The Road to Machu Picchu

So, after more than 3 months in Perú, I arrived in Cusco and booked a trip to Machu Picchu with an overnight stay. I would then be able to get an early start and maximise my visit. I had planned to make the journey by train in both directions after first going by road to Ollantaytambo.

Unfortunately, because of a strike affecting various parts of the country, I was not able to make the journey by train on my chosen day. Instead of changing dates, I accepted the alternative of going by road to within 15kms of Aguascalientes and walking the remainder. I would then spend the night in Aguascalientes and have the choice of walking up to Machu Picchu early the next morning, or, take the 20 minute bus ride. The price for all of this was quite a bit cheaper than the original plan.

As, part of the deal, I had insisted on having a seat with ample leg room, as this was to be a long journey. This was agreed and on the morning of the trip, after the usual shuffling of passengers between various companies, which is usual in Perú in order to fill the vehicles, I found myself in a mini bus filled to capacity and ready to go.

The day steadily got worse from there. I am no fan of Peruvian driving standards or skills which seem to be close to zero. Unfortunately, the driver of this vehicle was by far, the worst I have encountered so far. That makes him special and I only hope I am never a passenger with a worse driver.

It was slow going at first, and it was only when we got onto the fairly empty but hazardous, winding, mountain roads that it became clear how inept he was. He went into blind hairpin bends on the wrong side of the road. We had a couple of near misses as a result. He had no idea of gear selection for the type of road we were on. This meant at times we were coasting and worse, he did not have full control of the vehicle which he “threw” into each bend, causing the vehicle to swerve with the tyres squealing under the strain.

I made some comments and for a while this seem to slow him down. However, it was not long before he resumed his “driving” style and, after one particularly hairy moment, the driver of another vehicle pulled alongside us and indicated there was a problem with our vehicle. One of the front wheels appeared to have a puncture.

After some considerable time he managed to get the wheel off only to find that the spare was flat. I, in the meantime had gone for a walk and was photographing things of interest.

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You can clearly see how little tread there is on the tyre. When the driver finally removed it from the vehicle, I examined it. It was not flat but had lost about 50 per cent of its pressure, quite likely as the tyre rolled during the harsh cornering under speed. As the spare was useless, the driver, whom I had offered advice to, reference his style of driving, rolled the semi-flat tyre off down the hill in search of compressed air.

In the meantime, some of the passengers flagged down a bus and disappeared out of sight, while the rest of us waited for the cavalry to turn up in the form of 2 taxis. The driver of the taxi I was in, then proceeded to give us the sequel to the “ride from/to hell” as we went onto a dirt road with blind bends. He was of the opinion that tooting his horn would be enough to stop any oncoming vehicles that may be approaching on the other side of the bend. Hardly slowing down and completely miffed by the fact they had ignored his warning. Oblivious to the fact that they were probably thinking the same of him.

We were then deposited in a small town where we should have had lunch. However, because we were so late, lunch seemed to be off the agenda. We then had to negotiate to get a ride to Hidroelectrica from where we should have had the option of taking the train or walking the last 15 kms.

As we arrived at Hidroelectrica the train was about to leave, we did not have the option of boarding it, as we would have had to have bought the tickets at the town we had just left.

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We were not a happy bunch by now. Although we did all seem to agree we were lucky to be alive and some of us planning alternative journeys back to Cusco. Time to start walking. DSCN3015Onwards and upwards.

DSCN3017“Danger. Don´t walk on the track”.

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DSCN3021There were some interesting sights along the way…

DSCN3022…and some hazards.

DSCN3035I was told that this was the back of Machu Picchu.

DSCN3043It was getting dark but there were still some things to see. This butterfly was huge, sadly it is not a sharp image.

DSCN3046 (2)The light continued to fade and we had to finish the journey, walking along the railway in the dark. I had a torch with me, which reduced the risk element but when we arrived at Aguascalientes we were not happy. I was with a very nice couple from Bogota in Colombia, Carlos and Doris and between us we managed to track down our guides, reunite with other members of our groups and best of all locate our hotel rooms. We had had enough for one day. Alarm set for 4am the next day and Machu Picchu awaits.

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Chiclayo

I have rather mixed feelings about Chiclayo so far. The bus ride from Cajamarca was uneventful so we arrived in the early evening. As was expected, there were taxi drivers inside the bus depot touting for trade and trying to coax people into going to hotels different from those they had booked. This is quite common here but I had already paid 25% deposit on my hotel reservation so was not going to be tempted elsewhere.DSCN1880I also have no desire to ride in one of the very small “Tico” cabs, which are the next size up from a child’s pedal car with approximately the same leg room. Still inside the bus terminal, I asked the driver if his cab was spacious and he assured me it was and we negotiated the fare. That is normal throughout the country, fares are not regulated and there are no meters. I had, however, not asked him about the overall condition of his cab, or indeed, if he could drive it competently.

The taxi had certainly been in a few scrapes but it was only a short distance to the hotel, so I thought I would chance it. Before leaving Cajamarca, I had taken advantage of Google Earth and “walked” the journey from the bus station to my hotel. It was just as well because in spite of his assertions earlier, the driver had no idea and I had to direct him. “Have you been here before?” he asked. “No” I replied, ” you are supposed to be the one with the local knowledge”.

It was soon apparent as to how his vehicle had become so battle scarred. He was a very bad driver, as are so many people here. Thankfully the journey was short and soon over, although at one point he did say that the journey was longer than he thought and should be a different tariff. I reminded him that there are no actual tariffs and that we negotiated a price at the start of the journey. He accepted this and left to go in search of another potential victim.

On entering the hotel, I was not surprised that they were not expecting me, in spite of the advanced booking and deposit and 2 emails updating them on my estimated time of arrival. I was not expecting the red carpet treatment, just the room I had reserved. Fortunately, they had a spare room with three beds in which they assured me would be just for me and just for the one night. I was happily relocated the next day.

The hotel staff are friendly and helpful, with the receptionist even walking me to a nearby restaurant which she recommended. Also, giving advice and directions for local sites of interest. Perhaps Chiclayo was going to be as friendly as advertised.

Not quite. I went out for a run early on Sunday morning and was attacked by two dogs. One tried to bite my leg and I am sorry to say I had to give him a severe bang on the ear to deter him. That was sufficient for him to lose interest and although the other one made a lot of noise, he kept a safe distance from me.

Not long after that, a taxi jumped a red light and almost ran me over. It was right next to a police station with two officers standing outside. I commented as I passed about the idiocy of Peruvian drivers and I heard them chuckling as I turned the next corner.  I ran for a little over 6kms, which I was happy with, as I have only run a few times since arriving in Peru. I have put in a lot of walking though.DSCN1875

At lunch time I decided to visit the Plaza de Armas and have general look around. It was quite busy, as was the Mercado Modelo.

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The market is huge and just seems to go on and on.

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The owner of this fruit stall advised me to put my camera (ipod) in my pocket or keep a firm grip on it as it could well be stolen otherwise.

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I was kept amuse for a while by the antics of this taxi driver and his fare, trying to fit two big boxes of sound equipment into the cab…

DSCN1892….eventually deciding to tie it on the roof. I could not bear to watch any longer.

Cats in the Park

Whilst walking through Parque Kennedy in Miraflores, Lima, recently, I commented to my friend that there seemed to be a lot of cats either in or around the park. IMG_0099     DSCN0800

Everywhere I looked there seem to be cats.DSCN1004 Oops!! Sorry, wrong park.

DSCN0801 ( They look remarkably similar to me.)

It seems though, the cat population of Kennedy Park used to be more than 100 and was a popular attraction to both tourists and a significant amount of locals. There is however, an opposing faction, people who don’t like cats. They have campaigned to have the cats removed and if necessary, put down. It would appear that a local priest is one of those unhappy with the presence of the cats and was even, allegedly, accused of killing or kidnapping some of the unfortunate creatures. Which he denies. Also, allegedly, he prevented the rescue of a cat which was trapped in the church tower.DSCN1066

Many of the cats have been adopted and now live in good homes. Those remaining being totally oblivious to the divide they have created in public opinion.   I have to include a pic of the house cat where I live. IMG_0209 Scrawny yet endearing. How could you not like a cat?  They are right up there with guinea pigs for me.

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Feliz Cumpleaños y Bienvenido

Sunday 28th July I was invited, by my friend Sonia and her family, to go to, what was like a combination of a religious festival ( Apurimac – la Virgen de Cocharcas) and a country fair. There was folk music, dancing, a demonstration of Peruvian Horses plus lots of other activities. Food was available and I sampled Cuy (guinea pig). Delicious.DSCN0864

After the festival we went to her brother´s farm, where another brother and his friend entertained us on various musical instruments.
It was a celebration of Sonia´s birthday, a continuation of the Fiestas Patrias and a ” Welcome to Perú” party.

Good fun accompanied by some good beer. Sonia has a large family and they all made me feel very welcome.

Fiestas Patrias

Yesterday, I went to pay the rent to my landlady. During the conversation we had, she mentioned that there was a parade in the centre of Miraflores as part of the Fiestas Patrias, in which the Peruvians celebrate their independence from Spain.

So, after lunch, I decided to go and watch the parade. There was a large crowd, many of whom were seated in the stands, specially erected for the occasion. No expense spared as it is a big occasion for the locals.IMG_0024

I had to stand and wait for a long time, as the parade started an hour later than I had been told but the crowd waited eagerly and patiently. During the wait, small, national flags were distributed to the crowd, free of charge, which they waved enthusiastically. During the Fiestas Patrias, it is, apparently, compulsory to fly the national flag from all buildings.

When the parade began, it was led by several Chinese style dragons (there is a fairly high percentage of Chinese people and those with Chinese ancestry, in Perú).

I had been told previously that it seldom rains in Lima. So I was surprised to see that word of my presence in town must have spread, as the dancers seemed well prepared for the inevitable downpour of rain that accompanies me.IMG_0070

I was unable to stay for the whole parade, as I had plans for the evening. I did however, get a few photos of the early part of the procession.

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Settling In

I have moved into a penthouse suite near to the hotel in which I was previously staying. When I say penthouse, I mean it is perched on the flat roof of a house. And when I say suite, I mean it is sweet, well sort of. It is basic to say the least but has a bed, use  of all the usual facilities and comes with a tv and wifi. Not only that, it costs just US$300 a month, which is not bad for accommodation in Miraflores.

I have mentioned previously, how friendly the local people are, so I was not surprised when, as I was walking back to my hotel after dinner the other night, whilst waiting to cross the road, a young woman politely smiled and said hello. I responded in kind, as I am keen to exploit every opportunity to practice Spanish, and we struck up a conversation.

We crossed the road and continued walking and talking until, after a few minutes she asked, “would you like a massage?”.

“No thank you”, I replied.

“Something else then?” she asked.

“Thank you for your offer but no”, I said.

“Don’t you think I am pretty?” she asked.

“Well of course I do.”,  I responded. And she was.

Her hand then moved towards my nether regions, “muy grande!” she exclaimed as she accidentally touched the spectacles case that was in my pocket.

At this point I became more insistent, finally managing to get her to understand that I was not interested and she switched her attention to a passing hombre.

I can’t help wondering what would have happened if the situation had been reversed and I had been trying to grab someone by the spectacles or similar. A night in the cells at least, probably.

The sequel to this is that the following day, I was in Kennedy Park in Miraflores, where free wifi is available. I was chatting with my daughter back in England, when a man came and sat nearby. He said hello and I replied. He started to talk about the park and the wifi, during which time I was still chatting to my daughter but not wanting to offend, I was responding to him.

He then asked, ” would you like a massage?”.

” No I would not!!”, I replied as assertively as I could.

“I am looking for a good time,” he said to me. In English this time.

“Well you won’t bloody well get one from me!”, I said, thinking, “If he tries to touch my spectacles case, there is going to be trouble”. But he just got up from the bench and walked away. What annoyed me most was that he switched to English, thinking I had not understood him. I understood only to well but I still enjoy the friendly open outlook of the people here.

Fountain in parque Kennedy in Miraflores/Lima,...

Fountain in parque Kennedy in Miraflores/Lima, Peru. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)