AN INCA HISTORY LESSON – FROM LAKE TITICACA TO MACHU PICCHU AND AREQUIPA

Isla del Sol hike

Isla del Sol hike

After leaving the sweaty jungle back to La Paz, we weren’t too keen on sticking around, so we took a bus straight to Copacabana, found on the famous Lake Titicaca. As well as being very high (3,800M) it was suitably beautiful, and it wasn’t hard to see why it’s the home of the most popular creation myth of the Incas. After staying a couple of nights in Copacabana, which was nice enough for a tourist town but strangely deserted, we slept for one night on the ‘Isla del Sol’, home of the creation myth itself. As well as being extremely cheap, we were able to see the evidence of Inca settlement everywhere, from terraces to a very well preserved labyrinth.

In the morning we walked back from the North to the South of the Island, unfortunately we were misinformed (rather common in Bolivia) as to the timings of the boats back to the mainland. For this reason we arrived half an hour late for our trip back, meaning we had to pay some guys extra to take us personally. This was all good and well but it transpired about 20 minutes into our journey that we were actually expected to transfer boats after catching up to the real taxi boat in the middle of the lake! We felt a tiny bit ripped off, but we got back to Copacabana in the end and we were ready to move on again!

Two hours later we took a bus to Peru! We were actually quite glad to leave Bolivia, although our time there was wonderful, the bad food and decidedly grumpy inhabitants (on the whole) were taking their toll on us. After a change of buses and a pretty uncomfortable and long journey, we arrived at Cusco and managed to find a very nice Hostel at midnight, which was a relief! After a much needed rest we got to exploring Cusco and we were impressed! The historic centre of Cusco is beautiful, the Colonial buildings mixing with the Pre-Columbian Inca architecture.

Cusco through the warped lens of our broken camera.

Cusco through the warped lens of our broken camera.

In Cusco we experienced Wild Rover, one of the infamous large party hostels to be found in South America. There are a few companies (Loki, Milhouse etc.) that set up these hostels, usually with 50-100 beds and a bar\restaurant. A lot of travellers are known to rarely leave these whilst staying there, perhaps a bit of a waste of time, but each to their own! Although we weren’t staying in Wild Rover (we were meeting our new Irish friend there) and had great fun there for the night, we wouldn’t want to spend much more time there, we value our sleep far too much!

Our time in Cusco was mostly spent exploring the nearby Inca ruins and attempting to fix our close-to-death camera, we ended up (after arguing a lot in very average Spanish!) paying to get our camera restored to a more or less functioning state. We had to buy another camera anyway, but we were up and running and ready for our trip to one of the wonders of the world, Machu Picchu!

Inca ruins near Cusco.

Inca ruins near Cusco.

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The city in the clouds was just as impressive as you’d expect, that people managed to build a city on such a grand scale at the top of a fairly inaccessible mountain will never cease to amaze me! We took the cheap option of a bus to a small town 2.5 hours walk away from the village at the base of Machu Picchu mountain, Aguas Calientes. The walk was a pleasant one, along train tracks used by the occasional trains. It was good to get a small taste of the cloud forests, as we weren’t trekking along the popular Inca trail.

The walk from Hydroelectrico to Aguas Calientes.

The walk from Hydroelectrico to Aguas Calientes.

The more expensive option at 25 each way from Hydroelectrico to Aguas Calientes.

The more expensive option at 25 each way from Hydroelectrico to Aguas Calientes.

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After getting back to Cusco, we stayed one more night and were off to Arequipa, the self-styled ‘white city’ named so because of the white colour of the rock used to build many of the colonial building there. Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, was a lovely and charming place, backed by a series of volcanoes. Whilst there we visited Juanita, a 500 year old frozen girl (~12 years old) recovered in the mid 90s when eruptions melted the ice on top of one of the volcanoes near Arequipa. The Incas travelled up to over 5000 metres in order to conduct a ceremony in which Juanita was *ahem* ‘unceremoniously’ bashed over the head with a mace. Overall, 6 bodies were found on top of various volcanoes in the area, but Juanita’s was the best preserved, her fingers stood out for me as exquisite, blackened skin the only sign of death.

Condor Colca Canyon

Near Arequipa can also be found the Colca Canyon, a condor-filled corridor twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. We took a three day tour (our tour company was ‘Peru Schweiz’, which we can warmly recommend) with Luis or ‘Gatto’  (cat, his nickname because he’s survived a few car crashes and an earthquake. According to him he has 5 lives left)’ our guide, which was fantastic, if tiring. On the first day, after a 3am start from Arequipa, we saw the condors themselves, huge beasts (second only to Albatrosses in terms of wing span) that soared literally metres from where were standing. After this we descended into the canyon to our first spot for the night, where we were able to relax for the evening. The next morning was spent walking at an easy pace to the ‘oasis’ in the canyon, where we swam in the spring water swimming pool, and I was able to watch the Champion’s League Final with a beer (this is Matt writing if you hadn’t noticed)! A perfect day! Even if I did have to explain the rules to an American in our group. The next morning was intense to say the least! After waking up at 4am to avoid the heat of the sun we walked for 2 hours and climbed over 1200m to the top of the canyon. It was definitely a relief when we arrived! Breakfast was well appreciated at a nearby town, and we moved on to several tourist spots including some hot spring, before an all-you-can-eat lunch and a journey back to Arequipa!

Colca Canyon

Relief at the end of our early morning climb.

Colca Canyon

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