|Paragliders at sunset, Miraflores, Lima|
A few days prior I was alone and fighting of culture shock resulting from my extreme ignorance of the Spanish language. I literally arrived in South America knowing 'hola' and 'gracias' and nothing else. Not so smart. I was travel weary from a month of bush camping in Africa and now I was lost in a world in which I could barely communicate - it left me more than a little uninspired. But then, a few days later Hayley came bounding out of the arrivals gate, massive smile on her face and arms waving wildly at me, and it didn't matter. The girls were about to conquer Peru!
|Plaza de Armas, Cusco's center|
Lima didn't really live up to it's badass reputation for me. It's big, it's smoggy, it's somewhat shabby, but even central Lima didn't feel dangerous. Once we moved to Miraflores by the beach you could barely even tell you were in Lima, everything was clean and shiny and new. On our last evening we watched the paragliders soar along the coastline and into the fading sun. We tried to NOT watch the many couples getting it on on every park bench available. For some reason, this seems to be the thing to do in Lima!
|Girls in Cusco, Peru|
|Horseback riding near Cusco|
With saddle sore legs (maybe all that galloping the day before a 5 day trek was poorly thought out, oops) we got up at 3:30am to make our way to the bus stop to begin our trek. We were excited to be with other people, but as dozens of gringos were herded onto the bus I got a little nervous. I thought this was supposed to be the less traveled route? The last thing I wanted was to be nose and nose with 100s of other tourists, which is why I really didn't have a problem doing the alternative trek and never setting foot on the Inca Trail. The first day was definitely a bit crowded as several trekking groups walked the trail together to the first camp, picking our way up into the hills and past the last of civilization. As the mountains peeked their white tops above the fading green hills, however, I stopped caring, and didn't take the guides long to separate us out into groups so that we were more spread out. I don't know if Jess was still traumatized from our horseback ride or if she was having trouble with the altitude, but she struggled a bit the first day. She hung in there like a trooper though, and made it to our camp on night one.
Although I was initially grumpy about so many people, once we had established our groups it wasn't so bad and, admittedly, the social factor ended up being one of my favourite parts of the trek. With Belgium, Holland, the UK, South Africa, Canada, and the USA being represented, along with the Peruvian guides and cooks, we were a truly international crew. We huddled around our dinner table the first evening and got to know each other as the chill of the night crept over the campsite. Shortly after an exhausted Hayley, Jess, and I piled into our tent and cuddled together to keep warm. Even with the body heat it was bitter cold and I buried my head deep into my sleeping bag and thanked myself for purchasing the thermals that were currently keeping me at least mostly warm. I learned my lesson after nearly freezing to death in Nepal!
|Salkantay trek, 4600m above sea level|
As always I struggled with the food. I had to lie and tell the cooks that I was allergic to cilantro so they wouldn't put any of that nasty herb anywhere near my meals since they seemed to love to sprinkle it over every single dish. It's always discouraging to be extremely hungry and incapable of eating whatever is put in front of me. My anxiety always raised before meals as I waited to see what it was. If I didn't like it, I tried to force myself to eat it anyway, to shove spoonfuls of whatever it was in my mouth, but my throat literally closed and I would feel nauseated. It's extremely frustrating to be this way, but I don't know how to change it. My savoir was my stash of snacks I brought with me and what the cooks called the 'happy hour' after we'd completed our trek for the day. At this time they would serve up huge plates of biscuits, popcorn, and hot chocolate and I would fill my face and then dinner became just a bonus snack. So thank you happy hour for saving me from starvation!
|Our trekking crew at the hot springs|
I've officially donated my piece of shit hiking boots to charity and I apologize to whoever receives them. Three treks and 100s of kilometers walked and they still gave me blisters. Those stupid boots have almost caused me more than one trek melt down. I resisted my flip flops for days, then with one toe so raw it was bleeding I finally changed footwear - and then ended up walking through a river of mud and gravel that would never end, down a steep slippery slope, covering all my open foot wounds in random jungle sludge and almost falling on my face. I was so pissed off by the end of it I almost punched my favourite little Jessica in the face when she took a picture of me struggling down the hill. I also debated throwing my mud covered flip flops at lovely Hayley, who was laughing. I blame my hiking boots for all of this, by the way. Luckily, I will never have to see them again and our friendship survived the incident.
By the time we reached Aguas Calientes, the town nearest to Machu Picchu, we had been eaten alive by flies, hadn´t showered for 4 days, had more than a few sore muscles, and I personally never wanted to see another trek meal again, ever. I almost jumped up and down when I saw our hostel with hot water and restarants selling pizza! I had the best shower of my life that night and the best pizza, also.
|Wayna Picchu is at the back right|
|Sitting on the top of Wayna Picchu, Machu Picchu below|
Before I wrap up I just want to say a word of warning for others about the company we booked our trek with. While the trek experience was great, the booking company was absolutely horrible. They were called Peru Inka Intertravel and you can find them online, but don't. The deceived us into thinking we were getting an upgraded trek, but once we got there we realized that we had actually been downgraded to a cheaper route that we paid double what everyone else did. Not only that, they were extremely disorganized, forgot our hostel bookings, sent us on a wild goose chase, and left us with more than a bitter taste in our mouths. When we confronted them about the situation they were vicious and said we would 'certainly not get any money back'. There's no place to leave feedback on their website - probably for a reason - but still, we are going to do what we can to bring them down! So please, NO ONE BOOK WITH THIS COMPANY! They are more than assholes!
I'm currently in Bolivia and admittedly, more than a little behind on my blog. Sorry for the wait! Hayley is leaving me in two days and I will once again be travelling alone, which generally leaves me with more free time. I'll fill you in on everything that's been going on then :)