Archive for May, 2007

Lima

I think this is my last chronological posting for the trip, some two weeks after returning home!

Another early start for the 90 minute taxi ride back from Ollantaytambo to Cuzco airport, retracing the route we followed to start the Inca Trail a week before. My flight left on time, and just over an hour later we were landing in Lima under the mist which moves in towards the end of April and stays for most of the winter.

A friendly taxi driver was waiting to whisk me across the city to the district of Miraflores, to the pretty and friendly Hostal El Patio. My room was right next to the entrance but this didn’t turn out to be a problem. I took a late lunch of excellent ceviche in the restaurant opposite, and explored Miraflores on foot for what remained of the afternoon.

Lima has something of a bad reputation but Miraflores is safe at all times, given the usual precautions, and the center is safe during the day. So the next morning I took a mini-bus for the 60 minute journey – at a miserly one nuevo sole or 20p – to the impressive Plaza de Armas at the heart of the old colonial city. I visited the huge cathedral, again experiencing some unease at the incredible riches on display in the midst of a city with serious amounts of poverty. I strolled around the central area and some of the shopping streets and lunched in a cheap and cheerful pollo a la brasa restaurant on chicken and chips.

In the afternoon I took a taxi to the impressive Museo Larco in a western district of the city. Its remarkable collection of ceramics and other artefacts including precious metals and textiles chronicles the development and achievements of pre-Columbian Peruvian history, and includes a well-presented gallery of erotica too! Another collectivo took me directly back to Miraflores, just ahead of the rush hour.

I’ve already written about my last night in South America, following pizza and pisco sours at a restaurant on the main drag in Miraflores.

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My last morning in South America was spent packing and reading the paper at a cafe on the park in Miraflores. Then I walked to the sea, where the mist was rolling up the cliffs off the Pacific, and parasailers were appearing out of the mist from above in a very eerie fashion. There’s a big posh shopping mall perched on the cliff, and I lunched overlooking the ocean on sea bass stuffed with prawns, yum!
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Lima is a strange city. I wasn’t there long enough to understand it, but my impression was of a less rich version of Los Angeles, where there are exciting things to be found but all spread out around acres and acres of non-descript urban and suburban sprawl.
My final hours were spent, as needs be, taking a taxi to the very modern airport and then waiting for my evening departure to Madrid and thence London.

Perhaps I’ll post again with some reflections on my trip, but for now: that’s all folks!

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Ollantaytambo

A lovely breakfast fueled me for an exploration of the wonderful Inca remains at Ollantaytambo, a steep but compact mixture of terraces, fortifications and temples rising rapidly above the rear of the town. At ground level there are extensive water channels, fountains and pools. The gents is built into the side of the cliff! All this and more in the gallery. Ollantaytambo was one of the last strongholds against the conquistadores.

The old parts of the town are more-or-less Incan themselves: wonderful narrow streets with half-block courtyards hidden off to each side. Whereas they would have housed Inca nobles, now they contain colonial-style houses and townspeople.

After a salad lunch in a restaurant at the foot of the ruins I took a two hour walk out of town, across the bridge built on the original Incan pier, and along the opposite bank of the river upstream to the next bridge, returning through the fields and terraces to the town.

The rest of the afternoon was spent packing ready for the last phase of my journey, and taking another excellent sauna before dinner in the kitchen of the hostal.

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Pisac

After my brief second stay I finally checked out of the excellent Rumi Punku, leaving my bag – with instructions – in the hope that it would be collected during the day. This left me free to make my way by public transport along the Sacred Valley, visiting some of the sights on the way. A short taxi ride took me to the small bus station which serves Pisac, and within minutes I was on my way a medium-sized bus, climbing out of Cuzco and over the pass before descending and descending into the Sacred Valley and crossing the river Urubamba on the edge of the town of Pisac.

Pisac is famous for its craft market, especially on Sundays, but also on Tuesdays (which it was) and Thursdays. I was quite early and stalls were still setting up. I wasn’t in a souvenir shopping mood so all I came away with was a couple of nice photos (see below). I charged up on coffee and cake before starting the climb to and through the Inca metropolis above the town.

It’s an incredible place, climbing up the mountain, full of incredible terraces, fortifications, temples and dwellings. It’s more extensive than Machu Picchu but also more spread out and although the setting is dramatic it is not as outstanding nor as rugged than its more famous sister. I spent the best part of three hours there, most of the first two spent gradually ascending through the various parts of the site.

You can see my photos of Pisac in my gallery.

I jumped on another bus to take me further up the valley to the town of Urubamba where I hoped to find lunch, but there wasn’t much on offer. After wandering about for twenty minutes, I decided to carry on to Ollantaytambo. A trishaw saved me slogging along the main road to the bus station, where I caught my third bus of the day for another 45 minutes upstream to the main square at Ollantaytambo. Here I did find a late lunch in a bizarre but friendly cafe run by an Englishwoman.

Feeling content I strolled down to the station and negotiated security at the gate to reach my hotel, the lovely El Albergue. My bag hadn’t arrived but I was assured it was en-route. No problem, I relaxed first in a hammock in the garden and then in the gorgeous wood-fired eucalyptus sauna. Fantastic!

I finished the day by having a pizza in a small restaurant built against an old Inca wall. I got chatting (in Spanish) with the owner and he showed me around his ceramics shop and workshop.

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Aguas Calientes to Cuzco by train (mostly)

The morning after the Inca Trail was wet wet wet. It rained all night and was still raining when I woke up. The bedroom in my mini-suite at the Rupu Wasi Ecolodge was up a stepladder from the main room, with space for a double bed and little else, but surrounded on three sides by big windows. So I had great views of a very wet Aguas Calientes and its enfolding mountains from my bed. By the time I’d finished breakfast the rain had stopped.

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I decided to walk to a local waterfall. Twenty minutes along the road past the bridge at the foot of the hairpin bends up to Machu Picchu, followed by twenty minutes picking my way along the railway track. The S/.5 entry fee got me into slightly disappointing tropical gardens although there were bananas and pineapples to make up for the lack of promised orchids. The 20m falls were fairly impressive after the rain. On the way back I had to dodge three trains along the tracks. Lunch and a little more internetting filled the gap before my 5pm train to Cuzco.

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The first ninety minutes were fantastic, winding along the valley and canyon, descending to Ollantaytambo. I’m sure the next two-and-a-half hours would have been great by daylight too, but a bit dull in the dark… I should have listened to the agency and elected the faster minibus transfer from Ollantaytambo to Cuzco, What’s worse, our locomotive broke down twice during the arduous climb up out of the Sacred Valley. We all feared it had broken down again, but in fact there are forward-and-back switchbacks at one stage to climb the side of the mountain. I elected to jump train at the top of the pass and take the 15 minute bus descent into Cuzco instead of the 45 minute train trip through further switchbacks and Cuzco suburbs.

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At about 10pm I was back at the Rumi Punku, reunited with my heavy bag of junk / city clothes. I nipped out to Jack’s Cafe for a juicy burger and chips, and back in my room unpacked everything ready to reconsolidate in the morning, before finally giving in to sleep once more.

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Smudge 1996 – 2007

A sad time last night. We had to have Smudge put to sleep. We couldn’t break her cycle of allergy, scratching and infection other than by repeated steroid injections, and her quality of life had plummeted.

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She will be deeply missed.

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More pictures

I have now uploaded pictures from my second day in Cuzco and from the Inca Trail:
http://www.michaelgray.org.uk/gallery/v/cuzco2/
http://www.michaelgray.org.uk/gallery/v/inkatrail/

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