Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sur America part 2

Okay, Peru.

There are a few things you need to understand about Peru before you travel here.
Number 1) Add 2 hours to every deadline that you have.
Number 2) Don't trust anyone.
Number 3) Always accept the Pisco sour.

With these things in mind, let me now indulge in the details of our 4 day tour up the mountains to the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu.

We paid a total of 150 US clams to a tour company called 'Southern Tours Group'. This was a fairly good deal, as this was the "student" price, and I am not a real student. Of course, we understood the cons of choosing a cheaper company later. An hour into our tour we got stopped in the Sacred Valley by cops because our driver's van wasn't registered. Oh, well of course.

Luckily, the wait wasn't so bad as it was Carnival day, and little Peruvian men and women were skipping down the streets to entertain us.

As I tried to focus my camera on one of the party revellers, I got attacked by purple chalk, foam and water. All in Carnival spirit. By my own tour guide.

We later discover that she is the craziest bitch in the entire East side of Peru. After a while we were presented with a new van, and finally set off. After smuggling in a can of foam to get revenge on our guide, of course.

We began with a 3 hour bike ride down to a town called Ollayantambo. It had started to rain, but with my trusty Adelaide Crows poncho I was a lean mean water-repellant machine. Unfortunately my visual aesthetic suffered a bit.


As we cascaded down the road we were met with gorgeous, sweeping views of hills and rivers. Unfortunately this was juxtaposed with the image of hundreds of suicidal butterflies smashed up on the street. South American butterflies like to land right where semi-trailers drive, apparently. The next day, with spokes and wheels set aside, was the time to start climbing the Inca Trail.

Now, I'm pretty fit, I think. But never before have my calves and thighs felt, as the adjective is the most apt here, raped.I'm talking 3 days of walking through mud and rocks. Then 9 hours, on 3 hours of sleep, trekking up a 2600 metre mountain peak in the sun. Twice. Struggling to breathe in the high altitude. With 30 mosquito bites on each leg itching like all hell.

Regardless of the exterior elements, when we finally arrived to Machu Picchu, backs wet with sweat, the view was well worth the effort.

The place really was like a heaven among the mountains. Wispy clouds skimming past your nose, vertigo swimming in your mind as your look to the river miles and miles below, certain death of falling just a few steps away... A sight truly to be seen to be believed.

When it hit 7am, we all made a dash to the checkpoint of Huaynapicchu.

Yar, there she be... Huaynapicchu in the background to the right.

Huaynapicchu is infamous for a few reasons.

Firstly, it is the neighbouring peak of MachuPicchu, double as high, and offers glorious views of the site. Secondly, it is damn near impossible to get entry to climb it. It was the wet season for us, and less tourists, but regardless of the decline in crowd only 400 visitors are permitted into Huaynapicchu every day. There were close to 500 Gringos already pottering about the site, so with all the energy we could muster we hauled our asses over there as soon as it hit 7am. With two tickets numbered 258 and 259, we were feeling good. ..

.. Until it was trekking time. A packet of crackers and a tin of tuna in my gut, we thought we were ready. Well, we were severely misinformed. Put it this way. In terms of hiking, Machu Picchu is the deformed cousin, and Huayanpicchu is the big, badass Mother.

After panting up teeny tiny, wet and muddy steps on 90 degree angles for 1 hour, we finally reach the top of the peak, which was - to our horror - covered in flying ants. But, insects aside, the landscape was breathtaking.

Up there was nothing but a few clusters of boulders, with hikers lying on them catching their breaths. With the sea level miles and miles below, you can't help but feel the tiniest sense of Vertigo. One false move and you, and three other trekkers, could slip and go plummeting to the depths below. The cloudforests that surrounded the peak were like a giant green bowl - a sight that sure beat Adelaide's botanic gardens.

We had definately saved the best thing till last. We chose to catch the bus back to the neighbouring town, Aguas Calientes, rather than walk. Those 20 minutes down the mountain by bus were the best 20 minutes of my life. So with a day left to go till we jet back to Oz, the time has come to drink several Pisco sours and remanisce the times we've had here. Sad .. I'm not ready to return to the Western world.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sur Americano: Part I


We are in an airport. 5 hours counting down till we board the plane to Cusco in Peru. Several waves of delerium kicking in. It's about time I wrote a blog about the sheer insanity that within the shores of South America.

It's been two months since we left Australia. When we first arrived here, we expected the worst. To be robbed, mugged, and possibly murdered with a panpipe. Well, this didn't happen, though we have experienced numerous other fuckups.

Over two months we have lost a total of two Visa debit cards, one Woolen gimp mask and one pair of hiking boots. How our Passports didn't join the list is beyond me, as the longer I travel the more I begin to grasp how forgetful an individual I really am. We have cried in 3 banks and 1 Western Union, patted an alligator named Pedro, slept on wooden floorboards and managed to overcome stifling language barriers. Oh yes - South America is a glorious realm of both good and bad, and from Mescalin to Mate we are slowly beginning to understand.

I'm going to break it up country by country, as the wackiness seemed to vary everytime we crossed a border. Numero uno:


Capital: Quito
Population: 13,992,500
Currency: US Dollar

Quito, Guayaquil, Mitad del Mundo, Galapagos Islands, Manta, Montanita

Our first stop was the land that boasted the best bananas in South America - Ecuador.

I remember the day we left Australia well, because I couldn't have been less prepared for over 24 hours of plane travel. Fresh in the wake of the 3 days of drinking, drugs and sleep deprivation that was Falls Festival, I jetted off feeling nothing short of fucked. Yet I was determined to overcome my physical ailments, no matter how severe, and invoke my inner Latino.

Upon arrival, we were met by our first Couchsurfing host Lewis. Within 5 minutes of conversation, we were confronted with 'very dangerous city' and 'Gringo' - a nickname spoken by the locals for White people. ''Yeah, most Gringos here have been mugged at least once here,'' he chuckled as we lugged our packs back to his house.


Our first night in Quito involved muchos jarras of sangria, a salsa club and a local trying to pick up Eleanor by telling her her thermos was sexy. We discovered the phenomenon that was 'Reggaeton'. We were one day down with two months to go - a wild ride was ahead.

Grappling the altitude, on the third day we took a ride on the TeleferiQo to the top of the mountain that overshadows Quito. A beautiful sight ensued. Quito is a bizarre city to look down on, as it looks sort of like one big shelf hanging on the edge of cliffside. It takes 30 minutes to walk the width of the city, but more than 3 hours to cross its length. We then make the trip to the Old Town where we begin our desperate search for a restaurant, as we are hungry Gringos. The only one open is the most expensive one in town. I get a plate of meat which I find out later is goat, some kind of Ecuadorian yam and avocado.

We are still hungry, so we cross the street and we are introduced to the amazing Empanadas - a sort of fried pastry covered in sugar. Epic om nom.