Lima to La Paz and all in between...
La Paz Travel Blog› entry 5 of 16 › view all entries
So... when last I wrote we were headed out for a night out in Miraflores in Lima. We ended up in Barrancos in a bar that charged us 15 soles (about 4 euro) entranced then all drinks were free. Needless to say carnage ensued... a serious session. Next day was a complete write off for a lot of us. Especially me - spent pretty much the whole day sleeping. But good night!!
Spent three days in Lima, but after that I wasn´t too sorry to leave. Not a big fan of cities and it was just too crowded and crazy for my liking. We carried on south down the PanAmerican Highway along the coast, stopping at Paracas to visit the Ballestas Islands with its massive bird colonies, sea lions and cutest little penguins. By 6th Oct we were in Huacachina for our desert day. Huacachina is a little oasis surrounded by the most gigantic sand dunes, stretching as far as you can see.. We took off into the desert in our dune buggies. I think the drivers are ex rally drivers but they pretty much fling the buggies around the dunes, up steepest of slopes and down sheer drops on the other side. Like a roller coaster on sand! We stopped several times to get out to do the sand boarding, starting with small slope and gradually getting steeper and higher. Loved it!! You end up covered in sand from head to toe but everyone had a ball, killing themselves laughing at peoples wipe-outs! After stopping to watch a stunning sun set we started up the campfire, and had dinner followed by lots of beers, rum and pisco. Slept under the starts circled around the campfire... end to a really cool day.
From Huacachina we headed for Nasca, trailing sand in our wake. We went up in the little six seater planes to see the Nasca lines. Think ours was the only flight that no one puked on!! Then back on the road, and another bush camp down some dodgy disused road. But we´re all used to it now... tents up, dinner cooked and drinks round the campfire...
Next big stop was 3 nights in Arequipa. After days of driving through near desert Arequipa´s Plaza de Armas looked beautiful with its palm trees, flower beds and imposing cathedral. Spent a few hours wondering around the Monestrio de Santa Catalina, a 16th century convent thats a little walled town in itself. Its beautiful if you can dodge the school tour groups shattering the peace and quiet. Went to see Juanita too, the mummified Inca girl found frozen in one of the volcanos overlooking Arequipa. They believe she was sacrificed to the mountain gods but it was incredible to the wool shawls she was wrapped in, and the rope sandals they climbed in - on mountains 1000´s of metres high, all perfectly preserved in the ice. Seeing Juanita herself is a little weird, in her icy glass case, but the museum is excellent, well worth a visit.
After a day being cultural that night turned in to another big session, so the next day was spent very lazily sitting on the rooftop bar overlooking the Plaza de Armas watching the world go by. Beautiful view with the snow capped volcanos in the background and the sun set lighting up the cathedral... Not a bad way to recover from a night out!
After Arequipa there was a few long driving days, stopping along the way at Colca Canyon to see the condors. Colca is the second deepest canyon in the world and we got a real display from the condors - seven huge ones circling right above our heads. Some people don´t get to see them at all, but they stayed over us for ages. Except my camera battery chose that moment to die, so no pictures. But it was almost better just to sit back and watch, really beautiful, against the amazing backdrop of the canyon.
Back on the road, we reached Cusco by the 16th and I found a new home. Paddy Flaherty´s - the highest Irish owned bar in the world, and best Irish bar I´ve found so far. Such good food!! Ended up spending far to much time there. Cusco is the base for doing the Inca Trail. You´re supposed to used the couple of days before to acclimatise to the altitude, but no, I spent it drinking instead. Hung over and dehydrated, not the ideal prep for the 4 days hiking.... But I survived.
The Inca trail was everything, at times easy, at others gruelling, sometimes cold and lashing raining, sometimes baking sunshine, some parts enclosed in jungle, others hanging on the cliff edge with a sheer drop to your side. But its stunning that´s the only word for it. We did whats called the classic trail, starting from the Km 82 check point. First day´s hike was easy enough with just one small climb and the rest relatively flat. It was day two that sorted the men from boys so to speak. Nearly 3 and a half hours solid steep climbing up to Warmuwañusca or Dead Woman´s Pass. Then another hour of steep down hill. A couple of the girls were really ill during the night before and I felt so sorry for them. I don´t know how they got through the day. I mean I found the climb really tough and I´m reasonably fit. I couldn´t have imagined doing it, and being sick all the way along!! But they did it fair play. We started at seven and were told it should take til half one to reach our camp. Two of the lads got a bit competitive and set off at a serious pace... they reached the camp by 10:30! I got in about 11:40 so despite feeling like I was going to die at times I was pretty happy with myself to do it that quick, first girl in too....(No, I´m not competitive at all - honestly!!)
Third days hike started with a long steep climb followed by a long steep descent and there was a lot of groans as people tried to get tired legs going again but once you got back into the rythym it got easier. Second half of the day was much easier too and gave a welcome rest to your knees. Although by the time we reached camp my left hip was a ball of pain - don´t know what I did, but it hurt like hell. Thankfully the final campsite actually has a bar and hot showers. After 3 days of no showers, and some of the most hellish squat toilets I´ve seen, it was such a relief. A shower, a couple of beers, then bed by eight. Given that we´d been up at 5 the 3 previous mornings and were due up at 4 the next day you kind of don´t feel so bad being in bed that early.
The following day we were called at 3:30 and were in the queue for the final checkpoint at 5. It doesn´t open til 5:30 but you need to get there early because all the groups are queueing to get through. We wanted to be early to get the tickets for Wanyu Picchu, which sell out early in the morning so we set off almost running, with the guides yelling at us to slow down, that it was too dangerous!!! I reached the Sun Gate without even almost realising it. I hawled myself up the last steps gasping and sweating and suddenly realised that there was Machu Picchu infront of me!! Wow!! It seemed surreal that I was finally there. The sore legs were all forgotten as we took off down the last part of the trail to get to Machu Picchu itself. Things nearly got spoilt a little here. We had a ass of a guide who wouldn´t give us our tickets to get into the citadel, and kept us waiting outside for ages. Because of that, when we finally got in we were too late to get the tickets to climb Wanyu Picchu, the triangular mountain peak you see in the background of pics. Every one was fuming after racing so hard to get there early. Thankfully one of the other guides took off and some how came back with tickets, don´t know how he managed it but he got them!! So after a short sit down we got going again and hawled ourselves up the steep steps to the top of Wanyu Picchu. That climb definately isn´t for the faint hearted or those scared of heights, its a pretty dodgy trail with sheer drop on one side. I lost my balance on way down and came very close to the edge, I really thought I was gone, scared myself stupid!! But you have to do it. The view from the top of the whole complex is just stunning. Its about the only angle that you can really see the size of the whole place. I just sat for while looking down, totally forgetting about being tired and sore and just thinking "Wow"!! What else can you say!!
After finishing the Inca Trail there´s only one more thing left to do - the 24 hour challenge, in otherwords ýou´re up at sunrise the last morning and you´ve to stay out til sunrise the next. Got back to Cusco, shower, change and straight to the Irish bar, three night clubs later, I crawled home about half six. Celebrating the trek in style!!
Things felt like they might be a bit of an anti-climax after that but just to keep us on our toes we had a bit of the unexpected thrown our way. As we tried to leave Cusco for Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, we got about 2 hours into an 8 hour drive when we hit a road block. In protest to plans to dam the river the local farmers had completely covered the road with rocks and we were stuck in a tail back of 20 or 30 lorries, by the time we´d figured out what was going on we were hearing that the road behind us was blocked now too so we couldn´t go on and couldn´t go back, we were stuck. But it wasn´t all bad. We had food and drink supplies, it was a beautiful sunny day so we sat it out, played cards, had a laugh, and didn´t get too stressed. We ended up pitching our tents on the road side, and spending the night. Early the next morning another tour group who were also stuck, got a local driver to guide them out a back road over the mountains so we followed them and 12 hours of driving later we made it to Puno and our home stay on the Amantani Island on Lake Titicaca. We headed out on the lake the next morning and visited the floating islands and then were brought to our families on Amantani. It was all a bit weird. I felt like a kid at the Gaeltacht again. The local families speak Quechua as their first language, and although they have some spanish, its not great, and needless to say neither is mine, so lots of awkward silences as we had lunch and dinner with them. But we did beat the locals 3-0 in the soccer match!
Back on dry land, we drove around Lake Titicaca and crossed the border into Bolivia, and drove to La Paz. As you come into the city from the mountains you get the most amazing view down on the city sprawled along the valley - its huge!! I expected it to be a mad city like Lima, but I´m liking it a lot more, crazy traffic still but much nicer atmosphere I think, even though most people mightn´t say that.... We´ve got apartments here rather than a hotel, I´ve ended up in the penthouse (might be pushing it a bit with that description!), with our truck crew and one of the others, so we had everyone over for a big party there the first night. Really funny night - lots of rum drunk, lots of drunken photos... Not so much fun cleaning the place the next morning though....
So now, after this ridiculously long entry I´m going to go try get home... I came out in a t-shirt, its now lashing rain. Doh! Will try and not leave it so long to put stuff up again next.....