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We were picked up on our first of 4 ridiculously early starts and taken to the tour owners house just outside Cuzco for a briefing and 'small breakfast'. We were then greeted with a crazy big buffet with eggs, ham cheese, cereal, teas coffees, fruits etc, which set the tone for the 4 day 'eatathon' which was to follow. Maybe they are used to heavier set Americans seeking out adventure with Lorenzo expeditions. Anyway, one of the tour group smashed a big jug of strawberry yoghurt, which went everywhere and was quite funny (considering that it was about 6 in the morning).
We drove up to 4400m to start the biking and had to put on a ridiculous amount of body armour protection even though we were riding on the roads.
Willian was the tour leader and it is just as well we had four or five Spanish speakers in the group as his English was fairly hilarious. (As an English teacher I don't normally make fun of bad English, but Willian's confident tone was not matched by clear or understandable language):
"Hello please. Now everybody be listening to the me please family. We is likes a biiiig family please. OK? I am a the Papi and you is the family please. I explain you now the bikes please. It has two buttons for making the fast and for going downhill please, and the stoppers are going in the opposition time to the normal please, OK? Don't hold on to the just left side for nothing please. Everybody OK?
. . . errr, it's lucky I know how to ride a bike Willian.
In his defence he did make some crackingly bad jokes like renaming the group 'omelette team' because most people ordered omelettes for breakfast. He also just went up to the Aussie girls and just said "ah you two is the Koalas please! The men Australians is the Kangaroos".
. . . "Oh, Ooookaaayy" they said suspiciously.
Biking was good fun anyway. I thought of it as a build up for 'death road' (a famous mountain bike trip in Bolivia). There were few cars and smooth tarmac all the way down from 4400m to 2200m which we did in about 2.5 hours. However, an American girl still managed to be the first person to fall off in 2 years. I guess that body armour was a good idea after all.
The group was made up of 3 unlikely couples and four others:
An Anglo French self confessed mummy's boy Jeremy and his multi lingual Mexican wife Marissa (who the guides were flirting with at any given opportunity). Jezza was into his Inca history and was forever being challenged by Willian to explain historical events and places to the group.
Jean (an Imanol Harinordoquy lookalike) and his Kiwi partner Ally live in Grenoble together. Like Jeremy and Marissa they had met 5 or 6 years before and then become a couple when visiting again after all that time. How strange.
The others were Yolanda & Jabongo (something like that anyway, Aussies always have stupid names ending in vowel sounds). They were a couple of Aussie students who were forever mentioning what went on on 'the farm' (where mum and dad live of course). And, the final members of the group were an American graduate volunteer and some awesomely cool long haired English teacher living in Buenos Aires.
Overall we got on great. Good banter, and good fun even though the group demographic was a little older than other groups.
Day two was trekking, which was set out as an epic 21km hike, but really involved stopping every ten minutes to learn about farming and plants in the high altitude jungle region. I never thought I would be such a big fan of horticulture, but when it is about food it is always interesting:
Coffee production, papayas, passion fruits, chillies, avocados, bananas, coca production (it is legal, only the chemical process to extract cocaine is illegal), corn juice drinks, cocao, the list goes on.
We saw a farm that had a pet monkey that you could play with. This is one of the reasons why living with fewer rules and 'health and safety' nonsense is great. Who wouldn't want a pet monkey? Someone had accidentally referred to the hotel dog Rambo, as Bruno (the other guide) the night before which Willian loved. He took every opportunity to call any animal we saw Bruno or Brunito (including the monkey).
The walk had some pretty awesome scenery and it was the day most like the Inca trail hike However, it was a pretty sanitised trek - staying in hotels, 5 course lunches and fully functioning toilets. We learnt how to chew coca which is good for the energy levels, curing illness, giving you strength and just about everything, and we finished with a trip to some hot pools. The hot pools were straight out of some wanky holiday brochure, beautiful mountain backdrop, stars in the sky and they seemed pretty luxurious for £1! We then stayed in Santa Teresa, an ugly Gringo tourist town with one 'disco' full of adventure trek groups at about 8-10pm. Not quite partying until 9 a.m. like in Buenos Aires . . .
Day 3 started with zip lining, which contrary to a recent episode of South Park was actually great fun. The lines were about 400m above the ground across the valley. Basically you are like a fat dead weight sliding from one platform to another so it is difficult to do anything wrong. However, there was one command to remember, when the man on the platform starts waving frantically, slow yourself down with your glove on the line. We watched one girl plummet into the barrier and get a bit winded after land on the platform full speed. "I thought you were all just saying hello" she said to her friends who were frantically doing the 'slow down signal' to her. "How am I supposed to remember everything?" she pouted.
After another gut busting lunch it was a short march into Aguas Calientes, the tourist town situtated below Macchu Picchu and where the train brings in hundreds of Japanese, French and American tourists with hat, big cameras, and even bigger bellies. The town turned out to be ironically named as my hotel shower was unbearably cold!
I finally got the Peruvian poops on day 4, and felt atrocious waking up at 4a.m. for a night march up to Macchu Picchu. After a bit of coca tea and a traditional backpackers breakfast (a snickers) I managed to make my way up to the Inca ruins in just under an hour.
Everyone felt a little zombie like when we started our 2 hour tour of the ruins with Willian. It was difficult to take stuff in when my mind was split between wanting the toilet, and wanting my bed. Anyway, after a while the beauty and spirituality of the place did start to sink in. At first it just seems like an impressive place to have some nice grassy terraces and buildings, but as you learn about the temples, the animal iconography and the history of its discovery it becomes pretty magical. Everything there is built in tune with nature, mimicking stars, lining up altars and windows with the sun for solstices, replicas of the surrounding mountains carved from rock, channelling water to the high city.
I didn't feel up to the 1.5 hour trek up Macchu Picchu mountain, but still got some good views of the ruins from further away.
I said goodbye to the group and walked back to Aguas Calientes to catch much improbably expensive train back to Cuzco. Although I was riddled with bug bites, fatigued and in constant danger of having a toilet accident, I still found the strength to shout "Bus wankers!" at all of lazy cheating tourists who were descending back into to in their air conditioned auto-mobiles.
Peru rail is a self style luxury train back to Cuzco, and they clearly felt the need to justify their US$90 ticket price with service and entertainment. I was unfortunately forced to sit in between a large group of 50+ American tourists who blabbed on about the price of gas and trips to the grand canyon for over 3.5 hours. Their tour Peruvian guide was an absolute saint to continue laughing along with the woman opposite us who told him everything that she had done in her life EVER. There was a particularly "interesting" 30 minute diatribe about knitting and types of needles.
After an hour, there was a dance and fashion show intended to flog Peru Rail's hideously expensive alpaca wool ponchos, shawls and jackets. At one point a 70 year old member of the American group somehow got himself involved in the fashion show and was parading up and down the carriage in a grey jacket. Unfortunately this was the perfect catalyst for more cackling and constant repetition of jokes from the Florida retirement committee encircling me.
I finally got back to Cuzco after a long chat with a nice taxi driver who insisted on introducing my to his favourite Cusquenan 'wino' music station which was rather melancholic.
Overall the trip was brilliant, and a realisation of one of the things that attracted me to Latin America.
Peace and love to all of my devoted readers.