Saturday, June 19, 2010


We woke up early to catch the only bus going to Cachora at 4 am. Why do buses going to interesting places always leave in the middle of the night? In a classic peruvian tradition, the only seats left for us were in the very back of the bus, as the locals showed up a few hours prior, to get the good seats up front. As soon as we got in, the bus left off. It turned around only once, because the driver forgot to fill up the tank. Once we got out of town, the driver turned the music on loud (at the passengers´ request, at 4:30 in the morning!)and we rolled on.
We found ourselves in Cachora at 7 am, it was a fresh morning, but the people huddled, rubbed their hands and cursed the cold as if it was -30. The cattle was being led down the streets to the pastures. We asked several people the way to the ruins and started walking.
The first 10 kms were easy, the trail was in fact a good dirt road, the sun was shining and our spirits were high.We had brunch at a scenic lookout and started our descent into the Apurimac valley. As we were taking a break at another lookout, Tom (with whom we were stuck on Kuna Yala and then hiked in Colombia) with his friend Kai walked out from around the corner! We hugged and continued on in a group of five. Tom and Kai had an ambitious plan: to do the whole trek in three days.
When we crossed the bridge across the river, the sun was already going down, we were tired and decided to camp below Santa Rosa, on an attractive shelf with lots of dry grass and firewood, overlooking the river. Tom and Kai pressed on to Santa Rosa though, driven by their tight schedule.
Next morning, a little bushwaking through the prickly trees and tall cactuses(!!!), and we were back on the trail again. The trail was steep. And long. It took us an hour and a half to reach Santa Rosa, but Jonathan, light on his feet as an elf, sped ahead of us and was already resting for half an hour when we cought up with him. He turned out to be a much faster walker than us and he usually walked ahead, stopping and waiting for us. ¨You guys stop too much¨ was what he said. From Santa Rosa the trail got steeper, and we got to Marampata a few hours later. This time, Jonathan was already resting for one hour!
From Marampata the trail levelled off somewhat, and we walked to the campground below the ruins. Tired as we were, we had a big dinner and went to sleep in the fresh mountain night.The next day we explored Choquequirao. The site is only 48% excavated, and there are debates whether it should be left half covered by the forest or completely uncovered like Machu Picchu. The site is very spread out. First we went down to the terraces and were blown away by the size and precision of the construction.Monolithic steps connected different levels, and dry water channels were everywhere. According to an archeologist that we met on one of the levels, the terraces go all the way down to the river. It was hard to believe. Going up from the terraces to the main plaza was hard work. When we got to the top, we had a big lunch and dose off in the shade of a tree for a few hours. Refreshed, we explored the palace that overlooked the whole site and then rested the rest of the day on the ritual platform, enjoying the magnificent vista that opened up from there. The platform was made by levelling off the top of the hill and looked more like a spaceship landing ground rather than a religious space. A condor flew close by two times.The next day we descended. We desided not to come back the same way (as most guided groups do), but to go to Huanipaca instead. This way was closer, but steeper. It was hard. Our muscles were still hurting from the climbing of the previous two days, and the trail was punishing for us. When we got to the river, we had a refreshing swim in the mighty Apurimac and walked a bit more uphill to an abandoned hacienda. Jonathan was eager to climb all the way to Kuñalla, but we pleaded to stay where we were. A few new cottages were built near the crumbling adobe ruins of the old house, obviously with an idea to rent out rooms to tourists. There was no one in that night, so we asked the caretaker for a camping spot. He showed us a place in front of one of the cottages, we set up camp, collected firewood and cooked dinner.
Next morning we woke up early to make it to Kuñalla for the 11am bus. This time Jonathan beat us by an hour and a half. Half an hour after we dragged ourselves into the village, the bus, which was actually a truck, got loaded with people and huge bags of beans and left. It took the truck 5 hours of windy mountain roads and countless stops to pick up or drop off passengers and goods to get to Abancay. It was the only transport in the area to the big town for the weekend, so people were heading to town with stuff to sell on the market. Chics and cuys (guinea pigs) in bags, tons of beans, sacks of corn, pig´s bloody body parts (including its head), some firewood, an old dresser and 18 passengers sitting on top of the cargo constituted the load. The wind was very cold, and we were frozen when we finally unloaded in Abancay. Once in town, we headed straight for the bakery, bought sweet cones filled with a kind of brown concentrated milk, and had a good dinner for a dollar in a restaurant. We then went back to Khaled´s place, watched a movie and fell asleep. We will stay with him for the weekend and then go to Cusco.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Out of Lima!

So we spent four more long days in Lima before the parcel showed up at the post office. We torn it open, but what a disapointment - the pump inside was for another model of the stove!!! The hole where the fuel line comes in was just a liiitle bit too big. So no stove for us...
On the bright side of things, we finally invested in a new camera - Canon A3100 IS, it is very small, fits in a pocket and it seems to take decent photos. We have also picked a good place to stay in town - a ¨hostal de los artes¨. The arts in question were undoubtedly those of sex nature - the whole place was creaking, moaning and heaving at nights. Curiously enough, the hostel had an amazing book exchange shelf, where we picked up four books: Two recent Lonely Planet guides on South America and Peru (a combined value of more then $80!!!), a Penguin history of Latin America and Grandfather by Tom Brown. Our backpacks are weghting us down a bit more, but now we know what tourist attractions lie ahead of us, very convenient.
Getting out of Lima was a usual routine - early rise, big breakfast and a combi to the nearest small town on the highway. As we got out at the intersection, air breakes hissed behind us in under five minutes and we were rolling in a Volvo (almost all trucks in Peru are Volvos, old and new) towards Ica. Going through Chincha Alta was interesting: the driver slowed down only a little bit and all these mototaxis were just getting out of the way.The things were unfolding sublimely, but unfortunately the driver changed his mind about taking us all the way (after telling us that he was actually going to Ica) and dropped us off an hour later at a gas station. It was getting dark, so we asked the owner and set up a tent right there on the concrete.In the morning we got on the road around 7am, and this time waited only three minutes. Another Volvo, this time all the way to Ica. The driver was a friendly Quechua, he told us stories about ghosts up in the mountains where he grew up and asked a lot of questions about life in Canada. He had a good vibe, and we left his truck happy and uplifted. We got off in Ica, at a turn off towards Huacachina, an oasis set amidst tall sand dunes. It was only a few kilometers away, so we started walking, but we haven´t made a hundred steps before a taxi stopped and gave us a lift. Needless to say, we were not tired when we got there, so after waiting out the mid-day sun, we hiked up to one of the dunes and looked around. It was very hard to walk in the sand, but the vista was indeed impressive. Rolling dunes, an oasis with palms, setting sun... We rested for a bit and walked another kilometer into the desert. As soon as the sun went down, the wind started howling and the temperature dropped at least 25 degrees. We set up camp and set on the cold sand, studying the constellations of the southern sky.

In the morning, we finished off our water and walked back to the highway with pleasantly light bags. There we saw a BIG supermarket. Hm, just in time for breakfast! We took our time there and when we got to the road, most of the morning traffic was already gone. The road was filled with local traffic, buses and hundreds of mototaxis. The drivers of these have an annoying habit of honking when they spot you, slowing down by you, making eye contact and offering their services. Every one of them. By the end of the second hour, we felt like grabbing the side of one of the light vehicles and flipping it over. Luckily, another truck pulled over, and we rode in comfort until Nazca. The driver was friendly and talkative once again, and he was even kind enough to stop near the observation tower in the middle of Nazca desert, and wait for a few minutes while we observed the geoglyphs.In Nazca we left our ride at a gas station and walked three tiring kilometers through town. As the sun was going down, yet another truck stopped for us. It was bound for Cusco, which suited us perfectly, as we were heading to Abancay. Jonathan, our french friend, was waiting for us there. The next two days we spent riding with Carlos, at the speeds rarely exceeding 25 km/h. Carlos´s reasoning was that it saved fuel. We bet it did, and an 8 hour journey took us a day and a half. We passed through high mountain platos - altiplanos with blue lakes,
grazing lamas and gracefully trotting vicuñas, canyons with steep walls and deep winding valleys. We got into Abancay after dark. Upon checking our mail we found out that our caring friend Jonathan was already in town, and he had sent us conact info for a CS host with whom he was staying. We gave him a call, and Khaled and Tanya met us a few minutes later. We headed to their place and spent an evening talking with the friendly inertnational crowd that gathered there that night. It was an excellent conclusion to the day!
Today we bought all the provisions for the 5 day hike, and tomorrow, early in the morning, we are moving out to the trailhead in Cachora. We are going to hike to Choqiqerao, the ruins that rival Machu Picchu in size.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lima and Marcahuasi

So, we woke up in Huaraz, bid farewell to the hospitable grandma and walked to the edge of town. After a few hours of waiting, a classic peruvian truck pulled over, the one used for transporting cows. It was empty, and we climbed up onto the ¨mom´s attic¨, the part of the box overhanging the cabin. The wind was blowing in our faces and through our ears, the locals all of a sudden turned all friendly and waived to us as we flew by them. The snow-capped peaks were passing by on the horizon and the road weaved it´s way through the narrow valley. The quality of the pavement left much to be desired though. Huge pot holes, livestock on the road and sometimes chunks of road missing due to wash outs made driving very tricky. Our driver was of the best kind, he weaved around cows and donkey, but he had to break hard often to avoid hitting pot holes. These maneuveres almost catapulted us a few times from our nest, but we held with all fours and kept one eye on the road and the other on the landscape. It was difficult, but rewarding.
The truck dropped us off in a small town, we walked across it and installed ourselves for another long wait. It was around 4 pm and the sun was approaching the horizon when a brand new Lima-bound sedan stopped. There was a middle aged couple and a man inside. The couple have immigrated to Virginia a decade ago, and now were visiting their cousin in Peru. They spoke bad English and wanted to show off in front of their cousin, so we kept talking in a mixture of languages. They seemed quite interested in talking at first, but as the sun went down and the topics exchausted themselves, they fell silent. It was another four hours until Lima, and the atmosphere inside got stuffy and uncomfortable. We asked them to stop so we could call our contact in Lima, but our request was ignored, as if we have not said anything. We asked where is a safe place to be in Lima at this late hour (around 11), but they did not know, even though they lived there... On top of that, the driver was driving very badly on the nighttime straight desert highway. At this point we decided to leave this ride as soon as we could. The people in the car were obviously releived when we asked out at a tall booth, in the middle of the desert, an hour away from Lima. It was the first ride that we have ever intentionally abandoned!
Their red lights faded in the night and we went to chat with the policemen on duty. They showed us where we could pitch our tent and gave us some food. We were happy as could be, falling asleep in the desert that night.
In the morning, it was easy to get to Lima, which assaulted our nervous systems badly. The traffic was just crazy. We were in a mini-bus, that was racing through the grid-locked streets. George made a mistake sitting in the front seat, so he saw all the close calls. On top, there was loud dance music blaring from the speakers, driver cursing at everything, simultaneously honking and flooring the gas pedal. Imagine all that after a calm night in the desert!
We had a CouchSurfing contact in Lima. We had high hopes for it, but we should have not expected much. As it turned out, sleeping or taking hot showers were not part of the program. The hosts were very fond of pisco, a local 48% sugar-cane liquor, and they got very loud and drunk up until 3 or 4 in the morning. Plus, there simply was no hot water in the house. The nights got pretty chilly, and a cold shower in the morning was rough. Three sleepless nights was all we could bear, so we decided to leave our hosts and take a trip to Marcahuasi, a near-by high mountain plateau, reputedly a magnetic anomaly and an esoteric point of interest.
We spent next four tranquil days up at 4200 meters above sea level, admiring the mountain landscapes.The town of San Pedro sits at only 3500 m, and it was from this Nepal-looking town that we had to hike the remaining 4 kms to the Marcahuasi ¨stone forest¨.The trek was exchausting. We have not properly acclimatized before hiking, so we had to stop and recuperate every 50 steps or so. We gained almost a kilometer of altitude hiking only 4 kms. It took us 5 hours.
Once at the top, we found a beautiful camping spot and sat down. The effect of the altitude were strongly evident. A walk to the latrine and back left us breathless. Bending over for a piece of firewood made the head spin.The area was heavily used by people, and there was very little firewood available. A stick the size of a pinky finger was considered a log. On the second day we decided to do like the locals do, and burn dry cow dung scattered in large quantities all around the plateau. It burned very well indeed and left us with hot coals in the morning. We boiled coca tea on our little fire of prickly sticks and dung cakes.
The four kilometer wide plateau did not leave us bored, and we explored the ruins and natural landcapes for a few days.Anastasia naively decided to sun bathe one day. 15 minutes of high altitude sun was enough to make all the exposed bits glowing red. Suntanning at 4200m without a sunblock hurts!
We are back in Lima, waiting for a parcel from home. It contains a new pump for our stove, and as soon as we have it, we are moving on.