Cusco to Lima

We spent a short morning in Cusco, trying to see some of the city before our flight to Lima. We took a taxi to town and split up. I ended up going to the market to grab some food while the others wandered around the main square. There may have been some Pokemon related activities as well. As we met back at the Plaza de Armas, there were hundreds of people congregating for a parade of some sort. Tons of kids were dressed up in various costumes - almost like Halloween - there was a Disney group, a superhero group, a cowboy/western group and more. None of the group had any idea what was going on, but it was interesting to watch nonetheless.

In Lima, we took a taxi to the central square and had lunch at Bembos, a burger joint. The group really wanted ice cream as well, so we tried to get some from KFC, but it wasn't very good (and Nancy ended up dropping her ice cream anyway). From the central square, we walked to Chinatown via some various museums that Alfia wanted to see. Chinatown was kinda depressing and dirty, so we didn't stay too long. The group was fascinated by this bakery selling mooncakes and roast pork.

We took another taxi to the tourist area, Miraflores. We spent some time walking around Larcomar, the open air shopping mall overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and we left to walk to a nearby restaurant for some seafood. As we were walking, we began to realise it wasn't accessible by foot, so we ended up just taking a taxi. The food was good, perhaps a bit too sour on the cerviche, and some of the dishes were sold out (we were there pretty late), but it was a nice place to have our last meal in Peru.

On reflection, Peru was an awesome experience. No photo accurately captures the majesty of the Andes and Machu Picchu as you look down from the mountain top that you've just walked up. The food was excellent. I didn't expect to speak as much Spanish as I did, and even I surprised myself with how much I was able to communicate. Google Translate definitely helped a lot, but I picked up a lot of words just by walking around as well. It's a pity we didn't have longer, because there were some really nice places to visit in and around Cusco, like the Rainbow Mountain. Maybe we can visit again in the future, and perhaps stop by Bolivia and Argentina?

Salkantay Day 3 and 4

We continued through the rainforest, admiring the flora and fauna. Our guide pointed various plants important to the Incans, like ones used for medicine as well as ones used for colouring clothes. There were some forest fires on the other side of the river, and it was pretty sad to see the smoke filling the air like that.

We got to try some of the locally farmed food - the maracuya is a sweet passionfruit, as well as some deliciously creamy avocado. We got shown how coffee was harvested, prepared, roasted and ground as well.

Our final stretch for our third day was along the train track between Hidroelectrica and Aguas Caliente. The path follows the river that circles around Machu Picchu. We arrived just before dusk and settled in for our last day of the trek.

It was another early morning to take the bus to Machu Picchu. We decided not to walk up because it would have been dark, and we wanted to save our strength for going up the mountain. We got an explanation of Inca history from our tour guide and we said our goodbyes as we started our hike up the mountain stairs. It was tough, basically just rocky steps the entire way but after 75 minutes, we reached the summit. What an amazing view of the citadel from above. You could even see Salkantay Mountain beyond the ridge near us. We spent half an hour admiring the view and taking pictures before descending and walking around the ruins.

The ruins are fascinating in their own way. You can tell that there were houses and terraces for farming crops, and the Condor Temple was pretty neat as well. We saw a chinchilla dozing off in the sun, and of course the llamas grazing in the main field.

We were exhausted after the mountain ascent and walking around the ruins so we took the bus back down to Aguas Caliente and had lunch (and purple corn ice cream!) before taking a train and van back to Cusco.

Salkantay Day 2

By far this was the hardest hike I’ve ever done in my life. We started early, climbing the gruelling path towards the Salkantay Pass. We ascended over 800m over the course of 3.5 hours, constantly out of breath from the altitude. It was cold and foggy to begin with, but it heated up quickly once the sun broke through the rim of the neighbouring mountains.

Finally, just past 10am, we reached the highest point of our trek, the Salkantay Pass at 4630m above sea level. In front of us was the peak of Salkantay Mountain at over 6km above sea level, covered in white snow and pale blue glaciers. We admired the scenery and took lots of photos, and heard two avalanches from the mountain.

Our guide told us about Incan mythology and the meaning of various symbols, like the Andean Cross. He talked about the importance of three - three worlds: above, represented by the condor, the land, represented by the puma, and below, represented by the snake. They signify the life cycle of living things. The number two is important as well, as everything must be in balance, very much like the concept of yin and yang. He also talked about various medicinal herbs that the Andean doctors use, as well as how important coca leaves are to their culture.

We began our descent over the next 6 hours, with a break for lunch. The terrain turned from barren rockiness to lush greenery of the Amazon Rainforest. Sure enough, it began to rain as we reached the campsite, just before sunset.

It’s another early day tomorrow!

Cusco and Salkantay Day 1

We arrived in Cusco around 3.30pm and checked into our Airbnb. We met the final two members of our group in town for dinner - roast guinea pig and alpaca steak! - before heading for our Machu Picchu hike briefing.

Unfortunately we didn’t really have time to walk around and explore the city. The main plaza does look quite pretty and there’s lots of really cool buildings and monuments. We had to hot tail it home to pack for the hike and head to bed for a 4am start.

We were picked up from our Airbnb and driven to Mollepata for a simple omelette breakfast. Then we drove to the start of the trail and began our ascent. It was tough, the altitude sickness was definitely still there but we took it slow and steady. We could see in the distance the snow capped Humantay Mountain, and our base camp in the foot of the valley. After the initial uphill, we were on mostly flat terrain and it was much easier to walk. We learned about the local flora and Andean medicine, as well as some customs.

We arrived at the camp in time for lunch, then we began our hike to the Humantay Lake, a glacial lake with stunning colours. Again, it was truly an uphill battle but we took it slow and were rewarded with a view of the mountain, its glaciers and the lake below.

It began to hail on the way down, which turned to rain and a brief thunderstorm, but it disappeared quickly. We warmed a bit and had food, and now it’s time to go to bed for an early start and our longest and hardest hike tomorrow - through the Salkantay Pass!

Puno and Lake Titicaca

I began to feel a little short of breath on the bus and had a minor headache as we were coming into Puno. The elevation is 3800m above sea level, and this makes Lake Titicaca the highest lake in the world. It was definitely more noticeable at the Mirador el Condor lookout point above the city; even a small flight of stairs made me feel so tired and dizzy. You could say the view was...breathtaking.

We were driven to a boat ramp where our Airbnb owner, Carlos, met us with his boat. He took us around the Uros Floating Islands, showing us how people have adapted to life on top of the Yeah water. The islands are constructed of reeds and are surprisingly sturdy. There’s lots of really cool reed statues around, almost like each island has its own guardian.

We settled in for dinner and then some stargazing, but most of us were cold and tired so we went to bed early. I had troubles sleeping because of the altitude sickness, but I felt better in the morning than I did the night before. I was up to see the sunrise and then back on the boat towards the bus terminal to go to Cusco.