The orphans, making chocolates and the awe that is Rainbow Mountain

So after the long day of Machu Picchu we have a freeish day in Cusco. A good nights sleep followed by a surprise cup of chai in bed from Michelle at about 7.30. Can’t complain at all. 
We have a relaxed morning in social media, planning excursions and general down time before heading downstairs to the orphanage quarters to spend the morning with the orphans. I’ll introduce a few. Maria who is 13 and one of two from my last visit and is now one of the older orphan girls so has responsibility. Zurama who is 7, and was also here last time. She has a Down’s syndrome half sister Patricia who was here last time as her parents didn’t want her. But I have learnt that after some behaviour and personal issues her mum and step dad have taken her back and she now attends a special school in the mountains run by a Dutch project (fantastic news). Zurama wanted to stay at the orphanage though but encouraged her sister to go. What a grown up of decision by her. The eldest girls now are Gladys but I think she is only 15, and Roxana who is maybe 14. They have to help run the orphanage and mother (big sister) the younger ones. It is odd with less older girls but two have been moved to another orphanage after bullying issues.

The youngest is Yesenia. So very very cute at 4 and her sister Brisaida who is quite quiet. Then the cheeky monkey of Virginia who helped us on our first day and always says hello. And Fernandez who bless her can’t read yet but can speak well.

So we are armed with paper, glitter, glitter pens, glue, feathers, jigsaws and small toys such as cars, wind up reindeer and marbles. The toys have been donated by friends in the UK.

The girls love it. We make posters and some of the girls make posters with ours and their names on to say thank you to us, even though we have only just really met them. One of the girls Gladys is a puzzle queen and without the need for help, although Lindz did if win her completes two easily. The youngsters play with the wind up walking reindeer (out of Christmas crackers) and love watching them race.

A really good morning had with them, a rewarding experience. We have to leave at midday as the girls have to clear up and get ready for their lunch.

We head upstairs for a cup of tea, before heading into town to see some sights Michelle has researched. We head to the Inca Museum and learn all about pre and post incas. How they sacrificed beautiful women for Pachamama by getting them drunk then tying them up and leaving them to die, (harsh to hear and there’s mummified evidence to). We saw lots of artefacts recovered from various sites over the years such as stone knives, cooking pots and clothing. Very interesting museum and well worth a visit especially for just £2.50.

Next the Cocoa museum, not to get confused with the coca museum we visited Sunday like Michelle did originally. This is a free attraction but you can book a chocolate making class for a cost if you wish. We see the pictures of chocolate plants and where the cocoa comes from, not sure where I expected it to grow but not in a plant with a white paste around it. Follow the process from plant to edible form through pictures and explanations on the wall. The tasting of various chocolates was fun too, mint, white, dark and chilli, I mean who doesn’t like testing chocolate for free whether in Cusco or the UK.

We are meeting Jeremy (my contact at the orphanage) this afternoon to hand over all the clothes we have brought over from the UK. Three suitcases between us. Nilda (Jeremy’s mum) is also there. She started up the orphanage and now runs it with Jeremy. He was brought up with the orphans although did have a home to go to when they weren’t staying. They bought one building originally which is the boys now, and is a large building but over the other side of town and in a dodgy area. On a walk there last time I had my bag slashed! Then a few years ago they managed to buy the second building, much smaller but in a safer area and perfect for the girls. This is where I have always stayed. Jeremy is very grateful for our donations, particularly for the pants, socks and boys clothes plus vitamins we brought over. Feels good to do something for others. 

It’s a shame we can’t actually see the girls get the clothes but knowing its ready for when they need it, and will form a whole outfit for Christmas for them is great. 

No rest for the wicked as we have a chocolate making (yes more chocolate) and wine tasting evening booked in town. Again the super organised Michelle has researched what to do in Cusco and came across this. It’s in a room above the shops facing the Plaza. The owner Kevin is very chatty and professional and it all just looks amazing from the moment we step in. Two tables set up, a sofa in the corner to relax whilst you wait. On the wall a map of the world made out of corns and pulses, colours and look linked to the place in the world, so the desert is a yellow corn and the U.K. is a green one. Amazing. Even the toilets (here I go again) were fabulous. Free tissues, sanitary items, moisturisers. A Ryan gosling sign on the door reminding you to put toilet paper in the bin. Motivational quotes around the mirror. Attention to detail springs to mind.

So the first part of the evening is the chocolate making. You sit around the large wooden table, already laid out with utensils, decorations/fillings for the chocolate and huge wine glasses. We get to paint chocolate into the oval moulds, Michelle has the gung-ho technique, chuck loads on. Lindz and myself more delicate and time consuming, but to be honest all it ends up the same anyway. Then we can add whatever we want from the treats on the table. Oreos, cookies, M and M’s, coconut, peanut butter, toffee paste, quinoa. Oh yes, and whilst drinking very nice red wine. The chocolates are then put in the fridge and over to the wine tasting. Another lovely large wooden table with glasses all set out, snacks to compliment the wine and off we go. Two white wines, not the colour of any of our first choices but they actually weren’t bad especially with the chilli sauce on mini toast as a complimentary taste. Then two red wines with chocolate to compliment. We are half cut by now. Happy holidays!

Such a lovely experience, good for groups, and can be booked as just chocolate making for families. We were even given a little embroidered bag to put our chocolates in and carry home, it’s these little touches that make an experience! A good find by Mrs organised Michelle.

So off to get some food to soak up the alcohol. Michelle is really struggling with her drunkenness, but we are all pretty pissed to be honest. Kevin, at the chocolate making, recommended a restaurant so we head to find it. First attempt we got it very wrong. The restaurant name sounded pretty similar in our drunk heads, but when we walked in, apart from the very lovely clay oven looking very enticing the restaurant was bloody awful, firstly it was empty (never a good sign as we have found out) an actually smelt of cat piss. We quickly left! 

We then found the actual recommendation a bit further down the road and much nicer even on first impressions. There was a queue to get a table (a good sign!!) so we had a twenty minutes wait before being seated. Beautiful place. Very spacious, wooden round tables with bamboo style chairs curved around them, cushions for both comfort and design, excellent wall murals and stone cemented into the walls. The food didn’t disappoint either, although my plate of chicken wings would of fed all three of us. 

Feeling content, although still drunk we headed for home. I spotted a wooden hammock on the way out so stopped for a photo. I’ll blame the wine, as just as I went to lean back for a pose, I fell off into a perfect lying position directly underneath it and on the pillows that had fallen as well! Absolutely hilarious and the staff were all laughing at me to. Topped off a fun night. Taxi for three please!!

So we are up at bloody silly o clock for the rainbow mountains tour. Michelle is really struggling with a cold or the altitude, not sure which or if both but bless her she’s not having fun. it’s 3am, we’ve had about 5 hours sleep at most and have hangovers to boot, and we are heading to meet the minibus pick up at the police station. As we walk down the poorly lit back streets from the orphanage to the police station we hear three lads shoutout at us. Are they our drivers? We stop for a moment to check but decide no they are unlikely to be and if you are they can bloody well follow us to the station, so we carry on. Michelle desperate for the loo at this ungodly hour and not fancying a walk back to the orphanage via drunk locals, pops into the station to use the bano. Poor girl, it didn’t flush! She was so embarrassed when she come out. Hilarious. 

We get picked up at 3.45 as you expect in South America when told 3am, and I promptly fall asleep. I awake when we stop in a little village called Quesoyuni where we get fed and watered. It’s bloody freezing, but we (well maybe not Michelle) are full of high spirits as we eat our bread rolls with frozen butter and drink coca tea to help prepare us for the 5100m ascent. The guides give us a little talk about what to expect. Three guides, front, middle and back and the back one has emergency oxygen. If you want to ride a horse you go to see a guide called Alex and apparently as its a new attraction they don’t stop and talk you through the history of the area as no one knows anything about it yet. Not sure that’s true but you get what you pay for. There must be 60 people in our group as there’s three full minibuses. Nothing like an intimate group.

We are briefly back on bus to drop us where we will be starting the trek just 15 minutes away and off we head. The first 10 minutes everyone is on foot as the horses meet us over the first pass. It’s quite a tough climb especially for those who need a horse. I’d say I’m pretty fit and I was breathing heavily with the altitude change, already at 4400m. We arrive at the horse pick up point and await Michelle and Lindz’s horses. Well what a palaver that became. Lindz was given one straight away and just got walked off, but poor Michelle had to wait a good 15 minutes whilst they found more horses from round the valley and one they thought was suitable. Then when she eventually got one, off she went far faster than I was walking (the guides fault not hers) so having waited with Michelle so she wasn’t alone, I ended up trekking on my own. Fortunately I find it quite therapeutic so not a problem. We caught up with Lindz along the way and got to walk as a group at times. Most of the trek can be done on horse but there are about 1.5 miles of the 12 that can’t because it’s pretty steep and narrow. Michelle has a ceramic hip so this and the awful cold/altitude sickness made it pretty tough going at times for her. She has commented how my blog would not reflect how she felt during her day at all!

The scenery is just amazing. Snow capped mountains in view, undulating colourful hills all around giving a glimpse of some of the colours of the rainbow mountain. The floor is a dried dusty brown soil that completely covers your shoes and clothes, the sun is baking by now so the layers come off again to keep cool.

This trek used to only be part of a six day hike that some walkers found a few years ago by chance. It is now very much an ants trails of commercialised tourism that can only get worse as it becomes better known. 

The toilets (I do like a toilet story you may have noticed) are the good old fashioned Trekkers long drop! Much more sensible than trying to have plumbing out here. They have built some wooden shacks around the hole at some stops but others are merely tarpaulin structures. I love the simplicity. 

It’s a tough hike, I found parts testing, and there are some very unfit and quite frankly unsuitable Trekkers trying to complete it. The better companies don’t allow you to do the trek if you are not fit enough (they are much more safety conscious and want everyone to walk at similar paces I think) and don’t allow you to have a horse if over 160lb. The cheaper ones seemingly don’t care and just let anyone on.

We don’t see our guides at all, and Michelle may well of benefited from some oxygen, although wouldn’t we all?? 

As the peak where the view of Rainbow mountain comes into sight our spirits are lifted and the horses can no longer take you. Slowly but surely we make the first viewpoint, 5000m. It’s not the any of us wanted but Michelle had said she wasn’t bothered by the top peak but getting so close and wanting that view she became a woman on a mission and off she marched. 

The view is so worth it. Just an amazing show of Mother Nature at her very best. 

I have a bag of skittles from the UK so have the obligatory photo ‘taste the rainbow (advert and log running joke from Easter ski trip)…see the rainbow’, I mean why not. The others get started on the trek back down but I stay to admire the views for a bit before heading down. My biggest regret of Everest Base Camp trek was rushing to get down from Gokyo Peak and not admiring the views or taking more photos. We finally see a guide as we start the descent, handy after three hours. It’s a round trip of nearly 20km, and the girls are on the horses which are being made to canter at times so I am well and truly on my own for this part of the walk, which again I don’t mind although it becomes increasingly hard without much food. Lunch is when we and everyone else has returned at the bottom. With the girls not needing rest as they are sat on a horse I keep trudging on, admiring the wonder of rock screes, the changing mountain colours, little villages that would hardly of seen the outside world before this trek, and various people who ride past me or who walk past me. Really relaxing if you ignore the aching legs. Starting to feel like my legs did at 22 miles of the marathon. The houses of the little villages are literally one block of mud bricks with a clay oven as heating and brick sections for beds. I got an inside photo but then realised someone had used it as a toilet and left their toilet roll as evidence, lovely! There are dogs patrolling their patch, footballs awaiting an owner beside houses but otherwise hardly any life. I can only deduce that all villagers are either now working as guides, horse handlers or selling refreshments. New life for them since the trek was commercialised.

After 6 hours of trekking we are back at the bottom. Tired, absolutely filthy and in need of some food. Finding our bus is a real effort as we have no idea who our driver was and there are about 25 white mini buses. We see some of the English dudes we had breakfast with who have been down for 40 minutes already. This is where the company shows its cheapness. There are three minibuses for one company, but none can leave until all its parties have returned rather than taking the first 20 to finish back. The poor sods who had to wait for two hours before they could go and eat. Our hour and a bit was bad enough and I had a sleep but it’s very frustrating. You’re tired, dirty, hungry and now bored. There must be a better way, register of names or something. But of course that’s the English way of dealing with it.

Anyhow back to the hostel we were at for breakfast and we get fed and watered again. I think we are so tired it’s a struggle to be sociable. Some of the faces around the table are like death warmed up, and not all can eat the chicken and rice concoction we are fed. 

Back on the bus and home time. Hoping to sleep lots. However firstly I feel like crap with gut ache from my random Peruvian diet (missing salad and vegetables) and then I get moved from my front seat I had saved (the guide needed it but then realised there weren’t any spare seats so someone else has it) and end up squashed in the back corner, no leg room, sleeping Spanish man leaning into me and the worst driving in a long time. Lindz likens the driver to a Nigel Mansell wannabe (showing our age there) as he just took the mountain road corners like he was on a race track. It was an hour and a half of winding dirt tracks going around the mountain with very tight turns at probably twice the speed you should. So to take my mind off the death ride I tried to take in the scenery. We had to stop twice for lamas being herded, there was a lovely local having a piss right beside the road, (I mean thy is scenery right there) the driver nearly ran over lamas, kids and sheep, but did stop so the guide could give a local boy some chocolate. The happiness on his dirty little face was priceless. 

As we finally leave the dirty track we pass a local man pulling a huge sweet corn stockpile up a hill on his bike, these locals are so strong, and then 100m down the road a man was on his mobile. The old and new lifestyles in stark contrast right there.

I try to sleep now the road is safer but no, bloody speed bumps everywhere and old Nigel Mansell likes to hit them with some speed. I nearly hit my bloody head on the roof on many occasions.

We get back to town at 8pm, not the 6.30-7pm promised. Again tonight we were supposed to go ‘out out ‘ but looking at the state of Michelle that’s not happening. We do head for a pizza as the mini bus driver refused to let us off near the orphanage even though he let some Aussies off at their stop. Bonus though, in their rush to get off they left a very luxurious neck pillow which I have acquired now. 

Back home to shower and chill. My feet were absolutely black from the dirt when I took my shoes off, gross. But the shower was warm for most of my time in it. Be thankful for little mercies, and this is my last night in Cusco. Very sad and wished we’d had more time here and got to socialise more, but Rio here we come!