Monday, November 07, 2005

Okay, so you´ve got some pictures in the previous post below, now here´s an update on what we´ve been up to in the last few days.

That hotel lied when they had hot water. There was none for that day as there were "technical problems". It was meant to come back at 5am but finally some warm water spurted out of the tap around 5.45am. Just in time for us to have a shower before heading out on the boat to the floating reed islands.

The islands were strange. Very squishy but sure enough, they float and are solid enough for people to be living there permanently. There were quite a few of them about each providing homes for a few families each.

After the floating islands, we got into the boat and headed off across Titicaca Lake to Taquile island. The island is way out and took about 3 or 4 hours to reach. Quite tiny too but has people living there in the remoteness, all wearing traditional clothes. Also interesting is that although it´s all rocky hills, they don´t use donkeys to carry stuff up, instead they just rely on themselves and do the backbreaking work themselves. So, all the people there are really fit or really crippled.

On the boat trip we hooked up again with some new people. An odd couple from New Zealand and Italy, plus an Argentine photo-maniac woman travelling with her mother. We seemed to get on well and so organised our trip to Machu Picchu together. It was a mixture of transport including bus, taxi, train and foot.

First we got the night bus from Puno to Cusco which apparently is not the thing to do as the chances of getting robbed are quite high. The guy that booked the bus for us was a bit of a character too. He promised us that there was heating, toilet etc (there wasn´t), he also said that after stopping at one town (where we would have to watch out for our luggage), the bus would go non-stop to Cusco. However, the bus stopped very frequently to let people on and off as they chose. Dodgy people would hang around the bus and people would hop on and off trying to steal sell stuff. I got about an hour´s worth of sleep.

Once we got to Cusco, the plan was to get another bus further up the road towards Machu Picchu, but the bus didn´t stop in the bus terminal, it was somewhere else. But as there were now six of us, we had bargining power with taxis. So we crammed ourselves and our luggage into a taxi (4 people in the back, 2 in the front passenger seat) and went to the bus station. There we found that the bus wouldn´t leave for a while and we could get there cheaper and faster by taxi. There was a bit of a discussion between our taxi driver and the bus driver as they competed for our fare but the taxi won in the end. We strapped the luggage onto the roof and the two of us had to sit in the "estate" part of the car looking backwards. It wasn´t too bad and on the road we saw quite a few other people in taxis doing the same thing.

Once we got to Ollayatambo, we were knackered. The taxi driver suggested we rent a room just for the day so we could dump our luggage. It turned out to be a great idea. It allowed us all to relax, have a shower and gave us a base while we organised the train tickets to Agua Caliente (the town just before Machu Picchu).

Getting the train tickets up the hill was an experience in itself as the queue is long, there´s only one window and there´s no information about anything anywhere. After snaring a guide from another group, we got the details we needed and managed to pay for our tickets (they refused some of the dollar bills as they were slightly worn). We took the cheaper night train up at 8pm and then came back down again 2 days later on the cheaper early morning train at 5.45am.

The train journey was quite nice, though it was too dark to see anything and I slept for most of the way as I was so tired. At the other end in Agua Caliente we were beseiged by an army of hostal touts. We just started walking and waited for the prices to go down. The place we stayed at started the offer at 20 dollars but gradually went down to 40 soles (about 12 dollars). We took him up on his offer and ended up in a smart hotel but it was still unfinished! No matter, there were good beds, big rooms, hot showers etc. It didn´t bother us too much that there were no chairs, cupboards, hooks or anything to hang our stuff on, nor was there any mirror anywhere and when it rained the next day, water pooled in next to the bed. Oh well.

So we got to the hotel just after 10pm after very little sleep and the plan was to get up around 4.30am, have a quick breakfast, buy tickets to Machu Picchu and then walk up the short path to the top.

I was so sleepy, but we managed to get up and out of the hotel, get the tickets and set off on the path. The path was very steep but the views were great. It was quite a bit of work to get up there but we managed it in just under an hour and got there before the crowds arrived.

Once up there, we took a walk to the Sun Gate, which is were most of the people doing the 3 or 4 day trek arrive. It was a bit of a walk up to that point but you´re rewarded with an absolutely amazing view back down to the main site. We also met quite a tame hawk who had cottened on to the fact that trekkers carry food and he wanted some.

We wandered around the impressive site for the rest of the day. We did´t have a guide but we caught snippets of information when we could. The site is pretty big but it´s easy to walk around and it´s fascinating to be there and think of all the things that went on there at that time while now there are llamas grazing in the main square.

Had a bit of a snooze around midday to avoid the sun and ended up leaving the site around 5-ish. Walking down the same path from the morning to get to the bottom of the hill.

While walking down we heard a great thunderstorm over one of the other hills, and just as we were getting into town it hit us hard. It completely drenched us and rained so hard that all the drains and gutters were overflowing. We stopped at a shop for some shelter and also helped them get all theirs goods inside out of the rain.

With it still pouring down with rain we ate in the unfinished hotel and got an early night as it was another 4.30am start to catch the first train back the next day. The train back was good as it was now light and we could take a look at all the scenery. Again, getting off the train we were mobbed by taxi drivers trying to get our business, but this time we took a small bus back to Cusco. The bus driver drove like mad and we got into town after about an hour (instead of the two hours it´s meant to take).

We tried a few places to stay and ended up in an okay-ish place. The Argentines have gone off to La Paz and onwards while the NZ/Italy couple are still with us (though in different hostals). We´ll stay in Cusco for the next couple of days. After a bit of a look around this afternoon, it seems to be a very nice place. Had a great second breakfast of steak, rice and chips (yep, that was a breakfast) for just 4 soles (just over a dollar). Walked up the hill to a viewpoint of the city and also took a peek in one of the big churches. A good looking town with a good friendly atmosphere.

After recuperating here, we´ll head on to Colca Canyon to see condors (oh, and the canyon that´s twice as deep as the "Grand" Canyon). Haven´t bought the bus tickets yet, but hopefully we can do that tomorrow (Monday) for leaving on Tuesday.

On a side note, here´s one for someone I know back in Bp. We spotted a motorbike in Cusco with English plates and a whole lot of luggage storage (and maybe a modified / enlarged fuel tank). Met the rider and his lady and it turns out that they shipped the bike from England to Canada and are riding it all the way down to Ushuaia at the bottom of Argentina. Impressive.

Updated with photos (29-Nov-2005) - Click for pics

Before you start the climb, you have to get to the path.

Stunning views as you climb up the hill.

The classic Machu Picchu shot.

Taking a look out from the Sun Gate.

Our tame hawk that begged for food.

Careful of the Llamas, they're big and the paths are not.

Another angle.

Caught in the rain on the way home.


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