home. I think we all felt a little relieved we were leaving town just in case there was another.
It was our first day loading the bikes onto the mini bus that was to transport us for the next few days. It takes quiet a while to make sure they are all packed tight and we don't loose one off the top on route. Today we were heading over the mountains through the volcano's. We had a change to our route due to the fact a road had been washed away. We said good bye to Dermot who was staying behind with Jonathan.
The drive to the start of our ride was up hill for around four hours, we did have a little stop at a place called Chappie where there was a man with a huge Hawk that you could have your picture taken with, also a pretty little church. Off we set again, it was amazing landscape sculptured by numerous eruptions that created this spectacular place. We were heading for the high point of around 5,000m and shortly after we were unloading the bikes to start our decent to Chivay. I could feel the altitude as soon as we stepped off the minibus also a cold wind was blowing so it was full gear for the cycle. There were two options a tarmac ride or an off road ride. Choice made each group headed off to our final destination for that day. Us off roaders set off, it was off road cycling at its best, quiet rocky and technical but not mega steep so you could really work with the bike that is of course if you didn't get blow outs!!!!! Rob started he was the first one to go.
When I realized something was up and cycled back up hill to see if everything was ok I felt my lungs cave in on me I could have done with a small can of oxygen, lucky by the time we had changed the tyre with the help of Eduardo 1 I had recovered! (yes there are two Eduardo's I and 2 Eduardo 2 being our mechanic) Not long after Rob got another and then me it was like a conspiracy looks like the rocky decent was causing snakebites (inner tube gets pinched) on our inner tubes this can be caused if the tyres are not rock hard, or we were just going too fast!. With the help of the Eduardo's we were soon back on the road but having used all our spare inner tubes. I got two more before we got to Chivay and let me tell you I was not laughing!! Eduardo1 also had a puncture on the way down. Oh I forgot to mention there are these grass type clumps that only grow above 3000m that are very prickly and can cause punctures too, they were everywhere and no matter how you tried to avoid them you would without a doubt run over the odd one or two! Even though it was most annoying having all the punctures it was a fantastic ride.
Bob feeling the cold
By the time we got to Chivay we were all starving and really ready for lots and lots of food and coca tea and a beer. We were not disappointed. At some point Garrett and William managed to buy raffle tickets the prize was a gas cooker, so we all sat drinking beer wondering how we could get the cooker and the bikes on top of the bus if they won....well we wouldn't have too long to wait as the boys had to go to the church at a certain time to see if they had won the coveted prize. Strangely enough when they got there, the church was empty and no sign of a gas cooker. It was a relief really as I didn't fancy writing a book called around Peru with a gas cooker!!!
We headed for our base at a tiny place called Yankie.
The night was really cold here I have to say it was thermals on. We had a lovely supper and were treated to a little dance by the local children it was really nice. It was Marie's birthday and somehow Eduardo 1 managed to magic up a lovely cake from somewhere we all ate cake and drank beer before sleep in preperation for our trip to the Colca Canyon I was really looking forward to this.
beautiful little girl
Day 4 May 31 2006 Colca Canyon YankieThis might be a good time to say a little about the roads, well most of what we have been driving on for the past few days are not made up just dirt tracks and we are all shaken rattled and on occasion rolled. Also most of the time the bus is filled with dust as a result. Many efforts have been made by Renaldo our driver to stop the dust coming through to no avail.
We resorted to the bandit look! We had an early start to drive to see the condors before we started our cycle we were all hoping we would see these magnificent birds in flight. You have to be there just as the sun rises as they glide on the warm thermals when the sun hits the side of the Canyon, so if the weather is not right they don't move! Well we were not disappointed by the time we got there it had warmed up nicely and they took to flight the sight was amazing I have never seen anything so large look so graceful, their wing span is 8ft making them the largest flying bird. Eduardo told us we were lucky to see 13 in flight at once what an amazing thing! We were all so impressed and so happy we had been treated to such a wonderful sight. After a little shopping alpacas hats gloves scarves socks and jumpers off we set leaving the condors behind.
We were being dropped off at a certain point start the cycle down into the Canyon and then cycling back "UP" to Yankie. It was hot now and it was going to be a tough cycle the climbs were not too bad but combined with altitude they gave you the feeling that a pack of Lamas had been tied to the back of your bike and were running in the opposite direction. . hard slog! We stopped and had a picnic it was very welcome cheese bread fruit ham all good for keeping energy levels up. We passed through sleepy villages that were very poor but amazingly there is always a lovely church that is in pristine condition!
This was a beautiful cycle passed fields been worked without machines and small children wandering home from school hand in hand or just playing together in the square no electronic gadgets or games here just pure basic fun.
The children here are beautiful and well mannered and just a pleasure to be around. After the last long climb we crossed the river and went up hill for 1km, then it was relatively flat all the way back to Yankie and we were off to sample the hot springs at Chivay.... oh that was most welcome our legs and muscles really needed a treat! The hot springs were fantastic the water coming straight from the volcanic rock it was hotter than I expected it was wonderful to relax and feel all the stress drain from your body, oh and a very nice man came along with a bucket filled with ice cold beer, well what can I say! Back at our accommodation really lovely ranch style buildings in very pretty grounds it was freezing cold there and wide open spaces. We had a lovely dinner and were treated to some dancing by the children and some light footed persons amongst us took part too! We had a few drinks and a cake to celebrate Marie's birthday (not mine!) and headed for a good sleep.
frost at dawn Lampa
Day 5 June 1 2006 Yankie to Lampa. Today we were heading into the altiplano the flat lands surrounded by volcanoes. Nine volcanoes could be seen at one time this was the highlight for me and seeing this amazing sight. Also visible was Ubinas which had been smoking and spewing ash for a few months. The villagers below Ubinas had refused to leave their animals and refused to be evacuated. I saw a picture of an alpaca with a dust mask, well what can I say the animals are these peoples livelihood. We stopped at a "shack" for lunch, on first inspection lady on hands and knees outside with big basin washing something no sign of running water, oh the toilets were right beside the pig sty which housed an enormous pig.
I opted for breaded fried alpaca steaks rice and potatoes (both Rob and myself decided to steer clear of the yummy salad remember I said no sign of running water) it was very tasty indeed. Quiet bizarrely there were pictures of scantly dressed women on the wall right beside some very religious pictures, I can only guess that one cancels out the other kind of ying and yang I really love this place! Well Michael and William have ended up with bad stomachs not sure if it was the yummy salad or not but they feel pretty rough!
We started our ride by the lagoons very pretty but freezing cold. 4,560 meters. The sun had dropped behind the mountains and the wind howled right down the valley in our faces. This was going to be a tough one. We had around 35km to our destination and the mini bus captained by Renaldo stopped every 7or so km to give us snacks and drinks and pick up anyone who was in trouble.
The group spread out quiet quickly and it was not too bad other than the wind. We met children coming home from school who laughed and ran alongside us which was bloody annoying when you were busting a lung. There were stray dogs all along the route waiting for scraps to be thrown out of passing vehicles some fancied their chances with a panting cyclist and promptly got a squirt of water in the face. It was quiet funny at one point Renaldo was stopped by a couple of police cars and as we cycled passed him you could see him trying to explain that we were with him. I was on a roll now and not even an inquisitive policeman was going to stop me. Other than mad dogs and children there were some donkeys that decided to run out across in our path we survived and got to our destination and downed a few beers in celebration.
Bikes packed onto the minibus off we set to our accommodation in Lampa.
We were once again stopped by police and Renaldo had to negotiate with them as they thought we were Venezuelans voters being brought in for vote rigging in the election. Renaldo assured them we were English Christians on a cycling holiday, actually we really did look like Venezuelans, after a back hander we were off. We were starving and tired so it wasn't a good sign to see the streets in darkness alas there was a power cut and our host was in the process of trying to rig up a supply from the street! This was a beautiful hacienda style hostel, we sat huddled around candles. We got dinner it was delicious but the place was freezing it was so cold I had a jacket and hood on we sat round drinking Garrett's pisco sour (a local drink), well that's if anyone could get it away from William. That was the coldest I have ever been, I couldn't sleep I was up at dawn and rewarded with a frost covered ground and the sunrise had stained the mountains red, that took away some of the pain!
waiting with friends near the Sacred Valley
Day 6 1st June Lampa Cusco Before leaving we were treated to a visit around the cathedral which was amazing it had statues, paintings, domes filled with skulls, tunnels that revolutionaries hid in and a leather Jesus on a crucifix with real hair, pretty impressive.
We had a short drive to the valley and a lovely picnic lunch. It was lovely and warm and today it was a 45km cycle along the valley, some good climbs and descents. Cycling through towns watching people selling their produce, women working in the fields. This might be a good time to say about the fabulous clothes the women wear. You can tell the district by the clothing. Some wear bright colours reds blues and heavily embroidered tops and skirts while others wear plain dark colours, but there is always a hat wide brimmed or narrow brimmed plain or covered in lace and flowers so pretty!
heading for Sacred Valley
Today we saw lines of corn laying out in the sun to dry and ripen the corn here is huge and very delicious, its used in many Peruvian dishes. Arriving at the mini bus taking time to eat fruit watching a small boy herding cattle home in his bare feet, he gave us all a curious glance and let me tell you it was us that felt out of place in this un-spoilt place.
All loaded we set off for Cusco.
view where 9 volcanos can be seen
Day 7 2nd June
Cusco is truly a beautiful city. It was a challenge getting the minibus up the narrow very steep cobble streets, so much so the clutch burnt out, poor Renaldo lucky we were here for a few days. The rest was very welcome before we hit the Inca trail.
We spent some time exploring this lovely city with its unique architecture the buildings are built on the remains of the old Inca city with the distinctive large stone, it really is something to see.
There are so many great places to eat and drink, spoilt for choice. The nightlife is buzzing too, if I wasn't so tired I guess I would have found it no problem to find a place to dance the night away! The people are so friendly this was the first time we encountered street sellers and it was amazing you just had to say no thank you " ONCE" and they went away, I couldn't believe it. There are loads of little markets and lots of cool "tat" that you would actually want to buy and I did! Lovely woven bags Al Paca socks, scarves, jumpers. you name it I brought it, dirt cheap too.
Day 8 4th June
Once again it was time to get the bikes loaded and off we set to get to our starting point for the days cycle the Sacred Valley.
Today we loose two more of the party Sandra and Michael who are staying in Cusco as they are booth too ill to travel. It is sad saying bye to them. We started as the dirty dozen now we are the notorious nine! We stop at an old town and visit a traditional market where people have been trading in the exact way as the Incas did. Bartering cheese for potatoes corn for vegetables and so on it really was something to watch. Once again we left with bags of delicious fruit. We also saw how the wool is dyed with natural colours for vegetable and organic sources and the vibrant colours that are achieved. We watched the ladies and small girls weave and make beautiful things...........and yes I brought more stuff!! We arrived at our picnic spot overlooking the Sacred Valley. This is a beautiful place and I can see why it got its name.
The mountains engulf the green lush valley. At this point we realize we have left all the bike skewer's ( that's the bit that stops the wheels falling off ) in Cusco. This meant we had an extra long lunch and made the most of the sunshine and beautiful views. I found some cute pigs mooching around down the valley and just had to go and have a play, they obliged and lay on their backs while I scratched their ears. Well the minibus returned about an hour and a half later, it travels at one speed "slow" We are taking bets to see if it gets us to our final destination. Bikes put together we had a 10km on road cycle and a 17km off road through the salt mines before heading into Olluyantambo. The last stop before the Inca trail. The road cycle was really nice we had a couple of climb's and some really nice down hills before getting to the off road section. The mountains were in front of us on a gravel track that was to lead us to the salt mines.
The first view of the salt mines is amazing they are terraced and in small sections and with the red rock backdrop really look spectacular. The track looked scary to say the least a narrow single track with hairpin bends and a heart stopping drop if you happened to go over the edge, real adrenalin pumping stuff............I don't mind saying I was more than a little worried! OHHHHHHHHHHHHHH what a ride it was heart thumping and adrenilin pumping it was brill! We all made it to the bottom in tact. We headed off towards Ollantaytambo where we would spend the night before starting the Inca trail. Oh AI neglected to mention chicha feemented corn drink of un determined alcoholic content. You look out for homes with a little flag outside this indicates chicha is available, you just make your way into the house. These stops were made on occasion ;-) We made our final leg of the days ride along nice roads and up cobble streets on a bit of a climb into Ollantaytambo it was fantastic.
Bob on single track at salt mines
The Elections were in full swing now and people were in town from all over the place in trucks cars anything mode of transport that could transport lots of people. It was FIESTA time! We had late lunch sitting outside in the square watching the dancing and fun then dumped our stuff at the hostel, which was really quaint even if there was no water because of the vast amounts of people in town that was taking its toll on the resources......who cares there was food and lots of beer waiting for us!. out we went and ate a lovely meal and drank lots of beer watching people in processions ans dancing the colours and music was fab and a firework disply that would make your hair stand on end or set a light, we were falling around laughing at the crazy display the firework tower collapsed and a man had a contraption attached to himself whish was set light to and he ran about the square like a human firework.
Salt mines Sacred Valley
...I have never laughed so much in my life, just imagining that here in England Health and Safety would have a field day. It was one of my favorite evenings in Peru
dinner al fresco Ollantaytambo
It was time to leave the bikes and grab waliking poles it was time for the Inca Trail. I had been soooooooooo looking forward to this. We were going with "BIGFOOT" by all accounts there are many tour groups that are not ethical and do not give their porters fair pay and food many only have leftovers! So we were happy to be with a good tour, also Rubin who was our guide was a porter when he was younger and also had amazing knowlege on flora the fawna and history we were very lucky.
Day one was fairly flat and not too many climbs very pretty scenery with the mountains, wide paths and gushing rivers and the sun was shining, we all really enjoyed the first day even if we felt naked without the bikes! Our 1st campsite was pretty quiet not many people at all we settled in and enjoyed a fantastic supper, that’s the prevailing theme through this whole trip THE FOOD it’s amazing. I never expected our porters to produce such culinary delights as were placed in front of us fish, meat,
Chicken, rice potatoes, pasta soup, salads, vegetables corn even chips!! (Not all the same day ;-)) Once we had eaten we sat around chatting and talking about the day then out of nowhere a little girl came with a bucket full of cold beers for sale.
..well this was just getting better and better. The camping was great slept well and was woken by a porter with coca tea service with a smile. The weather was holding well warm and sunny this just added to the experience. Day 2 was to be a harder day with our 1st pass of 4,200m wow now you feel the altitude as you climb. There were some amazing views and ruins to see along the route. We were treated to a fantastic lunch, which would keep us going till supper. One thing you notice about being in the mountains is once the sun dips down being them the temperature drops like a stone, out come the fleece woolly socks and every item of alpaca clothing I possess. It's so nice to sit around and share the day with each other while eating a lovely meal prepared for us, we are all ready to hit the sack soon after dark ready for another crack of dawn early morning call.
. Today would take us over dead womans pass just the name sends shivers down your spine. Another fantastic day blue sky and sunshine off we wind along the ancient Inca Trail, it really is a place to gather your thoughts get back in touch with nature and the earth there is no pollution or noise the air is crisp (even if it is thin)
Well Dead woman's pass lived up to its name, it was a hard slog slow going but oh soooo rewarding once you got to the top we all gathered there congratulating each other and just glad we were still able to stand! It was down hill all the way to camp from here and that proved to be hard on the knees, we arrived nice and early with time to relax and enjoy the views and mountains I sat as long as i could until the sun went below the mountains and it got cold we all gathered for our supper and shared our feelings at having reached this point it really was an amazing feeling.
It was off for some well earned rest and on the trail bright an early. Like most things as the days go on you start to fall into a routine, the morning was once again bright and warm even though we were at altitude. we set off along the trail and relaxed into the walk seening the scenery change with every meandering bend in the trail you try to imagine what it might have been like for the Inca's. This is the start of the true inca trail where it changes to a narrow stone road. As the day progressed we were going through the cloud and mist in the wooded areas it was lush and green looking out for flora and fauna passing ruins and being wowed by the whole experience We were heading for the next pass Abra de Runkuracay at 3500 meters stopping and detouring to the many sites on the path. All too soon we were at out next and final night before the end.
This was a large campsite and had showers byy now it was a very appealing idea after days on the trail the decision was to shower or not to shower as the process would take a while...first you had to buy a ticket then you had to wait in a queue for your turn to enter the shower area, this was very much dependant on someone leaving the shower block quick and lets face it after four days once your turne came you were not going to rush the experience, well the thought of a hot shower was too good to pass up so I started the process all in all it took about an hour and to be fair there wasn't a huge abount of water coming out of the shower but afterwards I felt like a million dollars!! This was our last night and tomorrow we would have to leave around 0300 to reach the sun gate for dawn Im sure we would be glad we did!!! bleary eyed off we set along with the whole campsite and some people seemed to be in such a rush they were flying down the trail not thinking of anyone else along the way.
I really didn't want it to end so why the rush!!!! We found the sun gate and gazed down into the valley where the magnificent Machu Picchu stood in splendid tranquillity it was a spiritual moment that first glance. We decided to wait at the top lots of people rushed down the path to see the sunrise from the "famous" point to be honest it really does not matter what point you are at your there!!!!! We had the sun gate almost to ourselves we waited and watched to daylight break and reveal the stunning ruins of Machu Picchu. There was a wispy mist curling around and the sight of Happy Mountain looming high made you feel very privilaged and lucky enough to have been able to walk the ancient trail and experience a little of what the people who built this place might have felt That moment will remain in my memory forever! .
.... to be continued