After our flight from Iquitos to Lima, we hopped in a taxi to the bus station as we’d read that it wasn’t in the nicest of areas. Most of the surrounding streets were gated and fenced off so we were pretty pleased we weren’t wandering the streets for once. We’d decided to get on one of the ‘nicer’ buses as it was a 21 hour overnight trip to Cuzco and once we arrived there the plan was to continue straight to the town near Machu Picchu. To sum up, we needed a comfy bus that we’d be able to sleep on. We hadn’t sorted out any of our onward travel so as usual we just thought we’d wing it!
The bus was pretty comfortable, we were even given a blanket and a pillow for our reclining seats and a waiter brought us food….fancy! We even had our own separate screen on the chair in front to watch films!!!! The only slightly annoying thing (I say slightly but at the time it was extremely irritating) was the man to the right of us who’s phone rang at least every 4 minutes for the first and last 5 hours of the journey. To make matters worse he was screening his calls so just let it ring and ring…thankfully it only happened in the daylight and not throughout the night or I may have thrown it (and him) out the window!
On arrival in Cuzco, which is 3,399 m (11,152 ft) above sea level we walked for ages to find a collectivo (local mini-bus) heading to Ollantaytambo, the town where the trains head to Machu Picchu. Normally, even with our big rucksacks, this wouldn’t have been a problem but the altitude had us properly huffing and puffing. After a bumpy ride in a van accompanied by a car-sick child we arrived in Ollantaytambo. As non-peruvian’s we weren’t allowed to travel on the local train (which costs £2) but had to buy tickets for the flashy tourist train (which cost £30!) The only way round this would have been to go the ‘back-door route’ which was another 3 collectivos and then a 3 hour walk (with our big bags) up a train track as we wouldn’t get there in time to get a train. This didn’t sound too appealing with our huge bags and also probably not very safe in the dark! So we reluctantly opted for the expensive route. We wanted to get to Aguas Calientes that night as it’s only 9km by road from Machu Picchu and we wanted to beat the crowds there in the morning. To be fair the train ride was impressive and the views out the window were spectacular.
After securing lodgings for the night at a basic hostel we headed out to sort the tickets. In Ollantaytambo we’d tried to buy the Machu Picchu tickets online as we also wanted to climb Wayna Picchu and they only have a limited numbers of those. We had secured two but the internet decided to crash before we could pay for them and when we went back to try and buy them again it said there was only 1 left. Aaarrggghh. At the ticket office in Aguas Calientes the lady confirmed that Wayna Picchu was sold out. I was annoyed as I really wanted to go up there but there was an alternative, climb Machu Picchu mountain instead. I’d read this was just as good so we reluctantly bought tickets for that. Next stop was bus tickets and here the annoyances continued. After we’d bought and paid for the tickets the woman informed us that the first bus wasn’t leaving until 7am due to the landslides. Aaarrggghh. The whole point in getting to Aguas Calientes the night before was so we could beat the crowds to Machu Picchu before the trains turned up (the first train from Cuzco arrived at 7am). We were both a bit fed up by all this as we’d spent a fortune getting there and buying tickets and it looked as if we weren’t going to get the experience we wanted. I suggested walking but Tom wasn’t keen on the 8km hike at 5am and also quite rightly pointed out that I didn’t know how to walk there. However I got chatting with a couple of girls at our hostel who knew the way and suggested we walk with them. So the plan was set, we were walking.
After a few hours sleep we met our walking partners in reception and set off at 4.40am! We needn’t have worried about not knowing the way as there were quite a few people heading in that direction, I presume because of the landslides. As we didn’t know until the last minute that we were going to walk we were completely unprepared. All we had was water and two tiny biscuits to share. We had to climb over 1700 steps which isn’t that easy at high altitude.
Finally at 6.15am we arrived and were amazed that the cafe wasn’t open. There was no one selling drinks or food (if this had been asia there we would have been inundated with snack options) nevertheless we’d made it and the entrance to Machu Picchu was just infront of us. Loads of people who’d also walked were sat recovering outside so we headed straight in, and everything seemed worth it. The ridiculous amount of money, the bottom lip out when Wayna Picchu was sold out, the faff of the bus, the ridiculously early morning and the steps were suddenly all forgotten as the view in front of us was truly out of this world. Plus as we were there so early there were only a handful of people in there.
We had a little sit down, ate our 2 tiny biscuits and just stared at the view, it’s no wonder it’s one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Our tickets for Machu Picchu mountain were for 7am-11am and Tom had already expressed reservations and was happy not to bother with it seeing as we’d ended up walking from the town. For those that don’t know me, I am one of these people that doesn’t like to miss out on things so even though I was pretty tired and knew it was an hour and a half hike up the mountain my stubbornness kicked in and I managed to persuade him to go. I promised him that the views from the top would be worth it (at that point we couldn’t even see the top of the mountain due to thick cloud, minor details!!)
We were only the 4th and 5th people to start the climb up the mountain and I don’t think we were fully prepared for what was in store. We’d been up since 4.15am and all we’d eaten in the time was a tiny biscuit each. (I know I keep going on about how small these biscuits were but think 10pence piece and you won’t be far off…) The walk was pretty gruelling. We battled over 2000 steps and climbed over 650 metres at altitude. There were hardly any nice views on the way up as we were surrounded by cloud and I was getting a bit concerned about my earlier promise to Tom!
Going back down wasn’t that easy either as the steps were ridiculously steep but once at the bottom we headed to the now open cafe and treated ourselves to a ridiculously expensive but well deserved sandwich and cookie.
Back inside we wandered around the ruins and took pictures of a 3 day old llama, so sweet. All in all it was an absolutely fantastic day, even if we did get drenched just before we left.
We decided to spend a couple of days in Cusco before continuing on to Lake Titikaka. We desperately needed to do some washing as our backpacks were beginning to stink due to three quarters of our clothes being damp and dirty.
Cusco was actually a really pretty city with tons of old buildings surrounded by hills.
We didn’t do too much though, it had been a manic week and it was nice just to chill out for a few days. I decided to sample a local cuisine whilst in Peru, guinea pig! It didn’t actually look very nice, but I thought I’d give it a go. It tasted quite nice (even with Tom telling me it was actually a rat whist I was eating it) but there was so little meat on it that the effort to eat it didn’t outway the taste, but it was worth a try.
We were heading to Puno, a town on the edge of Lake Titikaka the next day so went to the bus station early to sort out tickets. In general bus stations are a bit hit or miss, sometimes straightforward and easy to buy tickets and other times near impossible. Luckily it was all relatively simple and after securing tickets for a third of the price of the tourist bus we sat eating grapes and sharing them with some old Peruvian ladies who found it hilarious that I couldn’t understand Spanish!
The bus was meant to take 7 hours but after an unscheduled stop and a loud banging noise, caused by the driver and a spanner, we didn’t hold out much hope. I much prefer a local bus to a tourist bus, where else would you see a lady wearing leg warmers and a bowler hat knitting gloves! Our bus seemed to stop about a hundred times enroute and each time I was amused by the local ladies running out of their houses with food to sell, throwing it through the bus windows!! The views out the window were beautiful as we passed through tons of tiny traditional villages.
We did finally arrive in Puno and were only an hour and a half behind schedule, not bad considering. We found our hostel which was up an unfinished road high above the city and headed out for food, which wasn’t as straightforward as it should have been due to the festival de la Virgen de la Candelarian. Over 200 groups of dancers from villages and towns in Peru had taken to the streets to entertain the crowd. We realised quite quickly that we weren’t going to be able to get around very easily!
The next day we headed to Uros floating islands, a group of 75 islands in Lake Titikaka which are made of reeds. Even though they are now very touristy it was still a really interesting place to visit. Most things on the island are also made of reeds including boats and houses.
Back in Puno the festival was well underway, which was great to see. We watched for a little bit but the main festival was happening the following day so we decided to save ourselves for that.
We managed to find a little local eatery where the food was 5 soles (£1) for 2 courses. We couldn’t really decipher the menu so we just guessed what things were. I learnt a new word that day, it turns out that cau-cau is tripe stew…it was actually quite tasty!!
The main festival day arrived which just so happened to coincide with our 8 year anniversary. We’d originally planned to head off to Bolivia but instead we decided to stay and experience the traditional fiesta which was apparently the 2nd biggest in the world after the Rio carnival (that’s we were told by a local lady). With 3 other people from our hostel we took to the streets and we were so pleased we’d decided to stay for the festivities. It was absolutely incredible. The costumes were a mixture between brightly coloured outfits to some that were just weird!!
After a bit of wandering up the street and being squirted with foam by some kids (they probably loved getting the gringos) we found some seats and had a few beers. It was only £2.40 for a 6 pack but we had to keep reminding ourselves that altitude and beer don’t mix plus we all had to be up early the following morning, we were on a bus to Le Paz at 7.30am. That didn’t stop us having an absolutely amazing day though and it’s definitely an anniversary we’ll remember forever.