travelogue – Machu Picchu – Peru

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Many years ago John Fair’s photos of Machu Picchu & Angkor Wat (Cambodia) helped inspire my now compulsive travelling. These two spiritual sites are often compared, both magnificent.

I was blown away by Machu Picchu and appreciated it all the more as I walked the 4 day Salcantay trek to get there. Salcantay is the most popular of the Inca Trail alternatives.

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I opted not to do the 33km Inca Trail, the most famous hike in South America. Most serious hikers feel it is over-priced (US$220+), over-regulated, & over-crowded (500 / day in high season). Worst of all, most of the troops arrive at Machu Picchu too late in the morning to take photos with the site empty. There are many grumblers.

My last night on the Salcantay I had a fantastic campsite to myself looking over to Machu Picchu 6kms away. Thunder rumbled. I knew the Gods of the Inca were angry.

Indeed, the next day a Russian tourist was killed, struck by lightning atop the imposing peak overlooking Machu Picchu. Local guides told me nothing like this has happened before.

Only the most bent traveller leaves Machu Picchu unmoved. It is far bigger and more beautiful than postcards reveal.

IMG_0571neil

I travelled south Peru with Neil, a petroleum engineer from the UK who works for a Calgary company.

In Cuzco our hostel had a wonderful view of the main plaza. I did my best to avoid the Plaza and Gringo Alley as touts get tedious.

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Still, pretty Cuzco is a terrific tourist town. Much to do & see. It is the centre of the Americas for archaeology.

We motored to Lake Titicaca.

Expecting the famous world’s highest navigable lake (3800m) to be painfully touristy as well as a bogus claim — we surprisingly had a terrific day. The floating reed islands (they last 8-10 years) were amazing. I was a big Thor Heyerdahl fan; remember the Ra Expeditions on reed boats, Africa to South America?

116_9200tower_The stark, lofty funerary towers of Silustani are unique too and impressive.

Peru has long attracted treasure hunters like me.

But I am leaving.

Overall Peru is the number 1 country in South America for the gringo. A few argue for Ecuador or Colombia as less tourist-infested & friendlier. Argentina is HOT right now with travellers as it is so inexpensive after the recent currency crisis. And the best parties are in Brazil.

Normally food is of little interest to me while travelling. But I have been quoted as saying South American food is the worst in the world, outside Tibet. (There is a vocal African lobby saying food there is even less edible.)

This trip I made more effort to try and find good grub.

The one thing I could count on was excellent coffee.

Right?

No. The coffee is great in some countries, but Nescafe rules Peru. In one small town we went looking for a good cup of coffee. Directed to an elderly woman’s home we were denied filtered coffee again because she could not get her vicious dog into another room to let us in. We left without coffee — but I did entertain an offer for a Peruvian bride. In every town it is easier to find a wife than a good cup of coffee.

A mountain guide liked coffee mixed with the ubiquitous coca leaf. I chewed the leaves after finishing the java assuming I could hike for days without food or sleep.

Must be some other kind of coca leaf. Doesn’t do much for me. I prefer Earl Grey.

In Cuzco the South American Explorers club hosted a tasty Andean food and drink night.

Pisco sour, made from local white grape brandy is too fine. Cuzquena beer has many devotees including me.

Bread & rice are disappointing here. But potatoes — the greatest gift of Peru to the world — are excellent. there are hundreds of different kinds displayed in local markets.

We were served a local potato with cheese, oil, lemon, egg yolk — cooked, then served cold

Soups are sometimes good. In a smoke-blacked kitchen I enjoyed a typical Andean breakfast warm-me-up, sheep neck soup.

Ceviche, raw seafood marinated in lemon and chillies, is perhaps the National dish of Peru.

Inca Cola rules here, Coke second, Pepsi a distant third.

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Grilled chicken and chips is the default meal. Avoid the gamble of cheap, bland, cold set meals at restaurants if you are looking for gusto.

Fruit & veggies are superb. Best advice is to shop the local markets & cook for yourself.

Peru is great. But shun Lima.

The strangest, saddest city thou canst see.
(Moby Dick)

I have heard it called the Scorch. Zero inches of rain per year.

Population 8 million; the worst city in South America. I got stuck in Lima on a connection at dusk. In the red light district. Smog, noise, crowds. I have not seen urban devastation like this since northern India. Almost post-apocalypse — but with taxis.

My airport bus driver, navigating the lawless traffic, was perhaps the most skilled I have ever seen.

A month later I returned to Lima. In bright sunshine the city looked better.

Or my outlook had softened.

A 10 minute bus connection was still more than enough time in Lima.

As Che said: Until the Final Victory! On to Bolivia.

Ciou for now,

Ricardo

P.S. For the record, massive Angkor is by far the most impressive destination in the world. The pyramids, Taj Mahal, even Machu Picchu should be pleased to be listed on the same page.

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Rick Mc

Career gymnastics coach who loves the outdoors, and the internet.

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