My room for the last night in La Paz is on the 5th floor, carrying my bloody heavy suitcase up that many stairs was a pain it the arse, but all forgiven when I see the view I have over the city, love it so much I slept with the curtain open. Having spent three days at the hostel in La Paz I actually haven’t been there past 7am and haven’t slept past 6.15. Just as well I didn’t pay for a luxurious hostel as no chance to use anything bar the shower, bed and breakfast.
Up at 6 again for my flight and get chatting at breakfast to a French couple who are also off to the airport, so we share a taxi and save a whole £1 each. It all counts! Nice to chat to people though and they are off to do the Salt Flats so I give them tips and they have done Peru already and tell me to do something called Rainbow Mountain, I shall look that up. Wifi works at check in so do the obligatory Facebook, what’s app and e mails to say I’m alive and share stories. My salt flats buddies have a what’s app group now so I get to see their pictures this morning of their five star hotel they’ve treated themselves to and send a picture of me with my cup of tea I finally had last night with my British tea bags and acquired powdered milk! They too miss the comforts of proper tea, although I’m pretty sure 5 star rooms overshadow a cup of tea!
I have a few Bolivianos left so buy some drinks and M and M’s for my journey. Straight away reminds me of my Irish OCD buddies, never going to eat M and M’s without remembering them again. Similar to my recent ski trip where one of the staff spilt their skittles on the coach floor but then said ‘taste the rainbow’ to break the ice. Can’t eat skittles without saying that in my head now.
Quite sad to be leaving Bolivia and La Paz without actually experiencing the town. Should of stayed one more day here and done the tour of town or cable car trips. But never mind. As we take off from La Paz I get to admire the bizarre but awesome city from up high one last time, the city within a city, and then fly over the Andes and all their glory. Mountain peaks protruding above the clouds, those cotton wool like clouds seeping into valleys, and the peace of looking down upon it all. Cusco via Lima awaits and fellow Essex birds to spend the next two weeks with. Who’ll get annoyed with whom first??
As I have finished my book, there’s only 10 minute of free wifi and my plane is late boarding, I decide to call home and speak to the parents. You know you must be tired when saying ¡Hola! to my dad brings a tear to my eye and it’s been less than a week. Nice to hear their voices though before I head off again. And of course as mothers do, she warns me of the issues she’s seen on tv about sewage, unclean water and general issues with the Olympics before we say goodbye.
As I board my sixth flight in as many days I end up sat next to the most annoying American teenage girl. In desperate need of her bloody headphones for a whole one hour flight. Complete strop when she can’t find them or use the free plane ones. I think I’d rather have the raving, smelly Columbian back, bloody kids.
So I’m back in Cusco, can’t wait. Security is the first in all six flights I don’t get patted down or metal detected, how disappointing! Baggage reclaim suddenly looks familiar, three belts, no idea which one to stand at and realise after 10 mins I’m at the wrong one! Suddenly see one of the fellow Essex birds waving at me through the glass doors, phew! No wifi available to what’s app anymore so just as well we spotted each other.
My travel buddies are both teachers and are spending two weeks with me before heading off to Costa Rica and then Mexico whilst I do Argentina and Columbia. Michelle has set herself a task to do the seven selfies of the world. Machu Picchu will be number three.
So the three of us and all our luggage is here which I’m not sure we all expected as Michelle seems to lose her luggage on her travels. Michelle and Lindz have all the gear (is it a case of no idea???) as they have bought pashminas and happily wearing them in the airport as its freezing. They do look the part to be fair. I head out to see if our lift is about and spot my name held up. How exciting, never had a sign before. However as he sees all three of us and our six suitcases and hand luggage he realises his little car has no chance and runs off on the phone leaving us in the car park. Fortunately as its now midday the sun has heated up and it’s a pleasant wait for the disappearing man. Finally he returns with a friend in another car so we can distribute the luggage and people.
Now what a turn up for the books when I am the best Spanish speaker amongst us. Three years ago I was by far the worst, or maybe it was because others took the lead? Anyhow I muddle through a few sentences and we arrive at the orphanage. Two of the orphanage girls come out and help us, one I remember from three years ago but she has no idea who I am. So many volunteers must come and go. They drag a case each up the four flights of stairs very eagerly, bless them, and as a reward I let them choose a gift each from our donations. They try and take more but accept its to be one only. A pink Cinderella pencil case and a pink plastic Alice band. Pink seems the order of the day. They are so thankful we get a hug and a kiss from each girl. In the UK I don’t even get a thank you for taking pupils on trips let alone for hair accessories!
I look around and realise it’s the same apartment I was in last time, and the same bedroom. On the wall are the posters the volunteers and orphans made, untouched as though time has stood still. Rather emotional really.
We unpack, have a cup of tea and then head into town. We pass through side streets with stray dogs wandering, seemingly so happy to be free to roam, in the fresh air and not a care in the world. Building work going on at various places with no regard for health and safety. No hard hats or boots, no metal scaffolding but merely wooden poles instead, tied together with rope. We pass the local police station with police officers guarding the entrance with their automatic rifles on show. The taxis which are mainly bashed up fiat 500’s toot their horns as a sign that try are offering their services, weaving in and out of each other. It really is a different world to see.
I manage to remember the walk, woohoo! Back in the Plaza de Armas, with its colourful square, wooden balconies jutting over narrow cobblestones and stone arches, and the two flags you see everywhere-the red and white Peru flag and the colourful rainbow said to be the banner of the ancient Inca (we thought is was the gay flag until we saw it everywhere and then researched it!) Love, love, love it here. It’s a longer walk than Michelle had expected so she’s knackered (back injury to be fair) so any excuse to have a drink and we head to Papillon bar which overlooks the square on one of those wooden balconies, what a view. The tourists milling around, dogs ever hopeful for either food or affection, tour guides trying to win over the tourists, massages being offered by ladies and we get to sit overlooking all this with a jug of sangria, the sun beating down and the mountains in the distance. I love this place. The sangria is well deserved and goes down far too easily, we could easily just sit here all afternoon but we have the task of getting excursions booked.
Now I had recommended we don’t book anything in the UK but haggle when here. That goes against everything Michelle is as she’s very much an itinerary girl and needs her plans in place. This nearly backfired with Machu Picchu as we started with a price way above what we wanted but found out there’s a bloody train strike on Wednesday through to Friday so very limited availability. We tried three other companies who said it can’t be done and at this point Michelle with her OCD on itineraries and organisation was internally cursing me to death and externally agitated as she’s come to Peru for this tour particularly. I am however confident if one tour guide said yes then we will be ok, although hate the stressed looks on the other two. I suggest popping back to the ‘man who can’ and low and behold he can do it. The days we want, the cost not as bad as we thought and times pretty good to. Old ye of little faith I wanted to say, but didn’t as they were both getting more tired from jet lag as the time passed.
No walking back as one it’s about 40 mins and Michelle’s back won’t take it and two, the Essex birds are jet lagged and wilting fast. So I hail a cab and try my Spanish again and amazingly it works (three years ago I tried it they didn’t understand me and I got out the cab in tears), we get door to door driving and a lovely young lad trying out some English and me trying out some Spanish. Peru day one done. Now I said the apartment had everything you need, well the showers not ideal. They always were a tad temperamental and dangerous with electrics loose, no change there now, freezing cold. Michelle and Lindz try it out with screaming and cursing coming from each one at a time. Funny to hear, but not if you’re freezing already. I refrain for now and as its only 7pm and I’m feeling fresh and could easily have a night out if I had anyone to go with.
After some social media catch up I head out into town alone, slightly nervous but I know the town well enough, and pop off to check if I remember where the market and the supermarket is. Bingo, I remember both and stop off for some essentials at the bizarre shopping time of 8pm.
I try the shower out myself and with no better results than the others as its freezing still, so a quick arm in, arm out, shake it all about and then get bloody out!! Even after two cups of tea, thick socks and extra blankets I’m freezing cold. So after an hour of trying to warm up I remember a trick from Everest and use my camel back bladder, boil the kettle and make a hot water bottle. It does the trick and my feet warm up at last. I sleep in my jumper to help me keep warm too (we find out it was -1 that night). I’m pretty sure the bedding hasn’t been changed as I keep finding long dark hairs, just as well I have my silk liner to sleep in.
Other volunteers return at about 10pm making far too much noise when the girls are sleeping (how old am I??) and then periodically throughout the night the dogs have a barking session. I remember my first night here last time and the barking keeping me awake. Now it’s quite reassuring, probably not so much for the others though.
I don’t sleep that well as its so cold but well enough and enjoy my first lay in for a week, although waking up at 7 isn’t really a lay in.
I hear the others up and about, it’s been 12 hours so hopefully they are refreshed. I have my Peruvian cereal (Cheerios sold in a bag) and a cuppa, Lindz tried the shower again and still freezing, so I message the owner and ask for help with it. Off to the shops we go. The girls are watching TV and see us pass their window. The two who helped us come to the window and say hello zuwela shows me her pink Alice band she is now proudly wearing. We wave and say hola and head off.
I love the market. So busy but chilled, everything from meat to veg, fruit to clothing, DVDs to kettles. Dogs wandering through the isles, kids playing beside the stalls. Traditionally dressed women serving behind the plethora of stalls, all connected, none of that awful shouting we get on UK stalls, ‘two fa a pand luv’. It should be chaos but it just works.
I have my Spanish phrase book and we do very well. Kettle, (otherwise we have to boil the travel kettle twice or use a saucepan) towel (for a bath mat) eggs, cheese, tomatoes, olives, avocados and all in Spanish. The other two make me laugh, just repeat in English louder and slower with gestures, but get the point across most of the time. The kettle is the most bizarre style, basically a jug with a heater added and no on off switch, so it would just boil and boil.
We then head to the supermarket for snacks, milk and bread. We wander back to the orphanage through the bustling traffic, drivers honking horns either to warn pedestrians or vehicles of their presence. Street traders ranging from chocolate bars (street kids selling these), to bracelets to drinks. I’d spotted a very busy locals stop selling a hot drink on our way out so stopped off en route back. A traditionally dressed lady with her rickety trolley, although very organised, serves me. No idea what is in it but willing to try, I mean when on Peru, do as Peruvians do. It’s only luke warm, yellow in colour and not much to the taste to be honest. But if it had been hot I can see why the locals like it in the mornings.
After brunch for the Essex girls and a cuppa for me we head down to see the girls in the orphanage. I brought some jewellery kits over with me so we take them down along with my iPad to show them pictures from my last visit. They are finishing a snack and watching tv so we just sit and wait. One by one the young girls head over. The two who helped us are first over along with the very youngest yesanda who is the cutest little thing. They look for games on our phones and iPads to play and just snuggle in for a cuddle whilst doing so. The cat also heads straight for me and snuggles in. I then try to explain I was here three years ago and then open up Facebook to show the pictures. Straight away the proof I was here before and have returned makes one of those I know hug and kiss me. I think she thinks I am her god mother. I was god mother to another girl who’s no longer here so I just say yes and she hugs me more. They love looking at old photos and name all their old buddies in the pictures. Running over to the other girls to show them the pictures. Quite sad so many aren’t there anymore, although hopefully it means they are happy with their families once more.
We then ask them if they want to make jewellery and they love it. We setup the table in their dining room and get to work. Some of the girls are so particular with their designs they colour coordinate, have the fish facing alternate ways, alternate colours and in general just think about every last detail. Others just haphazardly create the bracelets and necklaces but all are happy and content.
The youngest girl gets Michelle’s camera and just wanders off taking pictures of anything and everything. She had a whale of a time. Not sure the pictures will be much use though but who cares. Some other volunteers come back to the orphanage but only to say hello through the door. Seem young, maybe before uni or in uni holidays but when they see us scuttle off to their apartment.
After about an hour the girls have to set up for prayers and dinner so we say our goodbyes for now and head back upstairs.
We have researched rainbow mountain and it just looks amazing. It is literally a mountain with dozens of different coloured soils creating a rainbow effect. However it’s a three hour trek, and at 5000m above sea level. Michelle can’t do that so it may just be me. Then I stumbled across the fact you can horse ride it do enquired about that and it’s a yes. $190 for the day trip including food and snacks. Whilst we wait for confirmation we decide to head to town for some drinks and sight seeing. As its Sunday some of the attractions we planned to see are closed so instead we wander around the back streets exploring the places not everybody sees. Up San Blas District which is dotted with colonial houses, and is known as the craftsman district. The roads are no more than a cars with wide, walls down the side lasting the entire length, shops on one or both sides selling artwork, clothing, souvenirs, food or tours. Young girls dressed in full traditional outfits, white shirts, layered skirts, waist coats, stovepipe black or yellow hats covering their black plaited hair and carrying lambs! Yes you read correctly, poor little lambs dragged around for the tourists to have a photo with. The walls are colonial architecture with its unique stonework that serves as a reminder that the Incas were there (I looked that up by the way), amazing detail.
We find some lovely market stalls hidden down these back roads and buy some winter items ready for Machu Picchu trek. Hats and gloves of an array of colours. Michelle also gets herself a backpack ready for the trek, blue embroidery with an alpaca on the front, nice. We find the coca museum in these back streets as well so decide to have a look around. Michelle thought coca leaves is where chocolate came from, and what an eye opener when she found out it is where cocaine comes from! I loved her reaction when it dawned on her, she just looked like a child who’s just found out a secret. We learnt where coca leaves are rumoured to have come from, the scientific experiment that first found the chemical reaction of cocaine (the scientist did OD though) and how coca tea and chewing of coca leaves was from the workers on the mountains to cure altitude sickness. Fascinating insight to be honest.
We pass a tour guide office with the rainbow mountain for $30. Well it’s worth asking if it saves us $150. It is now booked for the bargain price and I cancel the expensive online company. I’m sure try cut luxuries but I don’t care for that price.
Next we decide to just head onto the open top tour bus as we then get to see all the sights. Last three seats upstairs and off we go. Can’t be bad a two hour for £7. We pass the historic building of Monasterio de Santa catalina de sena which we had seen a wedding going on at on our walk past yesterday, some 200 year old houses next to a petrol station which the driver decided to utilise and fill up. Interesting addition to the tour? Then up the hill to see Cusco from up high. The sun is setting over the city and it looks so amazing with the houses built in every square inch, kids playing in the fields, dogs trotting along the road side completely care free and road savvy! There are families parked up with all the kids playing football with wooden poles stuck in the ground to make goals. We are dropped off at a field where we learn about the tradition of blowing coca leaves whilst making a wish for your family and the earth, smelling scents given off by special wood burnt that was to thank pachamama (Mother Earth) and a liquid we had put on our hands to tap over our body and release the stresses and aches and pains, or maybe all the other way round but you get the gist of what we learnt.
IIt’s bloody freezing now even with my new hat and gloves on. We forget that as we are near the equator the sun rises and sets pretty near to 6pm everyday, unlike our lovely long summer days on the UK.
Next stop off we learn about alpaca wool and garnets made, however this was all in Spanish so we didn’t really listen. Lindz and I did enjoy the free coca tea though, Michelle pulled the face of a small child who dislikes something 😄, all the more for us.
Final stop was Christo Blanco (Jesus Christ overlooking Cusck) that sits above the city. It’s now pitch black but it is lit up at night so quite a sight to behold.
Back to Cusco it is and to find some food to eat. Michelle is a veggie and had found a veggie restaurant for us to try so off we walk. We start walking down the smallest, dingiest, smelliest streets, and wonder where on earth is she taking us?? But she is positive and keen so all seems good. Eventually we find it on a fairly busy road but it’s locked up. We knock and someone opens the door but they are redecorating so don’t think we can eat there. Buggar.
So we trudge back down these same streets (such a treat to do it twice in about five minutes) and look for somewhere else. We eventually stop at an empty restaurant as quite frankly we were fed up as others we had tried such as Jacks Cafe, which I know is good, had queues out the door. So why the hell not try it. Well it was a comedy of events from the moment we got in. Michelle asked for two items, neither available, no fish on the menu, no chips with my alpaca meat (yes I thought I’d try a local delicacy) the drinks took about 10 mins to arrive, the toilets I’m sure were their actual family bathroom and when others did come in to dine as the restaurant was no longer empty, two tables walked out due to lack of food on the menu available or slow service. The poor one man band of a waiter, did do a good job considering and the food was bloody lovely but it’s not a place is recommend really. My first taste of alpaca meat and it was very nice and the girls first try of Pisco Sour!
Final stop for the night my fav memory KM.O bar up Sans Blas. Live music, chilled atmosphere and just a real locals vibe. It is however only 8pm so very empty and I ask when live music is and it’s not until 11pm. The jet lagged pair won’t make that, but we enjoy the ambiance of the place and had more than one pisco sour as its happy hour. I show my pictures from before to the bartender to see if the band still play and he was very excited by my return. Although they were here last night and Monday night when we are in Machu Picchu, shame. The others do well and last until 9.30pm before fading quickly so we head back, in the taxi which again I get to the right place and off to bed. Machu Picchu tomorrow. Let’s hope it’s not cloudy for me this time. Oh yes and I managed to bagsy a hot shower, it’s the little things!